Re: Present tence copulative verbs

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Sep 02 1998 - 12:24:05 EDT

At 12:08 PM 9/2/98 -0400, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>May I suggest that B-Greek is about Greek, and not about English? If we
>start going down the path of which constructions are grammatical in
>English, we will then have to make judgements about whether the verb "to
>be" operates the same way, for both English and Greek, and we will get into
>a deep swamp that we will never get out of.
It occurs to me that it may not be clear to everyone just how deep this
kind of swamp can be, and my response probably seemed more than a little
curt. Let me give some examples from Beth Levin's "English Verb Classes and
Alternations: A Preliminary Investigation" to demonstrate that different
verbs behave differently.

Sharon sprayed water on the plants.
Sharon sprayed the plants with water.

Monica covered a blanket over the baby. **
Monica covered the baby with a blanket.

Carla poured lemonade into the pitcher.
Carla poured the pitcher with lemonade. **

I imagine that most people can't really give me a good explanation for why
the above verbs behave as they do, especially since the verbs are closely
related. There are classes of verbs, which behave differently. And it is
certainly plausible that the Greek verb EIMI could behave differently with
respect to time than another verb, e.g. there is no Aorist form for EIMI,
so the imperfect is used in many contexts where an Aorist would be expected.

It's not good enough to throw any old verb into a sentence and see how it
behaves with respect to a particular construction, you have to look at that
particular verb, and in that particular language. So it may be very
interesting to examine the Greek verb EIMI to examine its behavior in
constructions that mix tense, especially those that are grammatically
similar to the one we are looking at. Examining English examples with
unrelated verbs isn't likely to shed any light, and examining *any* verb
adequately like this will take some real effort. Unfortunately, there isn't
anything comparable to Beth Levin's work for Koine Greek verbs - and it
would be rather difficult to create such a book without native speakers of

Given the complexity of this subject, I think we should limit ourselves to
the part that is related to Greek.


Jonathan Robie

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