Herbert Weir Smyth [n.d.], A Greek Grammar for Colleges; Machine readable text [info] [word count] [Smyth].
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There are three accents in Greek. No Greek accent can stand farther back than the antepenult.

1. Acute (/): over short or long vowels and diphthongs. It may stand on ultima, penult, or antepenult: καλός, δαίμων, ἄνθρωπος.

2. Circumflex (=): over vowels long by nature and diphthongs. It may stand on ultima or penult: γῆ, θεοῦ, δῶρον, τοῦτο.

3. Grave (\): over short or long vowels and diphthongs. It stands on the ultima only: τὸν ἄνδρα, τὴν τύχην, οἱ θεοὶ τῆς Ελλάδος.


The acute marks syllables pronounced in a raised tone. The grave is a low-pitched tone as contrasted with the acute. The circumflex combines acute and grave.


Accented syllables in Ancient Greek had a higher pitch (τόνος) than unaccented syllables, and it was the rising and falling of the pitch that made Ancient Greek a musical language. The Greek word for accent is προσῳδία_ (Lat. accentus: from ad-cano), i.e. ‘song accompanying words.’ Musical accent (elevation and depression of tone) is to be distinguished from quantity (duration of tone), and from rhythmic accent (stress of voice at fixed intervals when there is a regular sequence of long and short syllables).

N.—The accent heard in Modern Greek and English is a stress-accent. Stress is produced by strong and weak expiration, and takes account of accented syllables to the neglect of the quantity of unaccented syllables. Thus, shortly after Christ, ἄνθρωπος was often pronounced like a dactyl, φίλος like a trochee; and πρόσωπον, ἐννέα, were even written πρόσοπον, έννήα.


The marks of accent are placed over the vowel of the accented syllable. A diphthong has the accent over its second vowel (τοῦτο), except in the case of capital ᾳ, ῃ, ῳ (as Αιδης, 5), where the accent stands before the first vowel.


A breathing is written before the acute and grave (οἵ, ἤ), but under the circumflex (ὦ, οὗτος). Accents and breathings are placed before capitals: Ομηρος, Ωραι. The accent stands over a mark of diaeresis (8): κληῗδι.


The grave is written in place of a final acute on a word that is followed immediately by another word in the sentence. Thus, μετὰ τὴν μάχην after the battle (for μετά τήν μάχην). It is also sometimes placed on τὶς, τὶ ( cross334), to distinguish these indefinite pronouns from the interrogatives τίς, τί.

a. An oxytone ( cross157) changes its acute to the grave when followed by another word, except: (1) when the oxytone is followed by an enclitic ( cross183 a); (2) in τίς, τί interrogative, as τίς οὗτος; who's this? (3) when an elided syllable follows the accented syllable: νύχθ' ὅλην ( cross124), not νὺχθ' ὅλην ( cross174 a); (4) when a colon or period follows. (Usage varies before a comma.)

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The ancients regarded the grave originally as belonging to every syllable not accented with the acute or circumflex; and some Mss. show this in practice, e.g. πὰγκρὰτής. Later it was restricted to its use as a substitute for a final acute.


The circumflex is formed from the union of the acute and the grave ( = ^), never from . Thus, παῖς πάὶς, εὖ ἔὺ. Similarly, since every long vowel may be resolved into two short units (morae), τῶν may be regarded as = τόὸν. The circumflex was thus spoken with a rising tone followed by one of lower pitch. μοῦσα, δῆμος are thus = μόὺσα, δέὲμος; μούσης, δήμου are = μὸύσης, δὲέμου. In διδοῦσα (i.e. διδόὺσα) compared with διδούς the accent has receded ( cross159) one mora.

a. The whole vowel receives the acute when the second short unit of a vowel long by nature is accented: Δί_ Δὶί.


Words are named according to their accent as follows:

Oxytone (acute on the ultima): θήρ, καλός, λελυκώς.

Paroxytone (acute on the penult): λύ_ω, λείπω, λελυκότος.

Proparoxytone (acute on the antepenult): ἄνθρωπος, παιδεύομεν.

Perispomenon (circumflex on the ultima): γῆ, θεοῦ.

Properispomenon (circumflex on the penult): πρᾶξις, μοῦσα.

Barytone (when the ultima is unaccented, cross158): μοῦσα, μήτηρ, πόλεμος.


A word is called barytone (βαρύ-τονος deep-toned, low-toned) when it has no accent on the ultima. All paroxytones, proparoxytones, and properispomena are also barytones.


An accent is called recessive when it moves back as far from the end of the word as the quantity of the ultima permits ( cross166). The quantity of the penult is here disregarded (τρέπωμεν). Cp. cross178.


Oxytone (ὀξύς, sharp + τόνος) means ‘sharp-toned,’ perispomenon (περισπώμενος) ‘turned-around’ (circumflectus, cross156). Paroxytone and proparoxytone are derived from ὀξύτονος with the prepositions παρά and πρό respectively. Acute corresponds to Lat. acutus (ὀξεῖα, scil. προσῳδία_).


The invention of the marks of accent is attributed to Aristophanes of Byzantium, librarian at Alexandria about 200 B.C. The use of signs served to fix the correct accentuation, which was becoming uncertain in the third century B.C.; marked the variation of dialect usage; and rendered the acquisition of Greek easier for foreigners. The signs for the accents (and the breathings) were not regularly employed in Mss. till after 600 A.D.


The position of the accent has to be learned by observation. But the kind of accent is determined by the following rules.


1. Aeolic has recessive ( cross159) accent in all words except prepositions and conjunctions. Thus, σόφος, Ζεῦς, i.e. Ζέὺς, αὖτος, λίπειν (= λιπεῖν), λίποντος (= λιπόντος), ἄμμες (= ἡμεῖς).

2. Doric regarded final -οι ( cross169) as long (ἀνθρώποι), and probably -αι in nouns (χώραι); made paroxytones the 3 pl. act. of the past tenses (ἐφέρον, ἐλύ_σαν) and such words as παίδες, γυναίκες, πτώκας; made perispomena the gen. masc. pl. of pronouns (τουτῶν, ἀλλῶν) and the gen. fem. pl. of adj. in -ος (ἀμφοτερᾶν). The substitution, in the accus. pl., of -ας and -ος for -α_ς and -ους, caused no change in the accent (πά_σας, ἀμπέλος).

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The antepenult, if accented, can have the acute only (ἄνθρωπος, βασίλεια queen, οἰκοφύλακος of a house-guard). If the ultima is long, either by nature or by position ( cross144), the antepenult cannot take an accent: hence ἀνθρώπου ( cross176 a), βασιλεία_ kingdom, οίκοφύλαξ.

a. Some nouns in -εως and -εων admit the acute on the antepenult. Thus, the genitive of nouns in -ις and -υς (πόλεως, πόλεων, ἄστεως), the forms of the Attic declension, as ἵ_λεως ( cross289). So the Ionic genitive in -εω (πολί_τεω); also some compound adjectives in -ως, as δύσερως unhappy in love, ὑψίκερως lofty antlered. On ὧντινων see cross186.


The penult, if accented and long, takes the circumflex when the ultima is short by nature (νῆσος, ταῦτα). In all other cases it has the acute (φόβος, λελυκότος, τούτου).

a. Apparent exceptions are ὥστε, οὔτις, ἥδε (properly ἧδε). See cross186.

b. A final syllable containing a vowel short by nature followed by ξ or ψ does not permit the acute to stand on the antepenult (οἰκοφύλαξ); but the circumflex may stand on the penult (κῆρυξ).


The ultima, if accented and short, has the acute (ποταμός); if accented and long, has either the acute (λελυκώς), or the circumflex (Περικλῆς).


When the ultima is long, the acute cannot stand on the antepenult, nor the circumflex on the penult. Thus, ἄνθρωπου and δῶρου are impossible.


When the ultima is short, a word, if accented

a. on the ultima, has the acute: σοφός.

b. on a short penult, has the acute: νόμος.

c. on a long penult, has the circumflex: δῶρον.

d. on the antepenult, has the acute: ἄνθρωπος.


When the ultima is long, a word, if accented

a. on the ultima, has the acute or the circumflex: ἐγώ, σοφῶς.

b. on the penult, has the acute: λέων, δαίμων.


Final -αι and -οι are regarded as short: μοῦσαι, βούλομαι, πρόπαλαι, ἄνθρωποι. But in the optative -αι and -οι are long (λύ_σαι, βουλεύοι), as in contracted syllables. So also in the locative οἴκοι at home (but οἶκοι houses).

a. The difference in the quantitative treatment of -αι and -οι depends on an original difference of accentuation that may have vanished in Greek. -αι and -οι, when short, were pronounced with a clipped, or simple, tone; when long, with a drawled, or compound, tone.

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The quantity of α, ι, υ ( cross147) may often be learned from the accent. Thus, in θάλαττα, ἥμισυς, πῆχυς, δύναμις, μῆνις, the vowel of the last syllable must be short; in φίλος the ι must be short (otherwise φῖλος). Cp. cross163.

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Herbert Weir Smyth [n.d.], A Greek Grammar for Colleges; Machine readable text [info] [word count] [Smyth].
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