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Hellenistic Greek © 2009
Lesson 14: Infinitives in English and Hellenistic Greek

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The Lesson at a Glance

Infinitive

Hellenistic Greek infinitives are verbs that have no inflection for person or number. In this lesson you will learn the basics about how infinitives work in English and Ancient Greek.


Grammatical Discussion

What is an Infinitive?

Observe the following sentences:

John asked me to return the book.
I want to see your new watch.
To be honest, I don't know what happened.
I was able to walk again after the surgery.
She really knows how to sing.

The verbs preceded by “to” in these sentences are called infinitives. Infinitives do not indicate person or number. Hellenistic Greek had a set of verb endings that indicated tense, but not person or number and allowed verbs to function in the same way as those in the English examples above. Look at the following examples:

Ἡρῴδης θέλει σε ἀποκτεῖναι
Herod wants to kill you (Luke 13:31)

Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον
Don't think that I came to destroy the law (Matthew 5:17)

ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ σου δεῖ με μεῖναι
It is necessary for me to stay in your house (Luke 19:5)

οὐχὶ . . . ἔδει παθεῖν τὸν χριστὸν . . .;
Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer. . . ? (Luke 24:26)


Differences between English and Hellenistic Greek Infinitives

While Greek and English infinitives have much in common, as you progress in this course, you will see many differences between the ways they function. For now, though, you only need to focus on two key differences. First, Hellenistic Greek had two different types of infinitives (present and aorist), while English only has one. Second, Hellenistic Greek infinitives were often used with the article (ὁ, ἡ, τό) while the English infinitive is never preceded immediately by "the."

Infinitives and Aspect

Greek infinitives could have either a present or aorist form. The contrast between the two forms had nothing to do with time. It is a difference of aspect.

The Present Infinitive

The present infinitive was used to express progressive or imperfective aspect. It pictures the action expressed by the verb as being in progress. Compare the following examples.

Ἡρῴδης. . . ἐζήτει ἰδεῖν αὐτόν.
Herod. . . was seeking to see him (Luke 9:9)

The author uses the present infinitive to suggest that Herod did not simply want to get a glance of Jesus as he walked by, but to spend some time with him.

The present infinitive also appears n Mark 8:34. Here again, it suggests progressive or imperfective aspect.

εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν
If anyone wants to follow after me

Jesus is not talking about following him to the store, here. He is talking about taking up a lifestyle of following his teachings and example. The end point of this "following" is not in focus.

The present infinitive is very often used in combination with the aorist indicative of ἄρχω (ἤρξατο = he/she began) to present an action as beginning in the present and extending into the future with no focus on when it will end. Observe the following example from Mark 6:34:

καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς πολλά
and he began to teach them many things

Here the focus is on the beginning of the action, but the end is left unspecified.

The Aorist Infinitive

The aorist infinitive does not express progressive aspect. It presents the action expressed by the verb as a completed unit with a beginning and end.

Ἡρῴδης θέλει σε ἀποκτεῖναι
Herod wants to kill you (Luke 13:31)

Here the aorist infinitive is appropriate because the author is not saying Herod wanted to go on an indefinite killing spree, but that he wanted to commit one specific act of killing.

ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ σου δεῖ με μεῖναι
It is necessary for me to stay in your house (Luke 19:5)

In this statement, Jesus is presented as stating his desire to spend the night at Zacchaeus' house, not a request to take up residence there for an indefinite time.


"Substantival" Infinitives

In English, both gerunds (verb+ing forms) and infinitival clauses may function like nouns. They can serve as the subject or object of another verb, for example.


1.

Basketball is fun.  [NP]


2.

Watching basketball is fun for some people. [Gerund] 


3.

For some people, it's fun to watch basketball. [Infinitival Clause]


4.

Playing basketball is even more fun. [Gerund]


5.

It's even more fun to play basketball. [Infinitival Clause]


Hellenistic Greek used infinitival clauses both in the way English speakers use gerunds (sentences 2 and 4) and in the way we use infinitival clauses (3 and 5). When Greek infinitives function this way, we call them substantival infinitives.

Articular Infinitives

In Greek, substantival infinitives are often found with the article. This article is not translated, since the article is never used with an infinitive in English. In the examples below, the Greek infinitive and its translation are shown in blue.

περισσόν μοί ἐστιν τὸ γρἀφειν ὑμῖν
Writing to you is superfluous for me
It is superfluous for me to write to you (2 Corinthians 9:1)

The genitive case article is often used with an infinitive to express purpose.

μετέβη ἐκεῖθεν τοῦ διδάσκειν καὶ κηρύσσειν
He went on from there to teach and preach (Matthew 11:1)

ἐξῆλθεν ὁ σπείρων τοῦ σπείρειν
The sower went out to sow (Matthew 13:3)

In these examples, the infinitival clause (shown in blue) tells why the action in the main clause was taken. The infinitive states the purpose. When you see a genitive case article with an infinitive, you should expect the infinitival clause to express the purpose of the main clause.

Forms for the Hellenistic Greek Infinitive

Infinitives of Ω Conjugation Verbs

The ending -ειν is used for the present and second aorist infinitive. The two are distinguished by the stems they use.

The first aorist uses the ending -σαι (σ·αι). The sigma (σ) of the first aorist infinitive ending causes the same spelling changes that you learned in the lesson on the first aorist of compound verbs. If you cannot remember those spelling changes, review Spelling Changes Caused by the Aorist Σ in lesson 10.

Lexical Form

Present

First Aorist

Second Aorist

γράφω

γράφειν

γράψαι


ζητέω

ζητεῖν

ζητῆσαι


λαμβάνω

λαμβάνειν


λαβεῖν

λέγω

λέγειν


εἰπεῖν


Remember that a few verbs use first aorist endings with a second aorist stem.

Lexical Form

Present

(Second) Aorist

γινώσκω

γινώσκειν

γνῶναι







Here is how the aorist infinitive of such irregular verbs is formed:

Lexical Form

Second Aorist Stem


First Aorist Ending


Hybrid Aorist Form

γινώσκω

γνῶν-

+

-σαι

=

γνῶναι

Infinitives of ΜΙ Conjugation Verbs

For most μι conjugation verbs, both  the aorist and the present infinitive use the ending -αι. Most use ν to connect this ending to the stem, but a few use σ.

The two tenses are distinguished by their stems. The aorist tense stem is determined by removing the first syllable of the present tense stem. For example, the present active infinitive of δίδωμι (I give) is διδόναι. The aorist infinitive is δοῦναι. Study the following table. Notice that the stem vowel is short in the present infinitive, but often becomes a diphthong in the aorist.

Lexical Form

Present Infinitive

Aorist Infinitive

δίδωμι (I give)

διδόναι

δοῦναι

τιθημι (I put, appoint)

τιθέναι

θεῖναι

ἴστημι (I put, place)

ἰστάναι

στῆναι or στῆσαι


Exercise 1: Practice Recognizing Infinitives

Take this practice quiz to see how well you can recognize the infinitive forms you have just studied.


Vocabulary


101

αἴρω

ἤρα

I lift up, take up, remove

101

αἰτέω

ᾔτησα

I ask, ask for, demand

13

ἀνά


up, upon, on, above
While ἀνά appears infrequently on its own, it is a component in several compound verbs that appear much more frequently.

66

ἀπολύω

ἀπέλυσα

I release; I dismiss, send away

132

ἀποστέλλω

ἀπέστειλα

I send, send away
Ἀποστέλλω is a compound verb: ἀπό + στέλλω. Στέλλω = I go, travel; I avoid.

0

βαίνω

ἔβην

I come, go
Βαίνω is an infrequently occurring verb that does not appear at all in the New Testament. It is worth your time to learn this verb anyway, though, since several other verbs are compounds with it. See ἀναβαίνω, καταβαίνω, and μεταβαίνω later in this list.

82

ἀναβαίνω

ἀνέβην

I go up, rise up, ascend, advance
Ἀναβαίνω is a compound verb: ἀνά + βαίνω.

81

καταβαίνω

κατέβην

I come down

12

μεταβαίνω

μετέβην

I turn, enter; I leave, depart, move on, go on

102

δεῖ

______

It is necessary, It must
Like μέλλω, this verb appears only in the present and imperfect tenses. It is usually followed by an infinitive. Unlike μέλλω, δεῖ appears only in the third person.

155

ἴστημι

ἔστην (ἔστησα)

I place, put, set; I stand, stop
The aorist forms of ἴστημι are inconsistent. Sometimes this verb has first aorist forms (ἔστησα) and sometimes second aorist (ἔστην).

108

ἀνίστημι

ἀνέστην (ἀνέστησα)

I raise up, set up, arise, resist, restore
Ἀνίστημι is a compound verb: ἀνά + ἴστημι. It's aorist forms are inconsistent. Sometimes it has first aorist forms and sometimes second aorist.

109

μέλλω

_____

I intend to, I am about to
The imperfect tense of μέλλω is sometimes spelled ἤμελλον in stead of ἔμελλον. This verb appears only in the present and imperfect tenses. It is usually followed by an infinitive.







Reading and Translation

1. οὐ θέλω ἀπολῦσαι αὐτοὺς

I do not want to send them away
I do not want to dismiss them
I do not want to release them

2. [νήστεις = hungry]

ἀπολῦσαι αὐτοὺς νήστεις οὐ θέλω

I do not want to send them away hungry (Matthew 15:32)

3. [ἤρξατο = he began]

Καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτούς

And he began to teach them (Mark 8:31)

The little word σέ is enclitic. That is, its accent moves back onto the final syllable of the word before it whenever possible.

4. [σταυρόω = I crucify; σέ = you]

John's Gospel presents Pilate saying to Jesus:

ἐξουσίαν ἔχω ἀπολῦσαί σε καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔχω σταυρῶσαί σε

I have authority to release you, and I have authority to crucify you (John 19:10)

5. [βρῶσιν = food (βρῶσιν is an accusative singular, 3rd declension noun. You will study third declension nouns later.)]

ἐγὼ βρῶσιν ἔχω φαγεῖν

I have food to eat (John 4:32)

Remember that the aorist of ἐσθίω (I eat) is ἔφαγον (ἔ·φαγ·ον). If you remove the augment and personal ending, you are left with the stem: -φαγ-. Add the second aorist infinitive ending, and you have φαγεῖν.

6. John's Gospel tells of a man who came to request that Jesus heal his son. To emphasize the urgency of the matter, the story adds the following detail about the son:

... ἤμελλεν γὰρ ἀποθνῄσκειν.

... for he was about to die (John 4:47).
... for he was starting to die

 7. ἤμελλον γράφειν

I was about to write (Revelation 10:4)
I was about to start writing

8. [σὺν αὐτοῖς = with them]

εἰσῆλθεν τοῦ μεῖναι σὺν αὐτοῖς.

He went in to stay with them (Luke 24:29)

9. [ἐκεῖθεν = from there]

μετέβη ἐκεῖθεν

He went on from there (Matthew 11:1)

10. μετέβη ἐκεῖθεν τοῦ διδάσκειν

He went on from there to teach

11. μετέβη ἐκεῖθεν τοῦ κηρύσσειν

He went on from there to preach

12. μετέβη ἐκεῖθεν τοῦ διδάσκειν καὶ κηρύσσειν

He went on from there to teach and preach (Matthew 11:1)

Can you explain what the choice of the present infinitives implies in this text? How would the meaning be different if the author had used aorist infinitives?

13. [δοκιμάζω = I test; ἡ φαντασία = impression, appearance]

Epictetus once said that the job of the philosopher was

δοκιμάζειν τὰς φαντασίας

to test the impressions
to test the appearances

14. [διακρίνω = I evaluate, judge between (options)]

δοκιμάζειν τὰς φαντασίας καὶ διακρίνειν

to test the impressions and evaluate [them] (Epictetus, Discourses I.xx.7)

15. [τί = "What?";  θέλετε = "you want"]

τί με θέλετε ποιεῖν;

What do you want me to do? (Epictetus, Discourses I.xxvii.9)

Vocabulary Practice Quiz

Take this short vocabulary quiz to practice the vocabulary for this lesson.
Now practice recognizing the grammatical forms you learned in this lesson.



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