Re: Ungrammatical (illogical) in English?

From: Michael Haggett (
Date: Wed Sep 01 1999 - 11:02:50 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: Al Kidd <akidd@InfoAve.Net>
To: Biblical Greek <>
Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 1999 9:49 AM
Subject: Ungrammatical (illogical) in English?

> My question is: Why did Greek settle on a periphrastic construction for
> 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)?
> 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
> some future event--be it an event either implied by, or explicitly
> 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?
> Al Kidd
> ---
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Accepting Carl Conrad's reply that this is so rare as to be negligable, he
raises the point about the logic of the Greek thinking mind, for the way one
things is largely determined by the structure of the language one thinks in.

When it comes to the tense of verbs, the English thinking mind primarily
thinks of TIME (past, present, future) but would recognize as a secondary
aspect the NATURE of the action (continuous, simple, or complete) so as to
form nine logical finite tenses.

imperfect present continous future
I was loving I am loving I shall be

past simple present simple future simple
I loved I love I
shall love

pluperfect perfect future
I had loved I have loved I shall
have loved

So when it comes to Greek, which has fewer tenses, we naturally think there
is something MISSING in the Greek verb structure (such as the future
perfect, the subject of discussion). The way I have come to think of it is

- the first part is well known, that the Greek mind thought of tense
primarily in terms of the NATURE of the action (continuous, simple or
- the second is perhaps more contentious, so I invite the list's

In terms of time, the Greek mind recognized only two time tenses - past and
what I shall call "present-future". This is best illustrated in the perfect
tense. "I have read the book" is a present tense, describing a present,
completed state (although resulting from a past action). However, I would
go further and maintain that it is at the same time a FUTURE tense because
tomorrow, and next week, and next year it will STILL be true that "I have
read the book". So the Greek mind would think of what we now call the
perfect tense as a present-future tense.

Moving onto the continuous tenses, the imperfect represents continuous
action that has now ceased (i.e. is past time), with the implication that it
was not completed, otherwise the perfect tense would be used. So far, not
contentious, but I would maintain that there are a number of ways in which
the distinction that the English mind would want to make between present and
future continuous is blurred in Greek.

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.

2. Conversely, as with the perfect, the present state would continue to be
true into the future UNLESS something happens to change it. The building is
expected to keep standing until . The Greek mind would expect the status
quo to be maintained, although to us there is not that implication.

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.

4. Might I also suggest that the theological tension between the "now" and
the "not yet" in the NT (especially in Paul) was therefore not so apparent
to the Greek mind as it is to ours - the inherent structure of Greek
actually allowed it to be both (or at least blurred the distinction). It is
our way of thinking, in English as well as other languages, that forces us
to make a choice, and therefore contributes to this tension.

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".

However, the future does only seem to be used for future action, and so
would seem to defy the logic of my "present-future" continuum. To this, I
would say that the ancient notion of "present" was for an instantaneously
small period of time ... so small that it could be said only to exist in
notional form, even what took place a second ago is "past". We, steeped in
the idea of past-present-future, can stretch "present" to suit our context,
but I doubt that this was so true to the ancient mind. Reading the last
chapters of Augustine's "Confessions" will show the difficulty of the
concept of "present" to him and, presumably, those before him. Back to the
logic of Greek, the only thing that could be said to be really "present" was
a state or action that had been true in the immediate past, and that will be
true in the immediate future, and therefore must be true for the infinitely
small sub-nanosecond between past and future. Thus it can only apply to
continuous or complete action but cannot apply to the "snapshot" of the
simple tenses.

Representing this logic in a table we get:

past continuous present-future continuous
"imperfect" "present"
I was loosing I am loosing-am going to loose

past simple future simple (present too small to
"aorist" "future"
I loosed I shall loose

past complete present-future complete
"pluperfect" "perfect"
I had loosed I have loosed (true in the present
AND into the future)

The logic of the table reflects the forms of the verb, with inserted S used
to distinguish simple or snapshot action from the continuous, with
reduplication (and inserted K) used to distinguish continuous from simple,
and with the augment (or lengthening) always used to distinguish between
past and present-future of what the Greek would consider the three tenses
(i.e. natures of action).

Taking this further, the whole of the verb (finite and non-finite) can be
put into a logical table (too hard to show in email)

past indicative, present-future indicative, imperative, subjunctive,
infinitive, participles

for each of the three tenses, continuous, simple and complete (and also for
each voice - say as three layers) Such a table makes it very easy to learn
the regular form of the verb, because its logic is consistent and there are
no holes in it.

Crucial to this layout is the observation that only difference between
aorist and future optatives, infinitives and participles is the substitution
of A at the beginning of the aorist ending for O or OU at the beginning of
the future ending. In every other respect (with the exception of LUSWN for
the n.m.s. future participle) the form of the verb is identical.

However, in logic, what is the substantive difference between non-indicative
aorists and futures? The infinitives, for example, are: to be loving
(continuous), to love (simple), and to have loved (complete) - would there
really be any need to distinguish the concept of "to love" in past and
future? Even if we were to accept that there was, the Greeks did it by the
more minor variations of verb endings rather than the major "structural"
changes to the stem, with its augments and insertions as tabled above.
Certainly so far as Koine is concerned, I am not sure if there ever is such
a differentiation.

Michael Haggett
164 Holland Road

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