Re: (Augmented!) imperfects without past reference

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu May 22 1997 - 07:52:23 EDT

At 9:01 AM -0400 5/22/97, Walt McFall wrote:
>> Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 12:55:58 -0400
>> To: Jonathan Robie <>
>> From: "Carl W. Conrad" <>
>> Subject: Re: (Augmented!) imperfects without past reference
>> See my corrected post. It's Smyth #1780, cf, also #1827, 1832; BDF #359,
>> which does discuss the older classical Attic usages. There's no way you
>> could know this without some sense of the history of the language or
>> looking carefully at the grammars. Wallace has a not-very-adequate
>> discussion under the heading, "Conative (Voluntative, Tendential)
>> Imperfect," pp. 550-552.
>G'day Carl,
>Does Smyth provide adequate answers? What would you have
>included that Wallace didn't?
>Just curious...

I'm curious too. You've hit the mark about why I write e-mail notes on
grammar and not grammars for publication. Although I would want to be
careful about characterizing Wallace's grammar generally, it seems to me
that there's plenty in there that's speculative, although there's also
plenty of sound analysis and exegesis. Counter-factual condition, note: IF
what I said in my note in this thread.

Quite frankly, I'm not quite satisfied with Smyth's or anyone else's
explanation of why the indicative should be used in either unreal
desideratives or in counter-factual result clauses. But I certainly do
think there's a link between the imperfect in these two classical
constructions and the Koine usage, and I think that, true as it is that
Hellenistic grammar other NT is, for the most part, sui generis and sui
juris, it's unwise of a Hellenistic grammarian to ignore the history of the
language and the fact that language is always in flux.

I guess this is a matter of methodology, and we have a number of different
methodological approaches exemplified in list responses to questions like
this. There's a conservative approach that looks to chapter and verse of
the traditional grammars, particularly the one(s) that cite numerous
examples of a usage that are consistent and that offer a judicious
explanation; there's another that finds a particular usage somewhat askew
from commonly cited parallel texts and does computer searches to find other
perhaps better parallels. There are the extreme perspectives on Hellenistic
grammar that it is (a) a historically developed and developing language and
therefore it should be studied and explained from a diachronic perspective
(AT Robertson); others hold the view that it is (as I put it above) sui
generis and sui juris, and should therefore be studied and explained solely
from a synchronic perspective (it's obvious that I've never thought much of
this approach, least of all when its asserted that etymology has ABSOLUTELY
NO bearing upon the meanings of words).

My own approach is more or less pragmatic and based less upon painstaking
study of grammars than upon more or less voluminous reading in Greek and
gut feelings, which is to say, I guess, that it's largely subjective,
although I don't think it is arbitrary (however one wants to define that
word). When I find a puzzling usage I look at lexica and grammars and
concordances, do a word search, talk to colleagues, realizing that the best
reference works are human products and subject to error of fact and of
judgment. It's a matter of problem-solving and often there are alternative
solutions to a problem that are difficult to choose between, and sometimes
there just doesn't seem to be (as yet) any really adequate solution to a
grammatical problem. Nevertheless, it seems to me that grammatical problem
solving is at best a shared, a collective enterprise, and I think that we
all in this forum learn a lot from each other, the novices and the more
advanced students like myself always learning a lot from each
other--precisely because, however frequently the same old problems keep
getting aasked by new readers of the old texts, the new readers as well as
the old readers of these old texts are so frequently asking new and
interesting questions about the old texts that call into question what we
thought we knew and force us to rethink the problems.

I hadn't intended to ramble like this, but when Walt puts one on the spot
like this--and when one is tempted to respond off-list only to this sort of
question--one ponders it a bit and wonders whether this might not be
something of more general interest than one of satisfying a curious Walt

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

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