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Greek/Gender of Greek words.



I am studying Biblical Greek. I have come to understand that the Greek word, pneuma, is actually neuter.

Can you provide an explanation as to why pneuma is neuter?

Does a words gender have an impact on the thing itself or is it simply the way people thought about the word?



the ancient Greek noun πνεῦμα (transliterated as “pnéuma”) as in the Biblical “πνεῦμα θεοῦ” (“pnéuma theoú” meaning “the spirit of God”, Genesis 1.2) is just a neuter noun, i.e. neither masculine nor feminine in gender.

Anyway, the gender of this word has no impact on the thing itself, but it is simply the way people thought about the word, so to say.

In fact, it is not so easy to try to explain why this noun belonging to the 3rd.declension is neuter instead of feminine or masculine in gender, since to find traces of it we have to go back to the earliest times, and especially to  the so-called Indo-European languages from which Greek comes together with Sanskrit, Latin (hence Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian), German (hence English, e.g.) and most Slavic languages.

So, what I can tell you is that scholars think that the earliest stages of Proto-Indo-European had two genders (animate and inanimate), but the animate gender  later split into masculine and feminine, whereas the inanimate gender  became the neuter: thus originating the three-way classification into masculine, feminine, and neuter we see in Latin and ancient Greek,for example.

This could have been the reason why the ancient Greek noun πνεῦμα (pnéuma), which was an inanimate thing, became neuter in gender.

In time, however, many languages reduced the number of genders to two, as some lost the neuter, leaving masculine and feminine, like most Romance or Neo-Latin languages, while others merged the feminine and the masculine into a common gender, and finally a few languages, such as English,  have nearly completely lost grammatical gender, though there is sometimes a trace of them in a few words like in English personal pronouns: he (masculine), she (feminine) , it (neuter).

To conclude I have to point out that the Indo-European language is a family of languages spoken in most of Europe and areas of European settlement and in much of Southwest and South Asia.
They descend from a single unrecorded language believed to have been spoken more than 5,000 years ago in the steppe regions north of the Black Sea and to have split into a number of dialects that, carried by migrating tribes to Europe and Asia, developed over time into separate languages.

The study of Indo-European began in the second half of the 18th.century when scholars said that Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Germanic, and Celtic were all derived from a common source. In the 19th century linguists added other languages to the Indo-European family, and established a system of sound correspondences. Proto-Indo-European has since been partially reconstructed via identification of roots common to its descendants and analysis of shared grammatical patterns.

Hope this outline can be helpful to you.
Best regards,


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I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning ANCIENT GREEK. So, do not ask me please questions regarding MODERN GREEK as it is different from Ancient Greek either in spelling/meaning or in pronunciation.


Over 25 years teaching experience.

I received my Ph.D in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy) and my thesis was about ancient Greek drama (Aeschylus).

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