Consider these masculine nominative singular and masculine nominative dual forms:

νοῦς, ν
κανοῦν, καν
μνᾶ, μνᾶ
γῆ, γᾶ

I understand that the circumflex in these forms represents an acute accent that used be on the penult before a contraction occurred. For examples:

νόος → νοῦς
μνάᾱ → μνᾶ

ν represents an exception because there is no circumflex to hint at what used to be an acute. Instead, we get:

νόω → ν

On this, Introduction to Attic Greek 2nd ed. by Mastronarde Unit 40 says:

. . . the nominative, accusative, and vocative dual of uncompounded words has an acute (e.g. νώ instead of νῶ from νόω).

Also, some adjectives seem to follow the exceptional pattern. For example:

ἀργυροῦς (ἀργυρέος), ἀργυρ (ἀργυρέω)
ἁπλοῦς (ἁπλόος), ἁπλ (ἁπλόω)


  1. Is there a way to understand the exception above? Maybe it is an instance of a larger pattern, or there are some parallels to it. Otherwise, I would be happy to accept an exception as such.

  2. The uncontracted form of κανοῦν is said to be κάνεον. By contraction I should have excepted κάνουν (which Perseus indeed lists as 'noun sg neut nom attic epic doric contr'). How does an accute on antepenult travel all the way to ultima by contraction? (If anyone thinks this second question should be a separate post I will be happy to make it so.)

3 Answers 3


Philomen Probert (Wolfson College, Oxford) writes that

"[A] nominative/accusative dual ending in ω always has an acute, never a circumflex, if accented on the final syllable, regardless of contraction:

νόω > νώ (not *νῶ); ὀστέω > ὀστώ (not *ὀστῶ)

(Probert 2003, §112). This is a synchronic observation.

Other similar exceptions (to the normal rules of contracted forms) she mentions are:

  • adjectives of material in -οῦς from -εος (§122);
  • contracted nouns and adjectives in -ους from -οος (§121);
  • feminine nouns in -ώ (§127).

As for why, I'm not quite sure yet. We “inherited” this convention from the ancient grammarians (Apollonius and his son Herodian, John Philoponus, Theodosius of Alexandria, George Choiroboskos) - see Chandler 1881 §563 for further details, with relevant original passages in Greek on this question.

NB: A lot of Greek grammars are secondary sources and are rather compilatory. In other words, quite often they merely repeat the so called "rules" from the earlier books. For instance, it seems that Kühner–Blass base their observation on Göttling 1835 Allgemeine Lehre vom Akzent der griechischen Sprache (Chandler 1881 basically repeats him too, adding only one other quotation).

To sum up, this is a “rule” passed upon us from the ancient grammarians. In present-day linguistic research it is a thorny issue and is usually mentioned as an exception (e.g. Kiparsky , Probert 2003).

Of course, we could question the accuracy of linguistic description of the Alexandrian grammarians; that being said, it seems inscriptional data confirms the dual oxytone in some dual forms (cf. Monatanari "dual κανώ in inscr.")

On the other hand, it could be explained internally; e.g. Steriade 1988 explains the nominative dual oxytone - to use her terminology, accent on a desinential mora - with morphological factors, in other words, with analogy; cf. Papanastassiou 2013 "[t]he accent of the nominative is kept in all cases [in the Attic declension - Alex B.]. The genitive and dative are oxytone when the final syllable is accented, even if they result from contraction."

If I understand Kurylowicz 1958 L'accentuation des langues indo-européennes correctly, he believes the oxytone of the dual nom-acc marked can be explained analogically. Here's the relevant quote in the original:

"Cette constatation est importante pur le problème de l'ancienne intonation des duel en -ω, -ᾱ. Il s'agit là évidemment d'un phénomène d'ordre sémantique et morphologique. Le manque d'intonation, c.-à-d. l'intonation aiguë, dans ὀφθαλμώ devient compréhensible si l'on suppose qu'au moment de l'introduction du circonflexe dans les désinences -ῆς, -ῇ, -ῷ, -ῶν, le duel ne jouissait plus des droits d'une forme appartenant au paradigme normal, mais était sémantiquement subordonné au pluriel et en quelque sort dérivé de lui (-ώ, -ᾱ́ dérivés < -οί, -αί). C'est un indice de la genèse relativement tardive du système de l'accentuation grecque" (Kurylowicz 1958: 128-129).

-if anyone is willing to post its English translation, be my guest; too tired typing all the French and Greek forms on an English keyboard -

also cf. Bubenik 1983 "The Nom/Acc Dual did not develop an analogical circumflex because the dual is rather a derivational category" [emphasis mine - Alex B.].

Or we could explain it externally - in other words, we could trace it to the PIE dual marker *o-h1(e) and its development in the IE languages (cf. Lithuanian and Vedic dual forms); cf. φῶς < φάος (internal) and φώς (external) (Krasukhin 2004: 88).

Also, I found it interesting that Alonso Deniz 2013 argues that contraction is generally avoided in disyllables as opposed to grammatical disyllables, which may contract.

A note on κανοῦν (κάνεον). Smyth and Messing write that it got its accent from its genitive and dative forms (§236b).

  • 1
    @NickNicholas I found it Schwyzer - see my updated answer at the very end; no time to type all the Greek forms now.
    – Alex B.
    Jul 30, 2018 at 13:18
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    @Nick Nicholas Yes, it’s not an explanation because there isn’t one yet. At least, I’m not aware of it. :)
    – Alex B.
    Jul 30, 2018 at 17:25
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    @NickNicholas I 'm afraid I might have come off unnecessarily dismissive of analogy an a factor of language change. I do not deny its importance. What I meant to say was that analogy has been used in historical linguistics - far too often! imho- when anything else fails. As Jasanoff puts it, "the effort to put limits on analogy — to discover the conditions under which this type of change is likely to operate and in what direction — remains an important goal."
    – Alex B.
    Jul 31, 2018 at 0:14
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    At least it's better than positing a substrate. :-) But I understand the concern. Jul 31, 2018 at 0:47
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    Thank you for keeping on with this. I take it you prefer Bubenik's external account. Myself, I see the analogy as inevitable, given how infrequent contract duals are... Aug 6, 2018 at 5:25

As I noted in comment above, Kühner–Blass did not provide an explanation for the acute in νώ. For κανοῦν, on the other hand, they do note that the variable accentuation ὄστεον ~ *ὀστέον (> ὀστοῦν) was noted by Herodian—though they add that penult accentuation on -εον is not otherwise attested in Greek. They admit the operation of analogy from ἁπλόος > ἁπλοῦς on δίκροος > δικροῦς.

Schwyzer's grammar in p. 379 cites Wackernagel as accepting Herodian's variant accent *χρυσέος as underlying χρυσοῦς.

Note that contract accentuation is an Attic thing, which means it's an innovation in Ancient Greek. For that reason, the historical grammars aren't as strongly motivated to explain it as they would be if it was Homeric. In fact, I can't find discussion by Schwyzer of the contract dual under either the chapter on accentuation, or the chapter on declensions.

  • I'll add the caution that the ancient grammarians aren't always to be trusted, and Herodian could have just analogically back-formed a hypothetical *ὀστέον from ὀστοῦν, rather than known it was actually attested. Jul 30, 2018 at 11:50

To follow up on my remark to @alex, the answer may be as simple as the -ώ being carried over from uncontracted -ο stems ending in -ώ. The fact that the dual was less used than other forms might make the carry-over more likely. (That may be a bit weak, but I haven't seen a better explanation.)

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