1. Identifying the principal clause

When you look at a Greek sentence, make a habit of beginning by identifying the principal clause. Normally, in connected prose this will have at least two elements: a verb, and either a conjunction or particle connecting the sentence to its context.

The main verb

Find the main verb before you do anything else!

Most frequently, the principle verb will be a conjugated form in the indicative mood.

Some possible exceptions include commands in the imperative, negative commands in the subjunctive, wishes in the optative, or future less vivid conditions with the main verb (the apodosis of the condition) in the optative.

If a particle such as ἄν or εἴθε appears with the main verb, note this.

Complements to the main verb

If the main verb is used with a supplementary participle (e.g., φαίνομαι, τυγχάνω), find the participle.

If the main verb requires a complementary infinitive (e.g., ἐθέλὡ), find the infinitive.

If the main verb introduces indirect statement, identify the structure of the indirect statement (accusative subject + infinitive after verbs of speaking; participle after verbs of thinking or perceiving).

Does your verb take an object? Make sure you know how the verb and object are constructed (e.g., ἀκούω is constructed with a genitive for source, or person, you hear from, but accusative for the thing you hear). Find any objects (direct or indirect) of the main verb .

The connecting word

Greek sentences regularly connect the main clause of a sentence to the larger context by a conjunction (such as καί) or a particle (such as δέ). Identifying how the main clause is connected to what precedes or follows will help you understand the logic of the sentence. It will also help you understand the syntax of the sentence, since you will not mistakenly interpret the conjunction or particle as coordinating parts of the same sentence.


Once you have worked out the main clause, you’re ready to identify secondary clauses.