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Hellenistic Greek © 2009, 2015
Lesson 9: The Aorist Tense and Aspect

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The Lesson at a Glance

Aorist

In this lesson you will learn the forms for what is traditionally called the Aorist Tense.

Aspect

You will learn that, while the Greek aorist is very often translated as a simple past tense in English, its implications in Greek can be quite different. The use of the Greek aorist has more to do with the author's view of an event than with the time at which that event happened.

Grammatical Discussion

Aorist Aspect

The aorist is often used in the same kinds of contexts in which we would find a simple past tense verb in English. For that reason, the aorist is often translated into English as a simple past tense, like the verb “played” in the sentence, “Karen played tennis yesterday.”

οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε αὐτῷ (Matthew 21:32)
You did not believe him

ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτὸν οἰ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ (John 2:11)
His disciples believed in him

Still, the exact phrasing of the translation often needs to be adjusted on the basis of the context in which the verb appears.

Regardless of what time is implied by the verb and its context, aorist forms like those in the example above imply that the speaker or writer conceives of the action as a completed whole or wishes to present it as such. This implication is called the aorist aspect. The aorist is the verb form used to refer to an action which the speaker or writer presents as complete, and which may require more specific definition in some contexts.

νῦν ἠκούσατε τὴν βλασφημίαν (Matthew 26:65)
Now you have heard the blasphemy

In this sentence the hearing is not presented as in progress, but as complete.

Formation of the Aorist Active Indicative of Ω Conjugation Verbs

First Aorist

There are two different ways of forming the aorist tense in Greek. Some verbs use one way (called the first aorist) and some use the other (called the second aorist). There is absolutely no difference in the way the two are translated. The forms you will learn in this lesson are those designated first aorist.

Observe the aorist active indicative forms of λύω (I loose, destroy):

Singular

Plural

1st
Person

ἔλυσα

I destroyed

ἐλύσαμεν

We destroyed

2nd
Person

ἔλυσας

You destroyed

ἐλύσατε

You destroyed

3rd
Person

λυσε

He, she, it,
destroyed

λυσαν

They destroyed

Each of these forms consists of two distinct parts: a stem and a personal ending. Let's look at each one briefly.

First Aorist Personal Endings

Singular

Plural

1st
Person

-α

I

-αμεν

We

2nd
Person

-ας

You

-ατε

You

3rd
Person

-ε(ν)

She, He, It

-αν

They

The endings in the table serve to indicate person and number. You should take the time now to memorize them. You will see them many hundreds of times in the months ahead. As you work to memorize these endings, be aware that the third person singular ending sometimes appears as -ε and sometimes as -εν.

These endings are made up of two parts: a connecting vowel (often called the thematic vowel) and the personal ending. Later in this course it will become important to be able to distinguish these parts.

The First Aorist Stem

First Aorist verbs form their stem by making changes to the present tense stem—the first form shown in the vocabulary list for each verb. The present tense stem of λύω is λυ- (revealed by removing the -ω ending). The aorist stem is formed by adding an augment (ε-) to the beginning of the present tense stem, and a -σ to the end (ἔ-λυ-σ-). The aorist stem for λύω is ἔλυσ-.

Augmented Stems

For a discussion of long and short vowels, see lesson one.

Short

Long

α

η
ε

η
ο

ω

When a verb's present tense stem begins with a consonant, the augment used to form its aorist stem is an ε- added to the beginning of the stem (λύ- → ελυ-).

If the stem begins with a vowel, however, the augment consists of a change of that vowel to its equivalent long form. The long form of α is η. The long form of ε is also η. The long form of ο is ω. Since α, ε, and ο are the only vowels (besides diphthongs) that appear at the beginning of verb stems, these are the only changes you must learn for recognizing augments.

Present

Aorist

ἀκούω

κουσα

ἐρωτάω

ρώτησα

ὁμολουέω

μολόγησα

Compare the first person singular froms of the present and aorist of ἀκούω, ἐρωτάω, and ὁμολογέω (I confess) in the table on the left.

Notice that the same lengthening process that happens with the vowel at the beginning of the stem, also happens to vowels that appear at the end of the stem in most cases. There are a few exceptions to this lengthening of the stem-final vowel. The one you will see most frequently is καλέω (I call). The stem-final ε of this verb does not lengthen in the formation of the aorist stem. The first person singular aorist form of καλέω is ἐκάλεσα.

Spelling Changes Caused by the Aorist Σ

The addition of the aorist σ causes predictable spelling changes for many verbs. This section introduces the most frequent ones.

The Consonant Grid

If a verb stem ends with one of the nine consonants listed in the left portion of the table below, addition of the aorist σ causes very consistent spelling changes. You should take the time to commit this table to memory. It will save you an amazing amount of time later since this same spelling process occurs also with the future tense (lesson 18).

Stem Consonant

+

σ

=

New Spelling

Labial

π

β

φ

+

σ

=

ψ

Velar

κ

γ

χ

+

σ

=

ξ

Dental

τ

δ

θ

+

σ

=

σ

The first person singular aorist form of βλέπω, for example, is ἔβλεψα. Π + σ = ψ.

Similarly, the first person singular aorist form of γράφω is ἔγραψα. Φ + σ = ψ.

As you learn more verbs with stems ending in these nine consonants, you will come to know this consonant grid well. Observe the present and aorist forms in the vocabulary lists from this lesson on and try to notice patterns in the spelling changes that occur. Consonants produced with the lips (labials) will changes to ψ. Consonants produced by raising the back of the tongue to the to the roof of the mount (velar) will change to ξ. And consonants produced by placing the tongue on or near the back of the teeth (dental) will be eliminated by the aorist σ.

Double Sigma

If a verb stem ends with double sigma, the double sigma will change to ξ. The first person singular aorist form of κηρύσσω ("I announce"), for example, is ἐκήρυξα ("I will announce").

Liquid or Nasal Consonants

A liquid consonant is one produced by placing the tongue against the roof of the mouth and allowing air to pass around it. A nasal consonant is one pronounced by allowing air to pass through the nose.

Verbs whose present tense stem ends with a "liquid" consonant (λ, ρ) or nasal consonant (μ, ν) also undergo predictable spelling changes. A σ is never placed directly after one of these consonants, so the aorist of verbs whose stems end with them will not have the usual σ before their endings.

The first person singular aorist form of κρίνω (I judge) is ἔκρινα (I judged). The first person singular aorist form of ἐγείρω (I rise) is ἤγειρα (I rose).

Exercise 1: Recognizing Aorist Forms of Ω Conjugation Verbs

Click here to practice identifying aorist verb forms.

Aorist of -μι Conjugation Verbs

Notice that two of the verbs in the vocabulary list end with -μι rather than -ω (δίδωμι, τίθημι). The Aorist forms of these verbs use the same endings as -ω conjugation verbs, but their aorst stems are formed very differently.

δίδωμι

δω-

τίθημι

θη-

Μι conjugation verbs loose their first syllable before adding the ε augment of the aorist tense.

Present

Aorist

δίδωμι

δωκα

τίθημι

θηκα

Several of these verbs also differ from ω conjugation verbs in that they add κ rather than the usual σ to signal aorist aspect. Compare the aorist forms of δίδωμι and τίθημι to their present (lexical) forms in the table to the left.

Exercise 2: -μι Conjugation Verbs

Click here to practice recognizing aorist forms of -μι conjugation verbs.

Vocabulary

Each verb in the list below is shown with two different forms. The first form is the lexical form—the form you need to know in order to find the word in a lexicon or dictionary. The second form is the one used to indicate what has traditionally been called the aorist tense, which you will learn in this lesson. It is important that you learn both forms for each verb. The aorist form is derived from the lexical form. See if you can notice any patterns as you look through the list.

Verbs of the -ω conjugation

144

ἐγείρω, ἤγειρα

I raise up, rise

63

ἐρωτάω, ἠρώτησα

I ask, ask for, request

117

ζητέω, ἐζήτησα

I seek, look for

148

καλέω, ἐκάλεσα

I call, invite, address as, name

61

κηρύσσω, ἐκήρυξα

I proclaim, announce, preach

114

κρίνω, ἔκρινα

I judge, prefer, consider, decide

296

λαλέω, ἐλάλησα

I speak, say, proclaim

76

μαρτυρέω, ἐμαρτύρησα

I testify, bear witness, confirm

79

πέμπω, ἔπεμψα

I send, commission, appoint

241

πιστεύω, ἐπίστευσα

I trust, entrust; have faith (in), believe (in); I am faithful

86

πληρόω, ἐπλήρωσα

I fill, complete, finish, fulfill

106

σώζω, ἔσωσα

I heal, rescue, save

Conjunctions

499

οὕν

therefore, then

504

ὡς, ὥστε

as, just as, like

Review of Vocabulary from the Previous Lesson with Aorist Forms Added

You learned the present tense forms for fourteen verbs in the last lesson. Now compare the aorist tense forms. Do you notice a roughly consistent pattern linking the two sets of forms?

143

ἀγαπάω, ἠγάπησα

I love, long for

90

ἀκολουθέω, ἠκολούθησα

I follow, go with, accompany

428

άκούω, ἤκουσα

I hear, listen to, learn, obey, understand

77

ἀνοίγω, ἤνοιξα
[The aorist form of ἀνοίγω also
sometimes appears as ἠνέῳξα
and sometimes even as ἀνέῳξα.]

I open, unlock, disclose

86

ἄρχω, ἤρξα

I rule

77

βαπτίζω, ἐβάπτισα

I dip, immerse
Our English word, "Baptize" is derived from this Greek word.

133

βλέπω, ἔβλεψα

I see, look at, watch

97

γεννάω, ἐγέννησα

I give birth, become the father of, produce

191

γράφω, ἔγραψα

I write, record, compose

97

διδάσκω, ἐδίδαξα

I teach

61

δοξάζω, ἐδόξασα

I praise, honor, glorify

415

δίδωμι, ἔδωκα

I give

100

τίθημι, ἔθηκα

I put, place

Reading and Translation

1. ἠγάπησεν ὀ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον

God loved the world

2. What is the lexical form of ἠγάπησεν?

The lexical form of ἠγάπησεν is ἀγαπάω.

3. [οὕτως = so much]

οὕτως. . . ἠγάπησεν ὀ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον. . .

God loved the world so much. . .

4. [ὥστε = that, so that; μονογενῆ = only, unique, one of a kind, only begotten]

οὕτως. . . ἠγάπησεν ὀ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον,ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸνμονογενῆ ἔδωκεν. . . (John 3:16)

God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. . .

5. What is the lexical form of ἔδωκεν?

The lexical form of ἔδωκεν is δίδωμι.

Remember that μι conjugation verbs shed their first syllable when they add the aorist augment. Many of them also add κ instead of σ before the personal ending.

6. οὐκ ἐπίστευσας τοῖς λόγοις μου (Luke 1:20)

You did not believe my words

Notice that the object of πιστεύω is dative case rather than accusative. While most verbs assign accusative case to their object, some assign dative case.

7. ἐγέννησεν υἱόν (Luke 1:57)

She bore a son
She gave birth to a son

8. ὁ δὲ θεὸς καὶ τὸν κύριον ἤγειρεν (1 Corinthians 6:14)

And God also raised the Lord

Remember that the stem of ἐγείρω ends with ρ, a liquid consonant, so its aorist stem does not have the usual σ.

9. [μαρτυρέω = I give witness, bear witness, testify]

ἐμαρτυρήσαμεν

We gave witness
We bore witness

10. ἐμαρτυρήσαμεν. . . ὅτι ἤγειρεν τὸν Χριστόν (1 Corinthians 15:15)

We gave witness. . . that he raised Christ

11, εἰς Χριστὸν Ἱησοὺν ἐπιστεύσαμεν (Galatians 2:16)

We trusted in Christ Jesus
We believed in Christ Jesus
We were faithful to Christ Jesus

Vocabulary Quiz

Now take a few minutes to see how many words you have picked up by reading through this lesson. You may want to look back at the vocabulary lists at the beginning of the lesson first, but that is not really necessary. Just take the quiz for practice, then take it again if you are not satisfied with your score.

Click here to take the quiz (New Vocabulary)

Click here to take the quiz (Review Vocabulary)


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