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Verb Placement Question

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Verb Placement Question

Postby beatus vir » Sat Jun 05, 2010 3:44 am

I'm studying on my own using Crosby & Schaeffer. I just had a question, which is probably very simple for those who know: is there a difference in meaning in the following sentences, based on the changes in word order?

(1) ἦν αδελφός τοῦ στρατηγοῦ.

(2) αδελφός ἦν τοῦ στρατηγοῦ.

(3) αδελφός τοῦ στρατηγοῦ ἦν.


As I understand it, there are two basic meanings: "He was the general's brother" and "There was a brother of the general" (such a person existed). Is either suggested more by a certain word order? Are there other differences in emphasis or nuance depending on the placement of the verb? Is placement of the verb "to be" improbable at the end of a clause (3)?

Thanks in advance for any help!
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Re: Verb Placement Question

Postby modus.irrealis » Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:05 am

When it comes to εἰμί, I can tell you that when it means "there is" it tends (strongly) to occur at the beginning of its clause, but I don't know if the reverse is true. If I remember what I've read correctly, in Classical Greek, verb-first clauses were relatively rare so I'd guess that it is true (although in your example I'd expect στρατηγός in the dative if it were an existential statement).

Between (2) and (3), I'd agree that (2) is much more likely -- εἰμί likes to come "inside" noun phrases as in (2). A not very thorough search of the texts on Perseus seems to agree with my impression.

In general, there's alway a difference when it comes to different word orders, one of "emphasis" as you say, although I'd say it's more accurate to say that it's a matter of pragmatics and old information vs. new information and so on, but I'm not sure when it comes to the verb, since it seems that the verb is the pivot of the sentence and it's the order of the other constituents relative to the verb that matters.

Your questions aren't all that simple to me, but there are a few good books on the topic, e.g. the ones by Helma Dik or Kenneth Dover, that should have more information.
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