Re: How to memorize verb forms...

Carlton Winbery (
Mon, 2 Dec 1996 17:37:35 +0400

Carl Conrad wrote in response to Jonathan Robie;
>At 8:49 AM -0600 12/2/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>>I'm trying to memorize scads of verb forms. What is the best way to do this?
>How many verbs per scad? There are, maybe, about 50-60 common irregular
>verbs that you need to learn, and most of them are irregular in only one or
>two tenses. You need to memorize the principal parts, but I'd say that what
>you need to do first is be sure that you know how to derive the other
>principle parts from present stems of those verbs that behave like
>respectable citizens and never violate the laws: there are categories, such
>CONTRACT VERBS: These regularly lengthen the stem vowel of the present stem
>before adding the tense-markers for the other tense stems: -EW --> -HSW,
>-HSA, -HKA, -HMAI, -HQHN; -AW --> same result because A lengthens and
>changes to H; -OW --> -WSW, -WSA, -WKA, -WMAI, -WQHN.
>LIQUID/NASAL VERBS: These generally lose the sigma in the future and
>aorist, and for the most part, those are the only tense forms you need to
>pay attention to, thus:
> FQEIRW: fut. FQERW (always an EW form); aor. EFQEIRA (loss of S,
>compensatory lengthening of preceding stem-vowel--e.g. E --> EI)
> STELLW: fut. STELW (EW form); aor. ESTEILA
> MENW: fut. MENW (EW form); aor. EMEINA
> GAMEW (NOT a standard EW verb): fut. GAMW (EW form); aor. EGHMA (A
>lengthens, changes to H)
>VOWEL-GRADATION/ABLAUT VERBS: These generally undergo changes of stem from
>E grade in present to zero grade in aorist to O grade in perfect--but in
>fact, you have to memorize their principal parts; there are only 2 or 3
>dozen of them:
>This is by no means a complete listing, but you really need to become
>familiar with the types of verbs and what is characteristic of them by
>type. In addition to that you also really need to learn the ROOTS of the
>irregular verbs, many of which have two or more variations that appear in
>the different principal parts; but it's instructive to study the principal
>parts in terms of how each form is constructed from a form of the verb root
>+ the tense-formative element.
>Better grammars (like Smyth) will give you that sort of information in
>their full discussion of the morphology of verbs; they will also give you
>lists of principal parts of most irregular verbs. Nevertheless: you gotta
>grub for this and plan on spending plenty of time memorizing. As either
>Euclid or Eratosthenes (I can't remember which, but I think it was Euclid)
>said to the prince seeking an easy course in geometry, "There ain't no
>royal road ..."
>Here we go again: I have a hand-out that I've constructed for my own Greek
>classes over the years of principal parts with the verb ROOTs listed for
>each verb. I could probably use a little program I have to transform the
>font from my own GreekKeys keyboard pattern to the SuperGreek/LaserGreek
>keyboard and make available to those who want it, but I won't be able to
>get it ready for another day or two. Anyone who wants a copy should request
>it of me OFF-LIST.
I would second what Carl has said. Mounce's Morphology has a good section
on the verbs. Brooks and Winbery, Morphology of the Greek NT has in
chapter VIII a complete classification of the verb forms in the NT. The
classes are mostly determined by the relationship of the main verb stem to
the stem in the first principle part (but there are other factors).
Knowing how certain types of verbs generally behaves helps loads in
predicting the form that any given verb will take in a given principle
part. As Carl says there are dozens of verbs that are simply irregular
(ERCOMAI, ELEUSOMAI, HLQON, ELHLUQA) Like "go, went and gone." A person
who could master chapter VIII in Brooks and Winbery would have a good
working knowledge of the Greek verb.

Carlton L. Winbery
Fogleman Professor of Religion
Louisiana College
Fax (318) 442-4996
Phone (318) 487-7241