Middle Voice for the Future Tense

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Alan Patterson
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Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Alan Patterson » August 28th, 2015, 1:27 pm

The change from γινωσκω in the Present to γνωσομαι in the Future seems hard for me to grasp. I have read other posts out here regarding the Middle Voice and the Deponent verbs. My question is Why does γινωσκω change to the Middle Voice (not deponent) in the Future? Which is to ask, Why is not the Middle Voice found in the Present? Does not γινωσκω have a Middle Voice meaning rather than a Active meaning?
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by cwconrad » August 28th, 2015, 3:50 pm

Alan Patterson wrote:The change from γινωσκω in the Present to γνωσομαι in the Future seems hard for me to grasp. I have read other posts out here regarding the Middle Voice and the Deponent verbs. My question is Why does γινωσκω change to the Middle Voice (not deponent) in the Future? Which is to ask, Why is not the Middle Voice found in the Present? Does not γινωσκω have a Middle Voice meaning rather than a Active meaning?
What you need to realize is that the so-called "active" voice is a default voice-form, unmarked for subject-affectedness; although lots of transitive verbs have forms in the Greek "active" voice that are semantically active, many "active" verb forms are not transitive at all (some are even semantically passive (e.g., πάσχειν). What happens to γινώσκειν in the future is that its essential subject-affectedness becomes marked. Why? Perhaps because the future tense also tends to stress intentionality -- which is a key feature of many subject-affected verbs. At any rate, what you have observed about γινώσκειν is true also of several other verbs, such as λαμβάνειν/λήμψεσθαι, μανθάνειν/μαθήσεσθαι, ὁρᾶν/ὄψεσθαι.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Stephen Carlson » August 28th, 2015, 8:44 pm

Why does English mark its future with a verb that means "want" (will; cf. German willen)? Similarly, the one of the Greek future formations is thought to come form a desiderative suffix -σομαι (i.e. meaning I want to), and it is in the middle for the same reason many verbs of desiring are (e.g., βούλομαι). But, just as with English, this original desiderative sense has been bleached out of the future construction.
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Paul-Nitz » August 29th, 2015, 11:19 am

I had never thought about the "wanting" showing itself in the English future construction. Thank you, Stephen. I'll add nothing new to what's been said, but explain my non-expert way of looking at it. What explains γνωσομαι to me is to mentally get myself into the subject's shoes.

If I am eating now (εσθιω), there is no intention or will involved. I'm not doing it for someone or for myself. It's not being done to me. It's just happening. The default voice is used (κοινή διάθεσις)

If I will eat (φαγομαι), there is an idea of willing, wanting, intending. Since everyone would expect me to eat tomorrow, if I say "φαγομαι," then there is some sort of "for..." idea in my mind. That idea is a natural fit for the middle voice (ἑαυτική διάθεσις).

Try this out mentally with any future middle, such as:
cwconrad wrote: λαμβάνειν/λήμψεσθαι, μανθάνειν/μαθήσεσθαι, ὁρᾶν/ὄψεσθα
It satisfies the question in my mind. And, I might add, it was quite a relief!

There are many such confusing questions that come up as I study Greek. A memorable one was why we have a so-called "Accusative subject of an Infinitive." When I finally shed the misleading grammatical name, I was able to understand it in a way that made native grammatical sense in my head. Some call it an Accusative of Reference. That's a better stab at it, but doesn't quite cover my understanding of the construction. I think I could convey my understanding of that construction better with some gestures than with a wordy explanation. But regardless of my inability to verbalize the understanding, this sort of thing is not too difficult for any language learner to figure out with exposure and use of the language. So, I'd advise learners like me to plough on through the Greek, noting ticklish questions, but not being disturbed or distracted by them. Your brain will likely sort it out before a grammar gives you an answer.
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » August 29th, 2015, 2:06 pm

Paul-Nitz wrote:I had never thought about the "wanting" showing itself in the English future construction.
Linguists say there's always at least a hint of mood in the future tense because it describes possibility, not reality like past/present/timeless statements do.
Paul-Nitz wrote: If I am eating now (εσθιω), there is no intention or will involved. I'm not doing it for someone or for myself. It's not being done to me. It's just happening. The default voice is used (κοινή διάθεσις)

If I will eat (φαγομαι), there is an idea of willing, wanting, intending. Since everyone would expect me to eat tomorrow, if I say "φαγομαι," then there is some sort of "for..." idea in my mind. That idea is a natural fit for the middle voice (ἑαυτική διάθεσις).
I don't think it's so simple. It's easy to see subject affectedness in eating, whether it's in past, present or future. The middle diathesis could be used in the present tense as well. The default diathesis can be used because it's marked for neither subject-affectedness nor non-subject-affectedness. The mediopassive diathesis isn't about intention or will. If I interpret Carl correctly, when subject affectedness is already involved in the meaning of the verb, the subject affectedness is kind of intensified in the future tense. Is it so that only verbs with subject affectedness can get mediopassive form in the future tense?

For subject affected verbs both active and mediopassive are possible as "semantically active" (as it shouldn't be described) voices. Why some subject affected verbs have got active and others mediopassive voice? We don't know. Maybe there's no reason, maybe its by chance. The same goes for active in present/mediopassive in future verbs. There's no reason why some get mediopassive forms in future. Why they can get it can be explained, but not why they get it while others don't. Unless someone does some deep research and finds something...
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Stephen Carlson » August 29th, 2015, 9:36 pm

Paul-Nitz wrote:I had never thought about the "wanting" showing itself in the English future construction. Thank you, Stephen. I'll add nothing new to what's been said, but explain my non-expert way of looking at it. What explains γνωσομαι to me is to mentally get myself into the subject's shoes.
I should say that the Modern Greek future in θα derives from a periphrastic future in θέλω ἵνα, so we see a want source grammaticalizing into a future there too.
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Paul-Nitz » August 30th, 2015, 9:35 am

Eeli writes, “I don’t think it is so simple.”

Very true. I agree that the expression I made of a way of understanding a future middle is incomplete. I would only hope that this explanation of my thought process would give an example to some readers. There is a way of thinking one’s way into the language, leaving aside grammatical or linguistic explanations that so often lead typical learners “outside” of the language and into a world of analytic labels. And so, I might somewhat disagree with Eeli's statement, "We don't know. Maybe there's no reason, maybe its by chance." I think there is a way to get an understanding of such things, albeit one that is hard to put into words.

Don’t take my further comments below as an extended retort to Eeli. But this thread has me thinking. I’d like to float a theory about language acquisition that has been knocking about in my head for some time. I’m writing above my IQ level here, so read on with a little forebearance.


I believe that this question of why some verbs are middle in the future (φαγομαι, λημψομαι, γνωσομαι, κτλ.), and many other questions in language, are too complicated to be answered satisfactorily by analytic thought or expression. I do believe that these types of questions can be successfully understood by synthetic thought. I’d define “synthetic thinking” as a thought process or way of knowing that draws from many bits of information and makes an often inexpressible and intuitive conclusion. It draws from far too many pieces of information for any average brain to break down and analyze. This synthetic way of understanding language is a feasible goal for typical language learners.

I’ll give a recent and personal example of synthetic thought. I just spent a couple months in the USA. I kept on hearing this new expression “I’m good.” Do you want another beer? “I’m good” (No, thanks, I have enough; I’ll remain in my contented state). I know intuitively that I could say “We’re good” but that it just doesn’t make sense to say “You’re good.” Grammatically, analytically, “you’re good” should be acceptable. But I know it’s not possible because I heard the expression in many different contexts and collect those many bits into a comprehension of it. That is a “way of knowing” that I would label “synthetic thought.”

It is almost impossible to describe the process of synthetic thought or intuition, but here I am trying to do it. One analogy that makes sense to me is the work of an artist. As an artist can soak in a scene and draw a wonderful representation of that scene, without being able to put into words how he has done it; so also a learner can comprehend structures in language, even if he or she cannot put that comprehension into words.

Maybe this is an anti-academic view. I would guess this is the sort of proposition that would be shot down by experts who scoff at whatever cannot be backed up by data and logical expression. But in my opinion, synthetic thinking is not only a valid way of knowing language, it is necessary for genuine acquisition.

Analysis (such as grammatical explanations and linguistics) is a wonderful tool to use in comprehending a language. But, for normal learners, it is not adequate in the job of acquiring language. Actually, I’d guess that for all learners analysis is not up to the job. I think there are those few highly intelligent and analytically minded learners (over-represented among Ancient Greek learners) who are able to turn analyses into a synthetic understanding of the language. And there are the ultra-elite who are able to transform a synthetic and complex understanding of language into analysis (the Smythians). But for all learners, language is simply too vast and complex to be digested bit by analytical bit.

I’m not disregarding the value of analysis, but my impression is that modern academia gives it too much emphasis. It seems to me that the originators of Western thought would accept intuition alongside their intensive analysis & categorization, as is evidenced by their use of metaphor and fable to sum up synthetically comprehended conclusions. But the modern academic seems to eschew any conclusion that is not backed up by a data-set. Try offering an anecdote as support to your argument and it will be dismissed ("Hmph,anecdotal evidence"). So even decades ago, Einstein made a statement about science that sounds controversial: “There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition.” I have to add a related quotation from an excellent sermon I just listened to today, though it is made about the far more serious matter of faith. “Don’t think that the only stuff you can believe are things that you can hammer into the categories of your brain that make sense to you(“Puzzling Paradoxes: Man and God?” Minute 17:35). In this lesser matter of language learning, I’d modify the statement to say, “Don’t think you can comprehend language structures only if you can hammer them into grammatical categories.”


Well, it’s fun to think and write about this, but I expect these musings have little practical value. The main thing for non-academic learners of Biblical Greek to keep in mind is a) expose yourself to much, b) internalize it somehow, c) don’t be too distracted by trying to answer sticky questions with grammatical explanations.
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Paul-Nitz » August 31st, 2015, 9:04 am

Paul-Nitz wrote:Grammatically, analytically, “you’re good” should be acceptable. But I know it’s not possible because...
"My bad." The joke's on me. Today I asked an American girl riding in my car if I was about to hit the parked car behind me. "You're good," she replied. Maybe "my bad" would have been a better example from modern expressions. Can we say "your bad" or "his bad"?
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Alan Patterson
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Alan Patterson » September 12th, 2015, 8:45 am

Upon further reflection, would it be correct for me to say that γινωσκω is Active (default) in FORM, but Middle in MEANING. [I've noticed that Mounce seems to first translate γινωσκω as "I know," and then concludes that γινωσκω is Active in meaning since the ENGLISH is Active in his translation.]
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Re: Middle Voice for the Future Tense

Post by Paul-Nitz » September 12th, 2015, 12:41 pm

I wonder, is γινωσκω ever found in the midldle - γινωσκομαι?

I don't see the need to see γινωσκω as middle in meaning but active (κοινη, common) in form. If I "know," I just know. There's no extra self-affectedness indicated or needed. If I say "γνωσομαι" a self-affected idea comes in.

But I imagine these middle futures became codified over time out of a general "feeling" about what sounded right to the Greek ear. Once a verb became written in the middle by default, there's no huge significance in the voice. It's just the way they said it. There was no choice to say φαγω or γνωσω or μαθησω, was there?
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