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27 Infinitives and Indirect Statement


Inscribed fragment of a Herm. Head is missing, but traces of a beard and philosopher’s cloak remain. Two epigrams are inscribed in honor of Iamblichos, a philosopher and benefactor of Athens. 4th c. A.D. Athenian Agora Excavations.


The INFINITIVE is a common mood in Greek, and appears in almost any paragraph of Greek that you will read. Before we discuss a few of the common uses of the infinitive, let us review some concepts.

FINITE VERBS are verbs that are limited or defined by their personal endings. In other words, if a given verb form has an ending that indicates person and number, it is FINITE (S 357).

INFINITIVES, on the other hand, are not limited by person and number. While they share some attributes with finite verbs – for example, they can be transitive or intransitive, and take direct and indirect objects – infinitives regularly function not as verbs, per se, but as SUBSTANTIVES.

A SUBSTANTIVE is any word or phrase that serves as a noun in a sentence. In English, for example, the words good, bad, and ugly are all adjectives. However, these adjectives can also be used SUBSTANTIVELY in phrases such as The good, the bad, and the ugly. Since infinitives most often serve as substantives, they are sometimes referred to as VERBAL NOUNS (S 357).


Complementary Infinitive

Most of the infinitives that we have encountered in our readings so far have been COMPLEMENTARY INFINITIVES. These infinitives are often described as completing the meaning of verbs of ability, desire, intention, will, and the like. This is a fine and sensible definition. But note also that some complementary infinitives are in reality substantives, serving essentially as the DIRECT OBJECT of finite verbs.

For example:

  • οἱ ἄρχοντες εἰρήνην ποιεῖν βούλονται. The rulers want to make peace.
  • τοὺς ἵππους μου λύειν ἐθέλει. She wants to free my horses.


In other instances, the complementary infinitive is not a direct object of the verb, but functions along the lines of an ACCUSATIVE OF RESPECT (S 1600). The infinitive, in other words, expresses the respect in which a particular verb (e.g., δυνάμαι, be able, can) is true. We discuss this use of the accusative in more detail later.

  • ὑμᾶς βλέπειν δυνάμεθα. We are able to see you all. 


Articular Infinitive

English, as well as other languages such as Latin, has another verbal noun form called the GERUND. Like infinitives, gerunds function much like nouns do, including serving as subjects or objects of a verb, or as objects of a preposition. To form this part of speech, English adds –ing to a verb. Note the following examples:

  • Traveling is a great experience. (Gerund as subject)
  • I love farming the land. (Gerund as object of verb)
  • My style of cooking is simple. (Gerund as object of a preposition)
  • She was arrested for speeding. (Gerund as object of a preposition)

Unlike English, Greek has no separate form for the gerund. Instead, Greek uses the ARTICULAR INFINITIVE, so named because an article accompanies the infinitive (S 2025-2030). For this construction, note the following:

  • The article is always NEUTER SINGULAR.
  • The article is occasionally omitted if the infinitive is being used in the NOMINATIVE or ACCUSATIVE case.
  • The article is never omitted if the infinitive is being used in the GENITIVE or DATIVE case.
  • Objects of the infinitive are often placed between the article and the infinitive.


  • τὸ ἔχειν σοφίαν καλόν ἐστιν. To have/having wisdom is good.
  • τὸ σοφίαν ἔχειν καλόν ἐστιν. To have/having wisdom is good.
  • ἀντὶ τοῦ αὐτῳ λέγειν Instead of speaking to him…
  • πρὸς τὸ εὖ ζῆν towards/with regards to living well
  • τίς δ’ οἶδεν εἰ τὸ ζῆν μέν ἐστι κατθανεῖντὸ κατθανεῖν δὲ ζῆν κάτω νομίζεται; Who knows if to live is to be dead, and to be dead is thought to live below? Euripides Fr. 638.
  • οὕτως ἐπὶ τῷ κρατεῖν καὶ μέγιστος εἶναι τῶν ἄλλων ἀρετῆς καὶ τοῦ καλοῦ δοῦλος ἦν ὁ Ῥωμαίων δῆμος. So, for the purpose of ruling and being the greatest of all, the Roman people were a servant of excellence and the good. Plutarch Aem. 11.4
  • ὁμοίως ἔχει ὁ οἰκοδόμος πρὸς τὸ ποιεῖν οἰκίαν καὶ ὁ ἰατρὸς πρὸς τὸ ποιεῖν ὑγίειανJust as the builder is with regards to creating a house and the doctor with regards to creating health… Aristotle, Top. 5.7


Indirect Statement

Indirect Statement in English

An INDIRECT STATEMENT (sometimes called INDIRECT DISCOURSE) is a subordinate clause that is introduced by a verb of mental action, such as sayingthinking, and perceiving. In this construction, the direct statement – e.g. “the child is here” – is expressed indirectly in sentences such as “I believe that the child is here,” or “He says that the child is here.” English has two main ways to express indirect statements.

  • A subordinate clause introduced by that
  • An infinitive phrase

The construction used depends upon the verb of mental activity– sayingthinkingperceiving – that introduces the indirect statement.

For example, the verbs say and think are usually followed by a SUBORDINATE CLAUSE introduced by that.

  • He said that she wanted to free his horses.
  • We think that we’ll be able to see you all.

Other mental action verbs, such as order, beg, remind, and advise, take an INFINITIVE PHRASE in English. These infinitive phrases consists of 1). An infinitive; 2). The subject or agent of the infinitive; and 3). Any other words or phrases that modify the action of the infinitive phrase, such as the direct object of a transitive infinitive or a prepositional phrase.

  • I begged her to free my horses.
  • I order you to free my horses.
  • I am reminding you to go.
  • I advised the rulers to make peace in this land.

Notice that the entire INFINITIVE PHRASE functions essentially as the DIRECT OBJECT of these verbs of mental action: I order this, namely, you to free my horses. In some ways, just as COMPLEMENTARY INFINITIVES complement certain verbs, we can think of these INFINITIVE PHRASES as complementing certain mental verbs (S 1981).

Note also that the infinitive phrase itself often has two DIRECT OBJECTS. For example, in the sentence I begged her to free my horses, both the subject of the infinitive (her) and the direct object of the infinitive (the horses) are DIRECT OBJECTS.


Greek Subordinate Clause

Like English, Greek most often expresses indirect statement through either a subordinate clause or by an infinitive phrase. For example, λέγω and ἀποκρίνομαι often take a subordinate clause construction. Other verbs of saying, such as φημί, and most verbs of thinking, such as νομίζω, often take the infinitive phrase. Some verbs, such as ἀκούω, take either construction.

If the subordinate clause construction is used, it is introduced by either ὅτι or ὡς, two words that we already encountered as conjunctions meaning because and as, respectively. When used to introduce an indirect statement, however, both are translated as that (S 2577). For example:

  • δίδοτε τὸ ὕδωρ: You all are giving the water. (direct statement)
  • λέγει ὅτι δίδοτε τὸ ὕδωρ: He is saying that you are giving the water. (indirect statement)
  • γιγνώσκει ὡς δίδοτε τὸ ὕδωρ: He knows that you are giving the water. (indirect statement)


Greek Infinitive Phrase

For indirect statements that take an infinitive phrase, note the following similarities and differences between how Greek and English handles this construction:

  • Usually, the Greek SUBJECT of the infinitive is rendered in the ACCUSATIVE case. This is called the SUBJECT ACCUSATIVE of the infinitive.
  • However (!), if the SUBJECT of the infinitive happens to be the SAME SUBJECT as the main verb that introduces the infinitive phrase, Greek either LEAVES OUT the subject of the infinitive, or renders it in the NOMINATIVE for emphasis.
  • Direct objects of a TRANSITIVE infinitive are also in the ACCUSATIVE. To avoid potential confusion, the SUBJECT ACCUSATIVE usually precedes any other accusatives in the infinitive phrase.
  • The INFINITIVE is usually (but not always!) the last word of the phrase.

Let us look at some examples. All indirect statements are underlined.

Direct: αὕτη τὸ βιβλίον γράφει. She is writing the book.

  • οὗτος νομίζει ταύτην τὸ βιβλίον γράφειν. He thinks that she is writing the book.
  • αὕτη νομίζει τὸ βιβλίον γράφειν. She thinks that she (i.e., she, herself) is writing the book.
  • ἡ γυνὴ νομίζει αὕτη τὸ βιβλίον γράφειν. The woman (ἡ γυνή) thinks that she, herself, is writing the book.
  • οὗτος λέγει ὅτι αὕτη τὸ βιβλίον γράφει. He says that she is writing the book.
  • οὗτος ἀκούει ταύτην τὸ βιβλίον γράφειν. He hears that she is writing the book.
  • οὗτος ἀκούει ὅτι αὕτη τὸ βιβλίον γράφει. He hears that she is writing the book.

Direct: αὕτη τοὺς ἵππους μου λύειν ἐθέλει. She wants to free my horses.

  • οὗτος νομίζει ταύτην τοὺς ἵππους μου λύειν ἐθέλειν. He thinks that she wants to free my horses.
  • αὕτη νομίζει τοὺς ἵππους μου λύειν ἐθέλειν. She thinks that she (i.e., she, herself) wants to free my horses.
  • νομίζει αὕτη τοὺς ἵππους μου λύειν ἐθέλειν. She thinks that she, herself, wants to free my horses.
  • οὗτος λέγει ὅτι αὕτη τοὺς ἵππους μου λύειν ἐθέλει. He says that she wants to free my horses.
  • οὗτος ἀκούει ταύτην τοὺς ἵππους μου λύειν ἐθέλειν. He hears that she wants to free my horses.
  • οὗτος ἀκούει ὅτι αὕτη τοὺς ἵππους μου λύειν ἐθέλει. He hears that she wants to free my horses.

Direct: οὗτός ἐστιν ποιητής. He is a poet.

  • αὕτη νομίζει τοῦτον εἶναι ποιητήν. She thinks that he is a poet.
    • Why is ποιητήν in the accusative?
  • οὗτος νομίζει εἶναι ποιητής. He thinks that he is a poet.
    • Why is ποιητής in the nominative?
  • νομίζει οὗτος ποιητὴς εἶναι. He thinks that he, himself, is a poet.
  • αὕτη λέγει ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ποιητής. She says that he is a poet.
  • αὕτη ἀκούει τοῦτον εἶναι ποιητήν. She hears that he is a poet.
  • αὕτη ἀκούει ὅτι οὗτος ποιητὴς ἐστιν. She hears that he is a poet.



The conjunction πρίν means until or before. To distinguish between the two meanings, Greek uses two different constructions.

  • Until: the πρίν clause takes a FINITE verb.
    • If the verb is in the indicative, it is often in a past tense, which we discuss shortly (S 2441).
  • Before: the πρίν clause takes an INFINITIVE PHRASE (S 2453).
    • Much like indirect statements, the subject of the infinitive phrase – if different from the subject of the main clause – is in the accusative.
    • Also like indirect statements, if the subject of the infinitive phrase is the same as that of the main clause, it is usually left out of the πρίν clause. If the subject is included for emphasis, it is in the nominative case.


  • γιγνώσκεις τὴν ἀλήθειαν καὶ πρὶν ἐμὲ λέγειν. You know the truth even before I speak.
  • οὐδὲ γὰρ ὕδωρ οἱ παλαιοὶ πρὶν ἐντραγεῖν ἔπινον. For the ancients never even used to drink water before eating (ἐντραγεῖν). Plutarch Quaes. Conv. 8.9.3
  • οὐκ ἱέναι ἤθελε, πρὶν ἡ γυνὴ αὐτὸν ἔπεισε. He was unwilling to go, until his wife persuaded (ἔπεισε) him. Xenophon Anabasis 1.2.26
  • πρὶν ἐν Τεγεᾴ αὐτὸς εἶναιἐκέλευεBefore he himself was in Tegea, he was ordering… Xenophon Hellenica 5.4.37



– τὸ τέλος –

Key Terms and Concepts



Ι. Translate each of the following sentences into English. Be sure to watch for tenses of the infinitive, and observe the clues that the Greek word order gives.

  1. ὁ ποιητὴς νομίζει τὸν ἵππον ψυχὴν ἔχειν.
  2. οἱ στρατιῶται ἐλπίζουσι τοὺς πολεμίους ἐν τῇ νήσῳ εἶναι.
  3. ὁ ἄγγελος ἀκούει ὅτι ταῦτα λέγουσιν.
  4. ἡγοῦνται μὲν τὸν ἥλιον θεὸν εἶναι, πιστεύουσι δὲ τὴν Δημήτερα θεὸν εἶναι.
  5. ἀποκρίνεται ὡς τοῦτο οὐ γιγνώσκει, ἀλλὰ γιγνώσκειν βούλεται.
  6. δοκεῖ αὐτοῖς ταύτην σοφίαν ἔχειν.
  7. ὄμνυμι τὸν νεὼν παρὰ τῇ ὁδῷ θήσειν.
  8. ἀκούομεν τούτους ἀμφὶ τὴν θάλλατταν πλεῖν βούλεσθαι.
  9. νομίζει κύριος καὶ βασιλεὺς εἶναι.
  10. ὁ υἱὸς βούλεται πάντα ἐσθίειν.

Reading Passages

Biblical and Classical passages: AGE Readings 14.

Demosthenes Against Zenothemis (Dem. 32.1-3): AGE Readings 14b.



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Infinitives and Indirect Statement by Wilfred E. Major and Michael Laughy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.