[B-Greek] Beginner's question about infinitives
cwconrad2 at mac.com
Wed May 20 15:24:54 EDT 2009
On May 20, 2009, at 9:41 AM, Mike Noel wrote:
> 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.
I endeavored to teach NT Greek using Machen for a small tutotiral
class three or four times; I ultimately became thorougly disenchanted
with it, one major reason being the made-up sentences, both the Greek
to English and the English to Greek, but especially the English to
Greek, which often seemed to me to run counter to ordinary Koine
syntax and idiom and to display a phraseology more English-sounding
than Greek-sounding. But that's beside the point of your questions.
> "They said that it was lawful for them to take these garments."
> My answer was:
> εἴπον ὅτι ἔξεστιν λάμβανειν
> αὐτοὺς τὰ ἱμάρτια ταύτα.
> EIPON OTI EXESTIV LAMBANEIV AUTOUS TA IMARTIA TAUTA.
It's ἱμάτια hIMATIA], isn't it (no R)? --not to be confused
with῾ἁμαρτίας [hAMARTIAS] "sins."
Re: transliteration: use only "N" for Nu, not "V" even if a "V" looks
like a lower-case printed or cursive Nu.
> The answer key indicated that this was wrong for two main reasons.
> First, wrong form of λαμβανω (LAMBANW) for the infinitive and
> case of αυτους (AUTOUS) for the pronoun. I think I understand
> 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
> 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?
(1) With regard to the infinitive:
I wouldn't raise such an objection to use of the present infinitive
LAMBANEIN in place of the aorist infinitive LABEIN. The aorist is
probably the better choice for the sense "grab" or "snatch," but the
present infinitive could bear the sense "try to take" or "keep taking"
-- if one supposes that it is wrong to make the attempt or wrong to do
something habitually. Since the aorist of LAMBANW is ELABON -- a
"thematic" or "second" aorist, the infinitive of he aorist must be
LABEIN. There is no "first" aorist form ELAYA which might
theoretically yield an active infinitive LAYAI. We have to learn the
verbs the way the ancient speakers and writers used them; we don't
write "goed" for the past tense of "go"; we have to use "went."
(2) With regard to the pronoun:
Here the major consideration is the ordinary construction of the
impersonal verb EXESTIN, which means, more or less literally, "power/
possibility/authority to do X (this being expresssed by an infinitive)
belongs to Y (this being expressed by a dative of the person who holds
he power/possibility/authority). So "for them" is going to have to be
in a dative form expressing the sense of "for them." That would be
One more note about English to Greek translation exercises. Although
the compiler of such exercises almost certainly had in mind one right
way for the English sentences to be formulated in Greek, the fact is
that there are usually several equivalent ways of expressing a thought
idiomatically in another language -- certainly this is true of Greek.
So I would suggest: learn what you can from what your textbook tells
you about the right way to turn those English sentences into Greek,
but don't get hung up on the Machen answer always being the only right
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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