[B-Greek] aorist infinitives

Barry Hofstetter nebarry at earthlink.net
Mon Feb 10 12:44:21 EST 2003

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Subject: [B-Greek] aorist infinitives

> I'm having some trouble reconciling the idea of the aorist as simple past
(which is the way it is explained in Mounce) with the idea of aorist
infinitives. Perhaps this is because English has no concept analogous to aspect.
> Mounce stresses the idea that the infinitive has no time significance
whatsoever. The difference therefore between present and aorist is one of
aspect. In other words, if the aorist tense represent simple past (ELUSA = I
loosed), what is the meaning of the aorist infinitive? Mounce again defines both
LUEIN and LUSAI as 'I loose', with the caveat the 'continue to' can be inserted
into the definition of the present infinitive to distinguish from the aorist.
> How is this difference reflected in translation?

Matthew, of course English has aspect.  It is simply that a native speaker of
English uses aspect in his or her own language so naturally that we don't give
it a second thought -- we don't think of it in a grammatical category, we simply
use it.  Or what do you think is the difference between the present tenses "I
parse, I am parsing, I do parse, I keep on parsing..."  True, since English is
an inflected language, we don't portray aspect only with verb forms (we need
modals), but that doesn't mean we don't have it.

BDF on the Present and Aorist infinitives...

"The distinction between the two forms is the same as the imperative (&335) and
on the whole easy to grasp..." (&338, p. 174).

What does BDF say about the imperative?

...[T]he present imperative is durative or iterative, the aorist imperative is
punctiliar.... The result of this distinction is that in general precepts (also
to an individual) concerning attitudes and conduct there is a preference for the
present, in commands related to conduct in specific cases (much less frequent in
the NT) for the aorist." (&335, p. 172).

Another way to say this is that the present aspect tends to look at the action
as in process, and the aorist as a whole concept, and this distinction leads to
the various uses in context.

It also helps to remember that the infinitive, as in most (all?) I-E derivitave
languages functions as a nominalized verb, so that it is the abstraction of the
action (whoa, that could a rap) that is in view, rather than when or even how
the action is performed.

Some time ago there was a long discussion (and probably more than one) on the
whole subject of aspect and Aktionsart which you might wish to review in the

"I once knew a classicist who named her pet goose LUEIN -- 'Toulouse the Goose,'
get it?"

N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Professor of Theological and Biblical Studies
    The Center for Urban Theological Studies, Philadelphia, PA

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