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73 The Perfect System: Part I

2009.04.0349

Fragment of a three-sided tripod base, possibly a Roman choregic monument. 1st-2nd c. A.D. Athenian Agora Excavations.


The Perfect System

 

You have learned four tenses of Greek verbs: the present, future, imperfect, and aorist. These lessons present the final tenses, those of the PERFECT SYSTEM.

The tenses of the PERFECT SYSTEM comprise those that refer to completed action. These tenses differ from the other PAST tenses in ASPECT. If the aspect of a past tense verb is COMPLETED (often with a sense of just now completed), then in Greek it is expressed by the PERFECT TENSE.

To review, ASPECT is a grammatical term that expresses relationship of the ACTION of a verb and the PASSAGE OF TIME. In other words, aspect describes whether the action, regardless of its tense, was:

  • Simple. This is a simple action, or an action not marked regarding whether the results of the action are continuing.
  • Ongoing. This is an action that took place over an extent of time, was habitual, or was more than a single action in some way.
  • Perfect. This is a completed action that has lasting results. This aspect often reflects a state resulting from past action. For example, if someone has just died, then he is dead. In fact, it is the resulting state that is often the emphasis of this aspect, not the action of the verb itself. I have made you a drink, i.e., your drink is ready.

To see how Greek past tenses differ in aspect, note the following:

  • Aorist: I walked
    • snapshot of a past action (simple aspect)
    • the speaker travelled from point A to B
  • Imperfect: I was walking/ used to walk
    • video of past action (ongoing aspect)
    • the speaker was traveling from point A to B
  • Perfect: I have just walked
    • action is completely done, with results still felt in the present (perfect aspect)
    • the speaker has just now arrived at point B (a resulting state)

 


Formation: Perfect Active

 

Greek tenses of the PERFECT SYSTEM add the following distinctive markers to the verb stem:

  • The initial sound of the VERB STEM is doubled. This addition, called REDUPLICATION, creates a PERFECT SYSTEM verb stem (S 439).
  • To mark the ACTIVE voice, verbs add the suffix –κ– to the perfect system stem. When adding –κ– to the verb stem is too difficult to pronounce, the –κ merges or drops out.

 

Reduplication

You may recall that in the present tense, some verbs reduplicated their initial consonant sound, adding an –ι– for ease of pronunciation. For example:

  • δω– → διδω– (present stem)

A similar process happens for PERFECT SYSTEM, though for this tense stem, an –ε– is added for ease of pronunciation (S 340). For example:

  • λυ λελυ– (perfect stem)
  • δεικ → δεδεικ– (perfect stem)
  • γραφ → γεγραφ– (perfect stem)
  • δωδεδω– (perfect stem)

If the Greek verb stem starts with a vowel, an AUGMENT is added. Just as we saw with IMPERFECT verbs, the augment LENGTHENS a short vowel (S 442).

  • ἀρχ →  ἠρχ– (perfect stem)
  • ἐθελη → ἠθελη– (perfect stem)

Recall that as a general rule, Greek does not allow ASPIRATED CONSONANTS to begin consecutive syllables (S 441).

  • θη→ τεθη– (perfect stem)

Recall also that Greeks regularly drop an initial σ– if it comes right before a vowel (S 119). When this happens, the vowel marks this loss by receiving a rough breathing mark.

  • στησεστη → ἑστη– (perfect stem)

 

κ– Marker

In the ACTIVE voice, the marker –κ– is added to the PERFECT TENSE STEM. If the stem ends in a DENTAL (τ, δ, θ), the dental drops (S 556-560).

  • λυ → λελυ– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → λελυκ– (perfect active stem)
  • στηἑστη– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → ἑστηκ– (perfect active stem)
  • δωδεδω– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → δεδωκ– (perfect active stem)
  • θη→ τεθη– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → τεθηκ– (perfect active stem)
  • ποιε → πεποιη– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → πεποιηκ– (perfect active stem)
  • δηλο → δεδηλω– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → δεδηλωκ– (perfect active stem)
  • πειθ → πεπειθ– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → πεπεικ– (perfect active stem)
  • ἀγγελἠγγελ– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → ἠγγελκ– (perfect active stem)
Note that with CONTRACT VERBS, the verb stem vowel LENGTHENS in the PERFECT STEM, just as it does when forming the FUTURE and FIRST AORIST tense stems (S 557)!

 

If the –κ– marker is added to a PERFECT TENSE STEM that ends in a LABIAL (π, β, φ), PALATAL (κ, γ, χ), and most stems ending in a LIQUID (λ, ρ), the –κ– merges or, more often, simply drops out to ease pronunciation (S 561-573).

  • δεικδεδεικ– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → δεδεικκ → δεδειχ– (perfect active stem)
  • γραφγεγραφ– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → γεγραφ– (perfect active stem)
  • ἀρχἠρχ– (perfect stem)
    • + –κ– → ἠρχ– (perfect active stem)

 

Personal Endings: Active

The Perfect Tense is a PRIMARY TENSE, and uses a variation of the ATHEMATIC primary endings with which you are already familiar.

α = I (1st person singular)

αμεν = we (1st person plural)

ας = you (2nd person singular)

ατε = y’all (2nd person plural)

ε(ν) = (s)he, it (3rd person sg)

ασι(ν) = they (3rd person pl)

 

The Perfect, Indicative, Active of λύω (S 385; GPH p. 90)

λέλυκα

λελύκαμεν

λέλυκας

λελύκατε

λέλυκε

λελύκασι

 

The Perfect, Indicative, Active of δείκνυμι

δέδειχα

δεδείχαμεν

δέδειχας

δεδείχατε

δέδειχε

δεδείχασι

 

 


Formation: Perfect Middle

 

The  marker –κ– indicates a PERFECT ACTIVE. To form the PERFECT MIDDLE, simply add the PRIMARY MIDDLE ENDINGS directly to the perfect tense stem. In the next lesson, we discuss what happens when these middle endings are added to consonant stem verbs. For now, note how regular the PERFECT MIDDLE is formed with perfect tense stems that end in a vowel.

 

The Perfect, Indicative, Middle of λύω (GPH p. 90)

λέλυμαι

λελύμεθα

λέλυσαι

λέλυσθε

λέλυται

λέλυνται

 


Infinitives

 

To form the INFINITIVE mood, the PERFECT TENSE uses the same endings as –μι verbs, though in the active, –ε– is added before the infinitive ending. The persistent accent is on the PENULT.

  • έναι = active
    • λελυκέναι
  • σθαι = middle
    • λελύσθαι

Principal Parts

 

Advanced vocabulary lists and lexica give six PRINCIPAL PARTS for Greek verbs. We have already encountered the FIRST THREE principal parts: PRESENT, FUTURE, and AORIST. Mastering these first three principal parts is sufficient for most reading purposes at the beginning and intermediate levels.

The FOURTH PRINCIPAL PART is the PERFECT ACTIVE.

The FIFTH PRINCIPAL PART is the PERFECT MIDDLE.

The SIXTH PRINCIPAL PART we have already met: the AORIST PASSIVE.

These principal parts are given because these tense and voice stems can exhibit minor, but complex, variations (S 369-370; GPH pp. 231-240). Be aware, too, that many verbs never occur (or are extremely rare) in perfect tenses, and so do not even have a fourth or fifth principal part. If you understand the principles of building perfect stems, however, you should be able to recognize them when they appear.

 

 

– τὸ τέλος –

 


Key Terms and Concepts

  • THE PERFECT SYSTEM AND ASPECT
  • REDUPLICATION
  • PERFECT TENSE STEM
  • κ– MARKER
  • FOURTH PRINCIPAL PART
  • FIFTH PRINCIPAL PART

Exercises

 

1. Greek verbs can express one of three ASPECTS. What are they? For each, give the past tense Greek verb that expresses this aspect.

1.

2.

3.

2. All verbs of the PERFECT SYSTEM  _______________  the initial sound of the verb stem, an addition that is called   __________________ .

3. The tense marker of the PERFECT ACTIVE is  __________________ .

4. The personal endings for the PERFECT ACTIVE resemble the primary endings of the   _______________  conjugation.

5. Conjugate the PERFECT ACTIVE of the following verbs.

  • φύω, φύσω, ἔφυσα, πέφυκα, —-, ἐφύην
  • θύω, θύσω, ἔθυσα, τέθυκα, τέθυμαι, ἐτύθην
  • γράφω, γράψω, ἔγραψα, γέγραφα, γέγραμμαι, ἐγράφην
  • ἄρχω, ἄρξω, ἤρξα, ἦρχα, ἦργμαι, ἤρχθην

6. Conjugate the PERFECT MIDDLE of the following verbs.

  • παύω, παύσω, ἔπαυσα, πέπαυκα, πέπαυμαι, ἐπαύθην
  • ποιέω, ποιήσω, ἐποίησα, πεποίηκα, πεποίημαι, ἐποιήθην

 

 

License

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