Herbert Weir Smyth [n.d.], A Greek Grammar for Colleges; Machine readable text [info] [word count] [Smyth].
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Prohibitions are expressed by μή with the present or aorist subjunctive in the first person plural; by μή with the present imperative or the aorist subjunctive in the second and third person singular or plural (cp. cross1800). The aorist imperative is rare in prohibitions.

A. I Person.—μὴ γράφωμεν (μὴ γράψωμεν): μὴ μαινώμεθα μηδ' αἰσχρῶς ἀπολώμεθα let us not act like madmen nor perish disgracefully X. A. 7.1.29.

B. 2 Person.—μὴ γράφε (μὴ γράφετε): μὴ θαύμαζε don't be astonished P. G. 482a, μὴ θορυβεῖτε don't raise a disturbance P. A. 21a, τὰ μὲν ποίει, τὰ δὲ μὴ ποίει do this and refrain from doing that P. Pr. 325d, μὴ μέγα λέγε don't boast so P. Ph. 95b.—μὴ γράψῃς (μὴ γράψητε): μηδὲ θαυμάσῃς τόδε and do not wonder at this A. Ag. 879, μὴ θορυβήσητε don't raise a disturbance P. A. 20e, μὴ ἄλλως ποιήσῃς don't do otherwise P. Lach. 201b, μηδαμῶς ἄλλως ποιήσῃς Ar. Av. 133.

N.—The type μὴ γράφῃς is never used. μὴ γράψον occurs rarely in poetry (Δ 410, Σ 134.—ω 248, S. fr. 453 parodied in Ar. Thesm. 870).

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C. 3 Person.—μὴ γραφέτω (μὴ γραφόντων): μηδεὶς διδασκέτω let no one tell me T. 1.86, μηδεὶς τοῦτ' ἀγνοείτω let no one be ignorant of this fact Aes. 3.6. μὴ γραψάτω (μὴ γραψάντων): μηδεὶς νομισάτω let no one think X. C. 7.5.73, μήτ' ἀπογνώτω μηδὲν μήτε καταγνώτω let him neither acquit nor condemn in any way Aes. 3.60; and in five other passages giving the actual usage of the orators. In the third person the aorist imperative is much less common than the present imperative.

N.—The type μὴ γράφῃ is used only when the third person represents the first person ( cross1800 c). μὴ γράψῃ is much more common than μὴ γραψάτω in the orators, e.g. μηδεὶς θαυμάσῃ let no one be astonished D. 18.199, μηδεὶς νομίσῃ let no one think T. 3.13, D. 23.1.

D. The perfect imperative is rare in prohibitions (μὴ πεφόβησθε T 6. cross17) and is usually poetical. Cp. cross698, cross712.


a. μὴ γράφε, like don't write, is ambiguous and may mean, according to the situation, either cease writing or abstain from writing. Commonly μὴ γράφε means do not go on writing, write no more, and is an order to stop an action already begun. In many cases, however, μή with the present imperative does not refer to the interruption of an action already begun, but to an action still in the more or less distant future against which the speaker urges resistance. Sometimes the reference to the future is directly or indirectly indicated by the context.

b. μὴ γράψῃς usually has the force of (I beg that) you will not write, (take care that you) don't write, and is commonly a complete prohibition against doing something not already begun. Sometimes, and especially in expressions of a colloquial character, μή with the aorist subjunctive marks the speaker's interruption, by anticipation, of a mental (less often of a physical) action that is being done by the person he addresses; as μὴ θαυμάσῃς (P. L. 804b) in reply to an exclamation of surprise. Here the type μὴ γράψῃς often expresses impatience.

c. If μὴ γράφε elicits a reply, it is (ἀλλ') οὐ γράφω, while μὴ γράψῃς is answered by (ἀλλ') οὐ γράψω. Thus, μή μ' ἐκδίδασκε τοῖς φίλοις εἶναι κακήν. ἀλλ' ου' διδάσκω do not teach me to be base to my friends. But I do not S. El. 395, εἰ οὖν ἔχεις ἐναργέστερον ἡμῖν ἐπιδεῖξαι ὡς διδακτόν ἐστιν ἡ ἀρετή, μὴ φθονήσῃς ἀλλ' ἐπίδειξον. ἀλλ' . . . οὐ φθονήσω now if you can show us more clearly that virtue is capable of being taught, don't refuse, but show us. Well, I will not refuse P. Pr. 320c. So μὴ γράφε commonly answers γράφω, as θαυμάζω, ἦν δ' ἐγώ, καὶ αὐτός. ἀλλὰ μὴ θαύμαζ', ἔφη I myself am astonished, said I. Cease your astonishment, said she P. S. 205b, cp. S. El. 395. So μὴ γράψῃς answers γράψω, as in Hdt. 3.140, Ar. Lys. 1036.

d. μὴ γράφε and μὴ γράψῃς are often found in closely connected clauses, as μηδαμῶς θύ_μαινέ μοι, μηδέ μ' ἐπιτρί_ψῃς don't be angry with me at all, nor ruin me Ar. Nub. 1478, μήτ' ὀκνεῖτε μήτ' ἀφῆτ' ἔπος κακόν do not shrink from me nor utter any harsh words S. O. C. 731. The second prohibition may be more specific than the first, as σιώπα_· μηδὲν εἴπῃς νήπιον be silent, don't say anything childish Ar. Nub. 105. Less often μὴ γράψῃς is followed by μὴ γράφε, as μὴ βοηθήσατε τῷ πεπονθότι δεινά· μὴ εὐορκεῖτε (they will say) ‘do not come to the aid of one who has suffered grievously; have no regard for your oathD. 21.211.

e. The difference between μὴ γράφε and μὴ γράψῃς is virtually a difference

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of tenses, the present denoting an action continuing, in process; the aorist, an action concluded, summarized. So μὴ φοβοῦ don't be fearful, μὴ φοβηθῇς don't be frightened. In maxims μή with the present imperative is preferred: μὴ κλέπτε don't be a thief, μὴ κλέψῃς don't steal this or that. μηκέτι may be used in either construction. The distinction is often immaterial, often a difference of tone rather than of meaning; sometimes too subtle for dogmatic statement.


The imperative may be used in subordinate clauses: κρα_τῆρές εἰσιν . . . ὧν κρᾶτ' ἔρεψον there are mixing-bowls, the brims of which thou must crown S. O. C. 473.

a. Especially after οἶσθα interrogative in dramatic poetry: οἶσθ' ὃ δρᾶσον; do you know what you are to do? E. Hec. 225, οἶσθ' ὡς ποίησον; do you know how I bid you act? S. O. T. 543. οἶσθ' ὅ has become a partially fossilized expression, and can be used as subject or be governed by a verb: οἶσθά νυν ἅ μοι γενέσθω; do you know what I must have done for me? E. I. T. 1203.


The use of the imperative is to be explained as equivalent to δεῖ or χρή with the infinitive.


ἄν is not used with the imperative.

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Herbert Weir Smyth [n.d.], A Greek Grammar for Colleges; Machine readable text [info] [word count] [Smyth].
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