Dvandva Compounding in Standard Modern Greek

Aldrick Dugarte, Katie Friedman, Amritha Sanmugam, Krysten Stadel


Modern Greek (MG) is a stem-based language that is a part of the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is spoken mainly in Greece and Cyprus by about 13 million people. MG has a variety of compounds; one of which is known as dvandva compounds. Dvandva compounds (also known as coordinative compounds) represent concatenations of constituents belonging to the same category, with the conjunction ‘and’ to form a new word that is both syntactically and semantically equal to its constituents (i.e., it is the sum of the meanings of the two constituents). These present as following: [N+N], [A+A], and [V+V], with the abbreviations indicating the word’s part of speech (respectively: noun, adjective, verb) is and the ‘+’ being the conjunction. Unlike endocentric compounds in Greek, which are right-headed, it’s not clear whether the second constituent in dvandva compounds is the head. This is because, as previously stated, each constituent is syntactically and semantically equal. Based on this, we argue that dvandva compounds in Greek are dual-headed (i.e., both constituents percolate to the head of the compound). For the remainder of the article, we will focus on dvandva compounds.


[V+V] Compounds

Figure 1 shows how V+V dvandva compounds are constructed in MG using a WST and syntactic tree of the word /aniγoklino/ which is described in the Table 1 below.

Table 1: MG /aniγoklino/ dvandva 

Language Line /aniγoklino/
Gloss Line aniγo -o- kiln(o)
Literal Translation Open-close
Translation To open and to close

Figure 1: WST for /aniγoklino/ 

Figure 1

In this example, we can see that there are two different words coming together to form one compound. The last word /klin(o)/ is formed by adding the suffix -o to denote present tense. Therefore, the stem of the verb is /klin/. The first word on the other hand does not receive the regular present tense suffix -o, but rather, receives what is known as the “linking vowel”: (-o-). This vowel connects both words to make a dvandva compound and is considered to be semantically empty. We also notice that both of meaningful constituents are verbs (instead of one being an inflectional affix to a verb); this shows that the resulting compound is a verb. Thus, dvandva compounds in MG are considered to be ‘joint’-headed (i.e., both constituents are heads). Argument structure is irrelevant here since the category of the word does not change, and remains <Ag<Th>>.

[N+N] Compounds

Figure 2 shows how N+N dvandva compounds are constructed in MG using a WST and syntactic tree of the word /xiononero/ which is described in Table 2 below.

Table 2: MG /xiononero/ dvandva

Language Line /xiononero/
Gloss Line xion(i) -o- ner(o)
Translation Line Snow-water

Figure 2: WST for /xiononero/ 

Figure 2

In this example, both constituents are nouns, and the resulting compound is a noun; so, like with /aniyoklino/, we see ‘joint’-headedness. Since Greek is a gender-specific language, its nouns receive different affixes to have gender-agreement. In this particular example, the last word, /ner(o)/ appears to be receiving the neuter suffix /-o/. Normally, the first word /xion(i)/ would receive the suffix -i, but since it is forming a compound, this suffix is dropped, and the previously discussed “linking vowel”(-o-) is attached to the end of the word. We believe that /xionwould first receive the suffix -i and then this would be dropped for phonological reasons (e.g., first vowel is dropped to avoid having two vowels in the same place). Again, argument structure is irrelevant here since the category of the words do not change.

[A+A] Compounds

Figure 3 shows how A+A dvandva compounds are constructed in MG using a WST and syntactic tree of the word /mavroaspros/. This compound does not have a fixed order, and can appear as either “black and white” or “white and black”, demonstrated in Table 3.

Table 3: MG /mavroaspros/ dvandva

Language Line /mavroaspros/       /aspromavros/
Gloss Line mavr(os) -o- aspr(os)           aspr(os) -o- mavro(os)
Translation Line “black and white”  “white and black”

Figure 3: WST(A&B) for /mavroaspros/ and /aspromavros/ 

Figure 3 AFigure 3 B

Unlike [V+V] and [N+N] dvandva compounds, which have a fixed order (i.e., the constituents are placed in a particular order), most [A+A] dvandva compounds do not have a fixed order – and, when fixed order does show, it is because of phonology or lexicalization. This means that both “black and white” and “white and black” are acceptable compounds in MG. As we can see in the table above, the first constituent always drops its suffix (in this case -os) and it is replaced by the “linking vowel” (-o-). Interestingly, this linking vowel appears even in cases where two vowels are present (as shown above in /mavroaspros/). We hypothesize that dvandva compounds in MG require the linking vowel; so, since the /a/ is part of the stem of the word “white,” it’s an exception to the phonological rule whereby two vowels should not be present beside one another.

We believe that the data above help illustrate dvandva compounds in Greek. By showing an example of each different kind of dvandva compound, we showed how they are similar and how they are different from one another. In terms of why they are double-headed, we noticed that for [V+V] Compounds, they follow a semantic logic; in the case of /aniγoklino/, it makes sense that one would open an object first, then to close. For [A+A] Compounds, the order of the heads may typically be switched without losing the meaning of the compound. While our example of the [N+N] Compound may seem to not share equity between both heads, other examples like siblings, composed of the morphs sister and brother, demonstrate the double-headedness of dvanva compounds in modern Greek.


Greek (ελληνικά). (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2017, from https://www.omniglot.com/writing/greek.htm

Kiparsky, Paul. (2017). Verbal co-compounds and subcompounds in Greek.

Ralli, A. (2013). Compounding in modern Greek. Dordrecht: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-4960-3

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