Re: Comments on the future

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 7 Nov 1996 21:27:11 -0600

At 8:06 PM -0600 11/7/96, Edgar M. Krentz wrote:
>Mark O'Brien wrote on Nov 7:
>>It prompts me to ask you a question... what aspect do you normally
>>associate with the future tense (in both Classical and Koine)? Do you think
>>that the apparent morphological link with the aorist indicates any kind of
>>aspectual similarity?
>Yes, I do. If you read what I cited from Dionysius Thrax, he clearly
>recognies that the infix sigma in both first aorist and future has the same
>function, to mark the action as undetermined in regard to time. [It's the
>prefixed epsilon, the augment, that functions as a temporal phoneme in the
>aorist.] That is why one could just as well call an aorist subjunctive a
>future subjunctive, i.e. it is the subjunctive that is undetermined
>This will probably start some reactive juices flowing--I hope. :-)

Reactive juices? Hmmm ...

Well, I like the above statement about the augment; it really seems pretty
obvious, inasmuch as the augment seems to differentiate the PAST imperfect
>from what we really ought to be calling our present tense: a PRESENT
imperfect, and to differentiate the PAST perfect from the PRESENT perfect;
and what do we say about the aorist? that it distinguishes the PAST
aorist--which, at least normally, DOES refer to an actual past event in its
inimitable aoristic manner--from those non-indicative aorists that seem to
focus much more on aspect than upon actuality of the event.

So one would expect to find the non-past aorists in the unaugmented moods
and voices,would one not (I tactfully and tactically ignore the unaugmented
indicative aorists in Homer and Homer-imitating lyric verse)?

What has actually been said, I think, in some "authorities," is that the
Greek future tense is a short-vowel aorist subjunctive (i.e. O/E for W/H
thematic verb as subjunctive marker) expressing indeterminate (aoristic)
intention: BHSOMAI: "I SHALL stride ..."

I've mentioned before what I find to be a fascinating fact: that Modern
Greek has TWO forms of the future tense, a DEFINITE future constituted by
QA (= ancient QELW hINA) + Present Subjunctive, and an INDEFINITE future
constituted by QA + Aorist Subjunctive: def. fut. QA BRISKW (<hEURISKW),
indef. fut. QA BRW (<hEURW); def. fut. QA LE(G)W, indef. fut. QA PW (<EIPW).

Did Ancient Greek have a way of making this distinction? I think it's
sometimes said that the future tense may have the continuous aspect of the
present tense sometimes: "I'll be in the process of doing that") and at
other times the indefinite aspect of the aorist: "I'll do that." But then
there are these other round-about ways: use of the present tense in ways
comparable to "I'm doing that tomorrow," use of MELLW + infinitive (with an
earlier Greek clear distinction between the sense with a present infinitive
and the sense with a future infinitive, which distinction seems generally
lost in Hellenistic Greek), and I suspect other ways exist, as well.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR