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

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Apr 18 1999 - 08:12:21 EDT

At 6:58 AM -0500 4/18/99, Moon-Ryul Jung wrote:
>Dear Carl,
>thanks for the clarification of your theory. It creates a clearer picture
>in my mind. Let me ask some clarifying questions.
>>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:
>(b) "Passive
>> deponents" constitute a much larger group: many or most of these have a
>> middle future and a "passive" aorist: DUNAMAI: HDUNHQH/DUNHSETAI;
>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 I remember that you categorized forms like EBLABH, EGRAFH, EFANH
>with -QH- aorists as third aorist. I guessed that Q was omitted after B,F,
>N, etc, it is right?. Anyway do you consider -QH- aorist as "first
>and forms like EBLABH or EGRAFH as "second passive"? Do forms like EBLABH
>EGRAFH behave exactly like -QH- aorist?

Traditional Greek grammar does refer to the -QH- passives as "First
Passive" and the -H- passives as "Second Passives." Of course, in each
instance where the traditional Greek grammar refers to a "second"
morphological pattern (aorist, perfect, passive) what is called the
"second" pattern is actually the older one and is obsolescent--as we know
that the "second" aorist stems are gradually coming to be conjugated with
the -A- endings of the "first" even in the NT period, while in Modern Greek
ALL past tenses are conjugated with those same -A- endings. Similarly,
while "second Passive" forms like EBLABHN and EGRAFHN survive for a while
alongside of the "first Passive" forms EBLAFQHN and EGRAFQHN, those "second
Passive" forms are ultimately doomed--unless they survive in 'backwater'
areas where speech patterns don't change very rapidly. Some of the older
people in the mountains of North Carolina, I was fascinated to find out,
still use the archaic "holp" as the past tense of "help," although "helped"
is now the standard past tense for this verb.

>> 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.
>I think this statement is really a clarification. Before you seemed to
>us think -QH- aorists are "active aorists" (third aorists),
>which can be coerced to the passive. Now you seem to say that -QH- aorists
>are "middle aorists" and they can be coerced to the passive as middle
>usually do.

You have indeed grasped the modification that I am making to my earlier
view of what has happened, although I think the situation is a bit more
complicated. I do think that what we generally refer to in traditional
Greek grammar as the aorist passive morphology is actually an application
of what was a more-or-less intransitive "third aorist" in -H- that came to
be expanded with a -Q- element before the secondary ACTIVE athematic
endings were added. I say the situation is a bit more complicated, BECAUSE:
(1) there are "third aorists" of this sort (e.g. ESTHN, EGNWN) that don't
ever seem to carry any passive signification; new passives of the -QH-
developed for them in ESTAQHN and EGNWQHN or EGNWSQHN. and (2) No small
number of the newly-developed -QH- "third aorists" NEVER did come to carry
any passive signification (e.g. HDUNHQHN, EPOREUQHN), but BECAUSE they have
the -QH- element which traditional Greek grammar wants to call "passive"
those verbs came to be categorized in their 'anomaly' as "Passive

So, to sum up, what I now hypothesize is that the -QH- type of "Third
aorist" came to be identified in the minds of Greek-speakers at some point
as the aorist equivalent of the older MAI/SAI/TAI morphology of the
middle/reflexive, and that it came to be extended finally to the future
with standard middle/reflexive endings added to the -QH- stem forms:
QHSOMAI/QHSHi/QHSETAI KTL. BUT: neither the -QHN aorists nor the -QHSOMAI
futures ever came to be associated exclusively with passive meaning; RATHER
these morphological patterns came to function in the aorist and future with
the same sort of ambivalence that MAI/SAI/TAI and MHN/SO/TO morphological
patterns have in the other tenses: they MAY be passive--especially if there
are already active forms of the verb in question, but they may simply be
the aorist and future equivalents of obsolete -SAMHN/SW/SATO or
-OMHN/OU/ETO (aorist "middle/passive") or -SOMAI/SHi/SETAI (future

Of course, what I'm suggesting here does not reduce the complexity of the
morphological phenomena of the Middle and Passive forms of the Greek verb:
one must still learn the particular verbs one by one and come to understand
in which ones the -QH- really does carry a passive sense and in which ones
it doesn't. What the hypothesis offers rather is an explanation of how that
complexity may have arisen. While I may be wrong, I have personally always
believed that it is eaasier to learn paradigms that appear to be anomalous
if you have some understanding of how the 'anomaly' or APPARENT anomaly
arose or may have arisen. No doubt many teachers will find this useless and
simply assign lists of verbs to memorize: all those French verbs that take
"de" before the infinitives and those others that take ""; all those Latin
verbs that take an instrumental ablative complement, all those Greek verbs
that are "Middle deponents" and the longer list of Greek verbs that are
"Passive deponents." But at least, I would hope, no student would be left
wondering why what has a Passive form doesn't have a passive meaning. The
worst thing we do when we teach students about "Deponent" verbs is to
suggest that these verbs once actually had Active forms but that for some
inexplicable reason they've lost the Active form and we are using "Passive"
forms to convey active meanings. That, I am convinced, is not just an
oversimplification but rather a misrepresentation of the way the ancient
Greek verb actually works.

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

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