Lesson 37: The Predicate/Verb Chains


565. The common adverbials considered in §§556-5610 were exclusive of verbs. Verbs may also be modified by other verbs. The simple statement I go to town, may be slightly altered by the insertion of a "modal auxiliary": I may go to town. May modifies the main verb, go: instead of a simple assertion, the sentence may now be interpreted, e.g., as a deliberative statement. Other illustrative examples of verbs modifying verbs are the following:

I  wanted to go to town
  kept going   
  attempted to go  
  began to go  
  stopped going  
  attempted to stop going

May go, wanted to go, kept going, etc. may be characterized as verb chains because two or more verbs are linked together in a chain. The first verb is called a oatenative verb because it is capable of initiating a verb chain. Such chains have their own internal structure, depending on the catenative verb and the other verbs in the chain. For example, one may say, I kept going, but not xI kept to go. Kept must be followed by a participle, not an infinitive. Other catenatives may be followed by either participle or infinitive, with little apparent difference in meaning:

I began to go
I began going

The sentences in which still others occur are sharply modified by a change from one to the other:

I stopped speaking
I stopped to speak

Verb chains are common in English and are governed by structures peculiar to the several possible combinations (Gleason: 312ff.).

566. Verb chains also appear in Greek. Some found in Greek are quite comparable to some found in English, some common in English are unknown to Greek, and some found in Greek have no counterparts in English. It is therefore important to understand the Greek system of verb chains in terms of its own rationale.

Some definitions and generalizations may be given respecting verb chains in Greek:

566.1 The finite verb or the first verb in a verb chain is called a catenative verb because it is able to initiate a verb chain. In a chain of more than two verbs, all but the last must be catenative verbs.

A chain of more than two verbs is apparently rare (unlike English, e.g. He determined to begin trying to do better),

  μέλλει [γὰρ] Ἡρῴδης ζητεῖν τὸ παιδίον τοῦ ἀπολέσαι αὐτό Mt 2:13
  [For] Herod intends to search for the child to destroy him  

566.2 Any verb can occur in final position in a verb chain; only relatively few verbs can initiate a chain (=catenative verb).

566.3 The second (and third) verb in a chain must be either an infinitive or participle.

566.4 The final verb (infinitive or participle) in a chain may take any of the complements it may take were it the only verb (finite) in the sentence. Sentence (or predicate) types I-VI are thus possible with verb chains as well as with simple verbs. For example, a type III sentence may contain a verb chain:

        2-1                  i                  4n+  
  οὐ δύνασθε / ἀκούειν / τὸν λόγον τὸν ἐμόν Jn 8:43
  You are not able to hear my word  

566.41 The actual order of verbs and verbals in a chain may be at variance with the grammatical progression in Greek, e.g. the catenative may not actually come first in the sentence, although it is logically first in the chain.

5660.1 The main or finite verb is marked 2 in accordance with §5550. If it is a catenative verb, it may be marked 2c (c for catenative) .

5660.2 In the description of words and word groups (§5550.2), i stood for the simple infinitive. i may also be used to mark an infinitive in the predicate. Since the infinitive is an indeclinable verbal noun, it will not exhibit case (i will therefore never be preceded by 3, 4, 5, or 6). However, an infinitive with a catenative verb is sometimes preceded by an article, or an article with preposition. In that case it will be marked i+ (a word group headed by an infinitive) , with appropriate case designation (arabic number). For example,

  τοῦ σπείρειν Mt 13:3
  ἐν τῷ σπείρειν αὐτὸν Mt 13:4

5660.3 In the description of subjects, g stood for the simple participle, and g+ for a word cluster headed by a participle.

The participle is a declinable verbal adjective and thus will always exhibit case. Accordingly, in the predicate, the participle may be marked 3g, 4g, 5g, 6g, or g+, depending on its case and whether it appears alone or in a word group.


567. "Auxiliary" verbs. Unlike English, "auxiliary" verbs are by and large foreign to Greek. An "auxiliary" verb may be defined as a catenative verb that is lexically empty, i.e. does not add to the lexical meaning of the verb with which it forms a chain. What "meaning" it adds is therefore grammatical. In English the auxiliaries add tense and/or aspect and/or mood to the main verb, e.g. had gone, was going, may go. What is added to the main verb by had, was, may in English may be expressed in Greek by the form of the simple verb itself.

A 2 ln+
(1) οΰπω / έληλύθει / ή ώρα αύτοϋ Jn 8:20
His hour had not yet come
2-1 p4d
(2) ηρχοντο / προς αυτόν Jn 4:30
They were coming to him
2-1 p4n
(3) ίνα] μη δλθητε / είς πειρασμόν Mk 14:38
That] you may not come into temptation

The meaning supplied by other verbs modifying verbs in English may also be expressed in Greek by the form of the simple verb. For example, the widow kept coming to him is expressed in Greek by:

1n 2 p4d
(4) χήρα / . . . ηρχετο / προς αυτόν                          Lk 18:3

The tense-aspect in (1) is supplied by the pluperfect form of the verb, in (2) , (4) by the imperfect, and the mood of (3) is supplied by the subjunctive.

568. Periphrasis with εύμί and the participle. Some tenses in Greek were regularly formed with an auxiliary verb, e.g. perfect middle-passive 3. pi. of verbs ending in a consonant (§3910), the perfect subjunctive (§442.2). The use of an appropriate form of ειμί (be) with the participle to form tense-aspect/ mood is called periphrasis (literally, a circumlocution) . Periphrasis for the simple form of the verb is found most frequently, though not often, in the imperfect, perfect and pluperfect tenses, rarely in the present, future and future perfect tenses. For example,

(5) καὶ ) ἦσav / οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου /
... νηστεύοντες Mk 2:18
John's disciples used to fast
A 3g 2c-l
(6) μόνον [δὲ] ἀχούοντες / ἦσαν [ὅτι . . . Gal 1:23
Only they kept hearing [that .

(5), (6) are to be compared with (2), (4), i.e. the simple imperfect could have been employed in all cases, or, alternatively, the periphrastic form. The periphrastic form often gives emphasis to continued, repeated or habitual action.

The following are examples of periphrasis for the perfect and pluperfect:

p5n 2c-l 3g
(7) αὐτοῦ τα ἔργα] ὅτι / ἐν θεῷ / ἐστιν / εἰργασμένα Jn 3:21
his works] that they have been wrought in God

Ν. Neuter plural subject with a singular verb (§536)

A 2c 3g
(8) οὔπω [γὰρ] ἦv / βεβλημένος / εἰς τὴν
p4n+ ln+
φυλάκην / ὁ Ἰωάννης Jn 3:24
[For] John had not yet been cast into prison

Bl-D §§352-353.

569. Periphrasis with μέλλω and the infinitive. Μέλλω with the infinitive expresses imminence. It is occasionally used as periphrasis for the simple future.

4d 2c-l 5b i
(9) ... ἣν / μέλλω / σοι / λέγειν . . . Herm Sim 5.2.1
. . . which I will tell you

Since μέλλω with an infinitive expresses the imminence of the action, it may be used to express imminence in past time.

2c-l i
(10) ήμελλεν / τελευταν Lk 7:2
He was about to die

In both (9) and (10), μέλλω contributes only to the tense-aspect of the verb chain, and thus functions as an "auxiliary." In (10), the tense-aspect expressed by μέλλω is analogous to the ingressive imperfect or aorist (§§792.4, 788.2). Cf. Bl-D §356; Bauer s.v.

570. Periphrasis with ἄρχομαι and the infinitive. The verb chain

(11) ἤρξατο κήρυσσειν Mk 1:45
He began to preach

is scarcely distinguishable from έκήρυσσεν (Bl-D §392(2)). In that case άρχομαι (middle voice only) with an infinitive may often be regarded as periphrasis for the ingressive aorist or imperfect (§§792.4, 788.2), and thus classified as an "auxiliary." Turner: 138.

571. Catenative verbs not lexically empty The uses of εἰμι, μέλλω, and ἄρχομαι described in §§568-570 may be characterized as "auxiliary." Other catenative verbs are not lexically empty and thus cannot be characterized as "auxiliaries." Some form verb chains with an infinitive, some with a participle.

571.1 Common verbs forming a verb chain with an infinitive include:

δύναμαι, I can, am able
ἰσχύω, I am strong, able
1b 2c i
(12) ὑμεῖς / οὐ δύνασθε / ἐλθεῖν Jn 8:21
You are not able to come
i 2c-1
(13) σκάπτεῖν / οὐκ ἱσχύω Lk 16:3
I am not strong enough to dig

571.2 Common verbs forming a verb chain with a participle include:

παύομαι , I stop (myself), cease
καλῶς ποιῶ, I do well
2c-1 3g 4n+
(14) ἐπαύσαντο / τύπτοντες / τὸν Παῦλον Acts 21:32
They stopped beating Paul
1b A 2c 3g
(15) σύ / [τε] καλῶς / ἐποίησας / παραγενόμενος Acts 10:33
[And] you were good enough [lit., did well] to come

Bl-D §§392, 414ff.

572. The infinitive or participle in verb chains such as those described in §§568ff. is often referred to as supplementary (or complementary) because they supplement the finite or catenative verb in the chain, either grammatically (e.g. εἰμί, §568) or lexically (e.g. δύναμαυ, §571.1), or both.

The supplementary infinitive is much more common in hellenistic Greek than the supplementary participle.

573. The catenative verbs in §571 were characterized as not lexically empty, i.e. they contribute to the lexical meaning of the infinitive or participle, by comparison with the "auxiliaries" in §§568-570, which are lexically but not grammatically empty. However, all the sentences with catenative verbs illustrated thus far (examples (5)-(15)), have manifested identical or comparable grammatical structures: catenative verb plus infinitive or participle. This is to disregard the basic sentence type involved — the type sentence depends on the supplementary verb — and to attend only to the verb chain itself. Of the verb chains considered thus far two things can be said:

573.1 The subject of the catenative verb and the subject of the supplementary infinitive or participle has always been identical.

573.2 The catenative verb has taken no immediate complements or modifiers other than the infinitive or participle.

573.3 We may add a third characteristic in anticipation of other types of verb chains: Alternative constructions, such as the substitution of ἵνα and the subjunctive for the infinitive, are not possible.

Given the grammatical similarities, the verb chains represented by (5)-(15) may be designated Group I. In view of the difference in the lexical import of the catenatives themselves , Group I may be subdivided into two Groups:

Ia. Catenative lexically empty

Ib. Catenative not lexically empty

We have now to consider verb chains which differ in one or more of these respects.


574. An infinitive of purpose with intransitive verbs. Intransitive verbs (verbs not normally taking an object) may be followed by an infinitive of purpose.

2c-1 i 4b
(16) ἦλθες / ἀπολέσαι / ἡμᾶς; Mk 1:24
Have you come to destroy us?

The infinitive ἀπολέσαι expresses the purpose of the motion indicated by the finite verb (here in a question). Yet the grammatical structure is identical with the verb chains already considered, i.e. it meets the criteria of §573.1-2. Is there any way to distinguish the type of verb chain represented by (16) from those represented by (5)-(15)?

574.1 One way to make the distinction would be to list the verbs which may be followed by an infinitive of purpose. But the list would be too long to remember easily, and it would include more than intransitive verbs (as we shall see, there is need to isolate intransitive from transitive verbs). One could characterize such a list as all intransitive verbs of motion (cf. Bl-D §390 (1)) and this would cover most verbs in the list but not all. It would be more efficient, consequently, to discover simple, universally applicable grammatical criteria as the basis of the distinction.

574.2 The grammatical criteria given in §573.1-2 provide such a basis:

(a) Like the verb chains in §§568-571, the subject of an intransitive verb and an infinitive of purpose is always identical.

(b) Unlike the verb chains in §§568-571, an intransitive verb followed by an infinitive of purpose may take immediate adverbial modifiers (other than a negative). By immediate is meant adverbials which modify the catenative verb only, not the verb chain as a whole. Taking (16) as an example, one may ask (in Greek):

(i) Have you come here
to this place
into the world to destroy us?

The adverbials in this sentence intervene, so to speak, between catenative and infinitive and modify the catenative only. In a sentence like (12) (§571.1), additional adverbials are to be interpreted as modifying the verb chain as a whole:

(ii) You are not able to come here
(iii) You are not quite able to come at this time

The distinguishing test, then, is whether an adverbial may be inserted between catenative and infinitive.

575. Intransitive verbs which may be followed by an infinitive of purpose include:

ἔρχομαι , I come, go (and compounds)
παραγίνομαι, I come, appear, be present
πορεύομαι , I go
ἀναβαίνω , go up, ascend
πάρειμι , I am present

575.1 Examples without intervening adverbial (cf. (16)):

2c 1n+ i
(17) καὶ) συνήρχοντο / ὄχλοι πολλοὶ / ἀκούειv (και)
ipass p6n+
θεραπεύεσθαι / ἀπὸ τῶν ἀσθενειῶν αὐτῶν Lk 5:15
And) great crowds gathered to hear and to
be healed of their infirmities
2c-1 i 4d
(18) πορεύομαι / δοκιμάσαι / αὐτά Lk 14:19
I go to examine them

575.2 Examples with intervening adverbial:

2c p4n+
(19) ἄνθρωποι δύο / ἀνέβησαν / εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν /
προσεύξασθαι Lk 18:10
Two men went up to the temple to pray
2c-l p4n i 4n
(20) ἀνῆλθον / εἰς Ἰεροσόλυμα / ἱστορῆσαι / Κηφᾶν
I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter Gal 1:18

An infinitive of purpose with an intransitive verb is quite common in hellenistic Greek.

576. Verb chains like those represented by (16)-(20) may be designated Group II. Verb chains of Group II differ from those in Group I in one other important respect: an "analytical" construction with ἵνα and the subjunctive may substitute for the former but not for the latter (§573.3; cf. §580.3):

2-1 p4n+ s
(21) ἦλθον / οὐ διὰ τὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον / ἀλλ'
ἵνα καὶ τὸν Λάζαρον ἴδωσιν Jn 12:9
They came, not only on account of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus
2c-1 i p4b s
(22) καὶ) οὐ θέλετε / ἐλθεῖν / πρός με / ἵνα
ζωὴν ἔχητε Jn 5:40
Yet you do not want to come to me that you may have life

The ἵνα-clauses in (21) and (22) are the grammatical equivalent of an infinitive of purpose; like the infinitives in (16)-(20), they follow an intransitive verb of motion (ἔρχομαι).