Re Sequence of actions between verb tenses

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Thu Aug 9 07:33:55 EDT 2001

At 9:41 PM -0400 8/8/01, Harry W. Jones wrote:
>To All B-Greekers,
>Let's say that we have and aorist tense verb and perfect tense verb in
>a clause, is there a way to know which action took place first? Or
>between an imperfect and aorist or between an imperfect and perfect
>verb? Or would the context determine this? I believe I know the answer
>but I would like it confirmed.

It would be a lot easier to respond if you'd offer some concrete examples
rather than a theoretical question. An initial thought, however, is that
the aorist in a subordinate clause not infrequently has to be translated as
a pluperfect because it does refer in the right context to action
chronologically prior to that of the main verb. Here's one interesting
example (although I don't really think the relationship of the tenses is
troublesome here):


Alternative Englishings:
(a) Upon finding one very precious pearl he went away and sold all that he
had and bought it (the pearl).
(b) And when he had found one very precious pearl, he went away and sold
off everything that he had and proceeded to purchas the pearl.

As I say, I don't think the verb-tenses are complicated here in their
interrelationships , and yet each has its distinct force and contribution
to the whole:

hEURWN is aorist ptc.--clearly circumstantial to the verbs of the main
clause, PEPRAKEN and HGORASEN; hEURWN must refer to action preceding the
time of those main verbs, and if we translate those main verbs with a past
tense, we must translate hEURWN (if we translate it as a finite verb) with
a pluperfect in English. APELQWN is another aorist ptc., also clearly
circumstantial; I'd say the context indicates, however, that "he went away"
followed chronologically upon "he found" and preceded "he sold ... and he

PEPRAKEN is perfect tense; I think an aorist could have been used here but
the perfect tense underscores the consummate nature of this action of
selling off one's goods in their entirety. EICEN is imperfect; here it must
imply continuous possession up to the time of sale, so that we COULD, if we
are so minded, translate this "he sold off everything that he had
owned."--as a PLUPERFECT in English. Finally, note the the final verb
HGORASEN is aorist; clearly it indicates by position in the context that
this is the final action in the whole sequence described in the sentence:
it is SUBSEQUENT to the sale of the man's goods and of course subsequent to
the discovery of the precious pearl.

My own conclusion is:

(a) that the analysis of verb tense relationships in this sentence is quite
simple enough, although it might seem puzzling if we were simply told at
the outset that our sentence involves two aorist participles followed by a
perfect-tense main verb, an imperfect in a relative clause dependent upon
it and a second aorist-tense main verb; you must see the sentence for those
descriptive terms in relationship to each other to make sense;

(b) that the word-order of the sentence rather than the tenses of the verbs
is the chief indicator of temporal relationships: the sequence is logical
and chronologically progressive; although it might be argued that the
imperfect EICEN is jarring because it follows the verb PEPRAKEN while
referring to action prior to or up until the time of PEPARAKEN, yet its
appearance in a relative clause explaining exactly what was sold eliminates
any confusion about temporal relationships;

(c) ordinary discourse probably arranges the verbs of a sequential series
in their logical chronological order, no matter what grammatical tenses are
called upon to indicate particular actions. On the other hand, rhetoric
often enough governs the sequence in which actions are presented, depending
upon what the speaker/writer intends to make most prominent to the
listener/reader. For instance (and I confess I am making these up), we
could suppose a simple sentence such as APHGXATO hO IOUDAS TAUTA IDWN,
where the aorist participle follows upon the main verb APHGXATO but clearly
must refer to action prior to that of the main verb: "Judas hanged himself
after he had seen these things." This sentence rhetorically underscores the
consequence in Judas' action of what he had seen, but the same sense could
as clearly have been stated: hO DE IOUDAS TAUTA IDWN APHGXATO: "But when
Judas had seen these things, he hanged himself."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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