Re: Attention aspect geeks: John 15:6 EBLHQH, EXHRANQH

From: Sara R. Johnson (
Date: Tue Apr 08 1997 - 21:58:21 EDT

>Smyth that the aorist may sometimes express present or future time. Smyth's
>explanation is that the aorist is sometimes a primary tense and sometimes a
>secondary tense. Of course, this is somewhat inconsistent with the view that
>the augment expresses past time, and that the secondary endings are used for
>the past time, and I'm not really sure what exactly he means when he says
>this. Mari's explanation is that the aorist never expresses absolute time -

(snip snip)
>explanations differ. I find Mari's more consistent, mainly because I'm a
>little baffled by the idea of a tense sometimes being a primary tense and
>sometimes being a secondary tense.

(snip snip)

>Does this bother you more than Smyth's statement that the same morphological
>forms used in the aorist sometimes make it a primary tense and sometimes
>make it a secondary tense? Mari isn't really arguing from morphology, and

I am becoming more & more aware that it is high time that I review my
grammars on the term "aspect"...

I snipped the bits on Smyth here because I am beginning to realize that
part of the confusion here might be arising from differences between
classical and Koine Greek. Am I correct in my (novice) impression that
Koine, unlike classical Greek, no longer distinguishes between primary and
secondary sequence due to the loss of the optative? Classical Greek does
distinguish between the two. A primary tense (present, future, perfect)
normally introduces primary sequence with the subjunctive; a secondary
tense (imperfect, aorist, pluperfect) normally introduces secondary
sequence with the optative.

As far as I understand it, Smyth describes the aorist as a primary tense
when it introduces primary sequence (subjunctive), and a secondary tense
when it introduces secondary sequence (optative). This is just the same as
saying that the aorist normally refers to past time (thus introducing
secondary sequence) but can, on occasion, refer to present or future time
(thus introducing primary sequence). If primary and secondary sequence
essentially don't exist in Koine, I can see why you would be confused!

Disclaimer: my Greek has been gathering a certain amount of dust on the
shelf in recent years... if I am committing grotesque grammatical
misrepresentation of classical Greek, please, somebody set me straight! =)

Getting sucked further and further in,


Sara R. Johnson
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Religion and Classics
University of Rochester

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