Re: deponency

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Mon Jan 20 1997 - 13:12:05 EST

I would like to offer an additional suggestion concerning the issue of
deponency; I'm in basic agreement with what Carl and Ed Hobbs have said
that many, if not most, of the verbs we label as "deponent" are in fact
middle or passive...this is what allows BAGD to posit a consistent Middle
Deponent or Passive Deponent form for almost all of the "deponent" verbs
("It is possible that the Greeks were more sensitive to the exact force of
this ["dynamic"] middle than we are..." Robertson, Gr, p. 812).

However, it seems to me, that when we speak about "deponent" verbs we are
actually speaking about two different types of verbs, from the standpoint
of their (to use the German) Aktionsart...the type of "action" they
portray, and this is why "deponent" has become a confusing term. To explain
the deponent forms I would suggest (and that's all it is, since, as RobtGr
p. 803, "The prehistoric situation is purely speculative.") that the
original form of most, if not all, verbs was middle (since the subject is
"doing" something; cf., RobtGr p. 812, "Where guessing is all that we can
do, is it not clear that these 'dynamic' middles represent the original
verb before distinction was drawn between active and middle?"--I don't
claim originality for this idea, as you can see !!). As the language
progressed, the passive and then the active forms developed. As the
language developed, two types of verbs retained their middle forms, rather
than developing active counterparts.

The first type, which I would consider to be deponent, are the ones which
are "deponent" in virtually every language, i.e., those verbs which cannot
spawn a passive (or in most cases, middle) meaning. For example, ERXOMAI in
Greek and "to go" in English are both "deponent" (I suspect there is some
specific linguistic term for this, but I've never run across it). In
neither Greek nor English can you put this idea into the passive ("I was
goed" ???); you must change to another verb form which allows this idea; in
this case "I was brought here." Cf., RobtGr p. 813 for some others.

The second type are the ones which Greeks felt needed to retain their
"personal interest" feeling, like DEXOMAI; cf., RobtGr p. 812 for some others.

This doesn't solve all the problems (eg., passive deponents, cf., RobtGr p.
817f., who seems to suggest that the replacement of the middle by the
passive is a natural progression to distance the "deponents" from the "real
middle" usage), but I think it is observable to a degree that makes it a
reasonable solution.

Is anyone aware of any writings which have picked up this suggestion from
Robertson and carried it forward (if not, Grad students, here's a great
thesis or dissertation topic !).

Dale M. Wheeler, Th.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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