“TV Makes People Nauseas” —OR— “How to ‘Parse’ a Greek Verb”

One of the most important considerations in studying the foundational elements of Greek must be given to the verb, that part of speech which affirms either action or state of being. The component elements of a verb are collectively referred to as its “parsing.” These components are:

1. Tense

2. Voice

3. Mode (or Mood)

4. Person

5. Number

. . . or, as my beginning Greek professor used to wisely proclaim (to our era of declining quality television programming viewers) via the acronym of the first letters of each of the above words: TV Makes People Nauseas!”

The “parsing” (from the Latin word meaning  “a part or “parts”) of Greek’s “model” regular verb λύω “I am loosing” is: Present, Active, Indicative, 1st Person, Singular. Now, let’s take a closer look at what these “parsing” components represent—

1. Tense conveys “kind” of action and generally, in the Indicative Mode only, the “time” of the action. So, for the above verb, Present tense would mean both present time and continuous “action” (that is, activity “in progress” in real, present time). Of course, from your additional study elsewhere, you’ll know that the Greek tenses are the Present, Imperfect (continuous “action” in past time), Future, Aorist (a normal 1st Aor., and an “irregular” 2nd Aor., describing “point” or undefined action [in past time in the Indicative mode]), the Perfect (perfected action with continuing results), and the Pluperfect (equivalent to the English “Past Perfect” = I had loosed).

2. Voice (“active,” “middle,” or “passive”) tells how the action of the verb is related to the subject.

3.  Mode (or Mood) tells what the verb is affirming, its relation to “reality.”

Indicative — declaratives, simple assertions, interrogations.
Subjunctive — mildly contingent, hesitating affirmation; mode of probability.
Imperative — commands or entreaties; mode of “volition.”
Optative — strongly contingent; mode of “possibility,” weaker than the Subjunctive.

4. Person denotes who is acting as the subject.  In Greek the personal pronouns (i.e., I, you, he, she, it, we, you, and they) are included in the endings of the verb form.

5. Number is the “singularity” or “plurality” of the person or persons represented by the verb form, included in the verb’s personal endings.

By the way, since every Greek verb contains these five “parsing” elements that identify its structure, it only makes sense to realize that: “If you can ‘parse’ it, you can translate it!” Alternately stated, a verb’s “parsing”—once discerned by the student—is the verb’s way of “telling you” how to translate it. At that point, it’s only a matter of knowing the vocabulary.

There’s more: For a one-page PDF on Greek verbs—the way the tenses are formed and translated—click here (also downloadable from the sidebar). Additionally, you may want to download the Greek Indicative Verbs “PowerPoint” presentation here (or from the sidebar).

Go to: Wermuth’s GREEKBOOK.com

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“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.)   (more…)