“Deponent?” … “Defective?” … “Middle/Passive?” — “Calling a ‘horse’ a ‘horse.'”

There’s a famous older expression from another generation, even another millenium now, regarding “…calling a ‘horse’ a ‘horse,'” which basically means identifying something for what it really is. In the realm of personal character traits, this might mean simply being honest with yourself and/or others.  In the realm of language and grammatical terminology, it may have some meaning application as well.

For example, within the corpus of Greek grammatical terms, “deponent” is a term appropriately ascribed to a category of Greek verbs appearing with middle or passive endings, yet necessarily translated in the active voice. Examples:

  • ἔρχομαι — Present/Deponent/Indicative/1st person, singular = I am coming, going
  • ἤρχομην — Imperfect/Deponent/Indicative/1st person, singular = I was coming, going

Notice the “parsing” (identification of tense, voice, mode [mood], person, and number) of the above two examples of the deponent verb, ἔρχομαι. While many (if not most)  Greek “parsing” resources will list the parsing of deponent verbs as middle/passive, I have always felt it to be extremely beneficial to “call a ‘horse’ a ‘horse'” when parsing deponent verbs.  There are at least two obvious reasons:

1. It reminds the Greek student that he’s looking at a specific category of Greek verbs (Deponent).

2. It reminds the Greek student not to translate these verbs as middle or passive, since they are neither.

By “calling a ‘horse’ a ‘horse'” and identifying deponent verbs for what they really are, the Greek student will readily recognize and accurately translate these verb with an active voice translation. Remember, too, that some Greek verbs (like ἔρχομαι) may be deponent in one or more tenses or modes without being deponent in all. [Example:  ἤλθον = Aorist/Active/Indicative/1st person, singular/3rd person, plural.] Other “deponent” verbs frequently encountered include: βούλομαι (I am wishing), and πορεύομαι (I am proceeding).

“So,” you may ask, “when are these deponent verbs appropriately called defective?” (Good question.)  A defective Greek verb is literally the Aorist passive “form” of a deponent verb, which, when translated, is also translated in the active voice within the Aorist tense. An example would be:

  • πορεύομαι — Pres., Deponent, Indic., 1st Sing. = I am proceeding
  • ἐπορεύθην — 1st Aor., Defective, Indic., 1st Sing. = I proceeded

Note:  Some verbs have both an Aorist deponent (“middle”) form and and Aorist defective (“passive”) form, translated identically:

  • ἀπεκρινάμην 1st Aor., Deponent, Indic., 1st Sing. = I answered
  • ἀπεκρίθην 1st Aor., Defective, Indic., 1st Sing. = I answered

So, in summary: “Yeeee Hawww!  Let’s call a ‘horse’ a ‘horse.’ Gallop on through Greek, y’all.”

Go to: Wermuth’s GREEKBOOK.com

Wermuth’s GREEKBOOK Now Available for Purchase as a Watermarked PDF!

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