Lesson 23: Verbs/Tense Stems


355. The tense stem. The tense stem is that form of the verb from which all the forms of a tense-system are presumably derived (there are some incongruities in the traditional system). The tense stem corresponds to the principal part less the first person singular active ending, e.g. present active indicative, first singular πιστεύω, tense stem πιστευ- (present system). A verb with a full paradigm will have six principal parts or tense stems (§§302f.).

3550. Tense stems are formed from the verb base (the actual or hypothetical base form) by one or more of the following modifications:

3550.1 Prefixes: augment (§§335ff.), reduplication (§§341ff.)

3550.2 Suffixes: tense suffixes (§§346ff.), thematic vowel (§322)

3550.3 Internal changes: vowel gradation (ablaut) (cf. §§348, 910f.), other

3551. The verb base may be identical with one of the tense stems (less tense formants) or it may be a hypothetical base (conceived as the base form from which all actual forms are derived in accordance with the laws of phonetic change). There is a large class of verbs, for example, in which the verb base and the present tense stem (less any tense formants) are identical, e.g. πιστεύω (verb base and present tense stem, πιστευ-). The verb base may appear in one of the other tense stems (usually aorist), e.g. δίδωμι (present), ἔδωκα (aorist), verb base δω-. However, the hypothetical verb base may not appear at all, e.g. βαπτίζω, βαπτίσω, ἐβάπτισα, βεβαπτισμένος, ἐβαπτίσθην, verb base βαπτιδ-.

3552. Mastery of the Greek verb depends upon automatic recognition of the tense stem and instant identification of the personal endings. The latter must be carefully committed to memory (§§318, 319). With regard to the former, the inflectional variables, i.e. personal endings, augment, reduplication, tense suffixes, provide valuable clues to recognition. However, there is considerable variety in the development of tense stems that includes but goes beyond the variables already considered. The problem is to discover the patterns that underlie this variety and thus to form a well defined range of expectation.

356. The patterning of the formation of tense stems may most conveniently be considered from the standpoint of the formation of the present tense stem. There are two compelling reasons for this procedure:

356.1 The largest single group of Greek verbs is comprised of those verbs whose present tense stem (less thematic vowel) is identical with the verb base.

356.2 The lexical form of the verb is the present tense stem (customarily first person singular active indicative). It is therefore necessary, in looking up a verb, to be able to predict the form of the present tense.

The full range of possibilities in forming the present tense stem will be considered subsequently (§§479ff.; cf. Appendix III). Here may be considered a few of the larger and more important classes.

Class I: The Present Stem = The Verb Stem

357. Class I.1a. Vowel stems (uncontracted). Vowel stems in ι, υ, αυ, ευ, (ει, ου) do not contract and thus form a 'regular' pattern: -ω, -σω, -σα, -κα, -μαι, -θην (§347). It should be recalled that the aorist stems (third and sixth principal parts) are augmented, the perfect stems (fourth and fifth principal parts) reduplicated. The model for this class is πιστεύω: πιστεύω, πιστεύσω, ἐπίστευσα, πεπίστευκα, πεπίστευμαι, ἐπιστεύθην.

There are 86 verbs (not counting compound verbs) in this subclass (Appendix III, I.1a).

The count in all cases to follow is exclusive of compound verbs, i.e. stems compounded with preposition, adverb or the like. Compound verbs follow the pattern of the simple verb. Compounds would, of course, significantly increase the number.

358. Classes I.1b, I.2. Vowel stems (contracted). Vowel stems in α, ε, ο normally contract in the present tense system (§§368-369). They are consequently called contract verbs. In developing the other tense stems, however, these verbs follow regular patterns.

358.1 Contract verbs in -α which retain -α in the formation of the remaining tense stems: -άω, -άσω, -ασα, -ακα, -αμαι, -άθην.

θεάομαι, ________, ἐθεασάμην, _______, τεθέαμαι, ἐθεάθην

There are 23 verbs in this subclass (Appendix III, I.lb).

358.2 Some contract verbs in -α and -ε lengthen the stem vowel to -η in forming the remaining tense stems: -άω / -έω, -ήσω, -ησα, -ηκα, -ημαι, -ήθην.

ἀγαπάω, ἀγαπήσω, ἠγάπησα, ἠγάπηκα, ἠγαπημένος, ἀγαπηθήσομαι

λαλέω, λαλήσω, ἐλάλησα, λελάληκα, λελάλημαι, ἐλαλήθην

There are 52 and 164 verbs, respectively, in these groups (Appendix III, 1.2a and 2b).

358.3 Contract verbs in -ο lengthen the stem vowel to -ω in forming the remaining tense stems: -όω, ώσω, -ωσα, -ωκα, -ωμαι, -ώθην.

πληρόω, πληρώσω, ἐπλήρωσα, πεπλήρωκα, πεπλήρωμαι, ἐπληρώθην.

There are 93 verbs in this category (Appendix III, I.2c).

Class III: Iota Class

359. Class III constitutes a large group of verbs which add ι̯ to the verb stem to form the present tense stem. ι̯ here is a semi-vowel and occasions certain phonetic changes. A rather large subclass consists of verbs with stems ending in δ: -δι̯ between vowels becomes ζ: the present stem will therefore end in a vowel followed by ζ, the variable vowel and personal ending joined to that, e.g. ἑτοιμάζω; verb stem ἑτοιμαζ-. In the other tense stems, δ before σ (future, aorist) and κ (perfect) disappears, δ before μ (perfect middle) and θ (aorist passive) becomes σ. The pattern of these verbs is therefore

ἑτοιμάζω, ἑτοιμάσω, ἡτοίμασα, ἡτοίμακα, ἡτοίμασμαι, ἡτοιμάσθην.

There are 168 verbs in this group (Appendix III, Class III.la).

360. The five patterns representing six subclasses of verbs (I.2a and 2b, §358.2 have identical patterns) just presented account for approximately 587 of the 841 verbs listed in Bauer (excluding compounds) or nearly 70%. Familiarity with these patterns will go a long way toward tense identification.

361. It has been assumed that all the verbs in these subclasses are 'weak', i.e. form the tense stems by adding -σω, -σα, -κα, -μαι, -θην (§347) to the verb stem and do not otherwise vary from the 'regular' pattern in each case, e.g. by showing a 'strong' aorist or perfect. This assumption is of course in error, but it is not much in error. Surprisingly few of the 587 verbs exhibit any irregularities at all and these are mostly minor. Such irregularities as do appear will be taken up subsequently, in connection with the inflection of the verb in various moods.