Chapter 19: Greek Adjectives and Adverbs

§119. Greek Adjectives: 3rd Declension Type

As mentioned earlier, Greek and Latin adjectives are not exactly parallel in morphology. Some Greek adjectives are exclusively 3rd declension, whereas others combine features of the 3rd and 1st declensions. In the following list, do not worry about declension numbers; you will actually find some more adjectives of the 1st and 2nd declension pattern, which are included here because of semantic relationships. If there is anything unusual about an adjective’s combining form(s), the base or bases are shown in parentheses.

Table 19.2: GREEK 3RD DECLENSION (AND OTHER) ADJECTIVES
ADJECTIVE TRANSLITERATION ENG. MEANING ENG. DERIVATIVE
μεγας megas (mega-) great, large megaphone
            (megal-) megalomania
μακρος makros long, (large) macrocephaly
μικρος mikros small microscope
πας pas (pan-, pant-) all
pantheon, pantomime
πολυς polys (poly-) (much), many polygamy
ψευδης pseudēs (pseud-) false pseudonym

The first three adjectives on this list can cause some confusion in meaning. In Greek, the opposite of μεγας is μικρος; so megaphone has a semantic contrast with microphone, and mega- (M) is the opposite of micro- (m) in the metric system (SI). Because of their closeness in form, however, the elements macro- and micro– have become associated as opposites meaning “large” and “small” (e.g., macroscopic and microscopic). As in the case of neo- and pseudo-, the connecting vowel is now viewed as an integral part of the combining form (e.g., macroeconomics, microanalysis). What is understood by the words microcosm and macrocosm? Is it logical that a microskirt should be shorter than a miniskirt?

There’s a rich supply of English derivatives from the adjectival bases pan- and pant- (“all”). A pantheon is a temple for “all the gods”; a pantomime (pant-o-mime) was an ancient theatrical performance that was “all mime”—though its modern British descendant has an abundance of words. We have extended the ancient term panhellenic (“involving all the Greeks”) to forms like pan-American and pan-Pacific. A truly inspired derivative is the Miltonic coinage pandemonium (< παν- + δαιμων + -ιον, “a place for all the demons”).[1] If you’re feeling energetic, you can look up the etymologies of panacea, pancreas, panegyric, and panoply. But whatever you do, don’t panic. That powerful emotion is aroused by a direct human encounter with the shepherd god Pan. His name is not connected with πας, despite a movement in late antiquity to view him as a quasi-Christlike figure who embraced “all” goodness.


  1.  In Greek, this suffix -ιον (-ion) is sometimes used to mean “a place for someone,” as in the noun Παλλαδιον (Palladion), a place for Pallas Athena—source of the Latinized theatre name Palladium.

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§119. Greek Adjectives: 3rd Declension Type by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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