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ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Learning Greek

    Elpenor's Lessons in Ancient Greek

In Print:
The Original Greek New Testament

LESSON 2 - Second Part / First Part
ACHILLES' GRIEF - From Homer's Iliad

by George Valsamis



Page 3

The formation of a Greek verb


WE SAW (talking about the verb κεῖμαι) that a verb is formed by adding various suffixes to a root. However, it is also possible to have additions before the root, at the very start of the word. These additions are called augmentations and they help a verb express various tenses. In English the verb solve becomes "I have solved" in present perfect. The Greek λύω (= I solve) in present perfect becomes λέλυκα (= I have solved).

The first syllable (λε) expresses the tense and it is an augmentation of the root (λυ). The last syllable (κα) belongs to the person and number: λέ-λυ-κα. [λέλυκας = you have solved, λέλυκε = he/she has solved, λελύκαμεν = we have solved, etc]

Notice that the augmentation (λε) was formed by the consonant (λ) of the root and the vowel ε. This happens in present perfect. You will encounter augmentations in all past tenses (imperfect, aorists, perfect, pluperfect) and the future perfect. This particular augmentation, with the consonant of the root plus the vowel ε, is called reduplication and it happens in perfect tenses (present perfect, pluperfect, future perfect). In Homer (and modern Greek) often a verb lacks augmentation - δάκρυσα (I wept) instead of δάκρυσα.


    As you might have noticed, in a Greek verb the person is revealed last, while in English is revealed first: "I have solved something" we say in English. Greek first reveals the time and action: there is something that has been solved (λε-λυ) and afterwards there is revealed that it has been solved by me (λέ-λυ-κα). The Greek order of importance/appearance, as reflected in a verb, is Time/Action -> Person/Cause, while in English is Person/Cause -> Time/Action.

    Verbs describe an action as it happens, this is their main work. A "solution" also refers to an action - that may have happened, happens, will happen, etc. It is a noun that mentions an action without actually describing it. By placing the person/cause first, English transposes the weight from the action, which is the essence of the verb and what makes the subject of the verb essential, to the acting person, thus presenting the person into a void: "I". This is what we hear/read first: an "I" or a "You", etc., - a person inside nowhere, doing or bearing nothing. Greek first reveals the action (πρᾶξις) and the time (χρόνος) [which, for a verb, is the equivalent of space (χῶρος)]: what a person does is where a person lives and what a person is.

Knowing is going through these actions in a progress that reveals the person always in the end. When Croesus, a very rich king, asked Solon if he considered him happy, Solon replied: I must first know your end in order to answer this question.

    In Greek, the person is revealed not only after we have learned the time and action (λέ-λυ-κα), but it is revealed united with this action: time, action and person are united in a single word: λέλυκα. The dispersion of the person, due to watching it before (which also means: outside) its proper life, is reflected in the English by the very formation of the same tense in three words: I have solved - And notice in "I have solved" the accidentall irony, the irony of a solution expressed in dissoluted language!

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Cf. The Complete Iliad * The Complete Odyssey
Greek Grammar * Basic New Testament Words * Greek - English Interlinear Iliad
Greek accentuation * Greek pronunciation

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