Lesson 21: Verbs/Identifying the Verb


325. The tables of personal endings introduced in §§318, 319 may occasion some bewilderment unless it is realized that the common forms appear repeatedly; that some forms occur rarely or are joined only to specific verbs; that the context often provides clues to person and number that reinforce the personal endings. Identifying the verb in context is easier than identifying it in isolation.

326.1 The second plural active ending -τε is identical for both primary and secondary sets of personal endings. In the context in Jn 8:31ff. it occurs frequently:

          μείνητε 8:31                                    
  ἐστε 8:37
  ἠκούσατε 8:38
  ἐστε 8:39
  ζητεῖτε 8:40
  ποιεῖτε 8:41
  ἠγαπᾶτε 8:42
  γινώσκετε 8:43
  ἐστε 8:44
  πιστεύετε 8:45
  πιστεύετε 8:46
  ἀκούετε 8:47

326.2 The second plural middle-passive ending -σθε is also identical for both primary and secondary sets of personal endings. In the same context, Jn 8:31ff., it occurs less often:

                γνώσεσθε 8:32                                
  γενήσεσθε 8:33
  ἔσεσθε 8:36
  δύνασθε 8:43

326.3 The second plural endings -τε and -σθε are easily recognizable although attached to a variety of verb forms. They occur with sufficient frequency to be fixed in mind with minimum practice. The same can be said of most of the other personal endings.

327. The first personal singular ending -μι (active, primary) will be found attached only to μι-verbs (so called because the first singular is conjugated with -μι rather than -ω). There are very few μι-verbs compared with ω-verbs, but some μι-verbs are of high frequency. One such verb is εἰμί, I am. The only appearances of the ending -μι in the long passage Jn 8:12-59 occur in conjunction with εἰμί (8:12, 23, 24, 28, 58). In comparison with -ω, -μι will not appear often and it will always be joined to a very restricted group of verbs.

328. Person and/or number are sometimes signaled by other elements in the sentence than the personal ending. The sequence

(1) ἐγώ εἰμι                   Jn 8:12         

can scarcely be mistaken as first person singular: The personal pronoun (cf. §256) ἐγώ concurs in person and number with -μι. In Jn 8:12ff. the following sequences occur in which personal pronoun and personal ending reinforce each other:

(2) σὺ . . . μαρτυρεῖς Jn 8:13           
(3) ἐγὼ μαρτυρῶ Jn 8:14
(4) ὑμεῖς . . . οἴδατε Jn 8:14
(5) οὐδεὶς ἐπίασεν
For οὐδείς see §269.1
Jn 8:20
(6) πολλοὶ ἐπίστευσεν
For πολλοί see §236
Jn 8:30

329. The person and number of the personal endings in §328 are confirmed by personal pronouns or pronominal adjectives. Number (and person) is also indicated in some cases by the noun subject. For example, in the sequence

(7) εἶπον . . . οἱ Φαρισαῖοι Jn 8:13            

εἶπον is clearly plural (third person) because οἱ φαρασαῖοι is plural, although in other contexts εἶπον may be singular. Compare the following sequences:

(8) ἡ μαρτυρία σου οὐκ ἔστιν Jn 8:13                
(9) ἔλεγον οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι Jn 8:22
(10) εἶπεν . . . ὁ Ἰησοῦς Jn 8:25
(11) ἐδίδαξέν . . . ὁ πατήρ Jn 8:28
(12) ὁ δὲ δοῦλος οὐ μένει Jn 8:35
(13) ὁ υἱὸς μένει Jn 8:35

Whether the verb in each case is singular or plural is also indicated by the number of the noun subject.

330. Signals provided by personal endings are not always confirmed by other elements in the sentence, except perhaps negatively (leaving genuinely ambiguous constructions out of account). In the sentence,

(14) καὶ γνώσεσθε τὴν ἀλήθειαν,
     καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς
And you shall know the truth,
     and the truth shall make you free
Jn 8:32                           

the personal ending (-σθε) of the first verb (γνώσεσθε) is not reinforced by the noun phrase: the verb ending is second plural, the noun singular. But the noun is also in the accusative case; it is therefore the object of the verb and not the subject. In the second line, the verb has no ending (i.e. it is third singular); this is confirmed by the noun phrase (ἡ ἀλήθεια) in the nominative singular, which stands in contrast to ὑμᾶς (accusative plural). The shape of the whole is also a clue, of course, to the structure of the sentence; it is marked by chiastic structure, i.e. you — the truth / the truth — you (the shape may be represented by an X).

The sequence in Jn 8:33

(15) ἐλεύθεροι γενήσεσθε                    Jn 8:33                        

is initially misleading: the ending -οι is plural so that one expects a third plural ending on the verb. However, the personal ending is second plural (-σθε). The experienced reader would not have been misled because (a) ἐλεύθεροι would have been recognized as an adjective, and (b) γενήσεσθε is often used with predicate nominatives.

Like the noun, the verb is to be read in context. The first contextual clues for the verb are the personal endings — always to be taken in conjunction with other clues.