Re: Deponents

Carl W. Conrad (
Tue, 21 Jan 1997 06:16:40 -0600

At 4:25 PM -0600 1/20/97, FRED HALTOM wrote:
>Dale Wheeler on Jan 20 said:
>... To explain the deponent forms I would suggest (and that's all it is,
>since, as RobtGr p. 803, "The prehistoric situation is purely
>speculative.") that the original form of most, if not all, verbs was
>middle (since the subject is "doing" something; cf., RobtGr p. 812,
>"Where guessing is all that we can do, is it not clear that these
>'dynamic' middles represent the original verb before distinction was
>drawn between active and middle?"--I don't claim originality for this
>idea, as you can see !!). As the language progressed, the passive and
>then the active forms developed. As the language developed, two types
>of verbs retained their middle forms, rather than developing active
>I would like to past on something I received in second year Greek
>back in college. I don't know where my prof. found this. Anyone
>know, please let me know.
>Theory of Deponent Verbs:
>1. To show reciprocity - situation where two parties are involved
>and no action possible with both. e.g. share, lie, lend, fight,
>accompany (middle depondent).
>2. To show reflexivity - the verbal concept inheres in the subject
>and is reflected back. eg. graze =3D to feed oneself; step =3D to move
>oneself; wink =3D to move a part of one's body; remember =3D to remind
>3. To show self-involvement - the self is intimately involved in the
>process going on with the subject: (A) eg. words of emotion,
>volition, intellect =3D vascillate, guess, think over, meditate. (B) eg
>self-interest =3D use, invent, plot.
>4. To show receptivity - subject is the center of emphasis and
>receives the sensory preception. eg. touch, smell, get, receive,
>welcome, taste.
>5. To show passivity - action involving involuntary experiences
>where the subject connot avoid the experiences depicted in the verb.
>eg. passions, love, vomit (EREUGOMAI used metaphorically "to declare
>openly"), suffer, die, born.
>6. To show a state or condition - subject is center of gravity. eg.
>lie down, sit down, to be raving mad.
>These six uses have covered every instance of the depondents I've
>come across. Does this seem a reasonable theory of deponent verbs??

I like this (and I've seen the emended for of #1) very much including the
passage at the outset that Dale Wheeler cited from Robertson (it's true, no
matter where it came from), and I think that students of NT Greek OUGHT to
be informed of at least this much that is important in a diachronic view of
ancient Greek if they're never taught anything else outside of NT Koine.

My only objection to this account would be with the term "deponents." What
I think the above list of characteristics actually describes is the range
of meanings that can be and are conveyed by middle/reflexive forms of the
verb including both those that also have active forms and those that have
ONLY the middle/reflexive forms.

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