Towards a semantic definition of Greek Middle

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at
Mon Oct 29 07:57:54 EST 2001

Having looked at a few more verbs and trying to compare active and middle, I
have some more hypotheses.

One is that the relationship between active (A) and middle (M) may for some
verbs be a relationship between a causative semantic verb with 2 or 3
valencies in the active and a non-causative semantic verb with one less
valency in the middle. I think ENDUW and BAPTIZW would fit in this group,
and I am sure there are others. ENDUW would then mean "cause someone to put
on something, to dress someone else" and BAPTIZW "cause someone to become
clean". ENDUOMAI would then mean "put something on, to dress oneself" and
BAPTIZOMAI would mean "become clean".

However there seems to be other relationships between A and M, too. For
another group of verbs I would call the M forms "recipient-focused". In this
case there is no change of valency or transitivity between A and M. I am
using "recipient" here as a term that is not normally used for semantic
roles, but I would like to group experiencer and beneficiary together at
times, so I need a broader term.

Let me look at some examples, first AITEW.

In the A form it can be a trivalent (ditransitive) verb with an agent as
subject, a patient as 1. object and a source as 2. object, both in the
accusative, e.g.
Mark 6:22 AITHSON ME hO EAN QELHS ask of-me whatever you want

The source may also be expressed with a preposition, and APO is the obvious
choice. In that case it is a divalent (transitive) verb:
Mt 20:20 AITOUSA TI APO AUTOU asking something from him

In the M form the transitivity has not changed, but the M form seems to have
focus on receiving whereas the A form has general focus on asking.
Mt 27:20 hINA AITHSWNTAI TON BARABBAN that they should ask to be given
Mt 27:58 HTHSATO TO SOMA TOU IHSOU he asked to be given (or: to obtain) the
body of Jesus
Acts 9:2 HTHSATO PAR' AUTOU EPISTOLAS he asked to be given letters from him


In the A form it is a divalent verb with an agent and a patient or
experiencer/beneficiary as object.
Mt 11:29 KAI hEURHSETE ANAPAUSIN and you will find rest
Lk 2:12 hEURHSETE BREFOS you will find an infant

In the M form it is still a divalent verb but there is focus on receiving or
obtaining what is found. There is only one instance in the NT:
Heb 9:12 AIWNIAN LUTRWSIN hEURAMENOS having obtained/secured eternal

Finally ZAW:

In the A form the verb is monovalent with an agent as subject which could be
termed experiencer also.

Acts 26:5 EZHSA FARISAOIOS   I lived as a Pharisee
Tit 2:12 DIKAIWS KAI EUSEBWS ZHSWMEN we should live righteously and piously

In the M form the focus is not just on living as an activity but of
obtaining life, often eternal life. In some contexts, the focus may be on
sustaining life rather than obtaining it:

Mat 4:4 OUK EP' ARTWi MONWi ZHSETAI hO ANQRWPOS  not by bread alone shall
man obtain/sustain life
my daughter has just died (reached the end of her life) but come .. and she
will obtain life
Rom 8:13 ZHSESQE  - you will obtain/sustain life

I am not suggesting that these two possibilities exhaust the meaning of the
middle. In a few cases, it may be that the M form changes the basic meaning
of the verb slightly. For instance, TREFW means "nurse, feed someone" and
TREFOMAI seems to have the broader sense of "bringing up someone" similar to
ANATREFOMAI. But the A and M form can have corresponding passives, meaning
either "he was fed" or "he was brought up".

I hope I don't have too many typos today.

Iver Larsen

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