From: Carl W. Conrad (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun Feb 13 2000 - 09:40:40 EST
<x-rich>At 11:44 PM -0600 2/12/00, Grant wrote:
>I came across an English construction that has may somewhat confused.
>don't know if I am looking too deep or not. Please help me out.
>For example, the sentence:
>"She needs to be chosen as president."
>"He needs to be told the truth."
>"There were to be married."
>What voice do we have here? On one hand, I am inclined to say active
>I feel that "to be chosen as president" functions as a noun; hence, a
>object. She needs what? She needs "to be chosen as president."
>On the other hand, it seems that action is to be applied to her.
>action is performed upon the subject; passive voice.
>It seems the same thing for the 2nd sentence
>"He needs to be told the truth."
>It seems to be active since he needs [what] "to be told the truth."
>It seems passive since the sense of the sentence really means
>"They need to to tell the truth to him."
>Perhaps now you can see my confusion.
>Is it Active or Passive? Or does it depend on how you read the
Of course, this question doesn't even pretend to be about Biblical
Greek, but perhaps I can pull it into my agenda regarding voice in
Greek (i.e. "clarification through obfuscation"). I do think that most
of the problems associated with Greek voice--for English-speakers, at
any rate--have to do with the ways we express the relationship of a
verbal predicate to the subject.
What voice do we have here? On one hand, I am inclined to say active
since I feel that "to be chosen as president" functions as a noun;
hence, a direct object. She needs what? She needs "to be chosen as
president." Active voice
Yes; if we understand the key parts of the predicate in each of the
above sentences as "complementary" infinitives used with "needs" or
"were" as auxiliary verbs, then even though they are PASSIVE
infinitives, I guess we'd call "needs" technically an active verb with
the infinitive as a noun object. But we don't really think of "needs"
as an active-voice verb here, do we (if we ever think about the
construction at all)? We probably understand "needs" as an auxiliary
completed by the infinitive, which in this instance is passive, and I
think we'd equate these to "She should/ought to be chosen as president"
or "He should/ought to be told the truth."
The third sentence is a bit different but does also involve an
auxiliary verb, here "were"--and the sentence might be described as
past anticipatory passive. And yet the third sentence is not really
"passive" in sense, is it? How would it go into Greek? I think it would
go into an aorist or imperfect middle that says "They were about to
have themselves married"--something like GAMOUMENOI HSAN, where
(curiously) Greek uses a future middle participle with HSAN as an
auxiliary. I think the English "to be married" although passive in
form, really expresses the intent of the subject(s) regarding the
ritual they are about to undergo. This is, of course, further
complicated by the fact that Greek used GAMEW (active) of the man
entering into the relationship and the middle/passive (GAMOUMAI) of the
On the other hand, it seems that action is to be applied to her. Hence,
the action is performed upon the subject; passive voice.
It seems the same thing for the 2nd sentence
"He needs to be told the truth."
It seems to be active since he needs [what] "to be told the truth." It
seems passive since the sense of the sentence really means "They need
to to tell the truth to him."
Perhaps now you can see my confusion.
Is it Active or Passive? Or does it depends on how you read the
At 11:50 PM -0600 2/12/00, Grant wrote:
> I also forgot to ask if it was possible that the sentence structure
>perhaps be a "middle voice" since the subject acts and is also acted
Well, if you were trying to express the content in ancient Greek, you'd
have to decide definitively how you understand the sense of the English
(quite apart from the question of a woman standing for election--think
of Aristophanes' EKKLHSIAZOUSAI): does "needs" express the existence of
an obligation that the outcome be fulfilled? or does it mean there's an
inner necessity or drive within the subject that the outcome be
fulfilled in his/her case; if it's the former, we'd have: (a) DEI AUTHN
PRUTANIN KAQISTANAI and (b) OU DEI AUTWI YEUDESQAI, but if we
understand it the second way, then we'd have: (a) KAQISTASQAI BOULETAI
EKEINH (middle infinitive with the auxiliary) and (b) OU BOULETAI
APATASQAI (whether this is middle or passive depends on whether you
understand it as expressing a determination not to allow himself to be
deceived--middle--or a wish that deception not be practiced upon
himself--passive. But this second set of alternatives with OU BOULETAI
APATASQAI demonstrates pretty well why I think too sharp a distinction
between middle and passive is often drawn--and also why ancient Greek
seems to have been reluctant to develop a wholly passive morphology
(because the -QH- forms are no more wholly passive than are the
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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