47 The Optative Mood

2010.01.0273

Relief of the Cave of Pan (north slope of the Acropolis), showing divinities gathered at a rustic altar for the birth of a baby (Dionysus or Ion?). The bottom of the relief is inscribed with the name of the dedicator: Neoptolemos, son of Antikles, of the deme Melite. ca.330 B.C. Athenian Agora Excavations.


Optative Mood

We have now learned four moods of Greek verbs: the indicative, infinitive, imperative, and subjunctive.

  • The INDICATIVE mood indicates FACTS about actions or states.
  • The INFINITIVE mood is a VERBAL NOUN.
  • The IMPERATIVE mood is used to give COMMANDS.
  • The SUBJUNCTIVE mood refers to hypothetical actions.

In this lesson, we introduce the final mood: the OPTATIVE.

Like the subjunctive, the OPTATIVE mood refers to HYPOTHETICAL actions. The type of hypothetical actions differ from the subjunctive, however, as we see below. Like the subjunctive, there are also three tenses, each of which expresses ASPECT, not time:

  • PRESENT
    • ongoing aspect
  • AORIST
    • simple aspect
  • PERFECT
    • completed aspect

Since the mood is hypothetical, it NEVER receives an augment.

 


Optative Mood: Personal Endings

For most verbs, the personal endings for optative verbs are THEMATIC SECONDARY endings, with one exception:

  • the active first person singular ending ends in –μι.

To mark the optative mood, an –ι– is inserted between the thematic vowel and the personal ending. Inserting this –ι– caused the thematic vowel not to degrade from ο to ε, as it does in other thematic verb inflections. As a result, the thematic vowel remains ο throughout all persons and numbers (S 459).

Τhe importance of inserted –ι– as a marker of the optative mood is reflected by the fact that –οι and –αι (see below) at the end of optative forms are LONG DIPHTHONGS, not short (S 427).

 

ACTIVE personal endings:

(-ον →) –οιμι = I (1st sg)

(-ομεν →) –οιμεν = we (1st pl)

(-ες →) –οις = you (2nd sg)

(-ετε →) –οιτε = y’all (2nd pl)

(-ε →) –οι = (s)he, it (3rd sg)

(-ον →) –οιεν = they (3rd pl)

 

MIDDLE personal endings:

(-ομην →) –οιμην = I (1st sg)

(-ομεθα →) –οιμεθα = we (1st pl)

(*-εσο → *-οισο →) –οιο = you (2nd sg)

(-εσθε →) –οισθε = y’all (2nd pl)

(-ετο →) –οιτο = (s)he, it (3rd sg)

(-οντο →) –οιντο = they (3rd pl)

 

All tenses of the optative use these endings except for the FIRST AORIST, which replaces the thematic vowel –ο– with –σα-.

 

FIRST AORIST ACTIVE personal endings:

(-οιμι →) –σαιμι = I (1st sg)

(-οιμεν →) –σαιμεν = we (1st pl)

(-οις →) –σαις = you (2nd sg)

(-οιτε →) –σαιτε = y’all (2nd pl)

(-οι →) –σαι or –σειε = (s)he, it (3rd sg)

(-οιεν →) –σαιεν or σειαν = they (3rd pl)

 

FIRST AORIST MIDDLE personal endings:

(-οιμην →) –σαιμην = I (1st sg)

(-οιμεθα →) –σαιμεθα = we (1st pl)

(-οιο →) –σαιο = you (2nd sg)

(-οισθε →) –σαισθε = y’all (2nd pl)

(-οιτο →) –σαιτο = (s)he, it (3rd sg)

(-οντο →) –σαιντο = they (3rd pl)


The Optative Mood: Present and Aorist

Like the subjunctive, the tense of the optative is indicated by the TENSE STEM. Also like the subjunctive, the PRESENT and AORIST are the most common tenses that you will encounter. The rarer PERFECT optative forms are discussed separately below.

To see how to form the optative in the PRESENT and AORIST tenses, let’s take a look at these examples:

  • λύω, λύσω, ἔλυσα, λέλυκα, λέλυμαι, ἐλύθην
  • λαμβάνω, λήψομαι, ἔλαβον, εἴληφα, εἴλημμαι, ἐλήφθην
  • δείκνυμι, δείξω, ἔδειξα, δέδειχα, δέδειγμαι, ἐδείχθην

Let’s begin with λύω, λύσω, ἔλυσα, λέλυκα, λέλυμαι, ἐλύθην

  • present tense stem: λυ
  • aorist tense stem: λυσ
    • Note that for optatives, like subjunctives, the α of the –σα ending is dropped from the first aorist stem.

 

The Present Optative Active of λύω (S 383; GPH p. 72)

λύοιμι

λύοιμεν

λύοις

λύοιτε

λύοι

λύοιεν

 

The Present Optative Middle of λύω (S 383; GPH p. 72)

λυοίμην

λυοίμεθα

λύοιο

λύοισθε

λύοιτο

λύοιντο

 

The Aorist Optative Active of λύω (S 383; GPH p. 80)

λύσαιμι

λύσαιμεν

λύσαις

λύσαιτε

λύσαι

λύσαιεν or λύσειαν

 

The Aorist Optative Middle of λύω (S 383; GPH p. 80)

λυσαίμην

λυσαίμεθα

λύσαιο

λύσαισθε

λύσαιτο

λύσαιντο

 


Now let’s take a look at this verb, in the active voice: λαμβάνω, λήψομαι, ἔλαβον, εἴληφα, εἴλημμαι, ἐλήφθην

  • present tense stem: λαμβαν
  • aorist tense stem: λαβ

 

The Present Optative Active of λαμβάνω

λαμβάνοιμι

λαμβάνοιμεν

λαμβάνοις

λαμβάνοιτε

λαμβάνοι

λαμβάνοιεν

 

The Aorist Optative Active of λαμβάνω (S 384; GPH p. 85)

λάβοιμι

λάβοιμεν

λάβοις

λάβοιτε

λάβοι

λάβοιεν

 


Finally, let’s take a look at this verb, in the active voice: δείκνυμι, δείξω, ἔδειξα, δέδειχα, δέδειγμαι, ἐδείχθην

  • present tense stem: δεικνυ
  • aorist tense stem: δειξ

 

The Present Optative Active of δείκνυμι (S 418; GPH p. 159)

δεικνύοιμι

δεικνύοιμεν

δεικνύοις

δεικνύοιτε

δεικνύοι

δεικνύοιεν

 

The Aorist Optative Active of δείκνυμι 

δείξαιμι

δείξαιμεν

δείξαις

δείξαιτε

δείξαι

δείξαιεν or δείξειαν

 


Optative Mood: Alternative Personal Endings

While the most common marker of optative mood is the inserted –ι-, for the sake of clarity and pronunciation some Greek authors expand this marker to –ιη-. This happens most often in present tense contract verbs and some –μι verbs (S 393). When this expanded marker is inserted, the regular SECONDARY ATHEMATIC ACTIVE personal endings are used.

ν

μεν

ς

τε 

σαν

 


εἰμί

For example, the present optative of εἰμί (verb stem: ἐσ-) uses –ιη– as its optative marker, as seen below. Note that the original forms (e.g. ἐσιην) have lost their intervocalic sigma (S 770).

 

Present Optative Active of εἰμί (S 768; GPH p. 179)

εἴην

εἴημεν or εἶμεν

εἴης

εἴητε or εἶτε

εἴη

εἴησαν or εἶεν

 


Contract Verbs

The rules for contract verbs work as expected for the optative. For example:

  • ποιέοιμι → ποιοῖμι
  • δηλόοιμι → δηλοῖμι
  • νικάοιμι → νικῷμι

However, many Greek authors prefer to mark the present optative of CONTRACT VERBS with the expanded optative mood marker –ιη– (S 393).

 

The Present Optative Active of ποιέω (cf. S 385; GPH p. 113)

(ποιεοίην →) ποιοίην

(ποιεοίημεν →) ποιοίημεν

(ποιεοίης →) ποιοίης

(ποιεοίητε →) ποιοίητε

(ποιεοίη →) ποιοίη

(ποιεοίησαν →) ποιοίησαν

 

The Present Optative Active of δηλόω (cf. S 385; GPH p. 121)

(δηλοοίην →) δηλοίην

(δηλοοίημεν →) δηλοίημεν

(δηλοοίης →) δηλοίης

(δηλοοίητε →) δηλοίητε

(δηλοοίη →) δηλοίη

(δηλοοίησαν →) δηλοίησαν

 

The Present Optative Active of νικάω (cf. S 385; GPH p. 104)

(νικαοίην →) νικῴην

(νικαοίημεν →) νικῴημεν

(νικαοίης →) νικῴης

(νικαοίητε →) νικῴητε

(νικαοίη →) νικῴη

(νικαοίησαν →) νικῴησαν

 


μι Verbs

Similarly, the verbs δίδωμιἵστημι, and τίθημι are essentially CONTRACT forms in the OPTATIVE. These verbs are formed in the PRESENT and AORIST optative by adding the following markers to their short verb stem vowel (S 750):

  • ιη– in the SINGULAR
    • 1st person in –ιην
  • ι– in the PLURAL
    • 3rd person in –ιεν

The accent is the result of the short vowel stem contracting with the –ι-. For example:

  • διδοίην  διδοίην
  • διδόιμεν διδοῖμεν

 

The Present Optative Active of δίδωμι (S 416; GPH p. 126)

διδοίην

διδοῖμεν

διδοίης

διδοῖτε

διδοίη

διδοῖεν

 

The Aorist Optative Active of δίδωμι (S 416; GPH p. 131)

δοίην

δοῖμεν

δοίης

δοῖτε

δοίη

δοῖεν

 

The Present Optative Active of ἵστημι (S 416; GPH p. 137)

ἱσταίην

ἱσταῖμεν

ἱσταίης

ἱσταῖτε

ἱσταίη

ἱσταῖεν

 

The Second Aorist Optative Active of ἵστημι (S 416; GPH p. 140)

σταίην

σταῖμεν

σταίης

σταῖτε

σταίη

σταῖεν

 

Recall that ἵστημι has both a SECOND and FIRST aorist to indicate INTRANSITIVE and TRANSITIVE use, respectively. The first aorist conjugates regularly:

The First Aorist Optative Active of ἵστημι

στήσαιμι

στήσαιμεν

στήσαις

στήσαιτε

στήσαι

στήσαιεν or στήσειαν

 

The Present, Optative, Active of τίθημι (S 416; GPH p. 148)

τιθείην

τιθεῖμεν

τιθείης

τιθεῖτε

τιθείη

τιθεῖεν

 

The Aorist, Optative, Active of τίθημι (S 416; GPH p. 153)

θείην

θεῖμεν

θείης

θεῖτε

θείη

θεῖεν

 

 


The Optative Mood: Main Clause

 

The Greek optative, like the subjunctive, is used both in MAIN CLAUSES (i.e., as the main verb) and in SUBORDINATE CLAUSES. We discuss subordinate clauses in a later lesson. For now, let us look at the use of optatives as MAIN VERBS.

There are two uses of the optative in a main clause:

  • OPTATIVE OF WISH
  • POTENTIAL OPTATIVE

 

Optative of Wish

The OPTATIVE of WISH (cf. Latin opto) is used to convey a wish for the future (S 1814-1819). Common characteristics of the optative of wish are:

  • It is often (though not always) introduced by εἰ γάρ or εἴθε.
  • The negative is μή.

With or without the introductory εἰ γάρ or εἴθε, the optative of wish is translated as may!, would that, if only

  • τοῦτο μὴ γένοιτο.
    • May this never happen!
  • εἰ γὰρ πόλεμον παύσαι.
    • If only he would stop the war.
  • εἴθε τοὺς ἵππους δοίη.
    • If only he would give the horses.
  • τοὺς ἵππους λύοιεν.
    • If only they would free the horses.
  • τοὺς ἵππους λαβοίμεθα.
    • Would that we could take the horses.

 

Potential Optative

The POTENTIAL OPTATIVE expresses the opinion of the speaker about the possibility or likelihood of an action (S 1824-1834). Common characteristics of the potential optative are:

  • It is always accompanied by the particle ἄν.
  • The negative is οὐ.

POTENTIAL optatives can be translated with may, might, would, or should.

  • τοὺς ἐκ τῆς μάχης φεύγοντας ἂν παύσαιμεν.
    • We might stop the men fleeing from battle.
    • We should stop the men fleeing from battle.
  • πόλεμον οὐκ ἂν παύοι.
    • He might not be stopping the war.
    • He should not be stopping the war.
  • τοὺς ἵππους ἂν δοίη.
    • He might give the horses.
    • He should give the horses.
  • τοὺς ἵππους οὐκ ἂν λύοιεν;
    • Wouldn’t they be freeing the horses?
    • Shouldn’t they be freeing the horses?
  • τοὺς ἵππους ἂν λαβοίμεθα;
    • Would we take the horses?
    • Should we take the horses?

 


 

The Subjunctive and Optative Mood

Both subjunctives and optatives consider future action. In some ways, the core distinction between the moods is that the subjunctive expresses apprehension about the future, while the optative expresses hope.

Many of the languages that developed from PIE gradually lost distinct optative forms. Latin, for example, has no optative. Interestingly, the Latin subjunctive is based morphologically on the PIE optative!

Distinct optative forms gradually waned in Greek, as well, in the post-Classical world. By the time New Testament Greek was being written, the optative had all but disappeared from the Greek language, surviving mostly in phrases such as μὴ γένοιτο (optative of wish).

For example:

  • ἁμαρτήσωμεν, ὅτι οὐκ ἐσμὲν ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ χάριν; μὴ γένοιτο.
    • Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May this never happen! (Romans 6:15)
  • εἶπεν δὲ Μαριάμ· ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου· γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου. καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ᾿ αὐτῆς ὁ ἄγγελος.
    • And Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; may it be for me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

 


The Optative Mood: Perfect

As noted above, the optative can also be formed in the PERFECT tense to express COMPLETED aspect. Though the perfect optative is rarely encountered in Greek (S 696; see S 660 for the even rarer future optative!), its active form is relatively straightforward to identify. As with the PRESENT and AORIST, optative personal endings are simply added to the TENSE STEM, in this case, the PERFECT TENSE STEM.

Let’s look, for example, at this verb: λύω, λύσω, ἔλυσα, λέλυκα, λέλυμαι, ἐλύθην

  • perfect active tense stem: λελυκ

 

The Perfect Optative Active of λύω (S 383; GPH p. 92)

λελύκοιμι

λελύκοιμεν

λελύκοις

λελύκοιτε

λελύκοι

λελύκοιεν

 

In the PERFECT tense, the forms of the OPTATIVE mood proved difficult for Greeks to say. Sometimes in the ACTIVE voice, and always in the MIDDLE voice, Greek used the following PERIPHRASTIC forms (S 599, 694):

  • perfect active:
    • PERFECT ACTIVE PARTICIPLE followed by the OPTATIVE form of εἰμί .
    • e.g. λελύκοι or λελυκὼς εἴη
  • perfect middle:
    • PERFECT MIDDLE PARTICIPLE followed by the OPTATIVE form of εἰμί .
    • e.g. λελυμένος εἴη (never λελυ + ι + το)

 

The Perfect Optative Middle of λύω (S GPH p. 93)

λελυμένος εἴην

λελυμένοι εἴημεν

λελυμένος εἴης

λελυμένοι εἴητε

λελυμένος εἴη

λελυμένοι εἴησαν

 

 

– τὸ τέλος –

 


Key Terms and Concepts

  • OPTATIVE MOOD AND ASPECT
  •  –οι AND –αι AT THE END OF OPTATIVE FORMS
  • EXPANDED MOOD MARKER –ιη
  • OPTATIVE OF WISH
  • POTENTIAL OPTATIVE

Exercises

 

1. Conjugate the following verbs in the PRESENT OPTATIVE ACTIVE.

  • εἰμί, ἔσομαι
  • δίδωμι, δώσω, ἔδωκα, δέδωκα, δέδομαι, ἐδόθην
  • τίθημι, θήσω, ἔθηκα, τέθηκα, τέθειμαι, ἐτέθην

2. Conjugate the following verbs in the AORIST OPTATIVE ACTIVE

  • παύω, παύσω, ἔπαυσα, πέπαυκα, πέπαυμαι, ἐπαύθην
  • γράφω, γράψω, ἔγραψα, γέγραφα, γέγραμμαι, ἐγράφην
  • ποιέω, ποιήσω, ἐποίησα, πεποίηκα, πεποίημαι, ἐποιήθην

3. Conjugate the following verbs in the PERFECT OPTATIVE PASSIVE

  • παύω, παύσω, ἔπαυσα, πέπαυκα, πέπαυμαι, ἐπαύθην

4. For each of the sentences below, a) identify the tense of the subjunctive; b) identify its use (optative of wish or potential optative); and c) translate.

  • εἴθε τὰ ζῷα θυσαίμεθα.
  • παύσαιμεν τὴν μάχην.
  • τὰ ζῷα θύσαιτο.
  • εἴθε παύσαι τὴν μάχην.
  • εἰ γὰρ παύοιμι τὴν μάχην.
  • εἰ γὰρ μὴ θύοιεν τὰ ζῷα.
  • παύοιμι ἂν τὴν μάχην.
  • τὰ ζῷα οὐκ ἂν θύσαιμεν.
  • εἰ γὰρ παύοι τὴν μάχην.
  • οὐ παύσαιμεν ἂν τὴν μάχην.

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The Optative Mood by Wilfred E. Major and Michael Laughy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.