Greek chapter eleven – special verbs

Just when you start to think the verbs can’t get any more complicated, along comes the second aorist. You might remember that greek has two ways of talking about past activity: the imperfect and the aorist.

Imperfect refers to a past action that was continuous (eg i was reading a book), and the aorist makes no comment about whether the activity was continuous or not: this could mean that something happened only once, but isn’t necessarily the case (eg last year I rode the bus to work).

So far, the way to recognise which is which has been to look at the verb in question, and to look for a sigma (s) towards the end of the word. Now, that luxury has been taken away.

This week introduces the 21 “second aorist” verbs: the ones where the main part of the word changes, and so do the endings.

Getting up to speed with these took about two thirds of the lecture: it certainly revealed to me that I need to do more work memorizing my verb conjugations, so that I can more easily recognise the tense of a word.

We had our first look at recognising verb forms using the acronym “tvmp3” – tense, voice (which we haven’t covered yet), mood, person and number. It was likened to the process of learning to change lanes when driving: the time when you have to combine all the things you’ve learned into a single process.

Finally, we looked at liquid verbs – where the stem (the part of the word tells you which word it is) ends in l,m,n or r (the consonants in “mineral”, as in mineral water) and how to conjugate them (make the 34 different forms that we know how to make.

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  1. Generally, you’ll hear those referred to as ‘strong aorist’, and the ones you learned before as ‘weak’ – 99% of Greek grammar books will refer to them that way. The good thing about strong aorist is that the endings are the same as the imperfect… and any time you have to use a strong aorist stem at other times (eg, aorist participles), the endings will always be something you recognise from other forms. It sounds mad, but you do actually develop a feel for which verbs take the strong aorist form and which take the weak. It DOES get a bit frustrating, though, when you look at words like trekw (I run) becoming edramon in the aorist…

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    I’ve found this week’s vocab pretty tough to get my head around, actually: there are 21 verbs that have different stems in aorist to in present. Our textbook mentions strong and weak aorist in passing, but says that there’s no difference in meaning, so they’re probably not helpful terms to be learning (unless you want to read, say, any other book on Greek grammar).

    I’m hoping to get more of a feel for which is which: perhaps I’ve been too busy doing other things, and my Greek is slipping a bit as a result, but every now and again I’ll catch myself reading something, rather than going “this word means X and this word means Y”… that’s probably among the best of the moments.

    We haven’t covered “I run” yet, but there have been a couple of words where the aorist form doesn’t make any sense.

  3. The stem change in the strong aorist rarely makes sense, unless it’s something like manthanw (I teach) becoming emathov, because you can see it would be difficult to say in the weak aorist form. My teacher explained them this way: “Some verbs are born strong aorist, and some are born weak aorist. No one can help the way they’re born – it’s just the way they are and they can’t change it… but it doesn’t make any difference to the way they live their life.” Didm’t help me remember them, but it helped me stop stressing about trying to work out why some are weak and some are strong!

    When someone told me I’d develop a ‘feel’ for the way the language works I mocked her mercilessly, but now I’m doing intermediate level Greek and I’m starting to see that she was right… but I still don’t know how it happened!

    And now I have to go study for my Greek exam on Tuesday. Subjunctive, perfect and aorist passive… all these joys still await you…

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