Greek prepositions: Why are they so strange ?

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Asterix
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Greek prepositions: Why are they so strange ?

Post by Asterix » Sun Sep 10, 2006 8:04 am

Hello to everybody,

I'm still learning Greek and gradually things go right, but since I started to learn, I asked myself: Why greek prepositions are so strage ?

They don't have just one meaning, but always several ones and I don't see the basic idea behind the word like direction etc. They seem to stretch over a variaty of meanings.

For example: pros and para, both meaning at, around, but what's the difference ?

I've learnt in my life some languages, and even Arabic and German and Russian prepositions fit smoothly to each other, but the Greek ones.... :?

If some of the more experienced Greek learners could tell me about their origins or the basic idea of each preposition, I would be very grateful.

BTW: Is there a Greek - Latin vocabulary list of prepositions in the www, where each Greek preposition has its Latin equivalent like hyper and super ?

Once again, thanx for your help !!!

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GlottalGreekGeek
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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Sun Sep 10, 2006 10:58 am

I'm not in a good shape to give an in-depth answer to your question, but I personally do not find Greek prespositions so strange. I would like to point out that some prepositions take more than one case, and when the noun has a different case, the preposition has a different meaning/nuance. You should probably find a good Greek grammar and read the articles on the prepositions there - Smyth's grammar, the most highly regarded Greek grammar in English, is availible here through Textkit in PDF form, and you can read it in a searchable format on Perseus if you're willing to put up with their busted server.

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Post by Bert » Sun Sep 10, 2006 1:19 pm

It may be helpful to view the different cases being further defined by prepostions (pp) rather than a pp taking certain cases.
When cases are intended to indicate motion generally the genitive indicates motion from, the dative presence at the location (not realy motion) and the accusative motion towards.
If you see a sentence with a dative indicating the presence of something, it still is rather vague. However with the pp πα?ά, it is further defined as -by the side of- rather than -in- or -among- ?ν.
of course not every pp fits neatly into the category of motion but if you look them up in a detailed lexicon, often you can find some connection between the meanings of the different cases.
My suggestion is; Don' sweat it. As you come across them look them up and after a while you'll get the feel of it.
I hope this is of some help.

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Re: Greek prepositions: Why are they so strange ?

Post by mraig » Mon Sep 11, 2006 7:37 am

Asterix wrote:Hello to everybody,

I'm still learning Greek and gradually things go right, but since I started to learn, I asked myself: Why greek prepositions are so strage ?

They don't have just one meaning, but always several ones and I don't see the basic idea behind the word like direction etc. They seem to stretch over a variaty of meanings.

For example: pros and para, both meaning at, around, but what's the difference ?

I've learnt in my life some languages, and even Arabic and German and Russian prepositions fit smoothly to each other, but the Greek ones.... :?

If some of the more experienced Greek learners could tell me about their origins or the basic idea of each preposition, I would be very grateful.

BTW: Is there a Greek - Latin vocabulary list of prepositions in the www, where each Greek preposition has its Latin equivalent like hyper and super ?

Once again, thanx for your help !!!
In the specific instance of pros/para, the biggest difference is that 'para' emphasizes movement to/from or position at the side of something or someone, where 'pros' is a more general word for movement to/from or position at.

And as for prepositions being strange in Greek, prepositions tend to be highly idiomatic in any language, and despite my lack of knowledge of Arabic, German or Russian, I would be surprised if they also didn't exhibit many various shades of meaning. Imagine if you were trying to learn English prepositions. Take 'on' for example. Think of all the completely different seemingly unrelated uses:

A book lying on a table.
Turning a light on.
That girl turns me on.
My ally turned on me.
Being on TV.
Being on drugs.
Being on topic.
Being on time.
Being on your best behavior.

What definition of 'on' would encompass all these uses? Moreover, do you imagine that there's ANY other language that has a single preposition that would correspond to all of the above uses of "on"? The same would be true for any preposition in English, Greek, or just about any other language, and the only way to really master them is to read lots of Greek, and see the prepositions in context -- and feel comfort in the fact that it's really impossible to master the subtleties immediately, so you can't be expected to.[/i]

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GlottalGreekGeek
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Post by GlottalGreekGeek » Mon Sep 11, 2006 8:40 am

Technically, in "turn the light on" and "that girl turns me on", 'on' is used as an adverb, not a preposition. 'On' can also be an adjective in the predicate position "The light is on", though it is rarely used in the attributive position (one rarely says in English "The on light is bright").

Which brings on to the point that some people say that Greek prepositions were originally adverbs, and one can find them used in a more adverbial way in Homer.

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Post by mraig » Mon Sep 11, 2006 8:21 pm

GlottalGreekGeek wrote:Technically, in "turn the light on" and "that girl turns me on", 'on' is used as an adverb, not a preposition. 'On' can also be an adjective in the predicate position "The light is on", though it is rarely used in the attributive position (one rarely says in English "The on light is bright").

Which brings on to the point that some people say that Greek prepositions were originally adverbs, and one can find them used in a more adverbial way in Homer.
Point taken, though I wonder how well the old categories actually apply to these colloquial phrases? I would think that "on" in these two in particular could also admit the analysis of adjective in predicate position (e.g. "turn the light ON" equals "turn your blood COLD" -- in each cases one is turning the noun X in such a way that it becomes the adjective Y). Or better yet, in these cases the verb "turn" and the adverb "on" could be seen as forming a single word with one meaning (as is quite common in Greek, when an preposition/adverb (as you point out, these are historically the same) becomes so strongly associated with a verb that they come to be written as a single word with its own meaning: "epitrepw" would be a quite analagous example).

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Post by Carola » Mon Sep 11, 2006 11:00 pm

I think Bert's post is probably the most useful piece of advice - that way even if you don't know the exact meaning you can make a good guess; if the noun attached to the preposition is in the accusative you know the preposition has to have some meaning of towards that noun. Common sense and context will often help. As for having several words with the same meaning, well, English has got to be the best (or worst!) example of that. Only experience and reading a lot of real Greek will help.
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Post by Lucus Eques » Fri Sep 15, 2006 8:08 pm

English praepositions also have a lot of overlapping and unique meanings; actually I feel Greek and English share a lot in common when it comes to the ease of forming words like this with praepositions, although it's even more flexible in Greek.
L. Amadeus Ranierius

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