7 derivational morphemes that will help you read New Testament Greek more easily.

You open to your current reading project and you encounter a new word. What do you do if:

  • the word isn’t footnoted?
  • or if your reading online reading tools can’t find it?

Enter derivational morphology.

Derivational morphemes are the parts of words that form the word and don’t change based on its function in an utterance. Often adding a derivational morpheme will change the part of speech of the word (like -er in English).

Knowing some derivational morphology and what it means can help us guess the meaning of words in context.

In other words, this knowledge can help us increase the comprehensibility of a text without having to resort to lexicons or reading tools.

This post will focus on Greek nouns in the SBL Greek New Testament.

Greek has many noun-forming derivational morphemes, but there are a few that are high frequency in the Greek New Testament.

The following data was generated by taking the list of derivational suffixes from Wikitionary and then checking which words in the nouns SBLGNT ended with that suffix.

The stats tell us why it’s worth bothering derivational morphemes.

There are 2399 noun lemmas in the SBLGNT and there are 28,237 occurrences of those nouns. The first four suffixes in the list below account for 685 noun lemmas and occur 5,504 times. Thus being aware of these suffixes and their meaning can help the student guess around 25% of the lemmas they are likely to encounter and about 20% of the nouns.

Of the 2,399 nouns, 969 occur only once. These first four suffixes account for 287 of them. Thus derivational morphology gives us the tools to guess at the meaning of about a quarter of the hapaxlegomena in the GNT.

Here’s a list of higher frequency derivational morphemes that are worth your time to learn as you’re studying New Testament Greek.

In the list below the two numbers at the end are the number of words formed with this suffix and how many times those words occur in the GNT. Clicking on the suffix will take you to the Wiktionary entry for it.

  • -ια forms a feminine abstract noun related to the stem. (256, 2245)
  • -μα added to a verb to form a neuter noun that describes the result of an action, the action itself, or its object. (152, 1733)
  • -σις added to a verb to form an abstract noun or a noun referring to an “action, result, or process”. (135, 633)
  • -της (142, 893)
    • when added to a verb it forms a noun describing someone who does the action of a verb
    • when added to a noun it forms either the name of a person from a place or a person related to the noun.
    • when added to an adjective it forms a noun that descibes “the abstract notinon of the adjective” (Smyth), like words ending in -ity, -ship, -ness, or -hood in English.
  • -μος forms an abstract noun. (63, 392)
  • -ιον forms diminutive or the name of a related place. (93, 576)
  • -εια added to a variety of words to form a feminine noun for a person or thing related to the stem. (35, 299)

See Also