The Subjunctive Mode: “Southern Greek!”

Remember, the Subjunctive mode endings (Active, Middle, and Passive) are simply Indicative endings whose thematic vowel has lengthened (e.g., -ω, -εις, -ει, -ομεν, -ετε, -ουσι become –ω, -ῃς, -ῃ, -ωμεν, -ητε, -ωσι, respectively).* Think of these Subjunctive endings as “Southern Greek,” since the sound of all the endings has a longer (Southern?) vowel sound. In Wermuth’s GREEKBOOK (p. 35), the Subjunctive mode endings are coded “S-1” (active endings) and “S-2” (middle and passive endings). “S” for Subjunctive; “S for “Southern.” Remember, too, that when you see “active” Subjunctive endings with no verb stem (i.e., ὦ, ᾖς, ᾖ, ὦμεν, ἦτε, ὦσι[ν]), you’re looking at the Present Active Subjunctive of the verb εἰμί.

In the Subjunctive mode, the “circumflex” accent that occurs over the thematic vowel of the verb endings in the Aorist passive voice is the result of a collision of the stem’s ending vowel (η-) and the thematic vowel of the endings (–ω, -ῃς, -ῃ, -ωμεν, -ητε, -ωσι). Therefore: λυθῶ…λυθῇςetc. Think of it as a car accident resulting in a “fender bender” (what the circumflex accent looks like. See also: “Signal Flags” for verbal forms chart, p. 45 in the GREEKBOOK). So, when observing either a -θῆ- or a -θῶ- (-φῆ- or -φῶ-, etc.) toward the end of a verbal form, you always are looking at an Aorist Passive Subjunctive. (For other “Signal Flags for Verbal Forms,” see p. 45 in the GREEKBOOK.)

When attempting to translate a Subjunctive mode clause, always remember that you must identify what use of the Subjunctive is in play. For example, is it an exhortation (1st person plural Subjunctive verb form = “We should…”)? Or, is it a clause with ἵνα ( = “in order that, so that, that”)? Or maybe the clause ends with a Greek question mark ( ; ), indicating the presence of a 1st person singular or plural Subjunctive verb form and a question of doubt as to what the speaker(s) should say or do. (For a concise listing and explanation of all the “Uses of the Subjunctive” mode, see pages 36-39 in the GREEKBOOK).

A cultural distinction seems important when translating the Subjunctive mode verb form that occurs in the 1st person plural. The use of the Subjunctive here is the exhortation, which many (if not most) grammars and bible translations render with “Let us…” While this is perfectly legitimate under Greek grammatical rules, culturally it seems weak, since we often use the contraction “Let’s…” in everyday speech when we are simply hoping that something will occur. In this regard, it seems much more preferable (and therefore I teach my students) to render this use of the Subjunctive with a culturally stronger, clearer “We should…” Now, read (and hear) the difference contrasted with the following short verse from 1 John 4:7:

“Let us love one another.”

ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλων =                   [or]

“We should love one another.” (Culturally stronger)

* NOTE: With regard to the Greek diphthong ει,” it seems preferable and wise to pronounce it phonetically the same as the identical diphthong in the English word “height,” as opposed to the phonetic sound in the English word “freight.” This is because the “ει” diphthong occurs within the 2nd and 3rdpersons of “active voice” verb endings of the Indicative mode (-ει,  -εις), later “lengthening” to when used in the same persons in the Subjunctive mode (-ῃ,-ῃς). Since the phonetic sound of is the same as the diphthong in “freight,” it tends to confuse the usage of these separately occurring endings (“ει” in the Indicative; “ῃ” in the Subjunctive, also “middle/passive voice” Indicative 2nd sing.) if pronounced identically.

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