Re: (To Carl) Two routes to the passive voice

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Apr 17 1999 - 08:07:20 EDT

At 10:51 PM -0500 4/16/99, Moon-Ryul Jung wrote:
>the recent discussion of the middle voice on the list made me go back
>to what you wrote about it. Re-reading them prompted me to ask
>questions which did not occur to me.
>1) The future and aorist tenses have both the middle and the passive
>and the other tenses have only the middle/reflexive forms. Have you
>of why only the future and aorist tenses have both the middle AND the

Yes; and the facts are more complicated than that: it is only those
transitive verbs regularly having an active voice that have this full
complement of forms in all three voices in the aorist and the future, e.g.
so-called "deponent" verbs that have no active voice form in the present
but only a middle voice form, fall into two separate categories which are
traditionally called "middle deponents" and "passive deponents." (a)
"Middle deponents": QEAOMAI has only a middle aorist and future:
deponents" constitute a much larger group: many or most of these have a
middle future and a "passive" aorist: DUNAMAI: HDUNHQH/DUNHSETAI;
POREUOMAI: POREUQH/POREUSETAI; some have both aorist and future -QH- forms:

>2) It is always true that the second aorist has both the active
>and the passive form, while the third aorist has only the active
>form which can be coerced into the passive?

It depends on what you mean by second aorist: I would use the term only of
thematic forms, like EPIQETO ("he obeyed") or EGENETO ("it happened," "came
to pass"); I wouldn't refer to forms like EBLABH or EGRAFH as "second
aorists" but rather as "second passives."

BUT all of the -QH- aorists, whether they have passive meanings or not (and
quite a few of them don't have passive meanings at all, i.e.: they are
"passive deponents"), have active endings, the reason being that none of
them was in origin passive at all, but rather they are non-thematic aorists
built on a -QH- stem which in some instances is interpreted as a passive;
some of these are very interesting, and I take this opportunity to note
this--perhaps this is what you mean by saying they "can be coerced into the

        EFANH TO ENUPNION: "the dream appeared"
        TAUTA hHMIN EFANH: "these things appeared to us" = "these things
were revealed to us"--we can heighten the passive sense by adding an agent
construction, TAUTA hHMIN EFANH hUPO TOU KURIOU: "These things were
revealed to us by the Lord.
        WFQH hO KURIOS TWi SIMWNI: "The Lord appeared to Simon" It would be
possible to translate this "The Lord was seen by Simon"--but I'd call that
an instance of what you seem to call "coercion" of an intransitive meaning
into a passive interpretation.

Some forms can be deceptive indeed. I recall that I was once under the
impression that earlier accounts of Jesus' resurrection emphasized the
agency of God in the form HGERQH, which looks like a passive, while later
accounts emphasize his rising as his own act in ANESTH. I now think there's
no difference between the two: the aorist and future of EGEIROMAI ("I
arise," "I awaken") are HGERQHN and EGERQHSOMAI--and I don't think these
differ at all in meaning from ANESTHN and ANASTHSOMAI.

I'll try to state this more fully in my revised account of voice in the
ancient Greek verb, but the proposition I'm affirming is that the -QH- and
-QHS- forms are NOT really essentially passive but rather become in later
Greek the standard forms of the aorist and of the future respectively,
taking the place in those two tenses of the MAI/SAI/TAI/MEQA/SQE/NTAI forms
of the other Greek tenses. In other words, it is MISLEADING to ASSUME (and
to TEACH) that the -QH- forms are ESSENTIALLY passive in meaning; it would
be more accurate to say that they are ESSENTIALLY equivalent to the
MAI/SAI/TAI "middle/passive" forms of the other tenses, and that they have
passive meanings only when those MAI/SAI/TAI forms in the other tenses
commonly have passive meanings.

At any rate, Moon's question has prompted me to anticipate the major new
item that I intended to add to my revised discussion of tense in the
ancient Greek verb. It's only in the last couple years that I have come to
think that BOTH the "middle/passive" morphology AND the -QH- morphology
much more commonly bear "reflexive" or "deponent" senses, and much less
commonly do they bear any real "passive" sense.

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

B-Greek home page:
You are currently subscribed to b-greek as: []
To unsubscribe, forward this message to
To subscribe, send a message to

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:40:24 EDT