the weblog of Alan Knox

Memorizing Vocabulary

Posted by on Dec 21, 2009 in NT Greek | 8 comments

When studying NT Greek (or any new language), vocabulary is often an early hurdle… and a hurdle that can trip up even the brightest among us. When facing the daunting task of learning hundreds or thousands of new words, it’s best to have a plan in place. This is a short description of the method that I use to learn new vocabulary words.

Write each new Greek vocabulary word on one side of a card. (I use plain, unlined index cards. Use whatever kind of card works best for you.) On the other side, write a “gloss” for that Greek word. (A “gloss” is not a definition or a meaning, but one possible way to translate the word.) For a word with a wide range of meanings, you may need to write more than one “gloss.”

Begin by dividing your vocabulary words into three stacks of cards with one Greek word written on each card. (When you begin, you will probably only have one stack. But, you should move that one stack into two, then three, stacks as soon as possible.) Here is a description of the three stacks:

Stack #1: This stack is for new words. Each time you add new Greek words to your list, you should make a stack for these new words. Study these words several times each day. I usually study these words in groups of ten until I can recall all ten words. (Ten may not work for you. Find a number that works well for you.) I put those ten in the back of Stack #1 and continue with the next ten words. This is the stack of vocabulary cards that you should carry around with you. You can work on these cards whenever you have nothing to do. When you learn a new word in such a way that you instantly recognize the word and instantly know its glosses, then move it to Stack #2.

Stack #2: This stack is for words that you know, but you’re not completely comfortable with them yet. You should study these words (again ten at a time, or whatever works best for you) at least once per day. If this stack gets too large, then you may need to review them more than once per day. As you begin to recognize a word and know its glosses immediately, you can move that card into Stack #3.

Stack #3: This stack is for words that you know very well. In other words, when you see the word, you instantly recognize the word and know its glosses. You should review the words in this stack two or three times per week at the least. When you are reviewing these words, if you come across a word that you have forgotten or that is causing you trouble, move it back to Stack #2 so that you can review it more often. Do not forget to study this stack of words regularly, or you will not retain your past vocabulary.

Finally, when you are reviewing the words in your stacks of vocabulary cards, shuffle the cards in each stack regularly. Do not study the words in the same order each time, or you will begin to remember the order and not the vocabulary word itself.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-21-2009

    I have found vocab one of the hardest parts, Alan. Thanks for this helpful process.

  2. 12-21-2009

    Alan, when you learn a new verb, do you write down all its principal parts on the vocab card? If so, do you review these each time you review that verb?

  3. 12-21-2009


    I generally don’t put principle parts of verbs on vocab cards. I usually study principle parts separately.


  4. 12-22-2009

    Thanks Alan. Would you mind doing a blog post some day on how you study principle parts separately? I know that it’s important to be able to unpack the different morphemes and recognize a verb form that way, rather than relying on memorizing a whole ton of principle parts. But some forms are so different they have to be memorized. How do you remember to associate ἑώραkα with ὁράω? Do you make separate vocab cards for difficult principle parts?

    appreciate your help

  5. 12-22-2009


    That would be a shorter post than this one. I don’t have a system for studying principle parts. I think that index cards would work well with principle parts as well, though.


  6. 12-22-2009

    Alan, I promise this will be my last question…for at least a couple of hours!

    I’m independently learning Greek from Mounce’s text book (intend to go through Black’s after this). He teaches that you have to learn the principle parts.

    For example, he teaches that when you encounter πορεύσομαι you’ll know that this is a middle deponent because you’ll have memorized the future principle part as having a middle/passive ending, rather than an active ending.

    How do you recognize a future form as a deponent if you don’t memorize its future principle part?

    I appreciate you responding to all my questions.

  7. 12-22-2009


    Yes, it’s important to learn the principle parts of verbs. I don’t really understand Mounce’s example since πορεύομαι is deponent in the present as well. But there are other verbs like ἐσθιω which has active forms in the present and only middle forms in the future (φάγομαι). For these and other irregular forms, you have to memorize the principle parts.

    In Mounce’s example, I would know πορεύσομαι was future deponent because I learned πορεύομαι (lexical form) as a vocabulary word and πορεύσομαι has a future morpheme (σ).


  8. 12-22-2009

    Thanks Alan. My example wasn’t a good one, but yours was. From now on I think I will only include the irregular principle parts on my vocab cards.


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