What Accents Are:
Ancient Greek accents were pitch tones, not stresses (each syllable of a word normally received the same stress as any other syllable). Modern languages with pitch tone include Japanese, Chinese, Cherokee, Yoruba, and a few "minority" European languages such as Norwegian (but Norwegian also uses stress accent). All references to "long" and "short" and "length" here mean *vowel length* only, unless otherwise noted.
Pitch tones are affected...
An acute accent indicated a high, level pitch. A circumflex indicated a high-and-falling pitch; it is considered to be an acute plus a following low pitch combined. A grave merely was written in place of a final-syllable acute when the word was not followed by a strong pause (as indicated by a low dot, a high dot, or a comma) or by an enclitic word; it is uncertain whether the grave indicated an actually different pitch from the acute, or whether it was merely a writing convention, though the evidence leans toward the former. Grammarians asserted that an acute accent or the higher part of a circumflex accent was tonally a perfect fifth higher than the surrounding unaccented syllables. Musical transcriptions seem to bear this out.
Symbols and Nomenclature: ' = acute accent ("oxy") ~ = circumflex accent ("perispwmenon") ` = grave accent ("bary") (Accents transcribed here are placed after the vowel or diphthong.) # = end of word x = either long or short vowel, or diphthong - = long vowel or diphthong v = short vowel (Final -oi and -ai, omicron iota and short-alpha iota, respectively, are counted as short vowels in accentuation of nouns, adjectives, and most verbs, but not in optative endings, omicron-contract indicatives and subjunctives, or in adverbs.) e = enclitic (e) = second syllable of some enclitics antepenult = second syllable away from last penult = next to last syllable ultima = last syllable proparoxytone = having acute on the antepenult paroxytone = having acute on the penult oxytone = having acute on the ultima properispomenon = having circumflex on the penult perispomenon = having circumflex on the ultima barytone = having grave on the ultima
Permissible Accent Positions:
Possible positions of acute accent are restricted by the length of the accented vowel or diphthong and the length of the vowel or diphthong in the final syllable. No syllable can have more than one accent. Normally accented words have only one accent apiece. No word can have more than two accents, its own and that added by an enclitic.
Acute: 1) x' x v # (except x' -ews# and x' -ewn#, 2) x v' v # gen. sg. and pl.) 3) x x' - # 4) x x x'# Circumflex: 1) x -~ v # 2) x x -~# Grave: x x x`# x(xx) (only on final syllable)
To express this chart prosaically:
- An acute may fall on any of the final three syllables. It may fall on the antepenult if the ultima is short; this is called proparoxytone. It may fall on the penult if both penult and ultima are long, or if the penult is short regardless of the length of the ultima; this is called paroxytone. (If the penult is long and the ultima is short and the accent falls on the penult, a circumflex must appear.) It may fall on the ultima regardless of vowel length; this is called oxytone.
- A circumflex may fall only on long vowels (including diphthongs that are not counted as short). It may fall on the penult only if it is long and the ultima is short; this is called properispomenon. (If both penult and ultima are short, a penultimate accent must be acute.) It may fall on the ultima only if it is long; this is called perispomenon.
- A grave may fall only on the ultima, regardless of vowel length; this is called barytone. A grave occurs only when another non-enclitic word follows in the same phrase.
- NOTE: A circumflex guarantees that a vowel is long, if its length cannot be determined otherwise, as in the case of alpha, iota, and upsilon: so forms like "agapa~n" (long final alpha). A circumflex on the penult also guarantees that the ultima has a short vowel (or a diphthong behaving as short), as in "gynai~ka" (short final alpha). Conversely, an acute on the penult when you know that the ultima is short assures that the penult is also short, as in imperative "i'te" (short iota). Likewise, an acute on the penult when you know the penult is long guarantees that the ultima is long, as in "basilei'a" (long alpha).
- NOTE: A syllable with a final grave which elides leaves behind an acute accent on the prior syllable (if the word originally was two or more syllables); this acute syllable does not become a grave. For instance, "ta` kala` ei~de" with elision on the second word appears as, "ta` ka'l) ei~de", where the ) represents an actual apostrophe.
Parts of Speech:
Nouns, Pronouns, Adjectives, and Participles:
- Accent in non-contracted nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and participles is persistent, that is, it tends to remain on the same syllable in all forms. So all forms of "kalo's" are accented on the ultima and all forms of "stratiw'tes" on the penult. Endings of the nominative plural in -oi and -ai are treated as short vowels. If the persistent accent is on the antepenult, but some forms of the word change the ending from short to long vowels, the accent must comply with the constraints of the possible position restrictions; these forms then show an acute penultimate accent (paroxytone). The endings -ews and -ewn of the genitives of third-declension epsilon-stem nouns are exceptions to the latter rule; the genitives of "po'lis" show this extreme persistency: "po'lews" and "po'lewn".
- Contracted forms such as "khrysou~s" fit the pattern if the forms are considered in their uncontracted state. Some first- and second declension words and many vowel-stem words in the third declension display such contracted forms, sometimes mixing uncontracted forms in, too. This is true of "basileu's, basile'ws, basilei~, basile'a, basileu~" (sg.), "basilei~s, basile'wn, basileu~si, basile'as" (pl.).
- Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and participles, all of the first and second declension, with ultimate accent generally show acutes (oxytones) in the nominative, accusative, and vocative but circumflexes (perispomenons) in the genitive and dative. Hence the feminine "kale', kale~s, kalei~, kale'n" (all endings in eta).
- The genitive plural shows a non-persistent circumflex on the final omega (perispomenon) in nouns of the first (alpha/eta) declension and in feminine adjectives or participles whose forms are not identical to masculine equivalents, such as "pa'ntwn" versus "pasw~n", or "lego'ntwn" versus "legousw~n", but not "sophwte'rwn" or "legome'nwn". This can be treated as a contraction of the original alpha with the omega of the genitive plural ending.
- Monosyllables of the third declension, and a few non-monosyllables in this declension, shift the accent to the first syllable of the ending in the genitive (circumflex in genitive plural) and dative, but leave it on the root in the nominative, accusative, and vocative. Nouns like "me'ter", "gyne'", "pate'r", and "ane'r", where syllables change in the root itself, fit this pattern with only slight irregularities.
- Verbs of finite moods display recessive accent; the accent moves as far as is permitted toward the beginning of the word.
- Optative forms ending in -oi and -ai, and omicron-contract verbs ending in -oi treat the final diphthong as a long vowel (as a regular diphthong). But infinitives treat the -ai in any final syllable as short.
- Contracted verbs fit the pattern if the forms are considered in their uncontracted (open) state.
Exceptions: - Infinitives: o Infinitives of the first aorist active and middle are accented on the syllable before the -sa- syllable, including instances s where the sigma vanishes and the preceding vowel is lengthened ("egei~rai" and "egei'rasthai"). o Infinitives of the second aorist active and middle, of the perfect, and of the ending "-nai", are accented one syllable before the last consonant(s), i.e., on the penult in all forms listed except the second-aorist active infinitive. - Imperatives: o All second-aorist second-person singular middle imperatives and a few 2nd-aor. 2nd-per. sg. active imperatives of the are accented on the ultima ("eipe'" and "helou~"). - Other conditions: o Accent can recede into prefixes, but only onto the last vowel of a multi-syllable prefix. Hence the aorist imperatives "e'xelthe" (all epsilons) and "apo'dos". o Accent cannot recede past augment, as in the aorist indicatives "exe~lthe" (accented eta) and "syne'skhe" (accented epsilon).
An enclitic has no accent of its own unless it starts a phrase, but it can affect the accent of the word preceding it. Enclitic are the indefinite "tis" in all forms, present indicative forms of "eimi" and "phemi" (except the monosyllabic second-person singulars), the postpositive conjunction "te". Compounds with "tis" or "te" as the second element are accented in the enclitic fashion, as in "hou~tinos" and "hw'ste".
Following normal words with acutes: x' x v'# e (e) x x' x # e (e') x x x'# e (e) Following normal words with circumflexes: x -~ x'# e (e) x x -~# e (e') Following normal words with graves: x x x'# e (e)
- It adds a final-syllable acute to a preceding word if there is a low pitch intervening between that word's own accent and the added accent (if the preceding word is properispomenon or proparoxytone).
- It always prevents a preceding final acute accent from becoming a grave (the barytone is turned back into an oxytone).
- If an enclitic is two syllables long and does not modify the accent of the preceding word, it receives a final acute or grave; the enclitic "tinwn" receives a final circumflex in this situation ("tinw~n").
Proclitics have no accent of their own. They do not affect the accents of other words. They receive accent only when followed by an enclitic. Only the masculine and feminine nominative articles (singular and plural) and some prepositions are proclitic.