explanation of aorist morphology (was, kappa aorists)

From: Ward Powers (bwpowers@eagles.bbs.net.au)
Date: Thu Oct 23 1997 - 21:46:05 EDT

At 17:18 97/10/20 -0500, Carl Conrad wrote:

>I think
>some useful information is coming across here, and I want to be clear about
>points at which Ward and I share a common view of the facts of Greek verb
>morphology even if we prefer to formulate those facts differently--perhaps
>because of Ward's narrower focus on Biblical Greek as opposed to my
>interest in Homeric and Classical Greek and in the the larger diachronic
>view of Greek verb morphology.

Yes, Carl, you are absolutely right: I am focussing on biblical Greek, and
I am primarily taking a synchronic view (that is, looking at the language
just as it is at the point of time in question, as if it were a newly
discovered language concerning whose history we knew nothing). But from
time to time the question of what has happened in the language prior to NT
times becomes relevant to the understanding and explanation of forms and
function in the NT, and then a diachronic ("through time") view has to be
taken into account. E.g., words which once contained the banished letter
digamma, where its going has left consequences that can only be explained
on the basis that it had once been in the word.


>>These same linguistic categories apply to Greek. Thus the syllabic augment
>>and the temporal augment are allomorphs of the Greek past time morpheme.
>If I understand you rightly here, you are indicating equivalence of
>allomorphs in terms of formal function within the constituent building
>blocks of the form of a verb. You are NOT making any judgment about the
>primacy of one allomorph over another, even IF one of these allormorphs may
>happen to be earlier while another may be a later-emerging element used the
>same way as another.

I am not sure what you mean by "formal function". The words EX and EK are
allomorphs: they have identical meaning (this is what "allomorph" means);
they FUNCTION differently from each other, however: one is used in front of
vowels, and one in front of consonents. Allomorphs may be entire words (as
EX and EK), or morphs which are parts of larger words (as are -KA- and -SA-
in the kappa aorists and regular first aorists that we have been
discussing). You cannot, by definition, have a single allomorph - there
must be at least two and there can be any number. All the allomorphs
together comprise the morpheme of [whatever the meaning of the allomorphs is].

>>>For those with access to my "Learn To Read the Greek NT", I refer you to
>>sections 4.57 and 4.59, page 56, and E4.77, page 301.
>I'm going to try to get a copy; apparently it is not currently in print or
>available from distributors in the continental U.S.

Please rest assured that "Learn To Read the Greek New Testament" is very
definitely in print and is readily available - the fifth edition has only
recently been published. The ISBN is 1-876106-00-X, and an order can be
placed through any bookseller. However, to speed one reaching you, I will
arrange for a copy to be mailed to you tomorrow.

>I'm assuming that in
>the last part of the last parenthesis above you meant to write "ECEA from

Yes, the word I meant to write was indeed ECEA, the aorist form from CEW.

>One matter on which I am not wholly clear in the above formulation is
>whether you really mean to make these three forms fully equivalent. For
>instance, you're not, I suppose, meaning to indicate that I.A is the
>pattern for all liquid verbs, but only for those where, as you say, the
>vowel before the liquid is epsilon.


Observation shows that there are four slightly variant ways in which a
first aorist form indicates that it is in fact aorist; that is to say, four
allomorphs of the aorist (punctiliar) morpheme. They are all to be
recognized as being of the same conjugation because once you have their
first person singular form they all conjugate their flexion in an identical
way. (This could be called the "alpha conjugation", or, as we are dealing
with FIRST aorists, simply the "First Conjugation" on analogy with "First
Declension" for numbercase forms.) Three of these are totally regular, as
they can be predicted
in advance from the phonemes ("sounds", "letters") they contain; the
fourth, the kappa aorists, are irregular in the formation of their stem in
that it is not predictable in advance. 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")

2. All other roots ending in a liquid A
    (as in ESURA, from SURW; EKRINA from KRINW)


4. In all other first aorist words SA

GAMEW is irregular in taking GHM- as its lexical form in the aorist, but
thereafter from this form it conjugates completely regularly as a liquid
aorist. (A regular aorist, EGAMHSA, also occurs in the NT.)
We have already noted the irregular aorist form ECEA from CEW; ECEA conjugates
as if it were a liquid aorist.
FERW has the suppletive aorist form HNEGKA, which conjugates its aorist
completely regularly from this form.

Thus insofar as there are any irregulars of the first aorist, the
irregularity is only in the formation of the first person singular, and
thence all words are regular in deriving all other aorist forms from this

>Let me reiterate my question from above for clarity's sake: you are NOT
>arguing that there is any historical relationship between aorists in -SA,
>others in -KA, and still others in -I.A or E.A;

You are correct: I am not referring to any historical factors. I do not
questions their interest value or their usefulness in numbers of ways, but
I consider that these factors are not relevant to an understanding of the
aorist (punctiliar) morpheme in the NT. There is no aorist morph E.A. In
the form ECEA, the second epsilon is part of the verb's root, not part of a
morph indicating "aorist": that function is performed exclusively by the
alpha, so (as set out above) this word's aorist flexion behaves exactly
like that of a liquid verb.

>what would you say of
>those older thematic aorist stems so commonly conjugated in Biblical Greek
>with alpha endings, such as HLQA, hUPHGA, EFAGA, etc.? Are these to be
>deemed additional allomorphs of -SA?

Not so. In the second aorist active flexion, the 1st p. sing and 3rd p.
plural forms are identical. Four Greek verbs (all suppletives) occur in the
NT with the 3rd p. plural form in -AN instead of -ON, the intention being
(it would appear) to differentiate this form from any possibility of
confusion with the 1st p. sing. form. (A rough parallel would be the use of
the ungrammatical but perfectly clear form "yous" as a plural for "you", by
someone who sought to avoid confusion with the singular.) The most common
of these is EIPAN (95 times in the GNT), then HLQAN (5 times), EIDAN (5
times), and HNEGKAN (thrice). Clearly this form is derived by analogy of
the -A- of the first aorist. This idea once established, the use of -A- as
the vowel in these second aorist verbs was extended to some other forms of
their aorist flexion also: for EIPON, 25 times; HLQON, twice; EIDON, once;
HNEGKON, once, and also hEILON, once. There are no NT instances of -A-
aorists hUPHGA or EFAGA (in any person/number).

>Furthermore, does the fact that such -KA aorists as EQHKA may form a 1 pl
>as EQHKAMEN or as EQEMEN alter the above description?--the problem, of
>course, is that we may find in Hellenistic Greek (and for that matter, even
>in classical Attic) concurrent forms of aorist active plurals based on the
>-KA on the one hand or conjugated as athematic verbs on the other. I guess
>what I'm really asking is whether this descriptive pattern is comprehensive
>enough to cover the sometimes disparate phenomena of alternative forms of
>the same verb.

What this explanation provides is a very powerful description of observable
data. "Powerful" in linguistic terminology means capable of explaining or
describing a wide range of forms or features in a language. One can note
the existence side by side of forms or flexions with the same
meaning.(Sometimes this is due to dialectical or regional differences, or
it could be personal preference. For example, for me the past tense of
"dive" is "dove", but for some people it is "dived"; I use "proven" as the
passive participle of "prove" while for some others it is "proved".) For
example, the 1st p. plural imperfect forms of EIMI, HMEN (8 times) and
HMEQA (5 times) both occur in the NT - on one occasion (Galatians 4:3) both
of them in the one verse. So also EQEMEN and EQHKAMEN similarly could both
occur. (My understanding though is that EQEMEN does not occur in the NT -
do you know of an instance?) The linguistic description of this situation
is simply that sometimes the aorist active of TIQHMI uses the regular Third
Conjugation form in the plural, and at other times it adds the suffix -KA-
as its aorist morph and then conjugates as a first aorist.


>>Further examination of other aorist forms of a verb enables us to refine
>>this to say that the alpha of the aorist morph elides before a following
>>vowel, as in such forms as ELUSE(N), LUSON, LUSAI, and the subjunctive
>Here again I find a bit of a problem. I frankly doubt that there's any
>elision of an -A- from a -SA- form, and I think one would be hard put to
>demonstrate any such elision. It is easier to suppose that the alpha
>originated in the indicative active and spread as an element additional to
>the aorist -S- marker in several other indicative and non finite forms
>(participles, infinitives, imperatives except for the aorist 2 sg. in -ON,
>subjunctives; it appears in optatives in -SAIMI, SAIS, SAI but not in the
>Attic optative 2nd sg. -SEIAS, 3d sg. -SEIE or 3d pl. SEIAN). That is to
>say, I don't know that one can really say that the A in -SA- is a universal
>aorist marker; I rather think that -S- is for the sigmatic type aorist and
>that the additional -A- is not originally part of it. On the other hand, it
>might be more convenient for pedagogical purposes to speak of "elision" of
>the Alpha before an imperative ending -ON or before subjunctive vowels, so
>long as one doesn't confuse that hypothetical elision with description of
>what is actually involved.

I have omitted the part of your comment, Carl, which was concerned with the
question of accounting historically for the development of some forms. My
view is that their historical developmnet is of rather small concern to the
student whose goal is just to learn to read the Greek NT. So I am aiming
for a simple linguistically sound explanation that will help that student
prepare to read his GNT and understand its forms when he does. I therefore
am going to ignore the Attic forms of the optative, and the question of
whether or not the additional -A- was originally part of the sigmatic type
aorist. I will unashamedly concentrate on what is most convenient for
pedagogical purposes, describing the Greek of the NT primarily from a
synchronic ("as it is now") standpoint.

I take on board that you doubt there is any elision of an -A- from an -SA-
form, and you consider that I will be hard put to demonstrate any such
elision. I hold that the evidence firmly points to this as the most
effective and powerful ("explains a lot") way of accounting for the data,
and I believe I can demonstrate this. I will assemble my case, and post it
to b-greek in due course.

>Let me reiterate here once more, that my concern is probably more with the
>historical development of the aorist forms than with how best to describe
>them for pedagogical purposes. But even when teaching the aorist in
>Biblical Greek, one must come to terms sooner or later with the fact that
>the language does not fit quite so neatly into the slots as one might wish.
>As the rabbit told Alice, those verbs are "an ornery lot" and one must
>really struggle with them to master them.

I aver that the functioning of the Greek language in NT times is much more
regular and less ornery than you imply. My approach will not remove the
need to struggle, but I hold that it will significantly facilitate the


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

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