Part 1 set the stage for what I am up to here: discussing ὅτι clauses from a syntactic perspective. Here in Part 2, we will look at some data.

ὅτι as argument

ὅτι clauses can serve as an argument of a verb. When used this way, the ὅτι clause is a substantive (equivalent to a noun). As arguments, ὅτι clauses are overwhelmingly complements (that is, what we usually call an object or direct object), though they can serve as the subject as well.

So why call them a complement rather than an object? Well, it actually makes things simpler, once the nomenclature is grasped. In short, all direct objects are complements but not all complements are direct objects. A direct object is a special sub-class of second arguments and in Greek they are marked out with the accusative case. Many verbs, though, have either a genitive or dative case second argument, sometimes called a complement in the grammatical tradition. These are not direct objects, but we could call them all “objects,” if by that we simply mean they are the second argument of the verb. When a phrase or clause fills in the second argument of a verb, from the point of view of syntax it functions the same as a single noun in the accusative case, but it obviously differs. So, rather than always specifying object, direct object, clause as direct object, etc., we can save our breath and just call them all complements. They are necessary to “complete” the meaning of the verb.

ὅτι clause as subject

On rare occasions, an ὅτι clause serves as the subject of a verb. That is, it is the first argument. We have an analogous construction in English, for example:

  • [That he was taller than everyone else] was easy to see.

Note that the “that” clause here is the subject.[1]

Acts 4.16 is one of the quite rare instances in the Greek NT where this is the case:

  • λέγοντες· τί ποιήσωμεν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τούτοις; [ὅτι μὲν γὰρ γνωστὸν σημεῖον γέγονεν δι’ αὐτῶν] πᾶσιν τοῖς κατοικοῦσιν Ἰερουσαλὴμ φανερὸν
  • saying, “What shall we do regarding these men? [That a remarkable sign has occurred through them] is manifest to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem…

In simple terms, the ὅτι clause functions in place of a nominative case noun as the first argument of the verb, here an implied ἐστίν. This usage allows the writer to create a pseudo-noun to treat a complex state of affairs as though it is the subject. Since there are no nouns in Greek which mean “a-remarkable-sign-ocurred-through-them,” to use this idea as a subject requires something like an ὅτι clause.

ὅτι as complement

When an ὅτι clause serves as the second argument of a verb, it is a complement (aka direct object or object). In a further installment, we will have reason to look at this category in much greater detail. Here, I will simply note the basic syntactic pattern and leave further discussion aside.

The following three examples hit the different “subtypes” of an ὅτι clause as complement.

Type 1: complement of generic transitive verb

First, we have an ὅτι clause functioning as complement of a transitive verb that is not a verb of perception, communication, or a variety of related semantic classes. This use is not common. Revelation 2.4 is an example:

  • ἀλλ’ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ [ὅτι τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκες.]
  • But I have [that you have forsaken your first love] against you.

One surmises that the function this ὅτι clause serves could have been achieved with an articular participial clause as well.

Type 2: complement of special semantic classes

Second, we have an ὅτι clause functioning as complement giving the content of what is perceived/thought/etc. As an example, consider 1 John 2.3:

  • Καὶ ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν [ὅτι ἐγνώκαμεν αὐτόν]
  • And in this we know [that we have known him]
Type 3: complement of verbs of speaking

Lastly, we often find a distinction made when an ὅτι clause functions as complement in what is traditionally called direct and indirect discourse. For now, it suffices to give a single example and push the discussion off for later. 1 John 4.20 provides a good example:

  • ἐάν τις εἴπῃ [ὅτι Ἀγαπῶ τὸν θεόν]
  • “If someone says, “I love God”
Summary of ὅτι as complement

In each of the above three examples, we could substitute the noun τὸν ἄρτον in place of the ὅτι clause and have a grammatically correct—though perhaps odd—sentence:

  1. ἀλλ’ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ τὸν ἄρτον
  2. Καὶ ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν τὸν ἄρτον
  3. ἐάν τις εἴπῃ ὅτι τὸν ἄρτον

Note that on example 3 we have to leave the ὅτι there, unlike the other two. This example is of direct discourse. We will latter discuss that direct discourse is slightly different from other times when an ὅτι clause serves as a syntactic complement.

The point is that the ὅτι clause is an argument of the main verb and is thus replaceable with another argument. Now, we can move to the ways an ὅτι clause can function as a non-argument.

ὅτι as non-argument: apposition and adjunct

Finally, ὅτι can also be used in ways where it is not an argument of the verb. It can function in apposition or as an adjunct (adverbial).

Deciding between the appropriate subtype requires considering factors such as the semantics of the verb involved and the flow of the discourse. In effect, both these uses are non-central to the clause: appositional (aka, epexegetical) is in apposition to a some element within the clause; causal is adjunct to the verb/predicate.


Apposition refers to the use of an ὅτι clause to elaborate on a preceding clause, often singling out a nominal element therein which it most specifically elaborates upon. For example, consider 1 John 1.5:

  • Καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία ἣν ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς φῶς ἐστιν καὶ σκοτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδεμία.
  • And this is the message which we have heard from him and proclaim to you, namely that God is light and in him there is absolutetely no darkness.

The ὅτι clause is elaborating upon the idea “this (message),” further detailing the contents of said message. Usually we don’t insert the namely when translating; that is just to emphasize the Greek syntax.

In some instances, the elaboration is not obviously tied to any one noun element; rather, it seems to capture a larger section in its purview. Consider Matt. 25.24

  • κύριε, ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος, θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας καὶ συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας
  • Lord, I know you, namely that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and …

The 2nd argument of ἔγνων here is σε: “I know you.” The ὅτι clause can’t be an argument, but it stands in apposition loosely to σε, further elaborating in what relevant sense the servant means “I know you.” English translations usually smooth this sentence out in some way, with something like “I know that you are a hard man.” Makes perfectly good sense as English; obscures the way the Greek functions


An adjunct adds particular information about the verb but is not required. The urge to translate ὅτι with “because” is a recognition that it is an adjunct.

Adjunct vs. adverb. An adjunct covers all those parts of a sentence which are unnecessary from the point of view of syntax. Adverb, by contrast, refers to an ill-defined word class made up of words which carry out certain similar semantic functions. Adjunct is a syntactic role; adverb is a semantic class.
From the practical point of view, adjuncts carry out those functions which we often associate with adverbs and so calling them adverbial is a good place to hang your hat initially.

Consider 1 John 3.1 as an example:

  • Ἴδετε ποταπὴν ἀγάπην δέδωκεν ἡμῖν ὁ πατήρ, ἵνα τέκνα θεοῦ κληθῶμεν, καὶ ἐσμέν. διὰ τοῦτο ὁ κόσμος οὐ γινώσκει ἡμᾶς, ὅτι οὐκ ἔγνω αὐτόν.
  • Behold what manner of love the father has given unto us, that we may be called children of God, and we are. For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know him.

Note that the ὅτι clause is not an argument of anything. The main verb γινώσκει finds its complement in the pronoun ἡμᾶς. The decision to understand this as an adjunct rather than apposition is based on the flow of the context.

Another example is the famous beatitudes in Matthew 5. Each verse in 5-10 includes an initial statement which is modified by an ὅτι clause as an adjunct. Consider Matt 5.5:

  • μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Here we use the somewhat looser “for” as opposed to the stock translation “because.”[3] This distinction does not deeply concern us here. Of greater relevance is the argument structure. Here the verb—an implied εἰσίν—has its two obligatory arguments filled: subject and predicate nominative. Thus, ὅτι either has to be apposition or adjunct. Semantics guide us to adjunct with a causal adverbial understanding. Since “they will inherit the earth” mainly modifies the predication “they are blessed” rather than the subject “the meek,” we take this ὅτι clause as in apposition.

Summary: the payoff

The payoff of such a syntactic focused description of ὅτι clauses is that it integrate them into a larger model of the sentence and gives us easy language to talk about why the different uses work as they do. Our instincts as Greek readers, for example, are picking up on whether the argument structure of a verb is full or not—if it is, then apposition and adjunct are possible readings of the ὅτι clause. Here we have just put some language onto the syntax-processing which we have learned to do mostly without thinking.

In the next post, we will dig more into some complexities which arise when an ὅτι clause is a complement of certain types of main verbs which are exceedingly common: verbs of communication, perceiving, and related semantic categories.  

[1] This type of sentence appears to be a pseudo-cleft sentence in English.

[2] See A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research 3rd ed, 962-63.