Lesson 14.1 — Prepositions

Prepositions in English

A preposition is a word that indicates the relationship between two words.  In the sentence, "The book is under the table," the preposition "under" describes the relationship between "book" and "table," which in this case is a spatial relationship.  What are some other prepositions in English?

His feet are on the chair.

The ball went over his head.

John came with his disciples.

John came before Jesus.

The word that follows the preposition is called the object of the preposition.  In the first example above, the object of the preposition under is table.

The preposition together with its object (and any modifiers) is called a prepositional phrase.


Prepositions in Greek

The function of a preposition in Greek is the same as in English.  There is one very important fact, however, you need to understand about Greek prepositions.  In Greek, the meaning of a preposition depends upon the case of its object.  For example, the preposition διά means through if its object is in the genitive, but on account of if its object is in the accusative.

Some prepositions are always followed by the same case, so they only have one set of meanings.  For example, the preposition ἐν always takes an object in the dative, and has the basic meaning of in.  But other prepositions can be followed by two cases, and a few can even be followed by three cases.  The object will (virtually) never be in the nominative.


Flash Cards

We have not been using flash cards in this class, since the research on their long-term effectiveness in language acquisition is not encouraging.

The one exception to this might be with prepositions.  They are so common that taking some effort in memorization may be useful.  Page 13.2 of this lesson will give you a flash-card-like drill on prepositions.

When memorizing the meaning of prepositions:

διά with the genitive

...while another should say:

διά with the accusative

_____ with the _____ means _____.

ἐν with the dative means in.


Different Than Standard Use of the Cases

We learned before that a noun case often captures the meaning of some key word.  For instance, the genitive often captures the key word of.  So we typically translate ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ as the kingdom of God.

However, if a word is the object of a preposition, don't translate it with any of that case's typical key words.  For example, ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ means the word of God.  However, the phrase ὁ λόγος απὸ θεοῦ is translated the word from God.  You would not say the word from of God, since θεοῦ is genitive due to the preposition.


Word Form of Prepositions

παρά will be παρά whether its object is in the genitive, dative, or accusative.

The only time the preposition changes its form has nothing to do with noun cases.  When a preposition ends in a vowel and the following word begins with a vowel with a smooth breathing mark, the final vowel may be dropped and marked with an apostrophe.  Hence:

μετὰ αὐτον


μετ' αὐτον

When a preposition ends in a vowel and the following word begins with a vowel with a rough breathing mark, the consonant before the vowel in the preposition often changes as well.  Greeks thought that this made the combination of sounds easier to pronounce.  Hence:

μετὰ ἡμῶν


μεθ' ἡμῶν


Mapping Prepositions Spatially

Not every preposition can be mapped spatially; and the ones in this diagram have other meanings when followed by different cases (or even followed by the same case in a different context).  Every preposition has a rather broad lexical range.

Still, this diagram captures two thirds of preposition use in the New Testament.  Click on a word to see its translation.

Here is another way to think of prepositions: not spatially, but in a chart.

Practice prepositions by clicking