Accenting Enclitics

*Currently there is no Greek on this HTML page. When I have a moment, I will convert the Greek into .gifs so that you can see this all illustrated. My apologies for being busy! Still, it should be possible to follow the steps outlined below. 3/27/02 - Some Greek examples added!

For some bizarre reason, people freak out about ancient Greek accentuation and especially about the accentuation of enclitics. This is partly because rules of accentuation generally are seen as arcane and unimportant. While it's certainly true that it's more important to understand, say, the meanings of the 100 most common words in Greek, it's also possible to get a reasonable grip on accentuation early on and retain it. The strange attitude that accentuation isn't important enough to spend much time on, but, contradictorily, that students will freak out if you show them anything apparently anomalous, has led to a rather odd situation in most textbooks. The frequency tools available on the Perseus website show that 'to be' is the 6th most common word (after 'the,' 'and,' 'but,' 'this,' and 'y'know') in a large sample of Greek prose; the indefinite pronoun is the 9th most common; 'I' is the 11th; and 'you' (singular) is the 17th. But since some or all of the forms of these words are enclitic, they tend to be introduced relatively late (chapters 10-12 seem to be popular spots for the first enclitics for some reason), giving students less practice than they should have with them.

It turns out for some students that proper accentuation is a dimly-held memory by the time enclitics roll around. In classes without much emphasis on composition (writing in Greek), accentuation doesn't tend to be a subject that students have to deal with on a daily basis. Also, quite honestly, most textbooks of Greek tend to go out of their way to make enclitic accentuation sound damned hard, which it isn't.

If you've been having trouble getting a handle on enclitics, try the patented Trzaskoma 3-step Program. It involves a silly personification of Greek words, but it works for some students who have trouble with other, more formal explanations. Since it doesn't depend on the part of your brain that deals with quadratic equations, it might just do the trick for you. Disclaimer: The rules your textbook puts forward are correct (at least I hope they are). What follows is just a rearrangement of them designed to allow you to use them without knowing them! It's a sort of pseudo-pyschological explanation that predicts the outcome of some very complex linguistic processes. Enclitics don't have free will, aren't lazy, and don't "throw" accents around.


An enclitic is a word that is pronounced as if it were part of the word before it. It 'leans on' the preceding word, so to speak, which is how they get their name (en + klino, "on + lean"). We have enclitics in English too--think of the "'im" in "I don't like 'im." The end of that sentence is pronounced "likim," that is, as if the 'im were part of the preceding word. We can, if we choose, give the pronoun a non-enclitic pronuciation ("I don't like him."). Similarly in Greek in some circumstances a normally enclitic word doesn't have to be an enclitic. Those details, though, can really wait for later. For now it's enough to know that an enclitic is going to combine with the preceding word in pronunciation.

All of the Greek enclitics are either one or two syllables long. When they are written in isolation, enclitics are written with an accent (on the second syllable of disyllabic enclitics).

Enclitic Accent Applied

Think of enclitics as the slackers of the Greek world. They want nothing more than to get rid of their accent. This progresses in three stages:

Step 1) They try to throw their accent onto the last syllable (ultima) of the preceding word, always in the form of an acute accent.

Step 2) If they can't, they try just to drop their accent completely.

Step 3) If they can't, only then do they keep it.

Those three steps need some fleshing out, but not much. That's the bulk of what you have to know. So memorize them. Then look below for more detail:

Bride of Enclitic Accent Applied

Step 1) They try to throw their accent onto the last syllable of the preceding word. Only 2 circumstances will prevent an enclitic from doing so.

A) If there is already an accent on the ultima of the preceding word, you can't put ANOTHER accent on it. Incidentally, an acute on the ultima of a word before an enclitic does NOT change to a grave.

B) If there is an acute on the penult of the preceding word, you cannot put an acute on the ultima. Another way to think of this is: two acutes can stand on the word before an enclitic, but NOT if they're on successive syllables.

Step 2) If one of either A or B above is true, the enclitic will try to drop its accent completely.

A) If dropping the accent completely would leave the "superword" (think of the of the word + enclitic as one superword) without an accent on one of its last three syllables, the enclitic CAN'T drop it.

Step 3) If A above is true, the enclitic has to keep its own accent.

That's it. You're done. This doesn't describe HOW all of this works, but it will get you through any situation involving an enclitic following a "regular" word. The upshot is that only a disyllabic enclitic will ever be forced to retain its accent, and only in one scenario, which is when the word before it is accented with an acute on its pentultimate (next-to-last) syllable.

Son of Enclitic Accent Applied

There are 5 possible accentual "shapes" for a Greek word. Here's what happens when each is followed by an enclitic. These are simply the outcomes of the steps you learned above. Nothing new here at all!

Acute on the antepenult. These will never get past step 1. Their ultima is clear of accent and there's no chance of 2 acutes in a row. The enclitic will always throw an acute back. So pop an acute on the ultima & don't give the enclitic an accent at all.

Acute on the penult. Step 1: The ultima is clear for an accent, so the enclitic will try to throw back. But you can't put an acute there because that would mean 2 acutes in a row on the word, which is a no-no. Step 2: A monosyllabic enclitic will drop its accent. Step 3: A disyllabic enclitic can't drop its accent, so it'll keep it. Notice that that's the only place where an enclitic is accented among all of these examples!

Circumflex on the penult. Step 1: The ultima is clear for an accent, so it'll try to throw it back. There's no possibility or 2 acutes in a row, so an enclitic will always throw its accent back. Pop an acute on the ultima and pat yourself on the back.

Acute on the ultima. Step 1: Ultima isn't clear for an accent, so enclitic can't throw back. Step 2: all enclitics can drop their accents, because there's no danger of the superword not having an accent on one of its last three syllables. Remember not to change the preceding word's acute to a grave!

Circumflex on the ultima. Step 1: Ultima isn't clear for an accent, so enclitic can't throw back. Step 2: all enclitics will be able to drop their accents entirely because there's no chance of not having an accent on one of the last three syllables of a superword.

A Minor Exception

Enclitics have an acute accent except for the genitive plural of the indefinite pronoun/adjective (tinwn) which customarily is accented with a circumflex. But when it throws its accent back on to the preceding word, it does not throw a circumflex back, just an acute.

Enclitic Plus Enclitic

If an enclitic follows another enclitic, the second throws its accent back onto the first. If three or more enclitics come in a row (it happens!), the result will be that all of the enclitics except for the very last one will have an accent.

Copyright and disclaimer © 2002, Stephen M. Trzaskoma