Greek Verb Morph Slots

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Sun Oct 19 1997 - 11:37:00 EDT

At 15:35 97/10/18 -0400, Craig Harmon wrote:
>In a message dated 10/18/97 4:38:31 PM, Ward Powers wrote:
>>Fellow b-greekers:
>>Jim West and Carl Conrad have been chatting about kappa aorists.
>>The normal morph which indicates "aorist" in a verb is SA (the alpha elides
>>before a following vowel), or when the aorist morph is added to a liquid
>>(as in, say, SURW), the sigma of this morph slides off, just leaving the
>>alpha as the aorist morph (so its aorist is ESURA). The aorist morph occurs
>>in Slot 7 of a verb's nine morph slots.

Yes, I guess an explanation is called for.

This was a cross reference primarily for the benefit of those who have
access to my work on the Greek verb in "Learn To Read the Greek New
Testament" - there are quite a few thousand copies of the different
editions of this book there in North America, and others circulating in
other countries around the world, and I know numbers of people on-list have
access to a copy.

By way of explanation, then: I did my Master's in linguistic science, and
then applied this work to koine Greek. My research, published in the
above-mentioned book, applied linguistic analysis to Greek nouns and verbs,
and extended into other areas as well. In particular: it identified that
there are nine morph slots in the Greek verb. This is linguistic-speak for
the fact that there are nine places in the structure of a Greek verb form
where a meaningful bit of information can be found (and the linguistic term
for "a meaningful bit of information" is a "morph"). Not all nine morphs
can ever occur in the one verb form, because some of the morphs are
mutually exclusive - e.g., the morph which indicates past time, and the
morph which indicates future. The maximum possible number of morphs which
can occur in a single verb form is seven, and (as it happens) in the whole
New Testament only one form with seven morphs occurs. But lots of verbs
with six morphs occur.

The morph slots are of two kinds: "framework morph slots" (there are four
of these) and "optional morph slots" (five of these). The frameword slots
are multimorph slots (that is, there are several possible morphs which can
occur as alternatives in these slots, with differing meanings) and these
slots need to be occupied by a morph or you need to know the reason why.
The optional slots can only have one morph in them, and that morph (if
present) will impart a certain kind of information to the verb form.

What my research is showing (I contend) is that this is the actual way the
Greek verb is structured, and the meaning of a Greek verb form is the sum
of its parts (its morphs), and this information would have been immediately
and automatically recognized by native speakers of the language.

The four "framework" slots are Slots 1 (preposition), 4 (lexal), 7 (aspect)
and 9 (ending). There are twenty possibilities for Slot 1: any one or two
of eighteen prepositions, or the morph "EU" (as in EUAGGELIZW), or zero (in
which case the verb form is simplex). The "lexal" is the "lexical morph" in
a given verb, the "lexical" or "dictionary" or "meaning" bit: there are
1,000 verb lexals in the NT. There are three possibilities for Slot 7: (a)
O/E (what is often referred to as the "thematic vowel" or similar, but this
term has no linguistic significance; I refer to the O/E as the "neutral
morph", because it is the carrier for the subjunctive morph but has a
neutral effect upon the verb's aspect: when present it leaves the verb
lexal's inherent aspect unchanged); (b) SA (the aorist morph); (c) KA (the
perfective active morph). Slot 9 is the "ending slot", for which there are
three possibilities: (a) an infinitive ending (if the form is an
infinitive); (b) a numbercase ending (if the form is a participle); and (c)
a pronoun ending (for all other forms of the verb).

The other slots, the "optional slots", are on/off slots: if the morph is
present, the slot is "on": it gives that meaning to the verb form. Slot 2
is the "past time morph slot". Slot 3 is the "perfect reduplication slot".
Slot 5 is the "passive morph slot". Slot 6 is the "future morph" slot. Slot
8 is the "specifier slot" in which you can find any one of six possible
morphs: specifying one of pluperfect active, perfect active participle,
other active participle, middle participle, middle imperative/infinitive,
optative. This is only the one slot because only one of these morphs can
ever be present in a given form.

A verb form operates outwards from the lexal, the "lexical meaning bit". A
morph in front of the lexal is a prefix; a morph after the lexal is a
suffix. If a morph is added INTO the lexal (this can happen in certain verb
forms), this is an infix. The stem of a verb form is everything in that
form from Slots 1 to 8 inclusive, that is, everything apart from the ending
(Slot 9).

The various morphs in the different slots are to be identified by
linguistic analysis: that is, by comparing forms which differ in meaning in
only one particular, and identifying which element(s) in the form correlate
with that difference. Analysis on this basis comes up with divergent
results from the traditional grammatical treatment of koine Greek at
several points. My contention is that we ought to correct our traditional
nomenclature and approach to Greek grammar, where appropriate, from the
insights and tools provided by linguistic science, which has made huge
progress in the last thirty to fifty years in particular.

There is more, of course. To those with access to "Learn To Read the Greek
New Testament": may I refer you to sections A6, E4 and E5.


Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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