[B-Greek] beginner...verb tenses

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Tue Oct 30 06:26:25 EDT 2007

On Oct 30, 2007, at 1:27 AM, Ken Bouchard wrote:

> ok, so here I am at chap. 20 of Mounce's book "Basics Of Biblical  
> Greek". Everything's been going well till now. this chapter is  
> about the future tense. had no problems with the previous chapter  
> on future tense but now I'm having trouble telling the difference  
> between future and present tense. some verbs look identical in  
> either tense.,save for a little circumflex. (which doesn't have  
> anything to do with tense,right? ) is the verb root the key? is the  
> verb STEM the key? like I said, some verbs look alike in present  
> and future. take the verb krinw for example: root is krin both  
> present and future tense stems are krinw, if you have krinei in a  
> sentence (like in the exercises) how on earth was it determined  
> that that is a future verb? am I showing my ignorance? maybe things  
> weren't going as well as I thought!  any pointers for a rank amateur?

Welcome to B-Greek, Ken. You should read our FAQ at http:// 
www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/faq.html to learn about list protocol and our  
modes of citing Greek text in list-discussion with Unicode or a  
standard transliteration scheme.

It's been a while since I've had Mounce's text to look at, so I don't  
recall exactly how he explains matters, but I would say the following  
about a verb like KRINW:

KRINW belongs to a group of "liquid" verbs with roots ending in a  
"liquid" consonant: μ, ν, λ, ρ (M, N, L, R) that combine with stem- 
forming infixes in such a way that they lose a medial -σ- (S) in the  
stem. Most regular future stems in Greek verbs are formed by adding - 
σ- (S) to the root (which is sometimes identical with the present  
stem). But the "liquid" verbs add not simply -σ- (S) but rather - 
εσ- (ES), and this is the case with KRINW: present tense κρίν-ω  
(KRIN-W), future κριν-έσ-ω (KRIN-ES-W). But that combination is  
unstable; what happened at some early stage in Greek linguistic  
history is that the s (S) between the epsilon and the omega vanished  
and the epsilon and omega then were contracted: έ + ω (E + W) --> - 
ῶ (-W=). You've rightly noted that the present tense 1 sg. is  
κρίνω (KRI/NW) while the future tense 1 sg. is κρινῶ  
(KRINW=), and the 3d sg. present tense is κρίνει (KRI/NEI) while  
the 3d sg. future tense is κρινεῖ (KRINEI=). These forms with  
the circumflex over the final vowel or diphthong are the result of  
contractions -- the same ones that you've had to learn for epsilon  
contract verbs. The difference in spelling is strictly a matter of  
the accent; to paraphrase an old commercial for a now defunct dairy  
in St. Louis, "It's the subtle difference that makes all the  

In the course of learning the morphology of ancient Greek nouns,  
adjectives, and verbs one encounters many apparent anomalies like  
this matter of "liquid" verbs; most such phenomena can be understood  
and shown to be perfectly regular if only one understands the  
underlying phonological principles that govern these losses of  
intervocalic consonants and the resultant contractions. When I  
learned beginning Greek ages ago I was taught the phonology  
underlying these matters as I learned each new item of morphology  
that was affected by it. I personally think it's a helpful thing to  
know: if one doesn't understand what happens phonologically and why,  
one simply has to memorize paradigms that seem irrational, as these  
forms of KRINW do to you. Of course, you do need to know the  
principal parts of all irregular verbs in any case; all "liquid"  
verbs are irregular and the principal parts will indicate that the  
futures (and aorists too) of such verbs are affected by these  
phonological principles: κρίνω, κρινῶ, ἔκρινα;  
μένω, μενῶ, ἔμεινα; στέλλω, στελῶ,  

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Ret)

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