Re: The mystery of verb voice (was ACTS 10:40)

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Feb 26 1997 - 13:15:44 EST


In August 1996, you seemed to suggest that you could distinguish true
passives from middles based on the form of the verbs, and gave me some very
clear guidelines. I found these guidelines useful, and still use them. They
are also very clear, so they could easily be taught.

The last two times this has come up, you haven't cited the same guidelines.
I'm wondering if this message still represents your current thinking, or if
your understanding has evolved since then. I'm especially interested in the
two points that follow the phrase "I would say":

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At 11:07 AM -0500 8/17/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>In my CCATT morphological database, EGEIRETAI is marked as present passive
>indicative in John 13:4, "egeiretai ek tou deipnou"...
>What does the use of the passive mean in this context?

You have touched (one of) my raw nerve(s). Traditional usage speaks of
these forms as "middle-passive" and then proceeds to discuss them as if the
passive were the norm of their meaning, when in fact, the passive is the
special usage. The pure _middle_ forms then get called "deponent" as if
there were something irrational about them, although they are as common in
Greek as SE LAVER in French or SICH ANZIEHEN in German.

I would say:
(1) the only _forms_ that are genuinely passive are aorists in -QH- and
futures in -QHSo/e-.
(2) _forms_ conjugated in -MAI, -(S)AI, -TAI, etc. are really
_middle_--which is to say _reflexive_. But in certain contexts (e.g. when
an instrumental dative and/or an agent construction such as hUPO + genitive
is appended, the sense of the verb thus conjugated is passive.

In the present instance, EGEIRETAI is clearly _middle_, i.e., _reflexive_:
"He raises himself (= rises) from the table and sets aside his tunic ..."

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Jonathan Robie
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