Re: Voice and Morphology (was hHKW/hHKASIN)

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Mon Oct 27 1997 - 07:25:09 EST

At 15:07 97/10/25 -0700, Don Wilkins wrote:
>At 12:55 AM 10/26/97 +1000, Ward Powers wrote:
>>At 12:27 97/10/24 -0700, Don Wilkins wrote:
>>>At 03:10 PM 10/23/97 +1000, Ward Powers wrote:
>>>>The first thing we need to note is that every Greek verb has four
>>>>subsystems, one related to time (the future, without inherent aspect),
>>>>and the other three to aspect. I hope it is safe to say this without
>>>>reawakening the long-running aspect debate.....

The purpose of my post, Don, was to share some insights (as I would see
them) from my researches into Greek grammar in the field of Voice and
Morphology (hence the subject title which this thread bore, and still
carries, though now somewhat inappropriately, perhaps).

To present these insights which correlated voice and morphology, it was
appropriate to examine the various voice forms of the indicative tenses. My
point was: Which tenses had separate flexions for the various voices?

I chose to use the indicative for my purpose, as indicative forms from all
four subsystems are common in Greek. Now, I could equally have made my
point by listing the equivalent forms for the infinitive or the participle,
though as future infinitives and participles are pretty rare, people may
well have puzzled over such a choice for my examples, had I made it. But I
repeat: all the points I was making can be made equally well by using the
forms of the infinitive and the participle (though this would have required
introducing the complication of the specifier morphs contained in some
infinitives and all participles).

The relationship of aspect to time did not come into it at any point.
However, you have asked me several times to spell out where I stand in
relation to this matter of aspect. I am not trying to dodge the issue of
where I stand. I may say that I took no part in the recent controversy on
b-greek re aspect. My answer now arises out of my involvement with
questions of morphology which to me are crucial. I hold that the form of a
word indicates (by various morphological devices) both time meaning and
aspect meaning, and that these are two different things (indicated by
different morphs).

Now, it is perfectly possible to use verbs in contexts which are at
variance with what their morphology is saying. Some of these situations are
well-known idioms. The present-for-future is an example, as in, "I am out
tomorrow morning from eight o'clock on, but I get home at eleven." This
usage is not uncommon in Greek. Then there is the often-found historic
present, and so on. It is perfectly possible to argue a case that certain
indicative aorist forms are being used in a context where they mean the
present, the future, or "timeless". Or to argue against such a case. All
this lies in the realm of semantics and exegesis. I am operating (in this
discussion) at the level of morphology.

[SNIP - here and throughout I have snipped everything which is not relevant
to the point I am making.]

>As it stood, one could infer that you are
>saying that only the future indicate has time (but no aspect), and that the
>other "tenses" (itself a controversial term) have aspect *but not time*,
>i.e. without exception. I for one maintain the position that the indicative
>mood has time and aspect.

"Tense" as a term originally related to time. In discussing Greek verbs I
use it (like most others, I believe) as a convenient way of referring to
different patterns of inflection, which can then be discussed. When used of
such particular patterns of inflection, "tense" does not imply anything
about my opinion of the time factor involved.

My research leads me to the conclusion that (and again I draw attention to
the fact that I am discussing the morphology of koine Greek) verb roots
possess inherent aspect (which has nothing to do with time). Verb roots of
the First Conjugation are inherently durative, and those of the Second
Conjugation and Third Conjugation are inherently punctiliar. The -O/E-
joining vowel (which occurs in Slot 7) is a neutral morph meaning "no
change in a verb's aspect". The first aorist is formed by replacing the
neutral morph with the punctiliar morph -SA-, meaning "switch aspect to
punctiliar", and in the perfect active it is replaced by -KA- meaning
"switch aspect to perfect".

When the future morph sigma (epsilon after liquids) occurs in a verb form
(it goes into Slot 6), it switches the form from durative aspect to future
time. The standard grammars (and I do not place Porter in that category:
his approach is a very long way removed from "standard") affirm that "the
future is the only tense which expresses only a level of time and not an
Aktionsart, so that completed and durative action are not distinguished".
(This is cited from BDF p.178, #348.) I have not found any evidence to
contradict this statement and I wholly accept it.

Morphologically, there is a one-to-one relationship between the presence of
the augment (temporal or syllabic) in a verb form and that form being
therefore and thereby past time. This morphological feature has got
absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with aspect: there is a "past time"
flexion for each of durative (imperfect), punctiliar (aorist), and
perfective (pluperfect).

[We can note that verbs beginning with a vowel and a few others can take a
temporal or syllabic augment as a perfective morph in lieu of
reduplication, and that the past time morph can be omitted from the
pluperfect in the style of some authors, but these facts do not affect my

An aorist indicative contains the past time morph, and its form is
therefore both past time and punctiliar aspect. All other moods (or modes,
if we were to use A. T. Robertson's much more accurate term - see p.306 of
his "Short Grammar") lack the past time morph and therefore are not
morphologically displaying any time feature.

The information that is given to us morphologically enables us to identify
accurately the FORM of a verb. It is open to a person to argue that in a
particular usage the MEANING is at variance with the form. In a given
instance he may well convince me. But the onus is (I would hold) on the one
who wants to argue against what the morphology says, to show that meaning
overrides form on the occasion in question.

>The property of voice probably has nothing to do with the controversy.

You are SO right. The property of voice has nothing to do (so far as I can
see) with the earlier debate about aspect. I was seeking to make a case for
how we ought to understand and teach voice in Greek grammar.

>I have to confess that I did not carefully read your analysis of the voices
>because it was not relevant to the issue I raised. Perhaps the only way you
>can accomplish that analysis is to assume the categories of subsystems that
>you identified.

<SIGH!> Ah well. I would dearly like to think that there were others on the
list who noted my protest against present practices of teaching middle
forms as being passive, and were weighing up the validity of the case I was
making out for this.

>Also, I would be happier and
>more inclined to read your posts if you rephrased such statements along the
>lines of "The Greek verb can in general be viewed as having..." and so on.
>Now and then a little IMO or IMHO is nice to see too, though I think we all
>assume that one is normally speaking only for oneself.

As I had explained that I was setting out the results of my own research in
various areas of application of linguistic principles to Greek, and was
summarizing material published in my grammar "Learn To Read The Greek New
Testament", to which I sometimes gave a cross-reference, I had thought it
would be understood that my posts to b-greek expressed my conclusions and
opinions. But if this needs to be more expressly expressed: Would all list
members please note that if I should post any future contributions to this
list I am speaking only for myself and giving my own judgements in the matter.

In the earnest hope that what I was seeking to do in my earlier post will
not be totally lost sight of (which does seem to be happening), I will
close by repeating some of my major conclusions from that post:

>To be precise: When you want to express a passive in the future or
punctiliar, you have the forms available, containing QH (in the subjunctive
and participle, this is in the short-vowel form QE - an allomorph of QH).
There is a one-to-one relationship between the forms used to express the
passive future or aorist and the presence of QE/QH in all such forms: so
QE/QH is the passive morph.
>The other side of this coin is that the pronoun endings which LUSOMAI and
ELUQHN have in all their forms, across the board, are to be recognized as
being MIDDLE endings, which distinguish these forms from active and passive
>But when you want to express a passive in the durative or perfective, you
do not have separate, distinctive forms available, because the language did
not develop them. What Greek did was: use the middle forms with passive
>It is my contention that THAT is how voice forms should be taught to Greek
students: that is, that of the four subsystems which exist in the Greek
verb, two have passive forms and two do not. The two that do not, durative
and perfective, use MIDDLE FORMS with PASSIVE MEANING when passive meaning
is required.
>Thus I register a protest against teaching (say) LELUMAI as being the
passive perfect of LUW. There are three faults with this. First, students
miss seeing (or at least, are not being taught to see) the middle ending
patterns which run across all four subsystems, with of course the variants
between the "past forms" set of endings (imperfect, aorist, pluperfect) and
the "non-past" set of endings (present, future, present perfect).
>Second, students are having to learn forms and paradigms as separate and
on their own, instead of seeing them as part of the greater whole (LELUMAI
as part of the total MIDDLE structure) and allowing the identification of
morphs in the word to guide them. (On this approach, you cannot use -MEQA
to simply tell you "1st p. plural middle" if you have learnt LELUMEQA as
being passive.)
>Thirdly, your initial reaction to seeing such a form will be to take it as
a passive and you may not even think to take into account that it could as
easily be a middle.
>So this I recommend:
>1. Teach students to recognize all middle forms as morphologically middle,
across all four verb subsystems.
>2. Teach them that when they encounter a middle form (which they can be
shown to recognize from its morphs), check if the form contains QHS-. If
so, the sigma in Slot 6 indicates "future", while the QH, the passive morph
(in Slot 5), switches what would otherwise be a middle to being passive.
>3. Next (if it is not future passive) they identify the aspect of the
form. If it is durative or perfective, then the form (though middle
morphologically) may be being used with passive meaning: so assess BOTH
possibilities in context.

Is there anybody anywhere who is interested in talking about the usefulness
of morphology in identifying the voice of Greek verb forms, and in teaching
voice to students? Love to hear from you.



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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