Parsing a Greek Verb
You have learned the Greek alphabet and other components of the Greek writing system. Let us turn now to Greek words: what they mean, how to form them, and how to understand them. We begin with perhaps the most essential word in a Greek sentence: the VERB. A verb describes an action. These actions most often are physical (to kick), mental (to think), or express states or conditions (to be).
An English verb form, on its own, often expresses only the action that is taking place, e.g. run, stop, exist. Greek, however, is a highly INFLECTED language. In other words, Greek INFLECTS, or changes, its verbs, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives to represent exactly how each of these words functions grammatically in a sentence. For a Greek verb, these inflections usually communicate FIVE pieces of information: PERSON, NUMBER, TENSE, MOOD, and VOICE.
1. PERSON indicates the subject of the verb.
- 1st person = I, we
- 2nd person = you, you all
- 3rd person = he/she/it, they, or anyone/anything else
2. NUMBER indicates whether the subject (“person”) is singular or plural.
- Singular: I, you, he/she/it, or any single subject
- Plural: we, you all, they, or any plural subject
The Greek SINGULAR and PLURAL operate much as they do in English. Greek, however, also has a DUAL number, which indicates that there are precisely two subjects. This number is rarely used by most authors, however. Here we concentrate on the much more common singular and plural. The dual number will be discussed as it is encountered in your readings.
3. TENSE indicates when the action happens.
English uses a combination of verb changes and/or additional words to indicate six main tenses:
- Present: run, stop
- Past: ran, stopped
- Future: will run, will stop
- Present Perfect: have (just) run, have (just) stopped
- Past Perfect (or Pluperfect): had run, had stopped
- Future Perfect: will have run, will have stopped
As we will see, Greek tenses are similar, with a few important differences.
4. MOOD refers to the “mode” of the verb.
Most often, the mood of the verb indicates whether the action is real or hypothetical in some way. English uses a combination of verb changes and/or additional words to indicate four moods.
- The INDICATIVE mood is most common, and expresses facts:
- she runs, he stops
- The IMPERATIVE mood gives commands:
- run! stop!
- The SUBJUNCTIVE mood expresses unreal or hypothetical actions, such as wishes, conditions, and possibilities:
- she might run, if he could stop…
- The INFINITIVE mood refers to action without a person or number. In practice, it functions much like a verbal noun. It is formed in English by adding the word to to the verb form:
- to run, to stop
Greek moods are similar, though again with some important differences.
5. VOICE indicates the relationship between the action of the verb and its subject.
English uses a combination of verb changes and/or additional words to indicate two possible voices.
- The ACTIVE voice indicates that the subject of the verb is carrying out the action:
- She (subject) stopped the car.
- All (subject) love music.
- The PASSIVE voice indicates that the subject receives the consequences of the action:
- The car (subject) was stopped by her.
- Music (subject) is loved by all.
The Greek ACTIVE and PASSIVE voices operate much as they do in English. Greek also has a MIDDLE voice, which often indicates that the subject is both the agent and recipient of the action. We discuss the middle voice in more detail in later chapters.
To PARSE a Greek verb means to identify these five qualities – Person, Number, Tense, Mood, Voice – for any given verb form. For example, a specific verb form could be:
- Third person
Once you know these five items and the verb’s meaning, you have identified the verb completely and understand what it means.
Building a Greek Verb
I. The Present Indicative Active
Now that you have learned the types of information that a Greek verb form conveys about an action, let us turn to how a Greek verb is inflected to convey this information.
English verbs often make additions or use additional words to convey Person, Number, Tense, Mood, and Voice. Consider the verbs in the following sentences:
I am running.
I did stop.
You are running.
You did stop.
She is running.
He did stop.
Now imagine verbs like this!
These imaginary English verbs work basically the way verbs work in Greek. Greek verbs for the most part communicate person, number, tense, mood, and voice by adding parts to the verb, rather than by using additional words. Building verbs this way can seem strange at first, but to a Greek, the number of words English needs to express what Greek can do in one word would seem equally strange.
To begin building a Greek verb, start with the VERB STEM (S 191). The stem is the part of the word that tells you what action the verb describes:
- δεικ– = show
All the verbs in this lesson are in the PRESENT TENSE. Sometimes in Greek, a marker is added to the stem that says the verb is in the present tense. In the case of the verb stem δεικ-, adding a –ν– to the verb stem marks a verb as in the present tense (S 523-525). It will be easier to pronounce this verb by adding an upsilon: –νυ–.
So now we have a TENSE STEM, specifically a PRESENT TENSE STEM, that looks and sounds like this:
- δεικνυ– = show
The most common mood of Greek verbs is the INDICATIVE, indicating that the action of the verb is real. All the verbs in this lesson are in the ACTIVE voice, so the following verb forms are:
- Present tense
- Indicative mood
- Active voice
To indicate person and number, the verb needs to add PERSONAL ENDINGS, which are as follows:
–μι = I (1st person singular)
–μεν = we (1st person plural)
–ς = you (2nd person singular)
–τε = y’all (2nd person plural)
–σι(ν) = (s)he, it (3rd person sg)
–ασι(ν) = they (3rd person pl)
Note: (ν) indicates that this ending has a MOVABLE NU.
Putting it all together, the Present Indicative Active of δείκνυμι is as follows (S 418; GPH p. 156):
δείκνυμι I show
δείκνυμεν we show
δείκνυς you show
δείκνυτε you all show
δείκνυσι (s)he, it shows
δεικνύασι they show
Notice that since the very form of δείκνυμι informs us that the person and number is first person singular, Greek does not need the personal pronoun ἐγώ, “I.” In general, if Greek does use the personal pronoun, it is for stress: ἐγὼ δείκνυμι “I myself show.” The same principle applies to verbs with second person endings. The subject of third person verb forms is usually clear from the context of the sentence.
II. The Infinitive Mood
The INFINITIVE is another common mood of Greek verbs. The infinitive refers to the action without person or number. As a result, it needs only a single ending to mark tense and voice. The ending –ναι forms the Present Active Infinitive for the verbs in this lesson. The accent falls on the PENULT.
- δεικνύναι to show
We learn the various meanings and uses of the Greek infinitive mood in the coming chapters.
To CONJUGATE a verb means to provide all six INFLECTED forms of a particular verb in a particular tense, mood, and voice. So, the above chart is a conjugation of δείκνυμι, in the Present, Indicative, Active.
Placing the Accent: Verbs
I. The Recessive Accent
For most Greek verbs, the principle of RECESSIVE ACCENTUATION determines which syllable will receive the accent. In other words, the accent on a Greek verb form will fall as far back from the ULTIMA as the rules allow. There are three rules.
If a verb form has THREE or more syllables, and the ULTIMA of the word contains a SINGLE SHORT VOWEL, the accent “recedes” to the ANTEPENULT. Whether the penult is long or short is irrelevant:
In this situation, the accent can recede only to the last short vowel sound of the antepenult, so the accent on an antepenult always appears as an acute (“/”), regardless of the length of vowel in this syllable. In other words, if an antepenult receives an accent, it must be an acute:
- δώσετε (= δοόσετε)
If a verb form has THREE or more syllables, and the ULTIMA of the word contains a LONG VOWEL sound, the accent “recedes” to the PENULT:
In this situation, the accent can recede only to the last short vowel sound of the penult, so the accent always appears as an acute (“/”), regardless of the length of vowel in this syllable:
- παραδώσω (= παραδοόσοο)
If a verb form has only TWO syllables, the PENULT always receives the accent. This accent may be an ACUTE (“/”) or CIRCUMFLEX (^), depending upon the following three situations:
1. If the penult vowel is short, it always receives an acute accent (“/”), regardless of the length of the ultima:
- δότω (= δότοο)
2. If both the penult and ultima vowels are long, the penult receives an acute accent (“/”):
- δώσω (= δοόσοο)
- δώσεις (= δοόσεις)
3. If the penult vowel is long and the ultima is short, the penult receives a circumflex accent (^):
- σῶσε (= σόοσε)
- σῶσον (= σόοσον)
Notes on Accents:
1. We have already learned that while some vowels are LONG “BY NATURE” (e.g. η, ω…), ALL DIPHTHONGS are long (e.g., ει, οι, ευ…). There are two exceptions, however, to this diphthong rule. For indicative verbs – and all nouns and infinitives – FINAL –αι and –οι were pronounced quickly by the Greeks, and so regarded as short when determining accent type and placement. Note, for example, the accents on the following verbs:
- βούλομαι, δύνανται, τίθεται, τίθεσαι…
2. The INFINITIVE mood does not follow the recessive accentuation rules that govern all other moods of a Greek verb. It is best simply to memorize the accent tendencies for each infinitive form as they are encountered in the lessons. For infinitives ending in –ναι, for example, the accent always falls on the PENULT.
Two More Examples…
The following verbs are formed in the same way as δείκνυμι: A present tense marker, –νυ-, is added to the VERB STEM to create a PRESENT TENSE STEM. To this stem are then added PERSONAL ENDINGS.
μίγνυμι mix (verb stem: μιγ-; present tense stem: μιγνυ-)
μίγνυμι I mix
μίγνυμεν we mix
μίγνυς you mix
μίγνυτε you all mix
μίγνυσι (s)he, it mixes
μιγνύασι they mix
The Present Infinitive Active is μιγνύναι
ἀπόλλυμι kill, destroy (verb stem: ἀπ’+ολ-; present tense stem: ἀπ’+ολλυ-)
ἀπόλλυμι I kill
ἀπόλλυμεν we kill
ἀπόλλυς you kill
ἀπόλλυτε you all kill
ἀπόλλυσι (s)he, it kills
ἀπολλύασι they kill
The Present Infinitive Active is ἀπολλύναι
Note: An acute accent is placed on the penult of ἀπόλλυς. Based upon the RECESSIVE ACCENT rules for verbs, is the upsilon long or short?
This verb is also formed in the same way as δείκνυμι, though with some slight modifications. The verb stem of ἀπόλλυμι is actually ολ-, meaning kill, destroy. When the present tense marker –νυ– is added, the result should be ολνυ-. In practice, however, the sound combination –λν– undergoes a regular sound change to –λλ– in Greek. The result is a present tense stem that becomes ολλυ-.
By the Classical period, Greek tended to add a prefix to this particular stem. The prefix here is ἀπό, meaning away. When added to the stem ολλυ-, the verb expresses something along the lines of English kill off. The result is a present tense stem that looks (and sounds) like this: ἀπολλυ– = kill, destroy.
– τὸ τέλος –
Key Terms and Concepts
- INFLECTED LANGUAGE
- VERB STEM
- TENSE STEM
- PERSONAL ENDINGS
- RECESSIVE ACCENT
- FINAL –αι and –οι
- ἀπόλλυμι kill, destroy
- δείκνυμι show
- μίγνυμι mix
- ὄμνυμι swear (an oath)
- ἐθέλομεν “we wish; we want”
- καί and; καί…καί both…and
Ι. Conjugate ὄμνυμι (all numbers and persons, and the infinitive) in the present, indicative, active.
ΙΙ. These verbs have definitions and endings that we will learn later, so do not worry about understanding what these verbs and their forms mean. As verbs, however, they must follow the recessive accent rule. Provide the proper accent for each.
ΙΙΙ. Translate the following sentences. For each verb (except for ἐθέλομεν), give the person and number. Note also the punctuation, and movable nu’s!
- ἀπόλλυσι καὶ δείκνυσιν.
- δείκνυτε· ἐθέλομεν μιγνύναι.
- ἀπολλύασι; δεικνύασιν.
- ἐθέλομεν ἀπολλύναι καὶ ὀμνύναι.
- καὶ δείκνυς καὶ μίγνυς.
IV. Translate into Greek.
- to mix
- they show
- he/she/it is destroying
- they mix
- I am swearing (an oath)
- you all are showing
- we are willing (ἐθέλομεν) to show
- he/she/it shows
- to be destroying
- you (singular) are swearing (an oath)