RE: tense & aspect / action & states of being

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Sep 07 1996 - 07:24:53 EDT

At 8:44 PM -0500 9/6/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>BDR says that "the future is the only tense which expresses only the time
>(Zeitstufe), but not the kind of action (Aktionsart), so that completed and
>continuing future action is not distinguished."
>I wonder if the future is a real tense?

One might perhaps say that the future is "a real tense" much sooner and
much more accurately than one might say it of any other Koine Greek tense,
precisely because it DOES refer to time only, and not really to aspect.

However, it's worth noting that the future derives historically from the
AORIST SUBJUNCTIVE (short vowel subjunctive, as found so commonly in
Homeric and early Greek poetry) and from the usage of the subjunctive to
express intention. That usage of the subjunctive was perhaps more common in
that early period that the more complex constructions of contingency in
subordinate clauses. Of course, in that "future" sense, the aorist
subjunctive really didn't retain any sense of aspect at all.

Viewed in terms of later developments, however, it is noteworthy that
modern Greek has TWO DISTINCT FUTURE TENSES, one of them PRESENT (based on
usage of the present subjunctive with QA (<QELW hINA) and retaining the
repetitive/durative aspect of the present tense), the other AORISTIC (based
on usage of the AORIST subjunctive with QA and retaining the distinctive
punctiliar aspect of the aorist tense.

One should also not forget that one of the most common Koine future tenses
is constituted by the auxiliar MELLW with the infinitive. A quick scan of
Schmoller's Handkonkordanz shows that most of the forms of MELLW +
infinitive in the NT show a present infinitive, although there are a couple
with an aorist infinitive in Revelation and also a couple with future
infinitive (which is the more standard classical Attic usage, inasmuch as
MELLW + present infinitive in classical Attic had more the sense of
"hesitate to do," "put off doing."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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