Re: Augment revisited (was: NUN+Verb.Aorist)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu May 01 1997 - 06:01:02 EDT

At 6:58 PM -0500 4/30/97, Don Wilkins wrote:
>I thought I would take a momentary break from my programming (hopefully the
>next version of Prometheus will be ready in a few more days--and I can
>still use some more alpha/beta testers!) to jump back in on this

Well, I have been rather pre-occupied myself since the rush of classes
ending and beginning of exams here, but although I don't think my opinion
on this matter matters very much anyway, since there's been reference to my
opinion on wheher the augment is necessarily an indicator of past time in
the Koine verb, I thought that I should at least declare myself on the
issue and reiterate the gap between what I am sure IS the truth and what I
think MAY BE the truth on this matter.

>At 3:33 PM 4/30/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>>But there *are* aorists which do not have the augment, and some forms which
>>are used with and without the augment. So far, I haven't heard anybody argue
>>that aorist forms without the augment do not have past time referent, but
>>aorist forms with the augment do. Do you know if anyone would argue this
>>position? Would you? (Please? Pretty please? It would be kind of fun! ;->)
>Jonathan, if you are referring to the absence of the augment in
>non-indicative moods, then of course we would say that such aorists
>inherently do not have reference to the past. As always, the problem is
>with the indicative. Do you have in mind some aor. ind's that do not have
>the augment? Offhand I can't think of any except those which are from the
>Homeric time period or are "missing" the augment due to purely
>morphological reasons (e.g. those verbs which begin with a long vowel).

I would qualify Don's statement here somewhat to note that: (1) absence of
augment in the non-indicative moods has never been a matter of dispute; (2)
while it is true that the augment seems to be present or absent on
imperfect, aorist, and pluperfect indicatives in Homer without any clear
indications of a reason for inclusion or omission, some reasons other than
metrical necessity or convenience have been adduced by some scholars. I
would agree with Don, however, that Homeric practice ought not by itself to
have any bearing on our judgment of the function of the augment in Koine or
specifically NT Greek; BUT (3) whether the flexibility of Homeric usage
with regard to augment on these indicative tenses is the major factor or
not, it is nevertheless true that Greek poetry in all eras of antiquity
remained flexible in the use or non-use of augments; (4) it ought not to be
forgotten (it has been noted more than once, most recently by Edgar Krentz,
I think, that the augment is sometimes absent from pluperfect indicatives
in Koine. While this last fact may seem to be unimportant, since we have
been talking mostly about imperfects and aorists, I think it's a crack in
the wall of adamant assertion that the augment is necessarily an indicator
of past time on an indicative verb form. I'm inclined to suspect (but of
course cannot prove) that omission of the augment on some pluperfect forms
MAY be occasioned by the length of these verb-forms in terms of syllables;
in modern Greek an imperfect or aorist indicative is augmented only if the
verb-form is two syllables or less long.

I would not dispute the overwhelming documentary evidence for the presence
of the augment on indicative imperfects and aorists in the written Greek of
the NT period. I wish we had some way of knowing how consistent its
presence may have been in the spoken language, but I don't think we have
enough evidence about that to say anything one way or the other. I suspect
that the wave of Attic revival toward the end of the first century may have
retarded any changes in use of the augment that may have been developing in
the demotic language.

I think that what I would want to emphasize in this matter is (a) the flux
in morphology and syntax that is always taking place in any language being
used in an broad international and cultural realm, a flux that is evident
even within the NT in alternative forms of the same words in the same
authors (to mention only one indication of this), and (b) the
questionability of the assumption that the enduring general use of the
augment in the indicative of the imperfect and the aorist necessarily means
that the augment itself was understood by its users to be a clear marker of
past time. Quite frankly I have a strong suspicion that it is primarily
secondary endings and especially the alpha endings that may be more
important to the perception of the indicative imperfects and aorists as
past tenses.

The upshot of this is, I guess, that I don't question the overwhelming
evidence that the augment continued to be used on indicative aorists and
imperfects. What I do question is the claim that the augment was
undisputably recognized as a marker of past time in these forms by those
using it. I'm just not so confident that the endurance of a phonetic
element in these verb-forms necessarily means that speakers and writers
felt it had a semantic force.

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

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