Polytonic Greek diacritics, the markings seen above Greek letters, indicate the proper pronunciation. Most novice and intermediate Greek translators ignore these characters, but familiarity with these little markings is a great timesaver and avoids potential translation errors.
For example, the confusing words: ην, η, and ως, each one can have a number of different meanings. A person can use context to decide which meaning is to be used, but a quick glance at the diacritic along with context makes it much faster to understand.
Here are ην, η, and ως, with the diacritics and possible English translations:
- ἤν conditional particle, shortened form for εἰ ἄν and ἐάν—if or when
- ἦν imperfect indicative active 3rd singular of εἰμί—he was
- ἤν interjection—see there!
- ἥν feminine accusative singular relative pronoun—whom, which or that
The Greek letter, η, is more complex. The diacritics and context have to be utilized:
- ἡ feminine singular nominative definite article—the
- ἥ feminine singular nominative relative pronoun—who, which or that
- ᾗ two possible meanings:
- feminine dative singular of the relative Pronoun ὅς, ἥ, ὅ—which way, where, how, as, in so far as
- feminine dative singular—to/for/with/in whom
ᾖ verb, present subjunctive active 3rd singular of εἰμί—no simple English equivalent
- ἤ four possible meanings:
- comparative—either, or, than
- adverbially—surely, doubtless
- the next two are possibilities for ἤ in ecclesiastical literature but remote:
- verb, imperfect indicative active 3rd singular of φημί—he was saying
- verb, imperfect indicative active 1st singular of εἰμί, Attic Greek—I was
This one can also cause some confusion:
- ὧς and ὥς (with accent)—so or thus
- ὡς (without accent) of the relative pronoun ὅς—as
- ὡς relative and Interrogative—how
- ὡς temporal—when
- ὡς local—where
A larger list of problem words can be found at chioulaoshi.org.
Mastery of diacritics is beneficial in the translation process. It is worth taking the time to learn.