Towards a semantic definition of Greek Middle

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Tue Oct 30 10:23:08 EST 2001

At 1:51 PM +0000 10/30/01, Mark Wilson wrote:
>You asked:
>Is anything known about when the passive
>>developed in Greek? Or are you saying that the meaning of passive has
>>been there - it is a very basic linguistic notion - but that in earlier
>>times there was no morphological distinction ever between the concepts of
>>middle and passive? In that case, the Greek speakers would have to infer
>>meaning differences between middle and passive from context.
>I wonder if someone could address this:
>Would you say that the sentences in the GNT have a different
>syntactical structure with sentences using the Aorists or
>Futures, COMPARED TO the other tenses (that can not morphologically
>distinguish M from P)?
>Since, for example, the writer does not have a morpho-indicator
>for the Passive ONLY in the Present (as in the Aorist*), the writer
>must structure his/her sentences differently, since there are
>no "morpho short-cuts" to indicate passive VOICE ONLY.
>He/she must indicate the passive voice with structure, context,
>or anything other than morphological selection IN THE PRESENT,
>but not so in the AORIST. It would seem that one's structure
>might be somewhat more "sloppy" in the Aorist, since ambiguity is easily

I'm not really sure what you're asking. But in "classical" rhetorical
style, I'll answer a question with a question: what DIFFERENT syntactical
structure do you observe between present tense verb-forms that seem pretty
clearly intended to be passive and aorist tense or future tense verb-forms
with -QH- morphology? I haven't noticed any difference, but then I really
AM the "devil's advocate" here, arguing that the -QH- morphology is NOT
distinctly passive in meaning.

>*for the sake of argument

Mark, I admire (sometimes) your "devil's advocate" way of introducing
questions "for the sake of argument." It's (sometimes) worth raising such

This is a bit like the argument that poets (sometimes) write strange
phrases or use strange grammatical expressions METRI GRATIA--out of
metrical necessity--as if a real poet is not resourceful enough to find the
appropriate way to express whatever he/she wants to say.

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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