Kimmo Huovila kimmo.huovila at helsinki.fi
Thu Oct 25 13:45:26 EDT 2001

"B. Ward Powers" wrote:
> Carl has been explaining to us his understanding of middle and passive
> voice in Greek, and in particular the significance of the -QH- morph in a
> verb. I would like to explain another (and more traditional) way of
> understanding voice in Greek.
> First of all, what IS voice? The term "voice" refers to how a person or
> thing  relates to the action of the verb. To state this in its simplest form:
> ACTIVE: I was the one who did it to him. "I saw the Lord." I.e., in the
> active the subject performs the action of the verb, and it normally has or
> implies an object of the action described.
> MIDDLE: I was the one who did it, and no one else was involved. I.e., I did
> something TO myself, or BY myself. Normally intransitive (without an
> object, or the object is oneself).
> E.g., the one who has bathed [that is, bathed himself] (John 13:10) hO
> Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5), APEGXATO.
> PASSIVE: I had the action done to me by something or someone else. E.g.,
> The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) OU DUNATAI LUQHNAI hH GRAFH;
> [the] heavens will be dissolved (2 Peter 3:12) OURANOI LUQHSONTAI
<rest snipped>

Ward, Carl et al,

Thanks for keeping up this interesting topic. I am not sure I can enter
into the whole exciting discussion, but I cannot resist myself from
making a brief comment.

Why would there be anything in passive semantics that would require the
agent to be something or someone ELSE? The (semantic) passive voice in
itself does not have to say anything of the agent, not even that there
is one, let alone that it cannot be the subject itself. You would end up
with far less exceptions and would not need an extra semantic contraint
that does not seem to fare too well against a corpus.

Just opening the GNT at random, the first passive I found (John 21:20
EPISTRAFEIS) has the subject as the actor, an exception to your rule.
Your rule would hold for ther next (unless I missed some), that is
GRAFHTAI in 25. The next one, OIMAI, could be middle or passive, but it
forms the aorist in the passive voice, so perhaps we can take the form
as passive. If so, it is an exception to your rule. Here, semantically,
I guess, either passive or middle would do. Here the passive describes a
(mental) state, the subject being an experiencer, which is not uncommon
at all. GRAFHTAI and GRAFOMENA, though we would assume a personal agent
for them, do not seem to focus on one at all. The whole focus of
attention is in the books and the space they would occupy, regrdless of
who or what would write them, or if the books just wrote themselves ;-)

Of course this topic would deserve a real corpus study, not just a
couple of examples analyzed on the fly. I am no voice specialist, it
would be great to hear from people who know more, if they think I am
off-base here.

If I understand Carl correctly, his concern is that -QH cannot be
passive because so many examples do not follow passive semantics. The
passive is just a sub-category of the semantics of -QH. But what if the
whole problem is that the meaning of the passive (semantically) is seen
too narrowly? After all, I do not know of a language where Ward's
characterization of the passive above would hold. Finnish is the
closest, I guess, but even that falls short. Many Indo-European passives
are much farther from the characterization, at least in English and

(Nor does the assertion that no one else is involved in the case of the
middle seem plausible. One typical middle construction (if I remember
correctly, this is what Kemmer argued) is the type 'this book sells
well' - where clearly others are involved. It is people who sell the

Kimmo Huovila

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