How to Drastically Improve your Greek Parsing Proficiency with ParseGreek and Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek

When you begin learning Koine Greek, you are likely to use a beginning grammar like William D. Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek (BBG). As you go through a first year grammar you learn the morphology of the Greek language through a number of useful paradigms. Mounce does an excellent job of teaching the mechanics of why words take the forms they do. He is always trying to get the student to understand why a word’s inflected form takes the shape it does. He uses tools like the Master Case Ending Chart, the Master Personal Ending Chart, Master Indicative Verb Chart along with the Square of Stops and a handful of other useful charts to help the student understand the underlying mechanics of the language without memorizing thousands of forms (I don’t think anyone wants to do that).

Mounce goes as far as he can to equip students to be able to identify any inflected word form they will likely encounter in the New Testament. But if the student wants to feel mastery, they have to go further. That is where a parsing app like Danny Zacharias’s ParseGreek fills an essential gap. In a way that would not have been possible for Greek students only a decade and a half ago, students are able to drill any number of Greek forms with the touch of a few buttons. My friend and Greek teacher Thom Chittom has said something I couldn’t agree with more: “In Mounce you learn the paradigm, but you have little opportunity to work through it and internalize it. Parsing exercise like ParseGreek is the missing piece that your brain needs to really internalize those patterns and gain confidence in your understanding”

ParseGreek has been an essential part of my studies, and I want to put together a short guide on how I have used it with BBG. I hope with this guide to remove whatever barriers might be preventing you from incorporating regular parsing exercises into your daily or weekly Greek rhythms.

Below I show how to use ParseGreek with BBG, but it is worth pointing out that the app has a number of other beginning and intermediate grammars built in. So, even if you are not intending to use BBG, this guide will be beneficial. Additionally, once you have finished a beginning grammar and learned all of the basic Greek morphology, you can move on to selecting words by frequency.

Step 1: Select your Grammar

The first thing you will do after opening the app is to select your grammar. Again, if you have already completed a first year grammar, you may want to choose “By Frequency or Set.” I recommend checking the Default checkbox so that it will remember your selections the next time you open the app.

Step 2: Select Vocabulary and Grammar Concepts

Understanding how this screen works is key if you are working your way through a beginner grammar for the first time.

The top half of this screen allows you to pick which vocabulary words you want to include. They are organized so that they match the chapters in BBG. If you want to limit your exercises to only the words in the chapter you are on, you can select just that chapter, or if you want to review all vocabulary you have encountered so far, you can easily select all chapters up to your current chapter.

The bottom half of this screen took me a little bit to fully understand. If you do not select anything, then your exercises will include all possible forms. This will be overwhelming for new students because they will not have encountered most of these forms. So, when you are beginning to drill the words for your current chapter, ensure that you have selected the buttons only up to the chapter you are on.

My recommendation is that the first time you do the exercises after completing a chapter, you select all the vocabulary you know but ONLY the grammar concepts from that one chapter. So let’s say you have finished reading Chapter 19: Future Active and Middle Indicative, have reviewed the vocabulary, and are ready to begin parsing exercises. The picture below shows what that configuration would look like:

What I typically do after I have completed the exercises restricted to the concepts in the latest chapter is expand the grammar concepts selection in order to review the concepts covered in earlier chapters. In the picture below, I expanded the grammar concepts to include all of the preceding verbal concepts. This increases the number of exercises, but allows me to begin distinguishing one tense-form or mood from another. This becomes especially important when you start encountering forms that may be identical across tense-forms or moods.

Step 3: Optionally Narrow Word Types or Verbal Mood

The final screen allows you to set a handful of other limitations. You can restrict the word type or verbal mood. It is worth noting that you may have already restricted the word type by restricting the grammar concepts you want to include on the prior screen. In the example above, I had restricted it to only verbs by virtue of selecting only verbal chapters.

When I begin exercises after finishing a particular chapter, I include all vocabulary up to that point, but restrict it to only that chapter’s grammar concepts. I do not normally, at this point, restrict the exercise list any further. Even as I broaden the grammar concepts, I rarely use this screen to limit the exercises, because I have found immense value in including all moods. There are a number of overlapping forms spread across moods, and it is valuable to have exercises that make you differentiate them. When you encounter them during the exercises, the app will typically let you know that there is more than one valid parsing by showing you a count indicator such as “1 of 2”. Only after I finished BBG and began expanding my word frequencies did I see a need to restrict word type.

Concluding Thoughts

I would recommend an approach similar to what I have written above to any student who is making their way through BBG or one of the beginning Greek grammars supported by ParseGreek. To any who have completed a full beginner’s grammar, I recommend you begin working through parsing exercises starting from the highest frequency words down to whatever frequency you feel comfortable with.

Make it a habit to do 25 parsings a day, or 100 a week, or whatever number is low enough that you will do it consistently. This habit has given me confidence and developed my ability to parse quickly and accurately. So much so that those I study with, including my teacher, have seen the benefit and have started to develop the habit themselves. I hope this post has encouraged you to make parsing exercises a regular practice in your own studies.

Some Additional (hopefully helpful) Notes

As a bit of a postscript, here are a couple different things I noticed about the app that I would have liked to know before running into them.

  • The app does not remember what set of words you were drilling or where you left off after the app is closed or refreshed. I would often find myself going through a large number of parsing exercises throughout the day and leaving the app to run in the background while I went about other tasks. For the most part this worked, but occasionally the app would refresh, and I would lose my progress. I think this may have been triggered by Apple memory management. It was incredibly frustrating to be 200 words into a 400 word set and lose my progress. I found that if I limited my word sets to around 100 words, it happened less often. It would also help if I intentionally kept pulling the app up, so it was rarely inactive.
  • While the app is pretty good about showing you when there are multiple parsing solutions for a given form, every once in a while I encounter a form that I am certain has multiple solutions, but the app does not include them. What I believe is happening is that the alternative solutions, while morphologically possible, are not actually present in the biblical text. I am assuming that the app is only including parsings that are tagged in the New Testament.
  • On the flip side, sometimes it will say there are two parsing solutions for a word, but there are not. In those cases I put in the same solution both times, and the app registers it correctly.
  • Should you want to “Restrict quiz to a X random words” or use any of the lower input fields on the final screen, when you click the input, the keyboard will pop up and have no apparent way to be closed. It blocks the screen and the “Next” button. The solution I have found is that if you click somewhere on the top half of the screen it will close the keyboard. I use an iPhone XS max, and this may be a problem unique to that device.

No app is without bugs or quirks, and despite these minor things, it is still worth every penny. I hope this has been helpful.

References:

Mounce, William D., 2019. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. 4th ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Zacharias, D. ParseGreek — Danny Zacharias. [online] Danny Zacharias. Available at: <https://www.dannyzacharias.net/parsegreek> [Accessed 13 February 2022].

Chittom, T. in-fraction. [online] Available at: <https://in-fraction.blogspot.com/> [Accessed 13 February 2022]

4 thoughts on “How to Drastically Improve your Greek Parsing Proficiency with ParseGreek and Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek

    1. Of the few other apps I tried, the user interface was less convenient or the features were lacking. On the app you mention, unless I am missing something, it doesn’t include words by frequency less than 100. ParseGreek allows you to tune it in to the exact frequency or any frequency range you want. It also provides various common sets (the λύω paradigm set is particularly helpful). I also don’t see a way in that app to expand the vocab beyond a single chapter at a time for a grammar. I like to review all chapter vocab including previous chapters simultaneously to increase the randomness but still limit it to words I know.

      Anyway, given the cost of the other materials you typically buy into as you pick up greek (grammar, workbook, readers, etc), the $10 price tag didn’t seem bad, despite the fact that it is one of the more expensive app purchases I have made. With all the hours I’ve put into this app I’d be surprised if I’ve paid even 10c per hour on this app. Well worth it to me.

      But I still love trying out other apps, especially if they are free. Nothing wrong with having a number of tools and seeing which serve best under which circumstances!

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      1. Also, it may seem like I am really lobbying for one particular app, because I chose one for my post . I really don’t care which app people use. ParseGreek just so happens to be the app that I am most familiar with. I have gotten a ton of value out of it, and I have built some of my process around its feature set. What I really want to convey is the importance of building the Parsing habit. If you have an app you like, use it often! Don’t be afraid to try out other apps as well :).

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