Re: explanation of aorist morphology

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Sun Oct 26 1997 - 20:56:58 EST

At 06:26 97/10/24 -0400, Rod Decker wrote (in reply to my post):

>>Let me set them out in logical
>>fashion, describing the words in the group, and then giving the aorist
>>1. Roots ending in -E- plus a liquid I.A
>> (as in EMEINA, from MENW - the iota
>> before the nu and the alpha after it
>> together indicate "aorist", and are
>> termed a "discontinuous morph")
>I have always taught these as regular liquids, observing that at times a
>preceeding vowel will ablaut (somewhat like compensatory lengthening in
>Hebrew). Are there particular linguistic reasons for avoiding such an
>explanation? Perhaps this is a generalization and oversimplification, but
>from the beginning student's perspective, seems adequate--or am I missing
>something crucial here?


I definitely agree with you about the compensatory lengthening approach. We
see so many examples of this in Greek. E.g., the forms of the present of
EIMI all begin with either ES- or EI- - explanation: in some forms, -S-
(part of the root) is lost from the form and E- then undergoes compensatory
lengthening to EI-. Similarly with hEIS, hENOS: the root is hEN- (as seen
in the genitive singular), and when the nominative masculine singular
numbercase ending -S is suffixed to the root (giving "hENS") the nasal and
sigma cannot co-exist, the -N- is lost from the word, and seeing that a
stem letter has been lost you get compensatory lengthening resulting in the
form hEIS in the nominative singular.

Yes, compensatory lengthening because of the loss of the signma from
notional "EMENSA" results in EMEINA. Another example: EDEIRA from DERW.

I would regard this as a linguistically sound explanation that is easy for
a student to understand. (Students will encounter the phenomenon of
compensatory lengthening in quite a few places in learning NT Greek.)

For myself, I would consider this to be the clearest and simplest approach,
and would not trouble students with the concept of ablaut. (I do not find
it necessary to invoke it.)

>As I've (briefly) browsed the liquids, I see that -E- forms are certainly
>the most frequent such formulations, but that are others which, by using
>ablaut in my explanation, I don't have to explain separately:
>GAMEW > EGHMA (though it also has a first aor. form, EGAMHSA)

GAMEW is irregular in having EGHM- as its aorist stem. But having arrived
at this form, it is then regular in taking just the alpha suffix: thus it
follows the "liquid" rule, as EGHM- ends in a liquid. (There is also a
regular first aorist form EGAMHSA, as you note, which occurs once in the
GNT in the indicative [Mark 6:17] and several times in infinitive,
participle, and subjunctive forms.)

>KERDAINW > EKERDANA (also with a first aorist EKERDHSA)
>EUFRAINW > HUFRANA (and quite a few other -AINW verbs)

These other verbs you mention, with a verbal form in the durative ending in
iota plus a liquid (rho or nu), are representative of a group of 27 such
verbs altogether (they are all listed on pages 227-228 of my Greek
Grammar). In these verbs the iota is a durative infix into the root, which
is KERDAN-, -AR-, BASKAN-, EUFRAN-, and so on for the others in the group.
That is, the presence of the infix -I- in the various durative forms
correlates with the fact that they ARE durative forms.

KERDAINW, though, is a special case. On only one occasion in the NT (1 Cor
9:21) does it follow the pattern of the other verbs of this group, as
above. On the other 16 occasions when it occurs in the GNT, whenever the
-S- of the future or the -SA- of the aorist is suffixed to KERDAN-, the -N-
is lost and the alpha lengthens to eta (in accordance with the Short Vowel
Lenthening Rule, that a short vowel at the end of a morph will lengthen
when followed by a suffix commencing with a consonant - cf. contract
verbs). Thus we get KERDHSOMEN, EKERDHSEN, etc. But on the one occasion
when KERDAINW does have an aorist form where the verbal morph ends in a
liquid, it also follows our aorist morph rule.

And all the other verbs of this group regularly follow this rule. So the
rule that First Conjugation verbs add -SA- to form their aorist stem, and
that the -S- of this morph slides off if the preceding letter is a liquid,
is a pretty powerful explanatory rule.



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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