Just like Greek nouns, the Greek verb also changes form (the Greek ‘spelling’, so to speak). The form changes based upon the subject of the verb and the kind of action indicated. As was mentioned earlier, Greek is a fully “inflected language.” Each Greek word actually changes form (inflection) based upon the role that it plays in the sentence. The stem of the verb shows the basic meaning or action of the word, but the ending (or ‘suffix’) changes to show various details. Not only the ending of the verb may change, but the verb form may have a ‘prefix’ added to the beginning of the verbal stem. Sometimes the actual stem of the verb may change or may add an ‘infix’ to indicate certain other details.
The prefix, suffix, and verbal stem all combine together to define a certain form of a verb. Each verb form indicates a specific meaning. There are five basic parts (or aspects) that are clearly defined or indicated by every Greek verb form. These five parts are: Person, Number, Tense, Voice, and Mood. See below for details of these five aspects of Greek verbs.
Grammatical Person of Verbs
There are three main classes of grammatical person in both English and Greek. Person indicates the form of the verb (and also pronouns) which refer to:
1) the person(s) speaking (First Person)
2) the person(s) being spoken to (Second Person) and
3) the person(s) being spoken of or about (Third Person).
For example: “Because I live, you shall live also.” John 14:19b “He lives by the power of God.” II Cor 13:4
First Person: ‘I live’ – the person speaking (i.e. ‘I’) is the subject of the verb.
Second Person: ‘you live’ – the person being spoken to (i.e. ‘you’) is the subject of the verb.
Third Person: ‘He lives’ – the person being spoken about (i.e. ‘He’) is the subject of the verb.
Grammatical Number of Verbs
The concept of grammatical number is quite straightforward in both English and Koine Greek. It is the property of a verb (and nouns and pronouns also) which indicates whether the reference is to one (singular) or to more than one (plural). (Classical Greek at one time had a ‘dual’ number which made a distinction for ‘two’, besides the customary singular and plural.)
Each grammatical person (First, Second, and Third) can be either singular or plural in number.
For example: Singular Number: “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life,…shall be able to separate us from the love of God,” (Rom. 8:38-39).
Plural Number: “For we are His workmanship,” (Eph. 2:10a).
Grammatical Voice of Verbs
Grammatical voice indicates whether the subject is the performer of the action of the verb (active voice), or the subject is the recipient of the action (passive voice). If the subject of the sentence is executing the action, then the verb is referred to as being in the active voice.
For example: “Jesus was baptizing the people” (paraphrase of John 3:22; 4:1,2). “Jesus” is the subject of the sentence and is the one that is performing the action of the verb; therefore the verb is said to be in the “Active Voice”.
Grammatical voice indicates whether the subject is the performer of the action of the verb (active voice), or the subject is the recipient of the action (passive voice). If the subject of the sentence is being acted upon, then the verb is referred to as being in the passive voice.
For example: “Jesus … was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mark 1:9). “Jesus” is the subject of the sentence, but in this case He is being acted upon (i.e. He is the recipient of the action), therefore the verb is said to be in the “Passive Voice”.
The Greek middle voice shows the subject acting in his own interest or on his own behalf, or participating in the results of the verbal action. In overly simplistic terms, sometimes the middle form of the verb could be translated as “the performer of the action actually acting upon himself” (reflexive action).
For example: “I am washing myself.” “I” is the subject of the sentence (performing the action of the verb) and yet “I” am also receiving the action of the verb. This is said to be in the “Middle Voice”. Many instances in the Greek are not this obvious and cannot be translated this literally.
The aspect of the grammatical “mood” of a verb has to do with the statement’s relationship to reality. In broad terms, mood deals with the fact of whether the asserted statement is actual or if there is only the possibility of its actual occurrence. “Whether the verbal idea is objectively a fact or not is not the point: mood represents the way in which the matter is conceived” (Dana & Mantey). If the one asserting the sentence states it as actual, then the mood reflects this, regardless of whether the statement is true or false.
The indicative mood is a statement of fact or an actual occurrence from the writer’s or speaker’s perspective. Even if the writer is lying, he may state the action as if it is a fact, and thus the verb would be in the indicative mood. It may be action occurring in past, present, or future time. This ‘statement of fact’ can even be made with a negative adverb modifying the verb (see the second example).
This is in contrast to one of the other moods (see below) in which the writer/speaker may desire or ask for the action to take place.
For example: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.”
Rev. 12:11 “God is not mocked.” Gal. 6:7
The imperative mood is a command or instruction given to the hearer, charging the hearer to carry out or perform a certain action.
For example: “Flee youthful lusts.” 2 Tim. 2:22
The subjunctive mood indicates probability or objective possibility. The action of the verb will possibly happen, depending on certain objective factors or circumstances. It is oftentimes used in conditional statements (i.e. ‘If…then…’ clauses) or in purpose clauses. However if the subjunctive mood is used in a purpose or result clause, then the action should not be thought of as a possible result, but should be viewed as a definite outcome that will happen as a result of another stated action.
For example: “Let us come forward to the Holy of Holies with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Heb 10:23
“In order that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church…” Eph 3:10
The optative is the mood of possibility, removed even further than the subjunctive mood from something conceived of as actual. Often it is used to convey a wish or hope for a certain action to occur.
For example: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Thess 5:23
Time & “Kind of Action” in Greek Verbs
In English, and in most other languages, the tense of the verb mainly refers to the ‘time’ of the action of the verb (present, past, or future time). In Greek, however, although time does bear upon the meaning of tense, the primary consideration of the tense of the verb is not time, but rather the ‘kind of action’ that the verb portrays. The most important element in Greek tense is kind of action; time is regarded as a secondary element. For this reason, many grammarians have adopted the German word ‘aktionsart’ (kind of action) to be able to more easily refer to this phenomenon of Greek verbs.
The kind of action (aktionsart) of a Greek verb will generally fall into one of three categories:
- Continuous (or ‘Progressive’) kind of action.
- Completed (or ‘Accomplished) kind of action, with continuing results.
- Simple occurrence, (or ‘Summary occurrence’) without reference to the question of progress. (This is sometimes referred to as ‘Punctiliar’ kind of action , but it is a misnomer to thus imply that, in every instance, the action only happened at one point of time. This can be true, but it is often dependent on other factors such as the meaning of the verb, other words in the context, etc.). It is an important distinction to understand (and it will be discussed more fully later) that the only place in which ‘time’ comes to bear directly upon the tense of a verb is when the verb is in the indicative mood. In all other moods and uses the aktionsart of the verb tense should be seen as primary.
The present tense usually denotes continuous kind of action. It shows ‘action in progress’ or ‘a state of persistence.’ When used in the indicative mood, the present tense denotes action taking place or going on in the present time.
For example: “In Whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in spirit.” Eph 2:22
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” Heb 10:25
The aorist is said to be “simple occurrence” or “summary occurrence”, without regard for the amount of time taken to accomplish the action. This tense is also often referred to as the ‘punctiliar’ tense. ‘Punctiliar’ in this sense means ‘viewed as a single, collective whole,’ a “one-point-in-time” action, although it may actually take place over a period of time. In the indicative mood the aorist tense denotes action that occurred in the past time, often translated like the English simple past tense.
For example: “God…made us alive together with Christ.” Eph 2:5
“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil 1:6
The imperfect tense shows continuous or linear type of action just like the present tense. It always indicates an action continually or repeatedly happening in past time. It portrays the action as going on for some extended period of time in the past.
The idea of continual action in the past does not apply when the verb “to be” is in the imperfect tense. There it should be considered a simple action happening in past time, without regard to its “on-going” or “repeated happening” in the past.
For example: “For you were once darkness, but now light in the Lord.” Eph 5:8
The basic thought of the perfect tense is that the progress of an action has been completed and the results of the action are continuing on, in full effect. In other words, the progress of the action has reached its culmination and the finished results are now in existence. Unlike the English perfect, which indicates a completed past action, the Greek perfect tense indicates the continuation and present state of a completed past action.
For example, Galatians 2:20 should be translated “I am in a present state of having been crucified with Christ,” indicating that not only was I crucified with Christ in the past, but I am existing now in that present condition.
“…having been rooted and grounded in love,” Eph 3:17
Just like the English future tense, the Greek future tells about an anticipated action or a certain happening that will occur at some time in the future.
For example: “We know that if he is manifested, we will be like Him, for we will see Him even as He is.” 1 John 3:2
The pluperfect (‘past perfect’) shows action that is complete and existed at some time in the past, (the past time being indicated by the context). This tense is only found in the indicative mood and is rarely used in the New Testament.
For example: “…and they beat against that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Matt 7:25
Future Perfect Tense
There is also a future perfect tense in Greek which is very rare in the New Testament. It is only formed by periphrasis in the New Testament is much like the past perfect, only the completed state will exist at some time in the future rather than in the past.
Non-Finite Verb Forms
A participle is considered a “verbal adjective”. It is often a word that ends with an “-ing” in English (such as “speaking,” “having,” or “seeing”). It can be used as an adjective, in that it can modify a noun (or substitute as a noun), or it can be used as an adverb and further explain or define the action of a verb. (For a more complete explanation of participles, please go to the advanced section on participles.)
Adjectival use: “The coming One will come and will not delay.” Heb 10:37
Adverbial use: “But speaking truth in love, we may grow up into Him in all things.” Eph 4:15
The Greek infinitive is the form of the verb that is usually translated into English with the word “to” attached to it, often used to complement another verb. It can be used to function as a noun and is therefore referred to as a “verbal noun”.
Original article: Greek Verbs
A good primer for Greek verbs.