Ancient Greek Learning Blog #3 — Verb Hell the Second; Moods and more Tenses

Indeed, upon having started going through the third Unit of Hansen and Quinn's book, I have begun dreading Ancient Greek verbs even more than I did previously, for in this unit, the two other moods — subjunctive and optative — and two more tenses — perfect and pluperfect — are introduced; and, naturally, each of them using a different ending set and verb stem. Though I must admit that the two moods are rather straightforward and, as a way of helping me memorise their endings more easily, I shall herein give a small overview of them. I will most likely be doing something similar for the other tenses I have thus far had the pleasure of learning, both in handwritten form — as a small overview with endings and verb stems used — and in blog form; the latter of which you will be able to find on my blog at some later date.

Before I begin, however, I would like to stress that I have had great overall success using Hansen and Quinn's aptly-named Intensive Course, even though I perhaps fall somewhat short on vocabulary; to mitigate this, I will be looking for some easy texts to read other than those which I have already discussed in one of the previous blog posts. If at all possible, I want to begin reading some texts by actual Greek authors and look up and copy the vocabulary I am unaware of — which will, undoubtedly, be plentiful. I have heard people say that Xenophon's Anabasis (Ἀνάβασις) is a rather “simple” read of which there exist vocabulary sets detailing the 200 or so most frequently used words. I put “simple” into quotation marks as, of course, it will still be a rather challenging read for someone like me who was only just started learning the language; nevertheless, it should be much simpler to comprehend than works by Plato or Homer, hence my using “simple”.

Additionally, I have stumbled upon a great book which lists said most commonly used words at the beginning of the book and then continues by showing 10 lines of the original Greek per page with lots of commentary and vocabulary help. This book — actually, there are several of them — has been written by Geoffrey Steadman and can either be bought on Amazon (which I shall be doing and highly recommend you be doing) or be downloaded freely as a PDF file on his website. I find this to be an excellent work and a great way of building up vocabulary whilst reading a text that was written by an actual Greek author over two thousand years ago. I shall be posting more information regarding my approach to this book — and, of course, the book itself — once it has arrived.

But enough babbling about, let's begin with the two moods.

A rather moody affair — The Subjunctive

As stated above, in Unit 3 we are introduced to two additional moods — i. e. in addition to the indicative —, namely the subjunctive and optative. The book actually does not give translations for these moods and simply states that because “[t]he translation of subjunctives or optatives varies considerably[,] […] [t]herefore, no translation of a subjunctive or an optative appears in the paradigms” (Section 31, Unit 3).

The subjunctive is, I find, the easier of the two to learn, as both the aorist and present subjunctive conjugations make use of the exact same set of endings. Said endings simply need to be attached to the present tense stem or aorist tense stem of a verb: —

Singular Plural
1st -ωμεν
2nd -ῃς -ητε
3rd -ῃ -ωσι(ν)

Additionally, these are simply the endings for the present indicative active with their vowels having been elongated where possible. This also has the consequence of the iotas present in the 2nd and 3rd person singular in the present indicative active endings becoming mere iota-subscripts instead of fully fledged-out ones; additionally, the diphthong -ου in the 3rd person plural ending -ουσι(ν) turning into an omega.

The optative

The optative uses two different sets of endings — unlike the subjunctive — depending on whether the verb uses the aorist or present tense stem. One feature of the optative active endings is that they make use of diphthongs — either -αι or -οι — and can thus be somewhat easily identified. The endings for the present optative active are as follows: —

Singular Plural
1st -οιμι -οιμεν
2nd -οις -οιτε
3rd -οι -οιεν

And the endings for the aorist are thus: —

Singular Plural
1st -αιμι -αιμεν
2nd -αις/-ειας -αιτε
3rd -αι/-ειε(ν) -αιεν/-ειαν

As you can see, the aorist may actually take two different endings in the 2nd person singular and the 3rd persons; thus, the optative active, in addition to having two different endings sets, has a variation within the ending sets themselves. Either of these may be used interchangeably without any alteration to meaning, so both have to be learnt since both appear equally. This is the reason for my saying earlier that the subjunctive was the easier of the two. But let us now briefly discuss when these moods are actually utilised before ending this blog post.

Their Usage

But where are these moods actually used? Well, that appears to be a rather difficult question to answer, but they frequently appear in so-called purpose clauses which, in English, are generally introduced by phrases such as “in order that” or “so that”. Greek here uses three different kinds of words, namely either ἵνα, ὅπως or ὡς. Then, depending on whether the main verb is in the primary (Present, Future or Perfect) or secondary (Imperfect, Aorist, Pluperfect) sequence, the verb within the purpose clause will be in the subjunctive or optative; primary sequence verbs call of the subjunctive whereas secondary sequence ones require the optative.

Secondly, it is important to note that the subjunctive present and aorist do not actually refer to time, but aspect only; thus, the present subjunctive — as well as the optative — refers to repeated aspect, whereas the aorist refers to completed aspect.

This was mainly intended as a way for me to revise what I have learnt, but I do hope that you may have learnt something along the way as well. In the next post, I will most likely talk about the tenses I have thus far learnt and thereafter I will be discussing the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post.