Re: Ungrammatical (illogical) in English?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Sep 01 1999 - 07:38:07 EDT

At 1:49 AM -0700 9/1/99, Al Kidd wrote:
>My question is: Why did Greek settle on a periphrastic construction for the
>Future Perfect Active when the concept of using a true Future Perfect
>Active was not unknown to them (e.g., TEQNXW = I shall be dead, I shall
>have died)?

Although it may be said that it was know "to the Greeks," it has to be said
that the inflected future perfect is an exceedingly rare item in Greek of
any era. I recall seeing TEQNHXW only in one passage in Aeschylus'
Agamemnon; the only other two active forms I've seen are for verbs the
perfect tense of which is regularly used in a present sense, i.e., EIDHSW <
OIDA and hESTHXW < hESTHKA (STHSW/STHSOMAI has a causative sense, but the
intransitive meaning "be standing" requires the perfect stative stem).

>Why the awkwardness of
>These (things) having-written he will-be
>(He will-be having-written these things.)
>Good English sense of what the Greek intends is given in the translation
>"He will already have written these things" [i.e., 'He will (by the time of
>some future event--be it an event either implied by, or explicitly referred
>to, in the context) have written these things'].
>But my question is: What in the Greek mind accounts for its preference to
>have the less elegant solution for the Future Perfect Active?

I think this is a bit like asking "What would Europe be like today if
Napoleon (or Hitler) had succeeded in conquering Russia?" We can't really
get inside the ancient Greek mind.

Nevertheless, here's my own speculative approach to a question like this: I
think that use of paraphrastic forms is generally accounted for by either
of two factors, in this order: (1) the need to use the tense is so rare
that the periphrastic seems the only natural way to express the required
sense; (2) the regular inflected form involves phonetic difficulties (e.g.
while in Homer we find 3d pl. pf. passives for consonant stems in -ATAI,
where the -N- of -NTAI has vocalized to -A- (e.g. PEFULAKATAI), it seems
easier to use the periphrastic form (e.g. PEFULAGMENOI EISIN).

A third factor is involved, I think, in the lack of inflected forms of the
future perfect (in Koine Greek, at least) is the (apparent) tendency of the
perfect to coalesce in sense--at least for expression of past action--with
the aorist; the perfect itself, though certainly found in the Koine, is far
less frequent than in earlier periods.

I've checked Smyth on the future perfect and shall forward to the list
later either what's really relevant to this question or at least the URLs
to permit anyone who is interested enough to check it out for him or

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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