Ancient Greek verbs
Ancient Greek verbs have four moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive and optative), three voices (active, middle and passive), as well as three persons (first, second and third) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural).
The distinction of the "tenses" in moods other than the indicative is predominantly one of aspect rather than time.
The different persons of a Greek verb are shown by changing the verb-endings; for example λύω (lúō) "I free", λύεις (lúeis) "you free", λύει (lúei) "he or she frees", etc. There are three persons in the singular ("I", "you (singular)", "he, she, it"), and three in the plural ("we", "you (plural)", "they"). In addition there are endings for the 2nd and 3rd persons dual ("you two", "they both"), but these are only very rarely used.
A distinction is traditionally made between the so-called athematic verbs (also called mi-verbs), with endings affixed directly to the root, and the thematic class of verbs which present a "thematic" vowel /o/ or /e/ before the ending. The endings are classified into primary (those used in the present, future, perfect and future perfect of the indicative, as well as in the subjunctive) and secondary (used in the aorist, imperfect, and pluperfect of the indicative, as well as in the optative).
To make the past tenses of the indicative mood, the vowel ε- (e-), called an "augment", is prefixed to the verb stem, e.g. aorist ἔ-λυσα (é-lusa) "I freed", imperfect ἔ-λυον (é-luon) "I was freeing". This augment is found only in the indicative, not in the other moods or in the infinitive or participle. To make the perfect tense the first consonant is "reduplicated", that is, repeated with the vowel e (λέλυκα (léluka) "I have freed", γέγραφα (gégrapha) "I have written"), or in some cases an augment is used in lieu of reduplication (e.g. ηὕρηκα (hēúrēka) "I have found"). Unlike the augment of past tenses, this reduplication or augment is retained in all the moods of the perfect tense as well as in the perfect infinitive and participle.
The Ancient Greek verbal system preserves nearly all the complexities of Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Ancient Greek also preserves the PIE middle voice and adds a passive voice, with separate forms only in the future and aorist (elsewhere, the middle forms are used).
Ancient Greek verbs can be divided into two groups, the thematic (in which a thematic vowel /e/ or /o/ is added before the ending, e.g. λύ-ο-μεν (lú-o-men) "we free"), and the athematic (in which the endings are attached directly to the stem, e.g. ἐσ-μέν (es-mén) "we are". Thematic verbs are much more numerous.
Thematic verbs, in the 1st person singular of the present tense active, end in -ω (-ō). These are very numerous, for example, λέγω (légō) "I say", γράφω (gráphō) "I write", πέμπω (pémpō) "I send", etc. The endings of these tend to be regular:
The present infinitive active of thematic verbs is -ειν (-ein), e.g. λέγειν (légein) "to say".
Thematic verbs are also found in the middle voice, with the 1st person singular ending -ομαι (-omai) e.g. ἀποκρῑ́νομαι (apokrī́nomai) "I answer", γίγνομαι (gígnomai) "I become". The endings of the present tense go as follows:
The middle present infinitive is -εσθαι (-esthai), e.g. ἀποκρῑ́νεσθαι (apokrī́nesthai) "to answer".
Many middle-voice verbs, such as ἀποκρῑ́νομαι (apokrī́nomai) "I answer", are deponent, that is to say, they have no corresponding active form. Other middle verbs, such as παύομαι (paúomai) "I cease (doing something)" (intransitive), have a corresponding active form: παύω (paúō) "I stop (something)" (transitive).
Passive verbs, in the present, imperfect, and perfect tenses, have exactly the same endings as middle verbs. Examples are διώκομαι (diṓkomai) "I am pursued" and κελεύομαι (keleúomai) "I am ordered (by someone)".
In the aorist tense, however, they differ from middle verbs in that they use the endings -σθην (-sthēn), -θην (-thēn), or -ην (-ēn), for example ἐδιώχθην (ediṓkhthēn) "I was pursued", ἐκελεύσθην (ekeleústhēn) "I was ordered", ἐβλάβην (eblábēn) "I was harmed"; whereas middle verbs tend to have an aorist ending in -σάμην (-sámēn), -άμην (-ámēn), or -όμην (-ómēn), for example ἐπαυσάμην (epausámēn) "I stopped", ἀπεκρινάμην (apekrinámēn) "I answered", ἐγενόμην (egenómēn) "I became".
A special class of thematic verbs are the contracted verbs. In the dictionary these are entered as ending -άω (-áō), -έω (-éō) or -όω (-óō), for example ὁράω (horáō) "I see", ποιέω (poiéō) "I do", δηλόω (dēlóō) "I show"; but in most cases when they are found in a text the vowel α, ε, ο (a, e, o) contracts with the ending to make a single vowel. Thus the present tense of ὁράω (horáō) "I see" goes as follows:
The present infinitive active of the three types of contracted verbs is ὁρᾶν (horân) "to see", ποιεῖν (poieîn), "to do", δηλοῦν (dēloûn) "to show".
Contracted verbs are also found in the middle and passive voices, e.g. ἀφικνέομαι (aphiknéomai) "I arrive" and τιμάομαι (timáomai) "I am honoured".
Athematic verbs have -μι (-mi) in the 1st person singular of the present tense, e.g. εἰμί (eimí) "I am", φημί (phēmí) "I say", δίδωμι (dídōmi) "I give", ἵστημι (hístēmi) "I stand (transitive)". In the middle voice they end in -μαι, e.g. δύναμαι (dúnamai) "I am able". The present tense of εἶμι (eîmi) "I (will) go" is generally used with future meaning in the classical period.
These verbs present many irregularities in conjugation. For example, the present tense of εἰμί (eimí) "I am" goes as follows:
The present tense of the verb εἶμι (eîmi) "I (will) go" is as follows:
Whereas the present tense of δίδωμι (dídōmi) "I give" goes as follows:
The dual of this verb, theoretically δίδοτον (dídoton), is not found.
The active infinitive of athematic verbs ends in -ναι (-nai), e.g. εἶναι (eînai) "to be", ἰέναι (iénai) "to go", διδόναι (didónai) "to give".
Athematic verbs are also found in the middle voice, e.g. ἵσταμαι (hístamai) "I stand" or δύναμαι (dúnamai) "I am able", with endings as follows:
The verb οἶδα (oîda) "I know", is irregular. Its endings are those of an athematic perfect tense, and go as follows:
The Ancient Greek verbal system has seven tense-aspect forms, traditionally called "tenses" (χρόνοι, khrónoi, singular χρόνος, khrónos). The temporal distinctions only appear in the indicative mood as shown on the table below:
Ancient Greek has no perfect progressive or past perfect progressive. Thus, the meaning "he has been doing" is typically expressed with the present tense, and "he had been doing (earlier)" is expressed with the imperfect tense:
For further information on the endings, see Ancient Greek grammar tables.
Dictionaries of Ancient Greek usually give six principal parts for any verb. For example, for the verb παιδεύω (paideúō) "I teach, train" the six parts are as follows:
Other tenses can be formed on the basis of these. For example, the imperfect tense ἐπαίδευον (epaídeuon) "I was teaching" is based on the present stem with the addition of the prefix ἔ- (é-) (called an "augment", see below), and the pluperfect ἐπεπαιδεύκη (epepaideúkē) "I had taught" is formed from the perfect stem:
Not all verbs have a future tense made with -σ- (-s-). Some, particularly those whose stem ends in λ, μ, ν, ρ (l, m, n, r) such as ἀγγέλλω (angéllō) "I announce" and μένω (menō) "I remain", have a contracted future, with endings like the verb ποιέω (poiéō). These same verbs also usually have an aorist without sigma:
Some common verbs, instead of the ordinary (weak) aorist tense ending in -σα, have an aorist ending in -ον etc. exactly like the imperfect; this is known as a "strong" aorist or "2nd" aorist. However, it differs from the imperfect in that the stem of the verb is different. Thus the aorist of φεύγω (pheúgō) "I flee" is ἔφυγον (éphugon) "I fled", with stem φυγ- (phug-), contrasting with the imperfect ἔφευγον (épheugon), with stem φευγ- (pheug-).
Other strong aorists are ἦλθον (êlthon) "I came", ἔλαβον (élabon) "I took", εἶπον (eîpon) "I said", ἔφαγον (éphagon) "I ate"; and in the middle voice ἐγενόμην (egenómēn) "I became" and ἀφικόμην (aphikómēn) "I arrived".
Many verbs have an aorist without the sigma markers and characteristic endings of the regular aorist. Typically these verbs have present progressive markers added to the stem in the present system, so that the basic stem is used in the aorist and in the other aspects. One example is the verb βαίνω (baínō), "I go", which becomes ἔβην (ébēn).
However, by no means all Ancient Greek verbs are as regular in their principal parts as παιδεύω (paideúō). For example, the verb λαμβάνω (lambánō) "I take" has the following parts:
As can be seen, the stems used (λαμβάν-, λήφ-, λαβ-, λήφ-) (lambán-, lḗph-, lab-, lḗph-) etc. vary from tense to tense. They all come from the same root, but the stem used in the present tense, λαμβάνω (lambánō), has an extra μ (m) and αν (an); in the other tenses the vowel in the root varies between α (a) and η (ē); and the final consonant, β, changes by assimilation to ψ (ps) or μ (m), or by aspiration to φ (ph).
Both of the above verbs have a "strong aorist" or "2nd aorist" ending in -ον (-on) rather than the usual -σα (-sa), and the perfect tense has an aspirated consonant φ, χ (ph, kh) before the ending instead of κ (k).
The aorist of this verb is irregular, since it ends in κα (ka). However, this κ (k) is found only in the singular, and disappears in the plural, e.g. 3rd pl. ἔδοσαν (édosan) "they gave". The verbs τίθημι (títhēmi) "I put" and ἵημι (híēmi) "I send" are similar, with aorists ἔθηκα (éthēka) 3rd pl. ἔθεσαν (éthesan) and ἧκα (hêka) 3rd pl. εἷσαν (heîsan) respectively.
However, ἵστημι (hístēmi) "I stand (something)" does not follow this pattern and has a different aorist:
In some verbs the principal parts are even more irregular than this; like the English verbs "am/is, was, been" and "go, went, gone", they use different stems (derived from originally different verbs) for the different tenses. For example, the verb φέρω (phérō) "I bring, I bear" has the following principal parts using stems derived from three originally different verbs:
ὁράω (horáō) "I see" is another verb made from stems from three different roots, namely ὁρά (horá), ὀπ (op) and ἰδ (id) (the last of these, which was originally pronounced ϝιδ- (wid-), is related to the root of the Latin verb video):
ἔρχομαι (érkhomai) "I come" or "I go" is also irregular. This verb has only four principal parts, since there is no passive:
This verb is made more complex by the fact that in Attic Greek (that is, the dialect of most of the major classical authors), the present tense (apart from the indicative mood), imperfect tense, and future are usually replaced by parts of the irregular verb εἶμι (eîmi) "I (will) go": The indicative of εἶμι (eîmi) is generally used with future significance in the classical period ("I will go") but the other parts such as the infinitive ἰέναι (iénai) "to go" are not future in meaning.
The three past tenses (imperfect, aorist, and pluperfect), in the classical period, are made by adding a prefix ἐ- (e-), called an "augment", on the beginning of the verb. Thus from γράφω (gráphō) "I write" are made:
This past-tense augment is found only in the indicative mood, not in the subjunctive, infinitive, participle, or other parts of the verb.
When a verb starts with a vowel, the augment usually merges with the vowel to make a long vowel. Thus /e/ + /a/ > /ē/, /e/ + /e/ > /ē/ (sometimes /ei/), /e/ + /i/ > /ī/, /e/ + /o/ > /ō/ and so on:
When a verb starts with a prepositional prefix, the augment usually goes after the prefix (although there are some verbs where it goes before the prefix, or even in both places):
In Homer, and occasionally in Herodotus, the augment is sometimes omitted.
The perfect tense is formed by repeating the first consonant of the stem with the vowel ε (e). This is known as "reduplication":
When the first consonant of the verb is aspirated (θ, φ, χ) (th, ph, kh), the reduplication is made with the equivalent unaspirated consonant (τ, π, κ) (t, p, k):
When the verb starts with a vowel, ζ (z) or with a combination of consonants such as γν (gn) or στρ (str), instead of reduplication an augment is used:
Unlike the past-tense augment, this reduplication or perfect-tense augment is found in every part of the perfect tense, including the infinitive and participles.
The present tense (Greek ἐνεστώς (enestṓs) "standing within") can be imperfective or perfective, and be translated "I do (now)", "I do (regularly)", "I am doing (now)":
The present tense is frequently used in historical narrative, especially to describe exciting moments:
The imperfect tense (Greek παρατατικός (paratatikós) "for prolonging", from παρατείνω (parateínō) "prolong") is used in the indicative mood only. It often indicates a continuing situation in the past, rather than an event. It can be translated as "was doing", "used to do", "would do", etc., referring to either a progressive, habitual, or continual situation:
As noted above, the imperfect can also mean "had been doing", referring to a situation which existed earlier than the time of the main verb:
However, although the imperfect usually describes a situation, it is often used in narrative where English would use a simple past, especially with verbs meaning "send", "go", "say", and "order":
The distinction between imperfect and aorist in the above examples can be seen not so much in terms of perfectivity vs. imperfectivity, as in terms of telicity vs. atelicity. The aorist ἐδειπνήσαμεν (edeipnḗsamen) would mean "we finished dinner" and would be a telic verb, implying that the action was carried through to its end, whereas the imperfect ἐδειπνοῦμεν (edeipnoûmen) would mean "we began eating dinner" and would be atelic, implying that the action was started but not necessarily completed. Similarly the aorist ἔπεισα (épeisa) means "I successfully persuaded", whereas the imperfect ἔπειθον (épeithon) means "I urged" or "I attempted to persuade":
Another meaning of the imperfect indicative is to refer to unreal (counterfactual) situations in present or past time. To give the meaning "would", the particle ἄν (án) is added:
The future tense (Greek μέλλων (méllōn) "going to be") describes an event or a state of affairs that will happen in the future. For example, it can be something promised or predicted:
It can also be used after ὅπως (hópōs) for strong commands and prohibitions:
Often in narrative it is found mixed with present and imperfect tenses:
Often an aorist is equivalent to an English pluperfect tense, for example after ἐπεί (epeí) "when" or in relative clauses in sentences such as the following:
Another meaning of the aorist indicative is to refer to unreal (counterfactual) events in past time. To give the meaning "would", the particle ἄν (án) is added:
The perfect tense (Greek παρακείμενος (parakeímenos) "lying nearby"), much as the English perfect tense, often describes a recent event of which the present result is important:
It can also, like the English perfect, be used experientially, of something that has often or always happened in the past:
In some verbs the perfect tense can be translated by a present tense in English, e.g. μέμνημαι (mémnēmai) "I remember", ἕστηκα (héstēka) "I am standing"/"I stand", κέκτημαι (kéktēmai) "I possess", οἶδα (oîda) "I know":
The pluperfect tense (Greek ὑπερσυντέλικος (hupersuntélikos) "more than completed"), like the Imperfect, is used only in the indicative mood. It refers to a situation that existed due to events that had taken place at an earlier time:mála ḗkhthonto hóti hoi Héllēnes epepheúgesan; hò oúpō prósthen epepoiḗkesan.
However, the pluperfect is much less frequently used in Greek than in English, since after conjunctions such as ἐπεί (epeí) "when", usually the aorist is used:
The future perfect tense (Greek συντελεσμένος μέλλων (suntelesménos méllōn) "going to be completed") is rarely used. In the active voice only two verbs (τεθνήξω (tethnḗxō) "I will be dead" and ἕστηξα (héstēxa) "I will be standing") have a separate form for the future perfect tense, though a compound ("periphrastic") tense can be made with a perfect participle, e.g ἐγνωκὼς ἔσται (egnōkṑs éstai) "he is going to have realised"; but even this is extremely rare. It is more common in the passive. It describes a future state that will result from a finished action:
(Greek ὁριστική horistikḗ "for defining", from ὁρίζω horízō "I define").
The indicative is the form of the verb used for ordinary statements of fact:
To make the negative of the indicative, οὐ (ou) or, before a vowel, οὐκ (ouk) is added before the verb:
The imperfect and aorist indicative can also sometimes refer to unreal (counterfactual) situations in present or past time ("would be doing", "should be doing", "would have done" etc.). (For further examples see above.)
(Greek ὑποτακτική hupotaktikḗ "for arranging underneath", from ὑποτάσσω hupotássō "I arrange underneath").
The subjunctive generally has the letters ω (ō) or η (ē) in the ending.
It is often used when the meaning is may, for example in purpose clauses, especially those referring to present or future time:
The above example uses the present subjunctive, but the aorist subjunctive is equally correct, with a slightly different shade of meaning:
Another very common use of the subjunctive is in indefinite subordinate clauses following a conjunction such as ἐᾱ́ν (eā́n) "if (it may be that)", ὅταν (hótan) "whenever", ὃς ἄν (hòs án) "whoever", ἕως ἄν (héōs án) "until such time as" etc., referring to present or future time. When used with the subjunctive, such conjunctions are always joined with the particle ἄν (an):
The subjunctive can also be used of something that it is suggested "should" happen, for example in exhortations, deliberative questions, and negative commands such as the following:
(Greek: εὐκτική euktikḗ "for wishing", from εὔχομαι eúkhomai "I wish").
The optative mood can generally be recognised because it has the letters οι (oi), αι (ai) or ει (ei) in the ending.
One use of the optative mood is in conditional sentences referring to a hypothetical situation in the future. The particle ἄν (an) is added in the main clause to give the meaning "would":
However, the optative mood is not used in sentences referring to a hypothetical situation in the present or past; in such sentences the optative is replaced by the imperfect, aorist, or pluperfect indicative, with ἄν (an) in the main clause.
Just as the subjunctive is used after a conjunction meaning "whenever", "until such time as" etc. referring to present or future time, so the optative can be used in similar clauses referring to repeated events in past time. However, in this case the particle ἄν (an) is not added to the conjunction:
The optative can also be used in purpose clauses in past time, and after verbs of fearing in past time:
(Greek: προστακτική prostaktikḗ "for commanding", from προστάσσω prostássō "I command").
The aorist imperative is used when the speaker wishes something done at once:
It is also possible in Greek to have a 3rd person imperative, as in the following examples:
The imperative mood can also be used in the perfect tense, as the following example shows:
The infinitive is found in all three voices, and in the present, aorist, future, and perfect tenses. The four infinitives of the active voice of the verb λύω (lúō) "I free" are as follows:
Many commonly used verbs, instead of an aorist infinitive in -σαι (-sai), have one ending in -εῖν (-eîn) (with a circumflex accent) instead. This is called the "strong aorist" or "2nd aorist":
Contracting verbs have a present infinitive ending in -ᾶν (-ân), -εῖν (-eîn) or -οῦν (-oûn):
Verbs ending in -μι (-mi), such as δίδωμι (dídōmi) "I give", have present and aorist infinitives which end in -ναι (-nai):
The irregular verb οἶδα (oîda) "I know" also has an infinitive ending in -ναι (-nai):
The infinitive is often used after verbs with meanings such as "he wanted", "he ordered", "he tried", "it is necessary", "he is able" etc. much as in English:
It can also be used for indirect speech after certain verbs such as φημί (phēmí) "I say" or νομίζω (nomízō) "I think". The subject of the infinitive, if it is different from the subject of the main verb, is put in the accusative case. When the statement is negative, the word οὐ (ou) "not" goes in front of φημί (phēmí).
In Greek an infinitive is also often used with the neuter definite article in various constructions. In this case it is similar in meaning to the English verbal noun in "-ing":
Participles were given the name μετοχή metokhḗ "sharing" by Greek grammarians, because they share the characteristics of both adjectives and verbs. Like adjectives, they have gender, case, and number and agree with the nouns that they modify, and, like verbs, they have tense and voice.
Participles exist for all three voices in the present, aorist, future, and perfect tenses. Typical endings for the masc. sg., fem. sg., and masc. pl. are as follows:
Participles are very frequently used in Greek. For example, in the following sentence from Plato's Phaedo there are six participles:καὶ ὁ παῖς ἐξελθὼν καὶ συχνὸν χρόνον διατρῑ́ψᾱς ἧκεν ἄγων τὸν μέλλοντα δώσειν τὸ φάρμακον, ἐν κύλικι φέροντα τετριμμένον.kaì ho paîs exelthṑn kaì sukhnòn khrónon diatrī́psās hêken ágōn tòn méllonta dṓsein tò phármakon, en kúliki phéronta tetrimménon.
An aorist participle, such as ἐξελθών (exelthṓn) "after going out", usually refers to an action which preceded the time of the main verb:
A present participle, such as ἄγων (ágōn) "leading", is used to refer to an action which is taking place simultaneously with the main verb:
A perfect participle, such as τετριμμένον (tetrimménon) "pounded", generally refers to the state that something is in as a result of an earlier action, e.g. "fallen", "dead", "broken" etc., rather than to the action itself:
A future participle refers to an action which is to take place after the time of the main verb, and is often used to indicate purpose:
Because it is an adjective as well as a verb, a participle has to agree in case, gender, and number with the noun it refers to. Thus in the first example above:
A participle frequently describes the circumstances in which another action took place. Often it is translated with "-ing", e.g. ἄγων (ágōn) "leading" in the example above.
In some sentences it can be translated with a clause beginning "when" or "since":
Another frequent use is in a construction known as the "genitive absolute", when the participle and its subject are placed in the genitive case. This construction is used when the participle refers to someone or something who is not the subject, object, or indirect object of the main verb:
But if the verb is an impersonal one, it is put in the accusative, e.g. ἔξον (éxon) "it being possible".
Sometimes a participle is used with the article, in which case it can often be translated with "who":
As well as being used in sentences such as the above, the participle can be used following verbs with meanings such as "I know", "I notice", "I happen (to be)", "I hear (that)" and so on. This use is known as the "supplementary" participle.
The Ancient Greek grammar has three voices. The middle and the passive voice are the same except in the future and aorists.
An active voice verb is any verb which has the endings of the -ω or -μι verbs described above. It can be intransitive, transitive or reflexive (but intransitive is most common):
In addition to the active endings (-ω -ō and -μι -mi) described above, many verbs also have a set of endings in -ομαι (-omai) or -μαι (-mai) which can be either passive or non-passive in meaning. When the meaning of such a verb is not passive, it is known as a "middle voice" verb.
Middle voice verbs are usually intransitive, but can also be transitive. Often the middle endings make a transitive verb intransitive:
Sometimes there is a reflexive meaning or an idea of doing something for one's own benefit:
Quite a number of verbs which are active in the present tense become middle in the future tense, e.g.:
A number of common verbs ending in -ομαι (-omai) or -μαι (-mai) have no active-voice counterpart. These are known as "deponent" verbs.
Some middle deponent verbs have a weak aorist tense formed with -σα- (-sa-), e.g. ἐδεξάμην (edexámēn), but frequently they have a strong aorist middle such as ἀφικόμην (aphikómēn) "I arrived" or ἐγενόμην (egenómēn) "I became". (ἔρχομαι (érkhomai) "I come" is irregular in that it uses a strong aorist active ἦλθον (êlthon) "I came" as its aorist tense.)
All the above, since they have an aorist in the middle voice, are known as middle deponents. There are also deponent passive verbs with aorists in -θη- (-thē-), such as the following:
Occasionally a verb ending in -ομαι (-omai) has a clear passive sense. If so, it is said to be in the passive voice:
Usually when used passively, -ομαι (-omai) verbs have an aorist tense containing -θη- (-thē-) in the ending:
Occasionally, an aorist passive can have an ending with -η- (-ē-). This is known as the 2nd aorist or strong aorist passive, and uses a different verb-stem from the present. In the example below, the stem is φθαρ- instead of the present stem φθειρ-:
Deponent middle verbs can also be made passive in some tenses. Thus αἱρέομαι (hairéomai) "I choose" has an aorist passive ᾑρέθην (hēiréthēn) "I was chosen":
The endings with -θη- (-thē-) and -η- (-ē-) were originally intransitive actives rather than passives and sometimes have an intransitive meaning even in Classical Greek. For example, ἐσώθην (esṓthē) (from σῴζω sōízō "I save") often means "I got back safely" rather than "I was saved":