Verbs in the past tense (part one)
We’ve covered present and future tense already, where we learned that to futurify a verb you add an s after the stem (eg λυω=present, λυσω = future) Greek likes indicating changes with new letters. It’s much the same in past tense, though there are three past tense varieties to be mindful of. These are:
- The Imperfect = Ongoing action, occurring in the past (eg I was releasing)
- The Aorist = Completed action, with no comment on ramifications (eg I released)
- The Pluperfect = more complicated version of the imperfect, involves both a past action and the ramifications, but focuses on the action (I had released. We’ll deal with this one later.
These “secondary” (ie past) tenses receive a past time morpheme (called the augment) which usually appears as an ε, but there are rules about what happens when the ε meets other vowels. It can’t coexist.
They also get secondary suffixes (bits on the end of the word) that can vary slightly but are mostly:
- First Person Singular: -ν
- Second Person Singular: -ς
- Third Person Singular: none (though sometimes an ν)
- First Person Plural: -μεν
- Second Person Plural: -τε
- Third Person Plural: -ν or σαν
The imperfect is formed by:
- Adding the past time morpheme to the stem
- Chucking a vowel on the end of the stem (an ο or ε)
- Adding the secondary suffixes
- First Person Singular: ελυον (I was releasing)
- Second Person Singular: ελυες (you were releasing)
- Third Person Singular: ελυε(ν) (he was releasing)
- First Person Plural: ελυομεν (we were releasing)
- Second Person Plural: ελυετε (you(se) were releasing)
- Third Person Plural: ελυον (they were releasing)
The imperfect has four main uses:
- The progressive imperfect – deals with continuous actions in the past (I kept releasing).
- The customary imperfect – deals with habitual action in the past (I used to release).
- The conative imperfect – deals with actions attempted in the past (I tried to release).
- The inceptive imperfect – deals with the initiation of an action in the past (I began to release).
These uses are determined by context.
The Imperfect form of ειμι (I am)
- First Person Singular: ημην (I was)
- Second Person Singular: ης (you were)
- Third Person Singular: ην (he was)
- First Person Plural: ημεν (we were)
- Second Person Plural: ητε (you(se) were)
- Third Person Plural: ησαν (they were)
Aorists have a nice little “aspect morpheme” that makes spotting them in the wild a little easier. They get a σα that sticks on the stem. So to build an aorist verb you:
- Add the past time morpheme to the front of the stem
- Add the “σα” to the stem.
- Add the secondary suffixes.
- First Person Singular: ελυσα (I released)
- Second Person Singular: ελυσας (you released)
- Third Person Singular: ελυσε(ν) (he released)
- First Person Plural: ελυσαμεν (we released)
- Second Person Plural: ελυσατε (you(se) released)
- Third Person Plural: ελυσαν (they released)
You’ll notice that in most cases the σα just takes the place of the connecting vowel from the Imperfect. Except in the first person and third person singular. The first person singular is called the “aorist active principal part” and because it breaks the rules, the third person has to as well. Otherwise it would be the same. So it gets an ε.
The aorist plays three roles:
- The constative aorist – views an action in its totality. It is holistic.
- The ingressive aorist – views an action, tough completed, with an emphasis on its beginning.
- The effective aorist – views the action with an emphasis on its conclusion.
The aorist is more common in the New Testament than the imperfect, so when an imperfect crops up we should ask “why is this imperfect and not aoristic?”
More amalgamation (this time in the aorist tense)
Remember that σ doesn’t play nice with other verbs (from when we were making future tense verbs). This crops up again when you bang a σα onto a stem that ends with a letter that σ doesn’t like.
- ξ, κ, γ, χ + σ = ξ
- ψ, π, β, φ + σ = ψ
- ζ, τ, δ, θ + σ = σ
Some examples to watch out for:
- κηρυσσω (I preach) – the stem is actually κηρυκ, so in the future tense it’s κηρυξω, while in the aorist it’s εκηρυξα.
- βλεπω (I see) is βλεψω (I will see) in the future tense, and εβλεψα (I saw) in the aorist
- πειθω (I trust in) Is πεισω (I will trust in) in the future and επεισα in the aorist (I trusted in).
The Complexities of the Augment
The ε is a bit like σ. It doesn’t play well with other letters. These rules obviously come about because of the pronunciation difficulties that would be presented if they didn’t… so εα is harder to say than η. When the augment comes across a stem that starts with a short vowel (ε, ο and sometimes α, ι, and υ) it lengthens to the corresponding long vowel (η, ω). For example, the imperfect form of ακουσω is ηκουν. If the verb already starts with a long vowel, or a dipthong, nothing changes. It has a zero morpheme augment. The pronunciation doesn’t change, but the suffix does. ειρηνευω (I make peace) becomes ειρηνευον (I was making peace).
Some verbs are special and take a double augment. These verbs start with a vowel and consonant, which are duplicated before the augment is added. So αγω (I lead) becomes αγαγ, and then the augment changes it to ηγαγ, and with the suffix ηγαγον (I was leading)
This is one of those subsets of Greek that is designed to infuriate first years. Second Aorists look almost identical to the imperfect. They don’t take a σα, they just drop a cowel from within the stem. The best way to come to grips with this unusual change is to remember that English does it too. eg. I stink, I stank, I stunk.
ελειπον (I was leaving) becomes ελιπον.
Some other verbs are just confusing. λεγω means “I speak,” but ειπον means I spoke. This happened when two verbs that meant the same thing had other forms that fell out of use. An English example is “I go” and “I went” – one is the past tense of the other, but they have very different origins.
Here are some Second Aorist examples:
- αμαρτανω (I sin) becomes ημαρτον (I sinned)
- ευρισκω (I find) becomes ευρον (I found)
- λαμβανω (I take) becomes ελαβον (I took)
- πασχω (I suffer) becomes επαθον (I suffered)
- φευγω (I flee) becomes εφυγον (I fled)
The stem of γινωσκω is γνο which is lengthened to γνω and in the second aorist becomes εγνων (I knew).
ειδον (I saw) is the second aorist of οραω (I see).
Second Aorist Vocab
- ηγαγον = I led
- ημαρτον = I sinned
- εβαλον = I threw
- εγνων = I knew
- εφαγον = I ate
- ευρον = I found
- εσχον = I had
- ελαβον = I took
- ειπον = I said
- ελιπον = I left
- εμαθον = I suffered
- ειδον = I saw
- εφυγον = I fled
- ηνεγκον = I bore
Vocab and Memory Hooks
- αμαρτανω = I sin (I do αμαρτος)
- βαλλω = I throw = I throw a ballo
- εσθιω = I eat
- ευρισκω = I find = “Eureka!”
- λειπω = I leave = I leap over the barricade and get out of there
- μανθανω = I learn = I need to learn manthano.
- πασχω = I suffer = When I’m suffering I need an ice pasxo
- φευγω = I flee = fugitives flee
These are just aorist versions of previously covered verbs:
- ηκουσα = I heard
- ημαρτησα = I sinned
- εβαπισα = I baptised
- εβλεψα = I saw
- εγραψα = I wrote
- εδιδαξα = I taught
- εδοξασα = I glorified
- ητοιμασα = I prepared
- εθεραπευσα = I healed
- εκηρυξα = I preached
- ελυσα = I released
- επεισα = I trusted in
- επεμψα = I sent
- επιστευσα = I believed
- εσωσα = I saved
- ενεγκα = I bore