Lesson 20.1 — More on Verbs

The whole area of Greek verbs is complicated.  First, there is the meaning of the verbs.  Second, there are the verb suffixes/prefixes.  For now, I will focus in on the meanings.  We will go into more detail on the word-endings later.

You may want to review Lesson 7.  It introduced several important concepts around verbs.  This lesson will go further.

There are several components to a Greek verb: 

It is best to investigate each of these components separately.  I will start with tense.


(Person) Present Active Indicative (Number)

While English verbs need a noun or pronoun to clarify person, in Greek both person and number are communicated by the verb form alone.  Adding a pronoun like ἐγώ ("I") or ὑμεῖς ("you") is not strictly necessary. 

The author may include an explicit pronoun for stylistic reasons, or may be trying to make the pronoun emphatic (as in Matt. 5:21-22.  "You have heard it said....  But I say to you that anyone who is angry....")

  Singular Plural
1st Person I am not worthy. We are not worthy.
2nd Person You are not worthy. You are not worthy.
3rd Person He is not worthy. They are not worthy.

English has lost the distinction between 2nd person singular and plural.  It is the context alone that indicates whether "You are not worthy" is about a single person ("you") or a whole group of people ("you").


The Fine Print

When the King James Version was translated, English retained a distinction between the 2nd person singular and plural.

  Singular Plural
2nd Person (nominative) Thou art not worthy. Ye are not worthy.
2nd Person (genitive) These are thy/thine books. These are your books.
2nd Person (accusative/dative) I shall give the books to thee. I shall give the books to you.

English as spoken in the American southeast still retains a distinction in informal settings.

  Singular Plural
2nd Person You are not worthy. Y'all are not worthy.

Today, the context is normally sufficient that we never get confused between the 2nd person singular and plural.


1st Person (Tense) Active Indicative Singular

Present I baptize you with water.
Imperfect I was baptizing you with water.
Future I will baptize you with water.
Aorist I baptized you with water.
Perfect I have baptized you with water.
Pluperfect I had baptized you with water.


The Fine Print

These are basic translations of these tenses.  What makes it a bit more complicated is that NT writers thought that the context indicated the time of the action.  So for them the aorist and perfect tenses were more about completed action.

The present and imperfect were more about continuous action.

The Apostle John often used an aorist tense in Revelation to talk about prophecies of God's action in the future.  These would be fulfilled in future time, but it John thought of them as "completed actions" (or "virtually as good as complete, since God promised it").

This "how you think of the action" is called the aspect of the verb.  It is your job as a translator to figure out whether a given verb tense is more about time, or more about aspect...and adjust your translation accordingly.

First century Greek speakers managed the subtleties of their verbs without even thinking about it.


1st Person Present (Voice) Indicative Singular

Active I baptize you with water.
Passive Jesus was baptized by John.
Middle I baptize myself.


The Fine Print

In the active voice, the subject is the one who does the action.

In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence receives the action.  In the sample above, John is the one doing the action...but "Jesus" is still the subject of the sentence, and is in the nominative case. 

In English, we usually express passive voice by combining some form of the "be" (e.g. was, am, etc.) with the main verb.

In the middle voice, the subject of the sentence does the action, but also somehow receives the action as well.

The middle voice is a difficult concept to get a hold of, since it really has no equivalent in English grammar.  It is not something that English uses. If you as a translator want to emphasize the middle-voice quality of a verb, you may add a pronoun like "himself" or "herself".

"Generally, if a verb is middle in Greek it should be translated using the English active voice and you don’t have to worry about the meaning of the middle voice beyond that....

"The trick, really, is that the present tense uses the same forms for middle and passive verbs. How do I know whether the verb ἐρχομαι is middle or passive? It could be either, based just on its form. The key here is that usually the middle voice and passive voice aren’t used with the same verb. Most of the middle verbs you’ll see are middle-only.... The Greeks think of the action of the verb as inherently “middle,” so that it doesn’t make sense to use the active voice with them. This is why the dictionary form is ἐρχομαι, with a middle ending. To remind us that middle-only verbs like this never appear in the active voice.

"But if the active voice doesn’t make sense for an action, neither (to the Greeks) does the passive voice. So most middle-only verbs will also never appear in the passive voice. That means in practice ἐρχομαι isn’t really ambiguous. It’s a middle-only verb, so it can’t be passive."

Quoted from: https://ianwscott.blog/2018/02/28/making-sense-of-the-middle-voice-in-greek/

There are a handful of exceptions to this rule (there are ALWAYS exceptions to rules, it seems), but you will learn about them in practice.  In practice, you will find that if you translate one of these exceptional verbs wrong, the sentence becomes gibberish, and makes no sense.  That is, the context will guide you as to when you need to dig deeper.


1st Person Present Active (Mood) Singular

Indicative I baptize you with water. Expresses a statement of fact.
Imperative Get baptized. Expresses a command.
Subjunctive If you were baptized you would find obedience to my other commands easier. Expresses a possibility; talks about a hypothetical situation.
Optative I am the Lord's servant.  May it be to me as you have said.  (Luke 1:38) Expresses a wish or desire.

Somewhat similar to subjunctive.
Infinitive He began to speak to them. English infinitives are usually formed by adding "to" to the verb.

Inifinitives can be a little complicated, in that they can sometimes act as nouns.
Participle He began speaking to them. The simplest use of the participle is expressed in English by adding —ing to the verb.

But participles have a broad range of uses.  Click here to see more.


The Fine Print

The review of the moods of the Greek verb is especially brief here.  You will learn more about moods as you translate more.



Go to the next page by clicking  to practice with these concepts.