Lesson 20: Verbs/Personal Endings


0315. It was stipulated in §§300.2, 0304 that the Greek verb is inflected (conjugated) with reference to five factors: person, number, voice, mood, and tense (time, aspect). It must now be indicated in a schematic way what inflectional variables are involved in the verb system, and what these variables signal with respect to the five factors indicated.

315.1 The finite verb in Greek, unlike the English verb, is regularly inflected to show person and number. This is achieved by suffixing personal endings directly to the verb (called bound morphemes). For the most part personal endings are unambiguous, i.e. the distinctive forms signal one person and number only. Thus, ἔρχομαι, I come, is first person singular since the personal ending -μαι is so restricted. Similarly, κρίνετε, you judge, can only be second person plural since the personal ending -τε never signals anything else.

If one meets the contrasting forms, κρίνω/κρίνετε, one knows that -ω signals first singular in contrast to -τε , which signals second person plural. The form, μαρτυρεῖς, you bear witness, is second singular (personal ending, -ς‚) in contrast, for example, to μαρτυρεῖτε, which is second plural. Where English does not contrast second singular and plural, Greek does.

The personal endings attached to the Greek verb thus regularly indicate the specific person and number.

315.2 This feature of the Greek verb (personal ending attached to the verb) makes it possible to construct a 'complete' one-word sentence in Greek (i.e. complete with subject and verb): λαλῶ, I speak; μένει, he abides; ἀκούετε, you hear are theoretically complete sentences. Of course, such simple sentences are rare, but they do occur.

316.1 Personal endings serve another signaling function: they regularly indicate voice. γράφω, I write; γράφομεν, we write are active (the subject of the verb does the acting); γέγραπται, it is written, on the other hand, is middle-passive (middle and passive are not here distinguished): -ω and -μεν are thus active endings, -ται, is middle-passive. Similarly, δώσω, I shall give (-ω = active, first singular), but δοθήσεται, it shall be given (-ται = middle-passive, third singular), δέδοται, it has been given (again, passive). The tense may vary, as in the examples given, but the voice is still indicated by the ending.

316.2 True middles and passives are relatively rare in Greek (i.e. in relation to the preponderance of active forms), but one peculiarity of the Greek verb makes the middle and/or passive forms less rare than they might otherwise be. A number of so-called 'deponent' verbs have only middle and/or passive forms, at least in certain tense-systems, but are actually active in sense. The common verb ἔρχομαι, I come, for example, has no active forms in the present and future tenses though it is always active in meaning. The assertion that personal endings signal voice must therefore be qualified to the extent that 'deponent' verbs are excluded. In such cases, other signals in the sentence will indicate whether the verb is active, middle, or passive, if one's knowledge of the particular verb fails.

316.3 There is a second respect in which the general rule must be qualified: the aorist passive (but not the future passive) tense employs active endings even though it is passive in voice. There are historical reasons for the hybrid character of this tense. Nevertheless, voice is sufficiently often signaled by the personal ending to make it worthwhile to notice the contrasting forms.

317. Personal endings are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary endings are used in conjunction with primary indicative tenses (present and future in time) and the subjunctive mood; secondary endings are employed with secondary indicative tenses (past in time) and the optative mood. The primary indicative tenses are, of course, the present, future and perfect; the secondary indicative tenses include imperfect, aorist, pluperfect. It may therefore be stated as a general rule that primary endings signal a primary indicative tense (or the subjunctive), secondary endings signal a secondary indicative tense (or the optative). Naturally there are other signals which indicate tense and mood in addition to the personal endings, and it is necessary to take these into account in achieving precision. But it is helpful to know, for example, that -μαι (first singular) is the primary middle-passive ending, while -μην (also first singular) is the contrasting secondary middle-passive form. The contrast serves to narrow the choice even before other signals are considered.

3170. Summary. Among the various inflectional variables, the personal endings signal person and number in the first instance, but they also provide contrasting forms which assist in the identification of voice (active / middle-passive), and they provide a broad distinction between primary and secondary tenses in the indicative, as well as that between subjunctive and optative moods. In descending order of discrimination, they touch all five factors of the Greek verb: person and number, voice, tense and mood.

318. Primary personal endings. As indicated in §317, there are two sets of personal endings, primary and secondary. Each set is further divided into two voices, active and middle-passive. And, of course, there are endings for each of three persons in two numbers.

The primary personal endings are:

  Active Voice Middle-Passive Voice
Singular 1.  -ω, -μι or # 1.  -μαι
  2.  -ς 2.  -ῃ : σαι
  3.  -# (ν) or -σι (ν) 3.  -ται
Plural 1.  -μεν 1.  -μεθα
  2.  -τε 2.  -σθε
  3.  -ουσι (ν) or -ασι (ν) 3.  -νται
N.I. # indicates no ending, called a zero form
N.2. (ν) indicates ν-movable: §321

↓ 3180. Notes:

3180.1 First singular active -ω is really the thematic vowel ο (§322) lengthened. The ending -μι occurs with a very restricted class of verbs (§327).

3180.2 The second singular active has an old alternate ending -θα (-σθα), which is rare.

3180.3 The third singular active -σι (ν) occurs with μι-verbs. An alternate form is -τι (ν) .

3180.4 The third plural active ending is theoretically *-νσι. The present and future ending -ουσι (ν) derives from -ο-ονσι: ν disappears before σ (§929.7), and the preceding vowel lengthened in compensation (§914) . The form -ασι (ν) , which appears in the present indicative of μι-verbs and in the perfect, is the same ending, except that the long form -ασι is apparently derived from -ἄνσι > -ᾱσι (compensatory lengthening).

3180.5 The second singular middle-passive -σαι appears in the perfect and present indicative of μι-verbs. Elsewhere it is contracted: e.g. λυ-ε-σαι > λυ-ε-αι (intervocalic σ is lost, §930.21) > λυ-ῃ (contraction). Other contractions (-ᾳ, -οι, -ῳ) occur where thematic vowel is lacking and/or the stem vowel is α or ω. Further exception to contraction: §3680.1.

319. Secondary personal endings. The secondary verb endings are:

  Active Voice   Middle-Passive Voice
Singular 1. -ν or #   1. -μην
  2. -ς   2. -ου : σο
  3. -#(ν)   3. -το
Plural 1. -μεν   1. -μεθα
  2. -τε   2. -σθε
  3. -ν or -σαν   3. -ντο
N.I. # indicates no ending, called a zero form
N.2. (ν) indicates ν-movable: §321

↓       3190. Notes:

3190.1 The original first singular ending was μ which became ν when preceded by a vowel (Smyth §133.c).

3190.2 There is an alternate second singular active ending -σθα, which is rare (originally a perfect ending, it spread to the imperfect by analogy; cf. §§3180.2, 405f.).

3190.3 Like the third singular of the primary active set (§318), the third singular of the secondary active set shows no personal ending (zero form). However, where the stem formative vowel in ε, ν-movable may be added (§321).

3190.4 The third plural active ending -ν, when added to tense stems such as the first aorist ελυσα-ν, gave rise to an ending -σαν, which was then employed elsewhere.

3190.5 The second singular middle-passive ending -σο appears in the imperfect indicative of μι-verbs and in the pluperfect indicative (cf. §3180.5 on -σαι). Elsewhere it is contracted, e.g. ελυ-ε-σο > λυ-ε-ο (intervocalic σ is lost) > λυ-ου (contraction). Another contraction -ω occurs when the thematic vowel is lacking and/or the stem vowel is -α.

320. Mnemonic hints:

320.1 It will have been noticed that a certain amount of duplication occurs between the two sets, but which is restricted to the same voice (i.e. active overlaps only with active, middle-passive only with middle-passive). A summary of overlapping forms will facilitate learning:

Active second singular usually -ς‚
Active third singular always -#(ν)
Active first plural always -μεν
Active second plural always -τε
Middle-Passive first plural always -μεθα
Middle-Passive second plural always -σθε

320.2 In addition, it may be noted that primary middle-passive endings, except for first and second plural, end in -αι: -μαι, -σαι, -ται, -νται. Secondary middle-passive endings, except for the same two forms and the first singular, end in -ο: -σο, -το, -ντο.

320.3 Persistent trouble spots occur at the same points: Active, first singular and third plural; middle-passive, second singular.

3200. The two sets (primary and secondary) of personal endings must be committed carefully to memory. Nothing short of mastery will suffice. The sets should be learned in the forms in which they are given in §§318, 319.

321. ν-movable. A final ν may be added to words ending in -σι (§920), and to the third singular of verbs ending with the (thematic) vowel ε, i.e. where there is no personal ending. It may also be added to the verb ἐστί (ν) (the third singular of εἰμί , §371). ν-movable, as it is called, is always added when the next word begins with a vowel (to assist in pronunciation), but it may be added when the next word begins with a consonant (in the latter case, it is sometimes referred to as irrational ν).

In the verb system ν-movable appears only in conjunction with third singular and third plural forms. In the tables of endings in §§318, 319, ν-movable is indicated by parentheses.

On ν-movable in the nominal system, s. §1510.5.

322. Thematic vowel. The personal endings are often but not always joined to the verb stem by means of a vowel, called the theme, thematic or variable vowel: λυ-ο-μεν. In the indicative and optative moods, the vowel is -ο- before μ or ν, -ε- elsewhere. In the subjunctive mood, it varies between ω and η (the long forms of ο and ε). Since it varies between ο and ε (ω and η), it is often written ο/ε (ω/η) in grammars, e.g. λυ ο/ε +, i.e. λυ, plus appropriate thematic vowel, plus personal ending.

This vowel may also be regarded as a stem formative. In the perfect and aorist tenses (some forms), α is a stem formative. It appears consistently except in the third singular, where ε is substituted. In these cases, consequently, α/ε, though not properly a thematic vowel, serves the same function (cf. §3663).