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How far does agreement go when using polite forms?
by Carrie Hull - Wednesday, 18 June 2008, 08:55 PM

Hello: I've been working away at this program for more than a year now, and I'm on Lesson 46. I've had a question that has been bugging me for some time, and I thought it would be answered eventually. Please accept my apologies if I missed it somehow in the discussions for each lesson.

Here’s my question: If you ask one person you don’t know very well, “Are you Greek,” you should say, " Είστε Ελληνας;” I want to know why you don’t say “ Είστε Ελληνες;” Can someone please explain the agreement of the polite form of a verb with other parts of the sentence? It would be helpful if someone went beyond my example, because I know that in this case "Greek" is a noun, not an adjective.  Thank you very much!!

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Re: How far does agreement go when using polite forms?
by Greg Brush - Thursday, 19 June 2008, 01:08 AM
  Perhaps what's confusing you is that the 2nd person plural verbform is used when referring to either more than one person (i.e., a true plural) or to just one person when speaking politely or formally (i.e., a semantic singular).

Keep in mind that είμαι is a very special verb, because it links (i.e., "equates") a nominative subject with a nominative predicate, which must grammatically agree in gender and number with the subject.

The result is actually quite simple -- when είστε refers to more than one person, any predicate must be nominative plural and agree in grammatical gender with the (nominative) subject:
Είστε [εσείς] Έλληνες; = Are you Greeks? [plural, all males]
Είστε [εσείς] Ελληνίδες; = Are you Greeks? [plural, all females]

while when είστε refers to just one person, the predicate is nominative singular, again in gender agreement with the subject:
Είστε [εσείς] Έλληνας; = Are you Greek? [singular formal/polite, male]
Είστε [εσείς] Ελληνίδα; = Are you Greek? [singuar formal/polite, female]

cf. the singular polite above with the singular familiar below:
Είσαι [εσύ] Έλληνας; = Are you Greek? [singular informal/familiar, male]
Είσαι [εσύ] Ελληνίδα; = Are you Greek? [singular informal/familiar, female]

Any adjectives used in the predicate must also agree in gender and number with the subject:
Είστε καλοί Έλληνες άνδρες. = You are good Greek husbands.
Είστε καλές Ελληνίδες γυναίκες. = You are good Greek wives.
(singular, formal)
Είστε καλός Έλληνας άνδρας. = You are a good Greek husband.
Είστε καλή Ελληνίδα γυναίκα. = You are a good Greek wife.

Hope this helps,
Greg Brush
Picture of Carrie Hull
Re: How far does agreement go when using polite forms?
by Carrie Hull - Thursday, 19 June 2008, 11:52 AM

The aspect I didn't appreciate is that the formal "you" is still semantically singular.  I should have realized that in French it is the same situation; one says "vous êtes venu," in a formal situation for just one person.

Thank you so much for all of your work on this site.  I haven't had to ask any questions before because all of them have been addressed in the discussion forums.