“Wait what?” moments in Greek Grammar

That moment when you read in BDAG that κοιμάω is:

in our lit. only in pass. and w. act. sense.

…and then the definitions are: “to be asleep” and “to be dead.”  I’m well aware, of course, that Allan’s The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek: A Study of Polysemy (or any number of works that I regularly cite when I write about voice on this blog) appeared well after Danker finished editing his 3rd edition–likely many years, in fact.


Nevertheless, I’m still saddened by the fact that verbs that are clearly intransitive with patient/undergoer subjects should be said to have an “active sense.” It be betrays a terminological failure in Greek grammar to actually provide a definition for the labels used.

Looking forward to a transformation in the terminology we use to describe verbs. It really needs happen, because the status quo is unhelpful and confusing.

2 thoughts on ““Wait what?” moments in Greek Grammar

Add yours

  1. Much of the problem resides in the ambiguity of the term, “active.” It’s a relic, isn’t it, of Dionysius Thrax’s ἐνεργητική converted to Latin ‘activa’ and usage in the sense of “in process” as well as “causative” in a transitive construction? ‘Agentive’ is a helpful term, but ‘active’ misleads.

    1. I don’t know Latin, but that derivation makes a lot of sense. In terms of contemporary definitions, active has two main meanings:

      Syntactically active vs. syntactically passive, in which actives must be transitive clauses.
      Semantically active, meaning the verb has an agent as its subject.

      The latter is the more popularized definition and most common in Greek grammars. But neither of them really apply to κοιμάομαι since it is a stative verb to begin with, there is not action for an agent to perform.

      It’s also odd that Danker explicitly added this phrase into the third edition. The second edition simply says “in our lit. only in pass.” If I were to guess on the basis of looking through the entry, I think it was added primarily because κοιμάομαι takes a θη rather than a σα. If it were σα, he probably wouldn’t have bothered–i.e. the assumption seems to be θη = passive and this isn’t passive, so it must be active..

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