Transitive and Intransitive
All verbs can be identified by whether or not they need a direct object to complete their meaning. TRANSITIVE verbs do take a direct object. INTRANSITIVE verbs do not. For example:
- Transitive verb (διδωμι): ἆθλα ἑτέροις δίδωσιν.
- He gives prizes (ἆθλα) to others (ἑτέροις).
- Intransitive verb (εἰμί): ἄξιοί ἐσμεν, ὦ Λακεδαιμόνιοι.
- We are worthy (ἄξιοί), Lakedaimonians.
While most verbs are either transitive or intransitive, some verbs can be BOTH.
- Transitive use (ἵστημι): ἱστᾶσιν ἱστὸν.
- They are standing/setting (up) the mast (ἱστὸν).
- Intransitive use (ἵστημι): ἱστᾶσι περὶ τὴν πόλιν.
- They are standing/stationed around the city (περὶ τὴν πόλιν).
While most English transitive verbs are also transitive in Greek, there are a handful of English transitive verbs, such as obey or serve, that are intransitive in Greek! If any Greek verbs are marked with (+ dat.) or (+ gen.), this means that the object of the verb is not in the accusative case (as we might expect in English), but rather in the dative or genitive case, respectively.
Such verbs, while INTRANSITIVE in Greek, effectively become TRANSITIVE when translated into English. For example, while a Greek would say that I have trust for someone, πιστεύω τινί, in English we can say – and so can translate the Greek – I trust someone.
When learning Greek verbs, therefore, be sure to note whether they are transitive, intransitive, or both, and whether they take their object in a case other than the accusative. If in doubt, Greek dictionaries often mark whether a verb is used transitively or intransitively, usually with abbreviations such as trans. and intrans.
Athematic and Thematic Verbs
The verbs that we met earlier use the 1st person singular present indicative active ending –μι. These types of verbs, unsurprisingly, are known as –μι verbs. Most Greek verbs in the present tense, however, are –ω verbs, so called because they use the 1st person singular present indicative active ending –ω. Both types of verbs build and parse the same way. They just use somewhat different endings to designate person and number.
All –ω verbs have a sort of buffer sound just before the verb’s ending. This buffer is a vowel sound called the THEMATIC VOWEL (S 377). The –μι verbs do not have this vowel. This thematic vowel, usually an ο or ε, blends with the verb ending in a stable, consistent way, so you actually learn the thematic vowel and the personal ending together as one combined personal ending.
The good news is that the thematic vowel keeps the verb ending stable. Remember that some –μι verbs change vowel lengths or make other changes when a –σ– is added to a verb stem. These types of changes do not happen as often with –ω verbs because of the thematic vowel.
Generally speaking, verbs that use the thematic vowel (i.e., –ω verbs) are also called THEMATIC VERBS. Likewise, verb tenses that do not use the thematic vowel (i.e., –μι verbs) are called ATHEMATIC VERBS.
Thematic (or Omega) Verbs
As with the –μι verbs, –ω verbs begin building a Greek verb with the VERB STEM.
- λυ– loosen, destroy
- λαβ– take
- γνω– know
To indicate person and number, –ω verbs need distinct personal endings, which are as follows:
–ω = I (1st person singular)
–ομεν = we (1st person plural)
–εις = you (2nd person singular)
–ετε = y’all (2nd person plural)
–ει = (s)he, it (3rd person sg)
–ουσι = they (3rd person pl)
Notice that the THEMATIC VOWEL is an ο sound in the 1st person (singular and plural) and the 3rd person plural, but an ε sound in the 2nd person (singular and plural) and the 3rd person singular.
Building a Greek Verb: Verb-Stem Presents
Let’s see how to form an –ω verb in the Present Tense, Indicative Mood, Active Voice. For a large number of –ω verbs, the VERB STEM and the PRESENT STEM are identical (S 499). One example is λυ-, loosen, set free, destroy. Putting it all together, the Present Indicative Active of λύω is as follows (S 382; GPH p. 69).
λύω I loosen, set free, destroy
λύομεν we loosen, set free, destroy
λύεις you loosen, set free, destroy
λύετε you all loosen, set free, destroy
λύει (s)he, it loosens, sets free, destroys
λύουσι they loosen, set free, destroy
Note that –ω verbs follow all the regular RECESSIVE ACCENT rules. For the present active INFINITIVE, –ω verbs use the ending –ειν instead of –ναι. These infinitives accent the PENULT, just as the –μι infinitive does.
- λύειν, to loosen, set free, destroy
Building a Greek Verb: –άνω verbs
Like some –μι verbs, adding a –ν– to the VERB STEM often marks a verb as PRESENT TENSE (S 523). To make a verb easier to pronounce, the stem often adds –αν– rather than –ν– by itself. For example, this stem looks (and sounds) like this:
- λαβ = take (verb stem)
- λαμβαν = take (present tense stem)
- Note that μ is added to make the verb easier to say.
The Present Indicative Active of λαμβάνω:
λαμβάνω I take
λαμβάνομεν we take
λαμβάνεις you take
λαμβάνετε you all take
λαμβάνει (s)he, it takes
λαμβάνουσι they take
present, infinitive, active: λαμβάνειν
Building a Greek Verb: –σκω verbs
Unlike –μι verbs, –ω verbs have yet another specific marker to indicate the verb is in the present tense: –σκ– (S 526). Like some –μι verbs – e.g. δίδωμι – some (not all!) –σκω verbs duplicate the initial sound of the stem in the present tense. For example: γνω = know (verb stem) becomes γιγνωσκ = know (present stem).
The Present Indicative Active of γιγνώσκω:
γιγνώσκω I know
γιγνώσκομεν we know
γιγνώσκεις you know
γιγνώσκετε you all know
γιγνώσκει (s)he, it knows
γιγνώσκουσι they know
present, infinitive, active: γιγνώσκειν
– τὸ τέλος –
Key Terms and Concepts
- THEMATIC VOWEL
- THEMATIC VERBS
- ATHEMATIC VERBS
- VERB STEM PRESENTS
- TRANSITIVE VERBS
- INTRANSITIVE VERBS
- –άνω VERBS
- –σκω VERBS
Vocabulary List 1
- ἀκούω hear
- βουλεύω deliberate, resolve
- θύω sacrifice
- κελεύω order
- κλαίω cry out
- κωλύω prevent
- λέγω say
- λύω loosen, destroy
- ἀπολύω release, divorce, forgive
- παύω stop
- περισσεύω be left over, increase, exceed
- πιστεύω trust, rely on, believe in (+ dat.)
- πορεύω carry
- φύω produce, bring forth, grow
Vocabulary List 2
- (ἁμαρτ-) ἁμαρτάνω miss, fail, make a mistake
- (βη-) βαίνω walk, come, go
- ἀναβαίνω walk up, go aboard, enter
- συμβαίνω happen, agree, result
- (ἐλα-) ἐλαύνω drive, set in motion
- (λαβ-) λαμβάνω take, grab; receive, get
- καταλαμβάνω seize, catch up to, arrest
- παραλαμβάνω take, receive, accept
- ὑπολαμβάνω take up, reply, suppose
- (λαθ-) λανθάνω escape notice of
- (μαθ-) μανθάνω learn
- (πι-) πίνω drink
- (τεμ-) τέμνω cut
- (τυχ-) τυγχάνω meet (+gen)
- (θαν-) θνῄσκω or ἀποθνῄσκω die
- (γνω-) γιγνώσκω know
- ἀναγιγνώσκω read
- ἐπιγιγνώσκω know, recognize, understand
- Koine: γινώσκω
- (διδαχ-) διδάσκω teach
- (εὑρ-) εὑρίσκω find
- (μνη-) μιμνήσκω remind
Ι. Conjugate in full the following verbs; be sure to include the infinitive.
ΙΙ. For the following verbs, 1) Write out the Greek form, providing its correct accent; 2) If the verb is an –άνω, or –σκω verb, provide its verb stem, as given in the vocabulary; 3) Translate the form in English; and 4) Change the form to its opposite number (singular to plural, plural to singular). If the form is infinitive, no change to an opposite number is possible; simply supply the correct accent.