Herbert Weir Smyth [n.d.], A Greek Grammar for Colleges; Machine readable text [info] [word count] [Smyth].
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Every form of the verb denotes the stage of the action.

a. Continued action is denoted by the present stem:

1. Present: γράφω I am writing, πείθω I am persuading (trying to persuade), ἀνθεῖ is in bloom.

2. Imperfect: ἔγραφον I was writing, ἔπειθον I was persuading (trying to persuade), ἤνθει was in bloom.

3. Future: γράψω I shall write (shall be writing), βασιλεύσει he will reign.

N.—Continued action is incomplete: hence nothing is stated as to the conclusion. Thus φεύγει he flees does not state whether or not the subject succeeded in escaping.

b. Completed action with permanent result is denoted by the perfect stem:

1. Perfect: γέγραφα ἐπιστολήν I have written a letter (and it is now finished), ἤνθηκε has bloomed (and is in flower).

2. Pluperfect: ἐγεγράφη ἐπιστολήν I had written a letter (and it was then finished), ἠνθήκει had bloomed (and was in flower).

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3. Future Perfect: γεγράψεται it will have been written, τεθνήξει he will be dead.

c. Action simply brought to pass (simple attainment) is denoted by the

1. Aorist: ἔγραψα I wrote, ἔπεισα I persuaded (succeeded in persuading), ἐβασίλευσε he became king or he was king, ἤνθησε burst into flower or was in flower.

2. Future: γράψω I shall write, βασιλεύσει he will become king.

N.—The aorist tense (ἀόριστος χρόνος from ὁρίζω define; unlimited, indefinite, or undefined time) is so named because it does not show the limitation (ὅρος) of continuance (expressed by the imperfect) or of completion with permanent result (expressed by the perfect).


The present stem may denote the simple action of the verb in present time without regard to its continuance; as θαυμάζω I am seized with astonishment, ἀστράπτει it lightens (once or continually), δίδωμι I make a present. This is called the aoristic present. On inceptive verbs, see cross526.


The future stem may denote either continued action (as in the present) or simple occurrence of the action of the verb (as in the aorist). Thus γράψω I shall be writing or I shall write. See cross1910 b.


Some verbs are, by their meaning, restricted to the tenses of continued action, as ὁρᾶν behold, φέρειν carry; others are exclusively aoristic, as ἰδεῖν properly glance at, ἐνεγκεῖν bring. Verbs expressing different kinds of action in their several tenses (as ὁρᾶν, ἰδεῖν) unite to form a verbal system.


The difference between the present stem (present and imperfect) and the aorist stem may be compared to the difference between a line and a point (both starting point and end). Thus, ἔρχεσθαι go, ἐλθεῖν come, arrive; φέρειν carry, ἐνεγκεῖν bring; ἄγειν accompany, lead, ἀγαγεῖν bring to a goal.


For the ‘progressive’ tenses of English (is walking, has been giving, etc.) Greek has no exact equivalent. The periphrasis of the present participle with ἐστί, etc. is employed to adjectivize the participle or to describe or characterize the subject like an adjective, i.e. the subject has a quality which it may display in action. Thus, ἀρέσκοντές ἐσμεν we are acceptable T. 1.38, καὶ πάντ' ἀναδεχόμενος καὶ εἰς αὑτὸν ποιούμενος τὰ τούτων ἁμαρτήματ' ἐστίν and he takes upon himself and adopts all their misdeeds D. 19.36. ἐστί may be emphatic: ἔστι που δίχα διαιρούμενον there exists a twofold division P. L. 895d. Some participles have become completely adjectivized: συμφέρων useful, διαφέρων superior. Cp. cross1961.


Primary and Secondary Tenses.—The primary tenses refer to present and future time (present, future, perfect, and future perfect), the secondary or historical tenses refer to past time (imperfect, aorist, pluperfect).

a. The gnomic aorist ( cross1931 b) is regarded as a primary tense, as is the aorist when used for the perfect ( cross1940), and the imperfect indicative referring to present time ( cross1788); the historical present ( cross1883), as a secondary tense. The subjunctive, optative, and imperative moods in their independent uses point to the future, and all their tenses therefore count as primary.

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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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