Enclitics, Postpositive Conjunctions, and Articles preceding Possessive Adjectives in Latin and Greek


The definition and nature of enclitics and postpositives needs to be presented to learners of Latin and Greek in an amenable manner, free of the irrelevant pedantry found in some online articles. Together with the questions of double articles, and of articles preceding possessive adjectives, the focus of the present document may be considered to be the use of unorthodox word order, as understood by those whose mother tongue is English. Herewith we present our ideas, based upon what we know about some other languages. It will show that the oddities found in the two classical languages under discussion are not to be considered as complete strangers to our treasury of linguistic knowledge. By beginning to understand this unknown familiarity, the student will be more appreciative of the target language, thus facilitating the incorporation of new grammar. Contributions from other languages help give a multicultural view of the question, however incomplete such a view may remain.


Enclitics and postpositives both share an unexpected non-primary position with respect to some other word, while the use of an article with a possessive adjective is both a redundancy in English, and often a contains a postpositive element. The enclitic, in the principal sense we use here, is bound to a word, as if it were a suffix, but has a meaning all of its own; but it will be seen that different books give other definitions. Postpositives present no problem as to their meaning, but their seemingly unnatural second or third position is seemingly foreign to the typical West European. It is not the case that we do not have instances of such constructions. Here are some lines from The Poetical Works of Thomas Moores “The Devil Among the Scholars, A Fragment”. [Ed. A.D. Goodley, Oxford University Press, 1910]:

Instead of studying tomes scholastic,

Ecclesiastic, or monastic,

Off I fly, careering far

In chase of Pollys prettier far

Than any of their namesakes are, —


while all that’s learned and wise

Absorbs the boy, he lifts his eyes,

And through the window of his study

Beholds some damsel fair and ruddy, —

We have italicized five adjectives and one adverb in the position which is not standard in English – these words are therefore used postpositively.

The enclitics, in Quirk, Greenbaum, et. al.’s A Grammar of Contemporary English, (Longman, 1972), as well as in Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics by Jack C. Richards, John & Heidi Platt, 2nd edition, 1992; under the heading of “Clitics”, claim that the negative abbreviation “n’t” is an example in the English language. The same is found in Wikipedias article, “Clitics”, which extends the idea to other abbreviations, and to a hyphenated form in Portuguese. While such information may be useful, it will not help the student of the classical languages which are here under consideration. The situation becomes even less clear when we consider that the agglutinating property of the enclitics may suggest that anything from the “s” ending of the third person singular verb in English, to the string of words which become one mass fusion of words in Turkish, or the German style of writing large numbers as one word (e.g.: 1,234 is eintausendzweihundertvierunddreisig), could be considered valid examples. We will sustain that the English contractions are, but from a different point of view – the effect upon the listener, and not the reader. For the listener, then, we have, for example, a “do not” which has effectively become “donot”, with the eventual disappearance of the final “o”, and a change in pronunciation of the other. Should we write this without that final “o”, we do a disservice, in that we imply that contractions are synonymous with enclitics?

According to the above presentation, and by implication, in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler, [Oxford University Press, 1926], a word which could be used either postpositively or enclitically, is “wise”. He states, for example, that we could write either “no wise” or “nowise”, which is confirmed by the Oxford Concise Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 1934 – not surprisingly, since Fowler was involved in its adaptation and revision. [As an aside, we mention his “words made for the occasion”, by adding “-wise” to nouns, with quaint examples such as “Go crabwise or frogwise”. No disapproval is shown for this practice, but the American Heritage Dictionary, [1981] mentions an 84 per cent disapproval rating of such usage when the meaning is “in relation to”. None of Fowler’s examples have such a meaning, but we hasten to add, that we prefer the condemned “tax-wise” to “frogwise”.]

Although Fowler, in mentioning “wise” does not use terms like “enclitic”, elsewhere he defined this as a technical term. In his explanation, he goes further than the definitions in our books by published by Longman. What he states would neither be appropriate for the classical languages, nor for any other language which places emphasis on a sole vowel length, for he has it as:

A word so devoid of emphasis, that it sounds like part of the word before, as not in cannot

We must object to this definition, although it continues, with an example that agrees with our own reflections. This will be given in the following section.

An Analysis of Enclitics Considering Language as Oral, not Written

We have already commented on the idea that “n’t” is considered by various sources to be an example of enclitic use in English. We have added to this the idea, of a theoretical “donot”, which would fit in with Fowler’s idea of the second part losing most of its emphasis, which is why it is written “don’t”. This latter, however, exists only for the purpose of writing. It would not matter if it were written without the apostrophe, as “dont”, or, should we accept that other contractions are partly enclitic, we could write “weve”, “Ive”, and the like. These latter two, when given an exaggerated pronunciation, such as if they were pronounce “weevə” or “Ivə”, would make the “və”, in effect, a true enclitic, in the sense that the Latin “-ne” is. Our objection to the “n’t” form is that it apparently cannot be pronounced as a word. The defect holds with the contractions of “will” and “shall”, though a schwa sound might be appended to these, thus also giving this the rank of an enclitic, for example, “[s]hee-lə” for “[s]he’ll”. This solves the elementary part of the definition of an enclitic, but it is insufficient for an understanding of Latin or Greek, because these languages are not using this construction as in the examples which we have given.

We have stated that “n’t” apparently cannot be pronounced, but in effect, if we consider, for example, one of the Bantu languages  – Zulu – we get words that do begin with “nt” (See References). A vowel may be added in that language, or following what we have done with other contractions, English can add a schwa, and we do get what could be called an enclitic “ntə”. Zulu also has words begin with “ntsh”, which may be compared to the substandard English pronunciation, “dontcha”. Going a bit further in this substandard category, we might form a sentence such as :

Dontcha wanna gimme a cuppa?

“Cuppa” is British slang for “cup of tea”. For those only familiar with the correctly pronounced forms of words, the sentence is “Don’t you want to give me a cup of tea?”

Fowler specifically gave “gimme” as an example of “me” being used as an enclitic, and this thinking can be applied to all other words suffixed with a vowel in the above sentence.

In what I judge to be the Rhein-Frankish dialect of German, a little verse I heard as a child, and which I have online sounds similar to the following transcription (this is an extract of the most difficult part):

We’me backe’ ha’me Brot,

we’me sterbe’ si’me tot.

(This may be considered as an example of the Trochaic tetrameter, with the last word being pronounced with the length of a foot.)

If we do consider the apostrophes irrelevant, as some have considered them to be for contractions in the English language, we have four enclitics:

Wenn wir backen, haben wir Brot, wenn wir sterben, sind wir tot.

What has happened in order to have the High German reduced to the dialectal form is the following: (1) final “r”, as in British English, becomes more of a schwa, a weak vowel sound. (2) “B” is pronounced almost as “w”, and the “w” sound, wherever it occurs, is suppressed, and (3) the final “n” sound, as in some Spanish-speaking regions, sounds like “m”, because the mouth does not remain open while pronouncing this consonant. (4) On the verbs, this final consonant has been suppressed completely. The word-for-word translation is:

When we bake, have we bread, when we die, are we dead.

Our online translation of the above, on the page “Poetry and Verse”, offers the entire couplet in dialectal German, and our personal English rendition.

To show how this works in Latin, we will look at two of the translations for the co-ordinating conjunction, “and”, these being the standard “et” and the enclitic “que”.

Pater et filius. Mater et filia.

We could have said:

Pater filiusque. Mater filiaque.

Upon seeing such a construction for the first time, we suspect many students decide that this is a construction too difficult to contemplate, not in that it is difficult per se, but that it does not agree with the accepted English word order, when it would seem to be a sufficient problem to put verbs at the end of a sentence, and learn declensions and conjugations.

We hold that such an attitude is wholly unnecessary. Let us take this sentence, with a slightly unorthodox, but understandable message:

The father – the son also, arrived.

Should we consider the sound of the above words, and not the spelling and punctuation, we get:

The father the sonalso arrived.

Since Latin rarely is used with the idea of an article, we get:

Father sonalso arrived.

This then is literally translatable as:

Pater filiusque advenit.

Thus, we believe to have shown a valid connection between English and Latin structure, which students should be able to master quickly. If necessary, a few sentences of this structure should be given for practice. Students should imagine that they are speaking in a grammar previous to our present times, and if they can acquire it through slight deformations of English, tackling a more challenging language will have become easier.

The student may feel more comfortable in knowing that a book such as Wheelock’s Latin only gives three enclitics, the other two are –ce, an intensifier, and “-ne”, a question word. The former can almost be ignored, but one might like to find some type of comparison in the French: Q’est-ce que c’est. (In this example, it fits the Fowler definition of an enclitic, as our pronunciation in fact phonetically approximates: Kess kə seh.) The latter is interesting, in that there are particles in other languages, often placed postpositively, with a similar function. There is, for example, the Chinese , “ma” placed at the end of a sentence, and the double use of the Russian ли, which either denotes a question, or functions as a postpositive conjunction in the same sense as certain Latin words.

Gavin Betts and Alan Henry, in Ancient Greek (Teach Yourself, 1989) try to make the learner feel comfortable by stating that the number of Greek enclitics is small, but the list’s number of words both exceeds that which we have given for Latin by a considerable amount, and deals with words which are not joined to the preceding one; rather, they merely follow in position. Here, by enclitic, they mean a word which “combines with the preceding one for pronunciation” (Appendix 9,d). By their definition, any language which, among other parts of speech, places adjectives after the noun, is enclitic, and this would include most languages on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea. It would especially make French an enclitic language, on account of elision, the eliding of words.

At the same time, “many” particles (to which we are directed in the index when looking up “postpositives” are said to be such. This makes learning more of a challenge, and is the reason for using Latin, through English, as the springboard to understanding the more difficult of these two classical languages.

An Analysis of the Postpositives

Our concern with the postpositives is not the one to which we have alluded in our quotation from Moore’s poem. It may be rare for the majority of speakers of English to place and adjective behind the noun, but the point is, it can be done, and probably almost everybody in the Anglo-Saxon world has been exposed to such a construction, at least during the school years.

The challenge to which one must rise is the position of a word such as a conjunction in such a seemingly strange position. Wheelock’s Latin (6th ed.)

Enim is the only such word found therein. If we should translate this with “for”, it becomes unnatural in a sentence such as:

Amicitia enim ex sapientia et amore et moribus bonus et virtute venit;… Cicero, De Amicitia

Friendship comes for out of wisdom, love and good morals, etc.

.Here we must apply the same idea as we used in our example with pater filiusque: we must consider the sounds, and a premodern punctuation. We can apply a secondary meaning in place of “for”, and add this missing punctuation, and we get:

Friendship, then, comes out of wisdom, etc.

Here, we have translated from a suggestion in a Spanish text, “pues”. From Whitlock, the best fit would be with:

Friendship, in fact, comes out of …

We see that the meaning is not the same. What would happen if recourse were had to a larger dictionary? In the same position we could put “for instance”. The translator, of course, if looking at an entire passage, would need to examine the context. Understanding that enim is used to give reasons, and that “for” expresses “for this reason”, the student can use any of the ideas excluding “for” after our noun, or come to realize, with some practice, that “for” can be susbstituted at the beginning of the sentence.

The almost synonymous igitur gives less of a problem, considering that translations such as “therefore” and “accordingly” may be placed after the noun in English without any problem.

Autem (but) can be treated in the same way. We need to know the exact meaning, this is not a simple “but”, not the pero of Spanish, but the sino, not the aber of German, but the sondern. We substitute the more precise “on the contrary”, “on the other hand”, “however”, or “moreover” and we have the postpositive position possible in English again, with the option of placing “but” at the beginning of the sentence. We need to ignore that all the meanings offered here are not equivalents of “but”.

Some practice with sentences containing these postpositives should make clear to any student that, in effect, we have nothing more than a conjunction following a noun, without the commas to make such a fact transparent.

Without intending to get overly precise, we will now comment on some Greek words used in this way. Some of the translations offered in groups suggesting an enim equivalent, offer other possibilities English words or phrases which could be used to give a non-contextual rendering of our Cicero quote:

άρα: then, so then, Spanish pues, similar to Latin enim, but emphasis here is on

inference, or feelings

γάρ: for, because, since, pues, hence shared meaning with enim; yes, certainly. This word is

considered to be a compound of the preceeding and the following (Liddell, Scott)

γε: shared meaning with enim through “indeed”, other translations: certainly, at least, at any rate

(these latter two, when accompanied by one word), well then

δε: shared meaning with enim: also = “and”; well then, cf. νυν, pues; sometimes = γάρ,

German dann, denn (Liddell, Scott); then, yet (in hypothesis)

δε: attached enclitic, suggesting presence of thing mentioned, or “towards”

δ’οὖν: be that as it may, if … really be so

δη: indeed, surely, certainly, partially synonymous with γε, and thus enim; pues.

The Liddell, Scott article on this word is quite extensive.

δήπου, δή που: perhaps classifiable with άρα, also: I presume, should hope, doubtless (inference);

not indicated as postpositive in Sopena, and Liddell Scott, but so used in examples.

δήτα: indeed > enim; then: άρα From weakest to strongest (shared meanings:

δε, δη, δήτα, this latter may express indignation.

τε καί: both … and, not only … but also. (shared meaning of “and” with δε)

μεν … δέ: each part postpositive: the one … the other; on the one hand … and / but on the other;

a weak μήν often left untranslated; … as well as …, etc.

μέντοι: really, you know, however, nevertheless, yet; (separate in Sopena, joined version is

Attic form, Liddell, Scott)

μήν: then > άρα, indeed > γε, both of these sharing meanings with enim

νιν: (with accusative, poetical, such usage not mentioned in Liddell, Scott) him, her,it, them

νυν, νυ (before consonants): well then, now then, thereupon, thereafter (shares the “then”

 component with enim; accented in Sopena, “commonly enclitic” in Liddell, Scott )

οὖν: therefore, so, then > enim); igitur

ποτέ: at any time, ever (given as enclitic in Liddell, Scott): at one time or another

ποτε: This is given as the enclitic form of the preceding in Sopena.

που: (enclitic in Liddell, Scott: πού): somewhere, anywhere; in some degree;

I suppose, probably, possibly; perhaps (compare this latter to δήπου.)

πώποτε: ever yet (= ever), sometimes, never (cf.: ποτέ)

τε: and, cf. δε > enim = enclitic que of Latin

τε … καί / τε: both … and (shared meaning “and” with enim), not only … but also;

for τε … καί, other translations may apply

τις, τι: (enclitic: Liddell, Scott) indefinite pronoun): a certain, someone, something,

any one, any thing; a man (not a brute); (special use with adj. and numerals)

τοι: certainly, surely, truly, doubtless; then; you see

τοινυν: now then, well now, certainly, well then (suffix of μέντοι, to which νυν is added),

(then > enim); therefore; accordingly (inferential); sometimes τοινυν > τοι.


The above words, excepting some variants, were culled from the already-mentioned Ancient Greek, but the definitions modified, and the spelling checked, with the works referenced at the bottom of the page.

Depending on how these are counted, we might say that there are 22 examples here. However, we may say that these can be reduced, when analyzed, to 5 groups, the majority of the words bifurcating from meanings of άρα, where the dominant group often follows with an idea of the Latin enim or Spanish pues, and a secondary group suggesting inference, or supposition. The third group, starting with μεν, might be remembered through French main, or Spanish mano: hand, which helps us remember the possible meaning“ on the one hand … on the other”. The fourth group consists of pronouns, while the final column deals with adverbs of time. The only task remaining for the students is to learn the other meanings of the words in the first three groups.

Articles Preceding Possessive Adjectives

Should we look at the Greek version of the “Our Father”, selected as being in the public domain for two thousand years, we get a literal translation of one part as, “the name your” for “your name”. This may seem strange, but the construction is not completely unusual to other European languages. We might approximate it, in order to help the learner, as “the name of yours”, with a suppression of the preposition, and the final “s”. In Spanish, it is valid as: el nombre suyo, as a variant of su nombre. Not quite the same as the preceding examples, a not standard German would have a construction as der Mann sein Hemd, i.e., the man’s shirt.

Should we look at the Greek version of the “Our Father”, selected as being in the public domain for two thousand years, we get a literal translation of one part as, “the name your” for “your name”. This may seem strange, but the construction is not completely unusual to other European languages. We might approximate it, in order to help the learner, as “the name of yours”, with a suppression of the preposition, and the final “s”. In Spanish, it is valid as: el nombre suyo, as a variant of su nombre. Not quite the same as the preceding examples, a not standard German would have a construction as der Mann sein Hemd, i.e., the man’s shirt. (See Note at bottom of page.)

Consecutive Articles in Greek

The strangest construction, at least at first sight, is something like the following accusative construction, valid for the feminine nouns and adjectives.

… την της γυνης αρηταν

We are not interested in which version of Greek this is, but rather, wish to point out that we have two definite articles following one another, the first, in the accusative, and the second in the genitive; while we have first a noun in the genitive, followed by the other in the objective case. We thus have two oddities here, not only the repetition of articles at the beginning, but the order of the cases, which might be considered, from the point of view of walking, level; up or down – remain up or down – return to level.

Here is an example from a copyright-free text on-line (Greek Reading Book, references): την της εσθήτος κατασκευήν : the construction of precious stones. We can break this down to the outer elements:

την κατασκευήν : the construction; and the inner: της εσθήτος: of precious stones.  This technique of separating the inner from the outer may be of help until one becomes used to this “construction”.

The double article might not seem totally odd to those who speak some German, where it may be amusing to consider a sentence (I prefer to write “daß” to “dass”):

Ich weiß, daß das, das das Mädchen einpackt, ein Geschenk ist.

I know that that, which the girl is wrapping, is a Gift (literally translated).

We have then had four words of equal pronunciation in German, two of which have the same spelling in English, although the second “that” would be emphasized.

Finding and trying understand these difficulties should not be considered daunting tasks, but amusements. Of that, I have dealt with in my article, “Collecting Languages as if They Were Butterflies”.


In general, what might appear strange in Latin and Greek to those whose primary language is English, is not really as outlandish as it appears to be at first sight. We have attempted to show this through our examples, which will especially benefit some of those students who already have some knowledge of a modern European language. A little practice will help those others, who do not have this advantage.

November 11, 2018

© 2018, Paul Karl Moeller


The choice of  der Mann sein Hemd  was our own. This is the way I remember the usage, but a web page accessed at the time of this writing gave an example such as dem Mann sein Hut (“Origin”, in References,.  This is quite similar to the example as in our Duden Grammatik.  A search was carried out on the web, but unfortunately, the only work or two available allow very limited viewing possibilities.  Yet, one of these (Die Grenzboten, in References) does suggest such a genitive form, alongside Plattdeutsch (Low German) e man sin ?? (because of the different fonts at that time, the text was not readable). There seemed to be another example, but in context, it was not.  The use of this construction can be confusing. Consider, der Mann seiner Frau!


The following references were not given in-line, due to their length:

Diccionario griego-español, Florencia I. Sebastian Yarza, dir., [Barcelona: Ramón Sopena, 1945]

The above is referred to as Sopena in the body of the text.

Die Grammatik, Duden Band 4, [Mannheim, Bibliographisches Institut, 1973], p. 548, § 1292 aa  b “Mit der Konstruktion Dativ + Possessivpronomen

Die Grenzboten, (magazine), F. L. Herbig, 1889, Volume 48, part 3, p. 323; https://books.google.com/books?id=DQIbAAAAYAAJ

Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, 7th ed. [New York: Harper & Bros., 1883]. Available as file greekenglishlex00liddrich on archive.org.

Greek Reading Book, for the Use of Schools: Containing the Substance of The Practical Introduction to Greek Construing, and a Treatise on the Greek Particles, Thomas Kerchever Arnold, [New York: D. Appleton, 1848], p. 137,  line 9; https://books.google.com.ar/books?id=B9lFAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA137&dq=την+της.

“Origin of the dem–sein possessive”: https://german.stackexchange.com/questions/3964/origin-of-the-dem-sein-possessive, posted February 22, 2012 by Kevin.

Zulu-English Dictionary, C. M. Doke B. W. Vilakazi, 2nd ed., Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg, 1972, p. 601, 606.

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