[B-Greek] Beginner's question about infinitives

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Wed May 20 15:24:34 EDT 2009

shalom _m_

> I am working through Machen in an attempt to learn Greek.  So far so
good.  However, I am confused by one of the composition sentences that
I'm working on.  The task is to translate from English to Greek.

>"They said that it was lawful for them to take these garments."

> εἴπον ὅτι ἔξεστιν λάμβανειν αὐτοὺς τὰ ἱμάρτια ταύτα.

> The answer key indicated that this was wrong for two main reasons.
First, wrong form of λαμβανω (LAMBANW) for the infinitive and wrong
case of αυτους (AUTOUS) for the pronoun.  I think I understand the
problem with the pronoun but I'm confused about the infinitive verb.

>The solution indicated that the correct form of λαμβανω (LAMBANW) was
λαβειν (LABEIV).  The difficulty here is that it seems to be using the
present tense infinitive form on the aorist principle part.  I could
understand λαβσαι (LABSAI) since that would use the aorist infinitive
with the aorist stem.  The question on whether to use the present or
aorist tense for that verb is a different question (and I'm not
entirely sure what the answer is there but that's not my main
confusion).  So why is the present infinitive being used on the aorist
stem?  Or am I seeing it wrong?

>Any help would be appreciated.  I hope this question isn't too basic
for this forum.

There are several issues here mixed together.
1. As you know from English, there is often more than one way to
say something.
2. While the word EKSESTIN εξεστιν often takes a dative for the person
involved, it does not have to be that way. Infinitives normally have
Accusatives as their doers. Your word order put the AYTOYS 'them'
after the infinitive and farther away from EKSESTIN so it is even
more liable to fit the infinitive as an accusative. Incidentally,
Lu 20:22 has a case of EKSESTIN + accusative + ... infinitive.
So your AYTOYS 'them to do' is correct, and EKSESTIN AYTOIS
would also have been correct.
3. The infinitives are judged by their stems not by their endings.
LAMBAN-  is "present" (better 'continuative', open-ended, in-process',
since there is nothing in an infinitive that has anything to do with
time) 'be taking'
LAB-  is aorist 'take' (simple, whole event).

When aorist stems are not formed by adding -S-, but have a
consonantal change,
then their infinitive ending will be
-EIN (accented perispomenos/circumflex -εῖν)
This is frequent with all of the really common, basic verbs in
So your form would be LABEIN λαβεῖν
(You should think of this as the most basic form of this verb, "take"
even though you may have gone through a convoluted way to get
to this point in your training.)
4. And yes, you would want the aorist infinitive in your sentence
because that expesses the simple basic verb 'to take'. As
mentioned above with LAMBAN-, that root means 'to be taking . . .',
not  'to take'.

ERRWSO 'be well' (ancient Greek letter salutation)
Randall Buth

Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life

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