Re: Accusative + Infinitive

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Wed Sep 24 1997 - 00:14:54 EDT

>At 10:50 PM -0500 9/17/97, Eric Weiss wrote:
>>Is there a semantic or stylistic significance to using the accusative
>>case + infinitive as opposed to the more usual nominative case +
>>indicative or subjunctive? I'm looking specifically at Romans 4:13 - ...
>>TO KLHRONOMON AUTON EINAI KOSMOU (as opposed to, I guess, hOTI
>>(nominative case here identical in form to accusative case in the verse)
>>DOXAZOUSI (or DOXAZEI) TON QEON)? This does not seem to be Paul's usual
>>style, at least in Romans, so I was wondering why he uses this syntax
At 5:58 AM -0500 9/18/97, Carl W. Conrad responded:
>There may be and probably are studies of this sort of thing; I would only
>state a "gut" feeling here that this acc. + inf. construction is more
>formal and rhetorical than either an expository indicative or the (more
>colloquial?) hINA + subjunctive subordinate substantive clause. If Paul
>ever wrote a work that is as much a "treatise" as a real letter, I think it
>would be agreed that Romans falls in that category, especially inasmuch as
>it's a letter addressed to a congregation he hasn't founded or ever met.
>Parts of 1 Corinthians (esp. chaps. 1-4) seem to me to have much of this
>same powerful rhetorical presentation where the style pretty clearly rises
>to a level above that of ordinary epistolary communication.

Now I finally get around to responding...

While I agree in general terms with Carl's comments, I would like to add
that the infinitival construction here happens to have an accusative case
subject not because infinitives always do (they don't), but because one or
both of two crucial conditions for the subject being nominative are not
met. If the subject of an infinitive is stated explicitly, it will be
assigned accusative case if either (or both) of the following two
conditions are NOT met:

        1) The subject of the infinitive is the same as the subject of
                governing (usually finite) verb.

        2) The infinitival clause functions as a complement (object)
of the
                governing (usually finite) verb.

If the subject of the infinitive is NOT the same as the subject of the main
verb, or if the infinitival clause does NOT function as a complement of the
main verb, then the subject of the infinitive will be accusative case. If
the subject of the infinitive IS the same as the subject of the main verb
AND the infinitive DOES function as a complement of the main verb, then the
subject of the infinitive will almost never be stated explicitly, but if it
is, it will be assigned NOMINATIVE case, and any modifiers of it (say,
predicate adjectives, participial modifiers, etc.) will be assigned
NOMINATIVE case even if the subject is not stated explicitly.

You will not find a clear discussion of this topic in any of the grammars.
I am currently writing a paper on the subject and have collected about 20
pages of examples from the New Testament and other Hellenistic Greek
literature. I have chosen these examples from the hundreds of others
available because they illustrate almost every conceivable configuration of
infinitival clauses with explicit subjects.

I've taken several days to answer Eric's note because I am pretty swamped
with work right now. When things lighten up a little I will address the
issue again and would be glad to share some of the examples at that time.

Infinitives with explit subjects are really fairly common in the New
Testament. Virtually every NT author used them. They were also quite common
outside the NT both in other early Christian literature and in the
contemporary works of non-Christian authors.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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