Lesson 28: Verbs/Identifying the Verb


0430. Suggestions for identifying the person and number of finite forms of the verb were made in Lesson 21, §§325-330. Clues were confined to personal endings attached to the verb and to hints gathered from the context. Additional clues to the identification of verbs have been provided in intervening lessons: augment (§§0335-3400), reduplication (§§341-3450), tense suffixes (§§0346-3500), the development of tense stems (§§355-361), and the conjugation of the indicative mood in all primary and secondary tenses (§§365-4241). These additional clues should now be reviewed, systematized, and put to the test.

430.1 Verbs are conjugated, and must therefore be identified, in relation to five factors (§0304): person, number, voice, mood, and tense. Since the non-indicative moods have not yet been explored, and person, number, voice have already been considered, attention may be focused on tense. However, other factors cannot and need not be ignored.

430.2 The beginning student is faced with the problem of identifying the lexical forms of verbs: one must be able to get repeatedly and efficiently from particular verb forms in the text to the proper entry in the lexicon. For this purpose, a working knowledge of tense base formation, to be considered subsequently, will prove especially helpful. Meanwhile, the lexical forms of most regular verbs and many less regular verbs can be located with the clues in hand.

430.3 Verb identification may be regarded as a puzzle of interest in and for itself. For those whose primary interest is reading Greek, however, the identification of the verb should be viewed from the perspective of the particular verb form in context: single clues and constellations of clues are to be read as quickly and easily as possible for what they tell the reader about the verb form in question. These clues should be approached in the most practical ways: 1) highly repetitious features of the verbal system may be schematized and reduced to a working key; 2) coping with irregular verbs, especially those of high frequency, is largely a matter of experience; 3) difficulties with actual verb forms will expose gaps in one's knowledge of the verbal system; these gaps may then be corrected by appropriate review.

These suggestions correspond, in a general way, to the proposals made in §0346.2 for control over the verb system: 1) familiarity with the regular patterns; 2) explicit knowledge of the exceptions.


431. The key for verb identification covers the subjunctive, optative, infinitive, and participle, as well as the indicative mood.


431.1 Augment: if the verb shows augment, it must be aorist, imperfect, or pluperfect (in the order of frequency; the augment is usually omitted with the pluperfect in the New Testament). §§0335-3400.

431.11 Present tense stem augmented and secondary endings: imperfect

431.12 Aorist tense stem augmented: second aorist indicative

431.121 First will have -σα as suffix

431.13 Pluperfect will have reduplicated stem

431.2 Reduplication: if the verb stem is reduplicated, the form will most often be perfect (or pluperfect). §§341-3450.

431.20 There are reduplicated stems in the present and aorist tenses also (§345)


431.3 Tense suffixes

431.31 σ added to present stem: future

431.32 σα added to aorist stem: first aorist

431.33 κα added to verb stem, either first perfect or aorist of μι-verbs

431.34 θη (η) added to aorist passive stem: aorist passive

431.35 θησ (ησ) added to aorist passive stem: future passive

431.4 Mood suffixes

431.41 Lengthened thematic vowel (ω/η): subjunctive

431.42 ιη in place of thematic vowel: optative

431.43 Thematic vowel plus ι: optative

431.5 Other suffixes

431.51 -ειν or -αι attached to the tense stem: infinitive

431.52 -ντ-, -οτ-, -μενο- as part of the suffix: participle

Note: The nominative singulars of participles are the exception.

432. In Jn 8:12-20 there are 41 verb forms (including participles), as follows:

8:12    (1)    ἐλάλησεν 8:16    (22)    κρίνω                
  (2)    λέγων   (23)    ἐστιν
  (3)    εἰμι   (24)    εἰμί
  (4)    ἀκολουθῶν   (25)    πέμψας
  (5)    περιπατήσῃ 8:17    (26)    γέγραπται
  (6)    ἕξει   (27)    ἐστιν
8:13    (7)    εἶπον 8:18    (28)    εἰμι
  (8)    μαρτυρεῖς   (29)    μαρτυρῶν
  (9)    ἔστιν   (30)    μαρτυρεῖ
8:14    (10)    ἀπεκρίθη   (31)    πέμψας
  (11)    εἶπεν 8:19    (32)    ἔλεγον
  (12)    μαρτυρῶ   (33)    ἐστιν
  (13)    ἐστιν   (34)    ἀπεκρίθη
  (14)    οἶδα   (35)    οἴδατε
  (15)    ἦλθον   (36)    ᾔδειτε
  (16)    ὑπάγω   (37)    ᾔδειτε
  (17)    οἴδατε 8:20    (38)    ἐλάλησεν
  (18)    ἔρχομαι   (39)    διδάσκων
  (19)    ὑπάγω   (40)    ἐπίασεν
8:15    (20)    κρίνετε   (41)    ἐληλύθει
  (21)    κρίνω

432.1 Identification should begin with the obvious: forms of the present tense of ω-verbs uncontracted (§367) and contracted (§368). We may include all forms which appear at first glance to fit the paradigms: (6) ἕξει, (8) μαρτυρεῖς, (12) μαρτυρῶ, (16) ὑπάγω, (18) ἔρχομαι, (19) ὑπάγω, (20) κρίνετε, (21) κρίνω, (22) κρίνω, (30) μαρτυρεῖ.

432.11 (6) ἕξει is a bit misleading: the ξ conceals a σ, the tense sign of the future (§431.31), lexical form ἔχω (see §375 and Appendix III, I.3b).

432.12 (8) μαρτυρεῖς, (12) μαρτυρῶ, (30) μαρτυρεῖ are regular contract forms. (12) μαρτυρῶ is actually a subjunctive (indicative and subjunctive forms in this case are identical; κἂν in the context signals a subjunctive).

432.13 The remaining forms represent uncontracted ω-verbs, ἔρχομαι is of course deponent, i.e. it has only middle-passive forms in the present tense, with active meaning.

432.14 A preliminary survey netted ten forms, eight of which proved to be present indicative forms of ω-verbs.

432.2 The next obvious step is to pick out the forms of εἰμί, which tend to proliferate in any Greek text (see §§371, 405 for paradigms): (3) εἰμι, (9) ἔστιν, (13) ἐστιν, (23) ἐστιν, (24) εἰμί, (27) ἐστιν, (28) εἰμι, (33) ἐστιν. All eight forms are present indicative.

432.3 The next step might be to look for first aorist forms in the list. There will always be more aorist and present forms than all other forms combined in any text of length.

432.31 First aorist forms will have augment and σα (σε) as a tense suffix (§431.121): (1) ἐλάλησεν, (38) ἐλάλησεν, (40) ἐπίασεν qualify and are, in fact, first aorists.

432.32 Rejected were (25), (31) πέμψας: it has a correct ending perhaps, but the form lacks augment. The form is actually an aorist participle. (32) ἔλεγον has augment, but lacks the first aorist tense suffix.

432.4 In §432.2 were collected the forms of the irregular verb εἰμί, which is a verb of high frequency. Other irregular verbs of high frequency should now be added to the list, particularly those of the mixed class, Appendix III, class VI.

432.41 (7) εἶπον is the second aorist form going with λέγω. Another form of εἶπον: (11) εἶπεν.

432.42 (14) οἶδα is a perfect form with present meaning (§§388, 418). Other forms of οἶδα: (17), (35) οἶδατε, and two pluperfect forms: (36), (37) ᾔδειτε.

432.43 (15) ἦλθον is a second aorist form going with present (18) ἔρχομαι. (41) ἐληλύθει is a pluperfect form of the same verb.

432.44 εἶπον, οἶδα, ἔρχομαι are irregular verbs of very high frequency. Familiarity with their principle parts (Appendix III, class VI) will greatly facilitate identification.

432.5 The list of unidentified verbs in Jn 8:12-20 has now been reduced to twelve.

432.51 (26) γέγραπται shows reduplication and a primary middle-passive ending, 3. sg.: γε/γραπ/ται. It must therefore be a perfect middle-passive of a verb with a labial stem (§§392.3, 3920).

432.52 (32) ἔλεγον has augment and secondary active endings (§431.11). It could be second aorist, but a glance at the principle parts of λέγω (Appendix III, class VI) prove it to be imperfect.

432.53 (5) περιπατήσῃ appears to have the tense sign of the future (σ) suffixed: -σῃ future middle, 2. person sg. (§373). But the preceding οὐ μή indicates that a subjunctive is coming (§818). In this case, the two forms, future indicative and aorist subjunctive, are identical in form.

432.54 For (6) ἔξει, see §432.11.

432.55 (10), (34) ἀπεκρίθη exhibits the tense suffix of the aorist passive (θη, §431.34). It shows augment between prepositional prefix and tense base: ἀπ/ε/κρι/θη. The verb base must therefore be κρι-; in that case, the lexical form would be ἀπο/κρίω. In Bauer only three words begin with ἀποκρι-, and only one of these is a verb: ἀποκρίνομαι, the aorist pass. of which is ἀπεκρίθην. This verb belongs to a very small class of verbs that lose ν in principal parts four through six (§482.30).

432.56 There now remain the following forms, which fall into two distinct groups: (2) λέγων, (4) ἀκολουθῶν, (29) μαρτυρῶν, (39) διδάσκων; and (25), (31) πέμψας. The first group looks to belong to the nominal system, either as a genitive plural (all declensions), or as a nominative masculine singular (third declension nouns ending in -ντ-, §§165f.). In context, ὁ ἀκολουθῶν ἐμοί (Jn 8:12) and ὁ μαρτυρῶν (8:18) look very much like nominal word clusters headed by the article. Indeed, they are. They are nominative masc. sing. forms of the present participle (§247.1). On the other hand, πέμψας looks like it might belong to the first aorist system: -ψας = π/σας, but the form lacks augment. The cluster, ὁ πέμψας με πατήρ, once again suggests a nominal word cluster, in which case πέμψας is a first aorist participle, nom. masc. sing. (§2470.3). The verb base is πεμπ-, lexical form, accordingly, πέμπω.

It is perhaps unusual that all participles in this passage are nominative singulars, in relation to which the key provided in §431.52 is useless.

432.57 There are no infinitives in this passage.

433. The exercise in §432 presupposes that the reader is willing to examine the nearer and more remote contexts of a given form for clues to its identification. One does not normally make a list of verbs when reading a text, of course, although the beginner would profit from such an exercise in the early stages of reading. In any case, the beginner should cultivate the habit of reading a paragraph or significant group of sentences before attempting word identifications or translation. This practice will often relieve the blank stare before it hardens into perplexity.

In the following exercise, we shall take up verb forms one at a time, as they occur in Jn 8:21-30, rather than compiling a list first. Nevertheless, we shall constantly lift the eyes to what precedes and what follows the form under examination, as a means of renewing the first, preliminary reading we shall presuppose. We shall skip some forms, particularly those already met (including those met in Jn 8:12-20, §432) and those that are more or less obvious.

433.1 8:21 εἶπεν (irregular, §487.2) is the second aorist going with present λέγω, say, speak. This passage is largely dialogue, so forms of this verb should occur frequently: 8:22 ἔλεγον, λέγει, 23 ἔλεγεν, 24 εἶπον, 25 ἔλεγον, εἶπεν 27 ἔλεγεν, 28 εἶπεν. Tenses include present, imperfect, second aorist.

433.2 8:21 ζητήσετε: ζητη/σ/ε/τε, future active indicative, 2. plur. If ζητη/ω does not appear in the lexicon, try ζητα/ω or ζητε/ω (§374).

433.3 8:21 ἀποθανεῖσθε: ἀπο/θανεῖ/σθε could only be present or future (not second aorist: no augment). It could be a contract form: θανεῖ- < θανε-ε. The lexicon does not list a verb *ἀποθανέω, but it does give the entry: ἀποθανοῦμαι, s. ἀποθνῄσκω. The beginner should thus have no major difficulty in locating the lexical form, provided the clues are followed up unswervingly, ἀποθνῄσκω belongs to the -σκω class of verbs (Appendix III, class V), and it exhibits a liquid future (§376).

433.4 8:21 δύνασθε: δυνα/σθε, where the ending appears to be joined directly to the verb stem (no thematic vowel): a μι-verb (§§370.2, Appendix III, class I.6).

433.5 8:21 ἐλθεῖν: δύναμαι is regularly followed by an infinitive (§571.1), and ἐλθεῖν contains the clue to an infinitive form (-ειν, §431.51).

433.6 8:22 ἀποκτενεῖ looks like a contract verb (a circumflex accent often signals a contracted syllable). The lexicon shows only one verb beginning ἀπο/κτε-: ἀποκτείνω. The future is ἀποκτενῶ, the aorist ἀπέκτεινα. The form in 8:22 must therefore be a liquid future (§376), active, 3. sg.

433.7 8:24 πιστεύσητε: πιστευ/σ/η/τε has a long thematic vowel (η rather than ε), a signal of the subjunctive (§431.41). The preceding ἐάν is also a sure signal that a subjunctive is coming (cf. §432.12: κἄν = καὶ ἐάν). The tense suffix σ indicates that the form is aorist subjunctive.

433.8 8:25 εἶ: from εἰμί, present indicative, 2. sg. (§371). Note that the personal pronoun σύ indicates the person and number: σύ . . . εἶ (§256).

433.9 8:25 λαλῶ: a present contract form; look for a contract verb in -έω, άω or -όω in the lexicon.

433.10 8:26 λαλεῖν, κρίνειν: infinitives (§431.51).

433.11 8:26 ἤκουσα: η/κου/σα appears to have the first aorist tense suffix, -σα (1. sg.), and η could be the augmented form of α or ε (§337). Look in the lexicon for ακου/ω or εκου/ω.

433.12 8:27 ἔγνωσαν: ε/γνω/σαν, with augment and tense suffix of the first aorist -σα, plus 3. plur. active personal ending (-ν). The particular form is thus easy to identify. The special problem in this case is to locate the lexical form. Bauer does not show a verb beginning γνω- that would yield the form in 8:27. A related form in 8:28 γνώσεσθε (looking ahead for clues) does not help materially, except to indicate that there is perhaps a future form with tense stem γνωσ-.

Without explicit knowledge of the verb, the beginner has two choices. First, one may use the lexicon to assist, provided the form does not really contain its own clues. Bauer does indeed enter ἔγνωκα, ἔγνων, ἔγνωσμαι and asks the reader to see γινώσκω. The lexicon will regularly provide help of this kind for forms which do not lead systematically to their own lexical forms, i.e. present indicative.

The beginner may elect, however, to do a little sleuthing on his own. Since γνω- represents the aorist base, the chances are that the present base will be an expanded version of the aorist base (§480.1) (a check has already been made to determine that the verb is not irregular, i.e. does not belong to the ten verbs in class VI). The options for expanding the verb base to produce the present tense stem include: modification of the stem vowel, reduplication, addition of suffixes ι, ν, or σκω (s. §496 for a summary). A quick check reveals that modifications of ω in γνω- does not help (i.e. try γνο-, γνα-, etc. in the lexicon: the possibilities are found on a single page). A second possibility is that γνω- represents the zero form of a second stem vowel: γανω-, γενω-, γινω-, etc. The first two yield no likely prospects, but the third, γινω-, produces γινώσκω, with second aorist ἔγνων, the 3. plural of which would be ἔγνωσαν (§411, a 'root' aorist). The fact that the hellenistic form γινώσκω is actually an abbreviation of a classical reduplicated present in -σκω (class V), γιγνώσκω, does not matter. The important thing is to be able to locate lexical forms quickly by means of educated guesses. Whatever works is 'right.'

433.13 8:28 ὑψώσητε: ὑψω/σ/η/τε, with long thematic vowel (η: subjunctive, §431.41), therefore tense suffix of the aorist (not future: no future subjunctive). Look for lexical form ὑψόω because *ὑψωω would make no sense.

433.14 8:28 γνώσεσθε: see §433.12.

433.15 8:28 ἐδίδαξέν: obviously a first aorist active, 3. sing. (ξ = κσ, γσ, χσ). The lexicon does not show a verb in διδακ-, διδαγ-, or διδαχ-, but notice the noun διδαχή, teaching, and the preceding verb, διδάσκω, teach, which has an aorist ἐδίδαξα. διδάσκω loses a stop before -σκω in forming the present tense (§486.2). Observe the new form of help here invoked: in the same lexical context, nouns with similar bases and related meaning are sometimes of assistance in locating the lexical forms of verbs (e.g. the noun base διδαχ- indicates that the related verb may also have a base in διδαχ-).

433.16 8:29 ἀφῆκεν: looks like it is from ἀπο/ηκω or something similar. There is a verb ἀφήκω, but it has no imperfect or aorist (Bauer). Right above ἀφήκω is entered ἀφῆκα, s. ἀφίημι. ἀφῆκεν is actually a κ-aorist of ἀφίημι. (§4120): of ἀφ-ιη/μι only -η- is left of the verb base ιη- (Appendix III, class I.7b). Forms of ἀφίημι are about as tough as they come.

433.17 8:30 λαλοῦντος: The partial suffix -ντ- indicates the form is a participle (§431.52). The model for active participles is πᾶς (§231), gen. masc. and neut. sing. παντός. The form in 8:30 has the identical ending.

433.18 8:30 ἐπίστευσαν: ε/πιστευ/σαν is clearly a first aorist form, active 3. plural, from πιστεύω.

434. Summary. Exercises of the types carried out in §§432, 433 should be repeated often in the early stages of verb identification. Intense practice will achieve two things: 1) it will reinforce recognition of regular forms and forms of high frequency until identification becomes automatic; 2) it will demonstrate that very quickly forms presenting problems are dramatically reduced in number. Repetition is high, even in texts of high complexity. The student should rely on this linguistic fact, and discipline himself or herself to reading the available clues appearing in the text. The less frequently one is forced to consult grammar or lexicon, the more pleasure one will find in reading a text.