Re: "Present-future" Tense (was "Ungrammatical ...")

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Sep 02 1999 - 09:17:02 EDT

I would only like to suggest some qualifications regarding two of Michael
Haggett's assertions regarding future indicative morphology and its
relationship to present and aorist morphologies. For that reason I will
delete the major portion of the lengthy message.

At 4:02 PM +0100 9/1/99, Michael Haggett wrote:

> [material deleted]
>1. There are a good number of NT examples where the Greek present tense is
>used top describe what must logically be future action. This is well
>described in Moule's Idiom Book and one example is: Matthew 26:19 - POIW TO
>PASCA. Our way of translating the logic of the statement is "I am going to
>do (i.e. celebrate) the Passover." But the Greek form for present and
>future is exactly the same.

This is unquestionably true.

> [material deleted]
>3. This might explain something that trouble most beginners in Greek, why
>the form of the present and future of verbs with liquid stem endings is the
>same (MENW for example, remembering that our accentuation system would not
>then have been used). Beginners tend to see this as a hole in Greek logic,
>but I would maintain that this not such a big thing under the logic of a
>"present-future" continuum.

While it is true that our accentuation system would not have been used in
pronouncing Greek verbs, I'm not so sure that a difference in pronunciation
of the liquid/nasal futures from present-tense forms wouldn't have been
noticed; they are, after all, contract-verb forms, and the identity of
MENEIS (present) with MENEI=S (future) may have been more a matter of
orthography than of pronunciation--although, to be sure, this all depends
on the extent to which contracted circumflexed diphthongs are given a
protracted diphthongal pronunciation--and I doubt we can be so sure about
exact pronunciation of the accents in the NT era). At any rate, there'll be
a difference between a 1 pl. present (MENOMEN) and a 1 pl. future
(MENOUMEN) that's discernible in pronounciation, or so I'd assume. In fact,
of course, these distinctions between liquid/nasal future-tense forms and
regular O/E future forms is a matter of contraction with a second E
following upon loss of the -S- marking the future.

> [material deleted]
>Finally, the simple tenses. Here I would maintain that the Greek aorist and
>future are in fact variants of the same tense. Certainly this is generally
>true in terms of FORM. It would explain the characteristic insertion of S
>between the stem and the ending, and the fact that only these tenses have a
>separate form for middle and passive. Generally speaking, when the future
>is used in Greek, it is (of itself) simple rather than continuous in aspect,
>so that if used to describe a future event that will continue it is usual to
>add words like "for ever".

I don't think this is in accord with current historical Greek linguistics.
While at one time it was thought that the future indicative may have
originated as a short-vowel aorist subjunctive, and that the apparent
future marker -S- was identical with the undisputed aorist -S- marker, the
view now seems to be that the future marker in Greek derives rather from
the Proto-Indo-European desiderative marker -SE-. See Andrew Sihler, _New
Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin_, #500 (pp. 556-7).

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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