Musings on Verb Terminology

I’ve been frustrated by how we refer to the different forms of the Greek verb for some time now, but I don’t think I’ve ever written about it here.

Its been at least 100 years since grammarians agreed that time was only expressed in the Indicative Mood.

And yet we continue to talk about Present Infinitives, Aorist Infinitives, Present Participles, etc.

At least “aorist” makes some sense since its more of an aspectual term rather than a temporal one. But even still, there really isn’t too much “present” about Present Subjunctives, Infinitives, Participles.

What if we began describing verbs rather than applying a label? That is, what if we began talking about the individual morphemes of verbs rather than applying a single label for the whole thing.

Let’s look at a couple verbs:

λύ--ο-μεν

loose-Imperfv-Ind-Pres.Act.1Pl

ἐ-λύ-σα-μεν

Pst-loose-Perfv.Ind-Pst.Act.1Pl

Or at least something like that.

But what I want to emphasize here is that Tense is separate from Aspect. The distinction between Imperfective and Perfective Aspect is the existence of the –σα suffix for 1st Aorists. Imperfective Aspect is a default value for such verbs (represented by a Null marker, but this doesn’t mean I advocate the existence of null morphemes).

But Present and Past Tense are marked by the augment and agreement suffixes  – completely separate from Aspect. So when we look at the Infinitive form for 1st Aorist verbs:

λύ-ειν

loose-Imperf.Inf

λῦ-σαι

loose-Perfv.Inf

In this case, the Aspect morphemes and the Infinitive morphemes meld together (depending on your theory of word formation). And quite clearly, there is no morpheme marking any sort of Tense (I’m intentionally not talking about the Future verb-forms here).

So we could easily get away with referring to the Perfective Infinitive and the Imperfective Infinitive and successfully avoid confusing students with our unhelpful use of the term “Present Infinitive.”

I cannot tell you how many times in my 2nd year Greek class in college students would protest to how another student translated a participle or infinitive with an English past or present when the Greek verb was a present or an aorist form simply because it had been ingrained in their heads – PRESENT TENSE INFINITIVE and AORIST TENSE INFINITIVE.

Some of the students in my class never got it. And probably never will.

We need to do better than that.

I’m not suggesting what I’ve proposed above is perfect or it should be implemented.

But something needs to change.

We’re only confusing our students.

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