Personal Pronouns: The Issues & My Proposal

There are actually two issues in terms of how we deal with personal pronouns:

  1. If the so-called “emphatic” pronouns are not consistently emphatic and their “emphasis” is actually derived from other facts, how do we deal with and explain the difference between the two pronoun types: ἐμέ and με?
    This is the question that originated from Mounce a few weeks ago.
  2. What causes the shift forward of pre-verbal clitic personal pronouns?
    This question is the one behind my struggles with ditransitives last summer.

The second issue deserves some more explanation. Steve rightly recognizes that I, admittedly, have been obsessing over ditransitives. The reason for that being this: We have a word order template: Setting, Topic, Focus, Verb, X. What do we do with clauses, particularly ditransitives, where the setting is either empty or filled with an Adjunct, but we still have all three arguments preceding the verb. That is to say, we have only two slots: Topic and Focus, but three constituents to fit into them. What is the status of the third constituent and why is it preceding the verb?

Admittedly, out of thousands upon thousands of clauses in the New Testament (30919 by Opentext’s count), these kinds of ditransitives with the Subject, Direct Object, and Indirect Object all before the verb occur only a handful of times (24). But they still provide a bit of a challenge to our syntax/pragmatic template for Greek word order — a template for pre-verbal constituents that is, in general, accepted by a variety of grammarians.

But they still need to be explained. Several can be explained easily since the first constituent is an external topic. But as for the rest, it just so happens that they contain the supposedly “non-emphatic” pronoun.

And that brings us back to the issue of the syntactic distribution of clitic and non-clitic personal pronoun forms. What’s the difference between them and what explanation can be give for their distribution together as well as individually.

The non-clitic forms have traditionally been labeled as “emphatic.” Yet the majority of them appear following a prepositional phrase. And even of the rest, some are emphatic and some aren’t, assuming Wallace’s idea that “emphatic” = contrastive — but even that is nebulous and difficult to pin down.

Preposition: Matt 18:29 μακροθύμησον ἐπʼ ἐμοί
“Emphatic”: Luke 9:48 ὃς ἐὰν δέξηται τοῦτο τὸ παιδίον ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου ἐμὲ δέχεται
Other: John 8:12 ὁ ἀκολουθῶν ἐμοὶ οὐ μὴ περιπατήσῃ ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ ἀλλʼ ἕξει τὸ φῶς τῆς ζωῆς

Incidentally, the non-clitic pronouns are actually the best way of showing that the pragmatic categories are Topic and Focus can appear following the Verb — something not dealt with at all in some of the recent work on word order:

John 5:46 εἰ γὰρ ἐπιστεύετε Μωϋσεῖ [Focus] ἐπιστεύετε ἂν ἐμοί [Focus] περὶ γὰρ ἐμοῦ ἐκεῖνος ἔγραψεν

Non-clitic pronouns appear post-verbally without a preposition only 13 times in the NT.

The Clitic Pronominal is just as varied, though in different places, but it’s distribution across the clause isn’t really discussed in the Hellenistic & NT Greek grammars — it might be answered in the literature on Classical Greek. I’ve been given some recommended reading, but it’s currently in the mail. In the meantime, I’m attempting to provide an analysis of my own. In order to make this issue more clear (something I failed at last time, I think), I’m going to use examples that are closely related in terms of syntax and information structure. Below are two from the New Testament and two from Josephus.


Matt 16:15 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι
He said to them, “And you, Who do you say I am?”
Wars 1.631 τί δέ με καὶ παρώξυνεν κατὰ σοῦ;
What provokes me against you?


John 8:46 εἰ ἀλήθειαν λέγω, διὰ τί ὑμεῖς οὐ πιστεύετέ μοι
If I speak the truth, why don’t you believe me?
Life 1.235 καὶ τὸν Ἰωάννην παραλαβόντες ἐβουλεύοντο, τίνα τρόπον ἐπιχειρήσωσί μοι.
And taking John into their confidence, they deliberated: How could they attack me?

Now, here’s the dilemma: 1st person pronouns are, by definition, accessible & identifiable referents. They are always cognitively available for the audience because the participate is the speaker. The difference in ordering cannot be attributed purely to information structure.

And so, let us move on to my tentative proposal. I say tentative because while it works clearly and beautifully for (1) non-clitic pronouns and (2) pre-verbal clitic pronouns, I don’t know enough about Greek phrase phonology & prosodic structure to say that it works for post-verbal clitic pronouns. I’m hoping that as I read Devine & Stephen’s The Prosody of Greek Speech (particularly chapters 5-9) and Marlene Marshall’s Verbs, Nouns, and Postpositives in Attic Prose (Scottish Classical Studies, Vol 3) (recommended by Helma Dik and currently in the mail) that I’ll be able to either confirm or disconfirm this hypothesis — though it does work quite well with the examples I’ve provided above.

My proposal is this:

Pronominal Clitics such as με, μου, and μοι are required to connect phonologically as close to the prosodic peak of a phonological phrase as possible, but it cannot merely connect to the peak of any phonological phrase. Rather, it must connect to the most prominent phonological phrase of its clause.

In contrast, Non-clitic Pronouns, by definition, are the posodic peak of their own phonological phrase, whether that is the most prominent one of the clause or not.

I’m curious what you think. If I’m right, it should give us as reading something to look forward in terms of where we place that extra bit of stress:

Matt 16:15 And you, who do you say I am?
John 8:46 If I speak the truth, why don’t you believe me?