diachronic explanation of 1st/2nd aorist

B. Ward Powers bwpowers at optusnet.com.au
Sun May 26 06:04:57 EDT 2002

At 08:18 AM 020525 -0400, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>At 6:20 AM -0400 5/25/02, Harry W. Jones wrote:
> >Dear Ward,
> >
> >I wonder why 3rd aorists are not mentioned in any of my basic grammars?
> >I wouldn't even know about them if I hadn't seen a number of threads on
> >3rd aorists. 3rd aorist forms seem to be important forms to know. So why
> >aren't they in the books?
>I should (and certainly shall) let Ward offer his own answer to this
>question. I must take the credit or blame, I think, for introducing it to
>B-Greek. More about it after a broader comment about Greek grammatical
>It is in fact hardly less than scandalous how inadequate is the terminology
>we (the entire community--even if it's not quite really a community--of
>people who talk about Greek grammar) use to describe even the "fixed"
>elements of the Greek language, the morphoparadigms that have been and 
>must be painfully memorized by all learners of ancient Greek as a "foreign"
>language as long as anyone can remember.
>Now, what about "Third Aorist": why don't traditional grammars talk about
>it? The fact is that they DO talk about it but normally classify it as a
>type of "Second Aorist."
>In traditional Greek grammatical usage descriptive of the morphoparadigms 
>of the verb "first" refers to the most common and most regular pattern 
>while "second" refers to a less common pattern into which a handful or two 
>(or more handfuls) of (more or less) irregular verbs will fall. Most 
>aorists in Koine Greek will fall into the -SA/-SAMHN group that is
>traditionally termed "first aorist." Three or four dozen other verbs will
>fall into the -ON/-OMHN group that is traditionally termed "second" aorist;
>so also, according to the traditional usage those very few verbs with
>aorists in -HN or -WN or -UN will be classed as "second aorists," the
>reason being that "second" as traditionally used simply refers to all verbs
>falling into patterns other than the common and regular pattern.
>Unfortunately such terminology tends to become a snare and a stumbling
>block to new learners of Greek: one encounters a form such as EGNWN or
>ESTHN and is told by a teacher or reads in a reliable grammar that these
>are "second aorists." They scratch their heads and ask, "But, if these are
>second aorists, where is the -ON first-singular ending?
>And so therefore, for my own pedagogical purposes I adopted the expedient 
>of referring to the handful of aorists falling into the morphoparadigms 
>characterized by non-thematic vocalic roots and standard 
>-N/-S/-/-MEN/-TE/-SAN endings as "THIRD AORISTS." That has seemed to be 
>useful pedagogically: it has helped my students to differentiate three 
>different aorist morphoparadigms: the "first" or "sigmatic" or "weak" type 
>(ELUSA), the "second" or "thematic" or "strong" type (EMAQON) and the 
>"third" or "athematic/non-thematic" (and also "strong") type (ESTHN, EGNWN).

Carl and I are in agreement about the recognition of a Third Aorist. I set 
out the three patterns in my last post to the list. When we have 
(independently) done our analysis of what we find in the Greek, we find 
these three patterns of conjugating the aorist active. So there are three 

So, why don't other grammars recognize the Third Aorist? (as Harry asks). I 
will let other writers of grammars explain this for themselves, if they 
wish to contribute, but my assessment is, EITHER they have not received 
training in the tools and methods of linguistic analysis, OR, if they have, 
they are not applying what they have learnt to ancient Greek. Because the 
Third Aorist is THERE. It is not something Carl and I invented. It is real. 
It exists. Read all about it in the page references I gave in my last posting.

Actually, we can go further. A Conjugation is a pattern of conjugating. On 
the basis of this understanding of the meaning of the term, there are three 
Conjugations in Greek (because there are three patterns of conjugation, as 
we can see).

And this does not apply only in the aorist. In the present, the Third 
Conjugation (e.g. hISTHMI) has again a different "pattern of conjugating" 
from the First Conjugation (LUW). (We can note here that the Second 
Conjugation [e.g. BALLW] is not differentiated from the First in its 
pattern of pronoun endings, but rather by taking a durative infix in its 
stem, in the case of BALLW a second lambda.)

There are 1000 verbs in the G.N.T. (counting compound and simplex verbs 
together as one verb). Of these, 930 are First Conjugation, 34 are Second 
Conjugation, and 36 are Third Conjugation (many of which are defective in 
the aorist, and many others of which have assimilated to the First 
Conjugation in the aorist).

So what to do if you are using a grammar which does not recognize the Third 
Aorist (as implicit in Harry's question)? Especially if you are a teacher? 
Read about this Third Conjugation (and its characteristics, which are wider 
than solely the particular pattern of pronoun morphs it takes) in the page 
references given in my previous posting, and then explain these facts to 
your students. This will explain to them many things which they will notice 
in Greek and find puzzling (as Carl says).

I will comment on some other points which Carl raises in a separate posting.


>Unfortunately, even that doesn't fully resolve the confusion or leave the
>aorist "vista" a cloudless and serene picture: there are three other pesky
>aorist verbs in a morphoparadigm all to themselves which are important
>enough that one must know them and be able to recognize them: EDWKA, 
>EQHKA, and -hHKA (usually in compound verbs such as AFHKA. Are we to call 
>these "fourth aorists"? I confess that I haven't had the brazen 
>shamelessness to speak of a "fourth aorist." And to their chagrin students 
>of Koine Greek will eventually run into such aorists as AFHKEN (Mt 8:15) 
>or AFHKAMEN (Mt 6:12) and perhaps strike their foreheads with their firsts 
>and cry out "I could have had a V-8" or something equally helpful(?).
>It is easy to say, as Ward has said on more than one occasion, that most
>Greek verbs are well-disciplined, well-mannered youngsters who abide by 
>the rules of the grammatical establishment. And I say, as one who spent 
>years teaching classical and Homeric and Koine Greek, "Thank God" for 
>those verbs! BUT we who teach the language had better not ignore those 
>pesky "unruly" verbs that don't follow the simple rules for conjugation of 
>the "first aorist" and "second aorist," but nevertheless are sufficiently
>common in the GNT because they convey recurrent and important senses:
>"betray" (PAREDWKA) and "forgive" (AFHKA). 90% of learning Greek is a
>matter of learning the verbs, and for myself I must say that I've never
>quite felt that I've completely learned all the Greek verbs --which is
>perhaps why one of the best-selling little manual aids used by Greek
>students everywhere is the one originally entitled TUTTI I VERBI GRECI.
>Here's the amazon.com blurb (I'm not trying to sell this book or urge its
>use, just noting its notorious utility):
>         All the Greek Verbs
>         by N Marinone
>         List Price: $19.75
>         Our Price: $13.83
>         You Save: $5.92 (30%)
>         Availability: Usually ships within 24 hours
>         Only 3 left in stock--order soon (more on the way).
>         Edition: Paperback
>         Product Details
>         *       Paperback:
>         *       Publisher: Duckworth; ISBN: 0715617729; (June 1985)
>Carl W. Conrad
>Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
>Most months:: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
>cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad at ioa.com
>WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/
>B-Greek home page: http://metalab.unc.edu/bgreek
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Rev Dr B. Ward Powers        Phone (International): 61-2-8714-7255
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AUSTRALIA.                         Director, Tyndale College

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