Greek voice and case grammar

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at
Thu Oct 18 04:52:55 EDT 2001

Has anyone studied the semantic differences between active, middle and
passive in terms of case grammar?
It is an area I don't understand well and I haven't yet fully digested what
Carl is saying about it.

Is it the case that many of the verbs that are commonly used in middle forms
often have an experiencer role in focus rather than an agent role? For
instance, in POREUOMAI the person who is walking is the experiencer, more
than or as well as the agent. For some verbs it may be the beneficiary role
that is in focus in the middle rather than the experiencer role. This would
depend on the semantic content of the verb, I guess.
Would it be a reasonable hypothesis that in the middle forms the experiencer
or beneficiary is the semantic role functioning as subject either instead of
the agent or together with the agent?

FOBEW can apparently mean "cause someone to fear" in which case the agent or
cause is subject and the experiencer is presumably object. All the forms of
this verb in the GNT are either passive or middle in form - all are tagged
passive by Friberg even those which are morphologically ambiguous. I assume
this is because there are no aorist or future middle forms in the GNT. Is
there any distinction between middle and passive with this verb? Or is the
function like middle, even though future and aorist forms have the -QH-?

I would guess that the best way to pin down the semantic difference would be
to study verbs which have both active, middle and passive forms. Someone
must have done this, I am just not aware of it. (I am a translator and
linguist, not a Greek scholar.)

Let me take an example. We find both active, middle and passive forms of
AKOUW in Acts. The passive forms seem clear enough. Something is being
heard. But what is the subtle difference between active and middle? The five
occurrences of middle forms according to Friberg tags (3:22, 17:32, 21:22,
25,22, 28:28) could have focus on the experiencer or beneficiary role of the
subject. The person takes in what he hears, thinks about it, reacts to it
and benefits in some way. This sense is often translated "listen" although
it probably does not catch the whole difference with "hear".
In the active form it seems that at least sometimes, it refers to just
hearing whether one is listening or not, like when the TV or radio is going.
I may hear it, but am not taking it in. There are cases where the active
form is still translated "listen", so it may be that the active form is
unmarked but the middle is marked when it comes to focus on
experiencer/beneficiary. I am using "experiencer" here in a more specific
sense than normal in general linguistics, but i don't have a better term at
the moment.

I am just throwing out some questions and would like to have a better grasp
of what is going on.

Iver Larsen

More information about the B-Greek mailing list