Part forty-seven 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).

We now turn to the (θ)η-aorists. These are often called aorist ‘passives’ but this is an unhelpful and confusing term. When talking about the form, it’s better to give a label that simply refers to the form itself rather than to one of the functions that form may or (often) may not be used for. Naming the form for one of its functions (especially when other forms can be used for the same function) runs the risk of overemphasizing that function and somehow treating other functions as anomalies.

We must be clear, though, that “(θ)η-aorist” is not a category like “root aorist” or “thematic aorist” or “sigmatic aorist” where different lexemes fall (in most cases exclusively) into just one of those categories without there necessarily being a morphsyntactic distinction. The (θ)η-aorist is a new paradigm available to verbs for expressing a certain voice in contrast to the active and middle forms that we’ve already seen.

A lot more could be said about all this but that’s outside the scope of a tour of morphological forms. The main point is that aorists can come in three voice-contrasting paradigms.

Three of the most common (θ)η-aorists in the New Testament, with broad coverage across personal endings are γενηθῆναι, ἀποκριθῆναι, and χαρῆναι.

  γίνομαι ἀποκρίνομαι χαίρω
INF γενηθῆναι ἀποκριθῆναι χαρῆναι
1SG ἐγενήθην ἀπεκρίθην ἐχάρην
2SG   ἀπεκρίθης  
3SG ἐγενήθη ἀπεκρίθη ἐχάρη
1PL ἐγενήθημεν   ἐχάρημεν
2PL ἐγενήθητε   ἐχάρητε
3PL ἐγενήθησαν ἀπεκρίθησαν ἐχάρησαν

All the above forms appear in the SBLGNT.

The “vertical” distinguishers are our familiar endings seen in the root aorist actives:

INF -ναι
3SG -
1PL -μεν
2PL -τε
3PL -σαν

The “horizontal” distinguishers, however, look like this:

INF -(θ)ῆναι
1SG -(θ)ην
2SG -(θ)ης
3SG -(θ)η
1PL -(θ)ημεν
2PL -(θ)ητε
3PL -(θ)ησαν

The whole category always has a -η- before the ending and most often a -θη-, hence the name (θ)η-aorist.

By far the most common form in the SBLGNT is ἀπεκρίθη (82 tokens). The plural ἀπεκρίθησαν is the third most common form (19 tokens). The second most common form is ἐδόθη (31 tokens).

The next post will look at further counts of these (θ)η-aorists and then we’ll look at the relationship between aorist active, middle and (θ)η forms before moving on to the large question of the relationship between perfective and imperfective forms.