Part thirty-eight of a tour through Greek inflectional morphology to help get students thinking more systematically about the word forms they see (and maybe teach a bit of general linguistics along the way).

In the last post, we introduced the root aorist actives. We’ll now introduce another type of aorist active.

Here are the aorist active infinitive and indicative forms of λαμβάνω:

INF λαβεῖν
1SG ἔλαβον
2SG ἔλαβες
3SG ἔλαβε(ν)
1PL ἐλάβομεν
2PL ἐλάβετε
3PL ἔλαβον

Notice that the infinitive -εῖν is like the present (but with a circumflex) and the indicative distinguishers follow IA-1 exactly.

These distinguishers, just as with the thematic imperfects, consist of a theme vowel (an ablauting ε/ο) with the usual endings:

1SG Xον ο + ν  
2SG Xες ε + ς  
3SG Xε(ν) ε + - movable nu
1PL Xομεν ο + μεν  
2PL Xετε ε + τε  
3PL Xον ο + ν historically ντ but final τ dropping off

These are often called “second” aorists (although we haven’t looked at the so-called “first” aorists yet). I’ll generally avoid that term and instead use the term thematic aorist because of the theme vowel. Focusing on this distinctive makes it clearer what’s going on with these types of aorist.

However, the thematic aorist distinguisher patterns seem to pose an even bigger problem than the root aorist distinguisher patterns: how do these not get confused for imperfects (or presents in the case of the infinitive)?

The answer is the same for the root aorists: the stem itself is also conveying grammatical information.

The present/imperfect stem is λαμβαν+ε/ο but the aorist stem is λαβ+ε/ο. So λαβεῖν cannot be confused for the present infinitive because that would be λαμβάνειν. ἔλαβον canot be confused for the imperfect 1SG or 3PL because they would be ἐλάμβανον. ἔλαβες cannot be confused for the imperfect 2SG because that would be ἐλάμβανες.

This does mean, however, that you need to know the stems. If you don’t know λαμβαν- / λαβ- at all, you won’t know whether ἔλαβες is imperfect or aorist. Xες is ambiguous as to aspect unless you know whether X corresponds to a imperfective (present/imperfect) stem or a perfective (aorist) stem.

Here are some other examples:

  • εὑρίσκω has the imperfective stem εὑρισκ+ε/ο but the perfective stem εὑρ+ε/ο
  • ὁράω has the imperfective stem ὁρα+ε/ο but the perfective stem ἰδ+ε/ο (we’ll discuss later why this augments as εἰδ-)
  • ἔρχομαι has the imperfective stem ἐρχ+ε/ο but the perfective stem ἐλθ+ε/ο
  • λέγω has the imperfective stem λεγ+ε/ο but the perfective stem εἰπ+ε/ο

We’ll talk a lot more about the relationship between these stems in future posts so don’t worry about those details just yet. The main thing I want to start to get across here is that the endings don’t discriminate imperfective and perfective. The stem itself indicates both the lexeme AND the aspect. For this reason, they are sometimes called aspect stems and, as we have already done above, we can refer to the perfective stem or the imperfective stem. Lots more on that soon!

This has implications for morphological theory and morpheme-based approaches. There’s no “morpheme” in ἔλαβες expressing just the perfective aspect.

We’ll end this post summarising the differences between the root aorists and thematic aorists (which otherwise share the same endings):

root aorists thematic aorists
no thematic vowel thematic vowel
infinitive -ναι infinitive -εῖν
3rd plural ending -σαν 3rd plural ending -ν < -ντ