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Tense, Time, Aspect and the Ancient Greek Verb

  • Jerome Moran
Extract

Nearly every – no, every – Greek grammar and course book, even the most comprehensive (in English, at any rate), gives a very skimpy, perfunctory and unhelpful account — insofar as it gives any account at all – of what ‘aspect’ is and how exactly it is related to verb tense and time (which tend to be conflated). Most of the books and articles on the subject of the aspect of the Greek verb are accessible only to the professional philologist, and can't therefore be easily applied by non-specialists to the understanding of the actual usage of Greek writers or to the imitation of their usage when translating into their language. This article sets out to remedy this situation by giving a clear and (within limits) comprehensive explanation of aspect as it applies to the Greek verb.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.
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1 This is the conventional explanation of the difference in aspect of the aorist and the present/imperfect. A different, or additional, explanation is given by E J Bakker, A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language, pp. 161–166 (and in various articles). (The conventional explanation is given in pp. 140–141.) Actually, Bakker does not give any examples in the book of an aorist/present contrast, and the examples he does give are confined to the indicative and concerned mainly with main clauses.

2 It is not true, as some books state or imply, that indirect statement (and the use of the optative in indirect questions) is the only instance of an optative that denotes time rather than aspect. Note that -

  1. (a)

    (a) in clauses of effort or precaution after a historic main verb (HMV) the future indicative may be replaced by the future optative, denoting time and not aspect;

  2. (b)

    (b) the optative after a HMV in a causal clause denotes time, not aspect;

  3. (c)

    (c) the optative replacing the indicative in the protasis of a present and future open condition in indirect speech after a HMV denotes time, not aspect.

There may be others.

As can be seen above, it is also not true, as is claimed, that the future optative is used only in clauses of indirect speech.

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Journal of Classics Teaching
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 2058-6310
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-classics-teaching
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