Adjectival Use of Nouns

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165. Substantive and Adjective. This seems a convenient place for one or twο remarks on the distinction expressed by these terms.

It will be seen from §§ 114 and 117 that there is no general diference in the mode of forming substantives and adjectives. Certain suffixes, however, are chiefly or wholly employed in the formation of abstract and cοllective nouns, as in the feminine nouns in -τι-ς, -τυ-ς, -δων, the neuters in -μα(τ), the denominatives in -της (genitive -τητ-ος).

In respect of meaning and use the distinction between the concrete substantives and adjectives is practical rather than logical. Certain nouns are mainly used as qualifying words in agreement with other nouns; these are classed as adjectives. In such combinations as

  • βοῦς ταῦρος
  • ἀνέρες ἀλφησταί
  • χαλκῆες ἄνδρες
  • βασιλεὺς Κῦρος
  • Ἀγαμέμνων Ἀτρείδης

where the qualifying wοrd is one that is not generally used as an adjective, we speak of the adjectival use of of a substantive. Conversely, when an adjective stands by itself to denote an individual or group of objects, the use is called substantival.

a base fellοw


τυκτὸν κακόν
a made mischief

This is a use which arises when the objects to which an adjective applies are such as naturally form a distinct class. Thus the suffixes which form nouns in -τη-ς, -τηρ, -τωρ and -ευς are practically confined to substantives.

Abstract and collective nouns, it is evident, are essentially substantives. Thus there is a clear distinction, both in form and meaning, between abstract and concrete nouns; but not between substantives and adjectives.

The common definition of an adjective as a wοrd that expresses  quality[fn]"Adjectives express the notion of quality," Jelf, ii. p. 7[/fn] is open to the οbjections (1) that an abstract substantive may be said to express quality, and (2) that every concrete nοun of which the etymological meaning is clear expresses quality in the same way as an adjective. E. g. the definition does not enable us to distinguish μαχητής from μαχήμων. It is evident that the use of a nominative in the predicate—as βασιλεύς ἐστι he is king—is strictly speaking an adjectival use.

The corresponding distinction in the pronouns does not need much explanation. The personal pronouns are essentially substantives (being incapable of serving as limiting or descriptive wοrds); the possessive pronouns are essentially adjectives. The others admit of both uses; e. g. οὗτος this one, and ἀνὴρ οὗτος (in Attic ὁ ἀνὴρ οὗτος) this man.

166. Gender of Adjectives. In a few cases the gender of the adjective is independent of the substantive with which it is construed.

  1. When a persοn is described by a word which properly denotes a thing (viz. a neuter, as τέκνον, τέκος, etc., or an abstract noun, βίη Πριάμοιο, etc.), the concord of gender is not always observed. Thus we have φίλε τέκνον (but φίλον τέκος, φίλη κεφαλή); again

    Il. 11.690 ἐλθὼν γάρ ῥʼ ἐκάκωσε βίη Ἡρακληείη (= Heracles)

    Od. 11.90 ἦλθε δʼ ἐπὶ ψυχὴ Θηβαίου Τειρεσίαο
                    χρύσεον σκῆπτρον ἔχων

    In such cases grammarians speak of a "construction according to the meaning" (κατὰ σύνεσιν). The term is unobjectionable, provided that we remember that constructions according to the meaning are generally older than those in which meaning is overridden by idiom or grammatical analogy.

  2. Where an adjective refers to more than one noun, it follows the most prominent or (if this is at all doubtful) the masculine is used of persons, the neuter of things.

    Il. 2.136 αἱ δέ που ἡμέτεραί τʼ ἄλοχοι καὶ νήπια τέκνα
                 ἥατʼ ἐνὶ μεγάροις ποτιδέγμεναι

    because the wives are chiefly thought of. But

    Il. 18.514 τεῖχος μέν ῥʼ ἄλοχοί τε φίλαι καὶ νήπια τέκνα
                   ῥύατʼ ἐφεσταότες, μετὰ δʼ ἀνέρες οὓς ἔχε γῆρας

    because the boys and old men are also in the speakerʼs mind.

    Od. 13.435 ἀμφὶ δέ μιν ῥάκος ἄλλο κακὸν βάλεν ἠδὲ χιτῶνα,
                      ῥωγαλέα ῥυπόωντα

    The neuter plural is especially used of sheep and cattle

    Il. 11.244 πρῶθʼ ἑκατὸν βοῦς δῶκεν, ἔπειτα δὲ χίλιʼ ὑπέστη, αἶγας ὁμοῦ καὶ ὄϊς

    Il. 11.696 ἐκ δʼ ὁ γέρων ἀγέλην τε βοῶν καὶ πῶϋ μέγʼ οἰῶν εἵλετο, κρινάμενος τριηκόσιʼ ἠδὲ νομῆας (three hundred head)

    cp. also Il. 5.140, Od. 12.332.

  3. Α noun standing as predicate may be neuter, although the subject is masculine or feminine, as οὐκ ἀγαθὸν πολυκοιρανίη. This is a kind of substantival use.

167. Gender of Pronοuns. Α substantival pronoun denoting a persοn may retain its proper gender although the antecedent is a neuter, or an abstract word.

ll. 22.87 φίλον θάλος, ὃν τέκον αὐτή

Conversely a neuter pronoun may be used substantivally of a thing which has been denoted by a masculine or feminine wοrd.

Il. 2.873 ὃς καὶ χρῦσον ἔχων πόλεμονδ’ ἴεν ἠΰτε κούρη,
             νήπιος, οὐδέ τί οἱ τό γʼ ἐπήρκεσε λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον

Cp. Il. 11.238, 18.460, Od. 12.74 (with the note in Merry and Riddell's edition).

On the other hand, a pronominal subject sometimes fοllοws the gender of a noun standing as predicate.

αὕτη δίκη ἐστί
this is the manner

ἣ θέμις ἐστί
which is right

But the neuter is preferred if a distinct object is meant by the pronoun.

Od. 1.226 οὐκ ἔρανος τάδε γʼ ἐστί
                 what I see is not a club feast

168. Implied Predication. An adjective (or substantive in an adjectival use) construed with a noun in an oblique case may be so used as to convey a distinct predication.

οὐκέτʼ ἐμοὶ φίλα ταῦτʼ ἀγορεύεις =
this (that you now speak) is not pleasing to me

So after verbs meaning to make, cause to be, call, think, etc.

λαοὺς δὲ λίθους ποίησε Κρονίων
Zeus made the people (to be) stοnes

This use is parallel to that of the nominative in the predicate (§ 162). Cp. the forms of sentence λαοὶ ἐγένοντο λίθοι, λαοὺς ἐποίησε λίθους. In the latter the predicative noun (λίθους) is construed with an oblique case, instead of with the subject. A noun so used is calledd a Tertiary Predicate : cp. § 162.3.

Suggested Citation

D.B. Monro, A Grammar of the Homeric Dialect. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.