Periphrastic construction "EIMI + Participle" in Acts

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Tue May 2 12:54:20 EDT 2000

At 9:43 AM -0500 5/2/00, Georgij Aristov wrote:
>Dear B-Greekers,
>I've got difficulties with grammatical analysis of Greek constructions
>consisting of the link (?) verb EIMI and the Present Participle of a
>notional verb.
>Here are some examples from Acts:
>The first of above mentioned examples is described in a commentary I've
>read as "characteristic of Luke periphrastic usage of Present Participle
>with the verb EIMI " and the second - simply as "periphrastic construction"
>(the other two are not determined in this respect).
>RSV gives English couterparts that are formally equal to these Greek
>constructions, e.g. (they) were gazing for ATENIZONTES HSAN or (he) was
>numbered for KATHRIQMHMENOS HN. But what seems to be the same is not realy
>the same. In English we have an analytical form (here, accordingly, Past
>Continuous Ind. Act. and Past Common Ind. Pass.) of a word. In Greek text
>there is an analitic phrase consisting of two words which represent one
>part of sentence (predicate). The use of the English verb "be" is
>obligatory for building the appropriate grammatical form of a verb, so it
>is an auxiliary verb in this case. The Greek verb "EIMI" on the contrary is
>morphologicaly redundant. Our analitic phrases could be replaced by
>synthetic forms (Imperf. Ind. Act. or Pass.):
>HTENIZON (Imperf. Ind. Act.) instead of ATENIZONTES HSAN,
>KATEMENON (Imperf. Ind. Act.) instead of HSAN KATAMENONTES,
>KATHRIQMEITO (Imperf. Ind. Pass.) instead of KATHRIQMHMENOS HN.
>So the verb "EIMI" should be considered here as a link verb, i.e. a part of
>compound nominal predicate. Am I right?
>I think I am. But what actually interests me is the question: For what
>purpose does Luke use such periphrastic constructions? What makes him to
>apply a phrase instead of a single word? Is it just a mean of stylistics?
>Another problematic point for me is the voice of KATHRIQMHMENOS HN. If the
>predicate were represented by synthetic form (KATHRIQMEITO), it would be
>definitely the passiv voice and the english analytical form "was numbered"
>- as it is sugested by KJV, YLT, ASV and RSV - would be a proper
>translation of it. But, as we see, the predicate being expressed by a
>phrase is a compound nominal predicate; the link verb of it has (and can
>have only) the active form, so that the whole phrase (despite the passive
>of the participle) is most likely the active voice (Do you agree?). Thus
>the NIV ("was one of our number") seems to be more adequate in this
>particular case.
>Impatiently waiting for your replies,

Lest you suffer intensely from your impatience ...

You're right, these ARE periphrastic verbs and EIMI functions as a "link"
verb or, it's more commonly called an "auxiliary" verb in English, along
with a participle. I don't really think there is any special purpose in
choice of these forms; I rather think that they were becoming far more
common in conversational Greek and so found their way occasionally into
written narratives too.

The one form I'd explain a bit differently is KATHRIQMENOS HN: this is a
pluperfect passive periphastic, KATHRIQMENOS is a perfect passive
participle. However, the thing about a pluperfect is that it is coordinate
with an imperfect: both have the same time reference--and one might argue
that the participle is not far removed from being adjectival rather than an
element of a compound verb. Recall that the paradigms even for the perfect
tense in the middle/passive call for the periphrastic form unless the verb
stem ends in a vowel: e.g. LELUNTAI but ESFRAGISMENOI EISI(N).


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad at 

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