31 The Aorist Tense: Part I

2008.19.0045

Vessel marked as public property. 5th c. B.C. Athenian Agora Excavations.


The Aorist Tense

So far, we have learned verbs in PRIMARY TENSES, meaning that the tenses refer to action in the present or future. We have also learned one of the SECONDARY TENSES (tenses that refer to past):  the IMPERFECT tense. This unit introduces us to the most common secondary tense: the AORIST. Both the imperfect and aorist tenses describe actions of the PAST TENSE. They differ in what is called ASPECT. Before discussing how to form the aorist tense, it is important to understand what we mean by the grammatical term, aspect.

 

Aspect

TENSE locates the action of a verb in time, relative to the time of the speaker. The basic tenses are:

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future

ASPECT is a grammatical term that expresses the relationship between the ACTION of a verb and the PASSAGE OF TIME. Aspect describes whether the action, regardless of its tense, is:

  • Ongoing. This is an ongoing, or habitual action.
  • Simple. This is a simple action, or an action not marked as to whether the results of the action are continuing.
  • Perfect. This is a past action that has permanent or lasting results. We discuss this aspect in a later lesson.

Greek verbs and infinitives can express all three aspects, but the most common are:

  • Ongoing
  • Simple

While both the IMPERFECT and AORIST tenses refer to past actions, and so are past tenses, they differ in ASPECT. The AORIST tense always conveys a single, discreet action (i.e. simple aspect). This is the most common tense for referring to action in the past. The IMPERFECT tense always conveys past activity that was more than a single action in some way (i.e. ongoing aspect).

  • Aorist: I walked
    • snapshot of a past action (simple aspect)
  • Imperfect: I was walking/ used to walk
    • video of past action (ongoing aspect)

 

Verb vs. Tense Stems

The AORIST and IMPERFECT are secondary tenses, so an AUGMENT precedes the stem in the indicative mood. They both also use SECONDARY ENDINGS. The two tenses differ, however, in the STEM they use. Therefore, it is essential to identify the stem correctly in order to tell if a particular verb form is imperfect or aorist.

Remember: there are two kinds of stems in Greek:

  • The TENSE STEM, to which primary or secondary endings are added:
    • δεικνυ (present tense stem)
    • λυ  (present tense stem)
    • λαμβαν (present tense stem)
  • The VERB STEM, from which all tense stems are derived. Verb stems are sometimes identical to a tense stem:
    • δεικ
    • λυ (same as present tense stem)
    • λαβ

The IMPERFECT tense almost always uses the PRESENT TENSE STEM for any given verb. The AORIST almost always uses the VERB STEM.

 

First and Second Aorist

Some verbs add a MARKER to the verb stem when forming the AORIST, others do not.

  • If the verb adds the aorist marker –σα– to the verb stem, it is called the FIRST AORIST.
  • If the verb uses the verb stem without the marker, it is called the SECOND AORIST.

 


Forming the First Aorist

The first aorist adds the aorist marker –σα– to the stem of the verb, to which are added the secondary endings. Recall the secondary –μι verb endings:

ν = I (1st person singular)

μεν = we (1st person plural)

ς = you (2nd person singular)

τε = y’all (2nd person plural)

–  = (s)he, it (3rd person sg)

σαν = they (3rd person pl)

 

When the secondary endings for –μι verbs were added to the first aorist marker –σα-, the first aorist endings evolved to become:

(-σα– + –ν  → ) –σα = I (1st person singular)

(-σα– + –μεν → ) –σαμεν = we (1st person plural)

(-σα– + –ς → ) –σας = you (2nd person singular)

(-σα– + –τε → ) –σατε = y’all (2nd person plural)

(-σα– + – → ) –σε = (s)he, it (3rd person sg)

(-σα– + –σαν → ) –σαν = they (3rd person pl)

 

The formula to form the first aorist indicative, then, is:

  • augment + verb stem + first aorist (-σα) marker + secondary endings

Both athematic and thematic verbs in the present tense (-μι and –ω verbs) form their first aorists in the same way. Let us look at some examples.

We start with the verb stem:

  • δεικ show
  • λυ loosen, destroy

To the beginning of the verb stem we add an augment ():

  • ἐδεικ show (secondary indicative)
  • ἐλυ loosen, destroy (secondary indicative)

To this stem we now add our first aorist endings.

 

The Aorist, Indicative, Active of λύω (S 383; GPH p. 78)

ἔλυσα

ἐλύσαμεν

ἔλυσας

ἐλύσατε

ἔλυσε

ἔλυσαν

 

The Aorist, Indicative, Active of δείκνυμι (verb stem: δεικ)

ἔδειξα

ἐδείξαμεν

ἔδειξας

ἐδείξατε

ἔδειξε

ἔδειξαν

Remember: κ + σ = ξ

 

Liquid and Nasal First Aorists

For first aorists of liquid (λ, ρ) or nasal stems (μ, ν), the σ marker drops (S 544). This is the same phenomenon that we encountered with CONTRACT (also called LIQUID) FUTURES. For the first aorist, the loss of the σ often leads to compensatory lengthening. In such cases, ε often lengthens to ει.

For example:

  •  ἀγγέλλω (stem: ἀγγελ-)
    • → ἤγγειλα (from ἤγγελσα)
  • μένω (stem: μεν-) 
    • → ἔμεινα (from ἔμενσα)
  • φαίνω (stem: φαν-) 
    • → ἔφηνα (from ἔφανσα)

 


Forming the Second Aorist

Second aorist verbs do not add the –σα marker to the verb stem. Just like the IMPERFECT tense, there are two types of second aorists:

  • Thematic
  • Athematic

 

Thematic Second Aorist

Thematic second aorists are the most common of this group. They use the same secondary endings as those used for the imperfect:

 

ον = I (1st person singular)

ομεν = we (1st person plural)

ες = you (2nd person singular)

ετε = y’all (2nd person plural)

ε  = (s)he, it (3rd person sg)

ον = they (3rd person pl)

 

As always, we start with the verb stem:

  • λαβ take

To the beginning of the verb stem we add an augment ():

  • ἐλαβ take (secondary indicative)

To this stem we now add our thematic secondary endings.

 

The Aorist, Indicative, Active of λαμβάνω (verb stem: λαβ) (S 384; GPH p. 83)

ἔλαβον

ἐλάβομεν

ἔλαβες

ἐλάβετε

ἔλαβε

ἔλαβον

 

Athematic Second Aorist

There are not many athematic second aorists. Only two are commonly encountered:

  • βαίνω, βήσομαι, ἔβην (verb stem: βη-) walk, come, go
  • γιγνώσκω, γνώσομαι, ἔγνων (verb stem: γνω-) know, learn, think

Note that these verbs expand their stems in the present active forms, and are middle in the future tense.

 

The Aorist, Indicative, Active of βαίνω (S 682)

ἔβην

ἔβημεν

ἔβης

ἔβητε

ἔβη

ἔβησαν

 

The Aorist, Indicative, Active of γιγνώσκω (S 682; GPH p. 162)

ἔγνων

ἔγνωμεν

ἔγνως

ἔγνωτε

ἔγνω

ἔγνωσαν

 


Infinitives and Aspect

Like the present and future tenses, the AORIST occurs in the INFINITIVE mood. The augment to secondary tenses always means that the action actually took place in the past. Consequently, ONLY the INDICATIVE mood uses the AUGMENT, since it is the only mood that specifies actual historical action. The aorist infinitive, being a verbal noun, NEVER has the augment.

 

First Aorist Infinitive

The FIRST AORIST uses the ending –σαι for the infinitive.

The formula to form the first aorist infinitive is:

  • verb stem + σαι

The persistent ACCENT on the first aorist infinitive falls on the PENULT.

  • λῦσαι
  • δεῖξαι
  • πιστεῦσαι

 

Second Aorist Infinitive

The formula to form the thematic second aorist infinitive is:

  • verb stem + ειν

Notice that the THEMATIC SECOND AORIST uses the SAME infinitive ending as the THEMATIC PRESENT tense. The differences between the two infinitives are the stem to which the ending is added, and accent.

  • The PRESENT indicative active infinitive: ACCENT on the PENULT
    • λαμβάνειν
  • The SECOND AORIST indicative active infinitive: CIRCUMFLEX ACCENT on the ULTIMA
    • λαβεῖν

Likewise, the formula to form the athematic second aorist infinitive is:

  • verb stem + ναι

The ATHEMATIC SECOND AORIST uses the SAME infinitive ending as the ATHEMATIC PRESENT tense. As with the present tense, the accent falls on the PENULT.

  • γνῶναι
  • βῆναι

 

Infinitive and Aspect

If an infinitive is used as an ARTICULAR or a COMPLEMENTARY INFINITIVE, the present and aorist tenses of the infinitive are used to express ASPECT, not time (S 1865). In other words:

  • The PRESENT infinitive expresses activity that is ONGOING in some way.
  • The AORIST infinitive expresses a SIMPLE, single, momentary action.

For example:

  • βαίνειν βούλομαι. I want to go walking/to be walking.
    • Present infinitive.
  • βῆναι βούλομαι. I want to walk.
    • Aorist infinitive.

This nuance, while clear in the Greek, is often not expressed in formal written English.

 


Principal Parts

As we have seen, verbs are alphabetized by their 1st person, singular, present, indicative, active form, with a –μι or –ω ending. This is the FIRST PRINCIPAL PART.

The SECOND PRINCIPAL PART is the 1st person, singular, future, indicative, active. This form is necessary because adding –σ– to the verb stem can result in some unexpected forms.

The THIRD PRINCIPAL PART is the 1st person, singular, aorist, indicative, active. The third principal part of a verb shows whether it forms a first or second aorist, and if the latter, whether it is thematic or athematic. For example:

  • βουλεύω, βουλεύσω, ἐβούλευσα (1st Aorist)
  • λείπω, λείψω, ἔλιπον (2nd Aorist Thematic)
  • βαίνω, βήσομαι, ἔβην (2nd Aorist Athematic)

 

– τὸ τέλος –

 


Key Terms and Concepts

  • ASPECT
  • FIRST AORIST
  • SECOND AORIST (THEMATIC)
  • SECOND AORIST (ATHEMATIC)
  • INFINITIVES AND ASPECT
  • THIRD PRINCIPAL PART

Vocabulary

First Aorists

Stems in -υ

  • βουλεύω, βουλεύσω, ἐβούλευσα deliberate, resolve

Stems in -ε (or forms aorist like stems in -ε)

  • ἀδικέω, ἀδικήσω, ἠδίκησα commit injustice
  • ἐθέλω, ἐθελήσω, ἐθέλησα want
  • ὁμολογέω, ὁμολογήσω, ὡμολόγησα agree
  • ποιέω, ποιήσω, ἐποίησα do, make

Stems in -α

  • ζάω, ζήσω, ἔζησα live

Stems in –π/β/φ

  • γράφω, γράψω, ἔγραψα write, draw
  • πέμπω, πέμψω, ἔπεμψα send
  • τρέπω, τρέψω, ἔτρεψα turn

Stems in –δ/ζ/θ

  • νομίζω, νομιῶ, ἐνόμισα believe, think

Stems in -γ, -κ, -χ, and -ττ

  • ἄρχω, ἄρξω, ἦρξα begin, lead, rule (+ gen.)
  • δοκέω, δόξω, ἔδοξα think, suppose; seem

Stems in –λ/ν/ρ

  • ἀγγέλλω, ἀγγελῶ, ἤγγειλα report, tell
  • μένω, μενῶ, ἔμεινα remain, stay

 

Second Aorists: Thematic

  • ἀποθνῄσκω, ἀποθανοῦμαι, ἀπέθανον die
  • βάλλω, βαλῶ, ἔβαλον throw, hit
  • εὑρίσκω, εὑρήσω, εὗρον find
  • λαμβάνω, λήψομαι, ἔλαβον take, grab; receive, get
  • λείπω, λείψω, ἔλιπον leave, abandon
  • φεύγω, φεύξομαι, ἔφυγον flee, run away

 

Second Aorists: Athematic

  • βαίνω, βήσομαι, ἔβην walk, come, go
  • γιγνώσκω, γνώσομαι, ἔγνων know, learn, think

Exercises

Ι. You have been given the first three principal parts of the following verbs. The third principal part provides us with the Aorist, Indicative, Active, 1st Person, Singular. Using the third principal part, conjugate (i.e., write out in all persons and numbers) each of the verbs in the Aorist, Indicative, Active, including the infinitive:

  1. φεύγω, φεύξομαι, ἔφυγον flee, run away
  2. εὑρίσκω, εὑρήσω, εὗρον find
  3. γράφω, γράψω, ἔγραψα write, draw
  4. θύω, θύσω, ἔθυσα (note: υ is long) sacrifice

ΙΙ. Review and memorize the vocabulary. Note that all that is new is the addition of the third principal part.

ΙIΙ. For the following verbs, 1). Identify whether it is a first or second aorist, and if the latter, whether the second aorist is thematic or athematic, and 2). Change from the aorist tense to the present and imperfect tenses, in the same person and number.

e.g.: ἔλυσε:  first aorist   λύει    ἔλυε

  1. ἠκούσατε
  2. ἔφυγε
  3. ἐκώλυσαν
  4. ἔβητε
  5. ἔτρεψας
  6. ἐλάβομεν
  7. ἐβούλευσα
  8. ἔγνω
  9. ἐνόμισε
  10. ἐπαύσαμεν

License

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The Aorist Tense: Part I by Wilfred E. Major and Michael Laughy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.