Re: Common-sense aorist

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Apr 06 1998 - 22:51:24 EDT

At 9:11 PM -0500 4/6/98, wrote:
>List members ~
>This will be my last posting on this matter unless someone wishes
>further discussion.
>There are only three 'times' known to us ~ The Past, The Present, and
>the Future. These are indicated in the Greek by the use of the
>Augment [E] (or its equivalent) for the Past, the Root [____-] plus
>person endings for the present, and the sigma [S], popularly called
>the punctiliar morph, following the root, for the future.
>Thus we have:
>E____- ____- ____S- E____SA-
>Past Present Future Aorist
>The elements of the Aorist comprise of ALL 3 TENSES, followed by -A-
>Privative, which removes the time element from the verb. It's that
>dirt simple.

But this is quite simply not true. The -S- element that is used to form the
future is not the same -S- that is used to form the aorist, and the -A-
that appears with the -S- in most sigmatic aorists is NOT a privative
alpha. It is simply not true that the aorist "includes the elements of the
other tenses." It is very different from them. It isn't even right to refer
simply to a "past" tense, because there are three indicative tenses that
are "past," and the aorist is one of them--the imperfect and pluperfect
being the others.

>So the aorist is indeed timeless, but not in some hairy-fairy New Age
>sense of 'eternal timelessness', but in the direct, simple and
>practical ABSENCE of specifying any particular time. So it is not
>really a tense at all, in terms of time specificity.

Again, this is not altogether wrong, but it isn't on the mark either. What
distinguishes the fundamental meaning of the aorist from the fundamental
meaning of the two other major aspect stems is that the aorist lacks the
durative, repetitive, unfinished character that is the central feature of
the present as it also lacks the completed or state-of-being that is the
central feature of the perfect. I'd draw the comparison thus:
        Present: APOQNHiSKEI "he is dying"
        Aorist: APEQANEN "he died"
        Perfect: APOTEQNHKEN "he is dead"
To this you could add the "past" tense of the present:
        Imperfect: APEQNHiSKEN "he was dying"
and the "past" tense of the perfect:
        Pluperfect: APETEQNHKEI "he was dead"

> When I tell you
>I eat banannas, as the simple statement of what I do, I MUST do so, as
>a GNT Greek, in the aorist, or go banannas trying to otherwise say
>what I mean!! Could I say, as a Greek, that I used to eat banannas??
>Perhaps the 2nd aorist might work ~ I really don't know...

You'd use an Imperfect to say "I used to eat bananas" HSQION.

>Assigning greater time specificity to the aorist then becomes a matter
>of context. [I eat banannas on TUESDAYS, for instance.]

In Classical or Koine Greek you would use the Present tense for that sentence.

What I object to most profoundly in your presentation is the notion in your
diagram that somehow the elements in ONE form (of three forms that exist)
of the aorist combine the elements of past, present, and future and
therefore carries all of those meanings. I think it is a fundamental
mis-construction of the function of those formative elements of augment,
future marker, sigmatic aorist marker, and your notion that somehow that
-A- in the sigmatic aorist is an "alpha privative" that takes away the
specificity of the other markers. That is not, in fact, the function of the
A in the sigmatic aorist, and if it were, one would have to suppose that
those aorists that are not formed with -S(A)- must have some different kind
of aorist meaning--but they don't. It still seems to me that you are
wanting to bestow on that -A- some mystic sense that it doesn't have, some
power of indefinitizing the verb's "time" reference.

I might just add that outside the indicative, where the aorist is NOT
augmented with that initial E- or lengthened initial vowel, present,
aorist, perfect in the subjunctive or optative can refer to hypothetical
future time:

        EAN ELQHi, OYOMEQA AUTHN "If she ever comes, we'll see her"
        EI ELQOI, IDOIMEN AN AUTHN "if she were to come, we would see her"

Of course, the optative is more or less a dead form in common usage by the
NT period, but these sentences do illustrate how aorists outside the
indicative may refer to future time in a hypothetical situation. But that's
not the case with an aorist in the indicative, unless, at least, there are
powerful other factors in the context that would point to such
futurity--and it might be difficult to get agreement about such instances.

And I think I'll let this pass as my final effort at clarification of these

Regards, Carl
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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