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Hellenistic Greek © 2009
Lesson 22: Present Middle and Passive

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Lesson at a Glance

Present Middle/Passive Forms

The middle/passive of the present tense is easier to learn than that of the aorist since there is only one set of endings to learn. You will learn those endings in this lesson.

Present Middle/Passive Usage

The voice implications of the present middle/passive forms were the same as for the aorist middle/passive. The present and aorist differ in terms of aspect, not voice. You will learn that distinction in this lesson.

Transitivity

Linguists use the term transitivity to express whether or not a particular verb's meaning requires an object. A transitive verb implies an object even when one is not explicitly stated. The English verb hit is transitive, for example. If a kindergarten teacher says to a parent, "Your child hits a lot," we understand that the teacher means "Your child hits [other children] a lot." The object is clearly implied, even though not stated. It is a part of the argument structure of the verb.

Transitivity and Passive Voice

A passive meaning can be assigned only to transitive verbs, so when the middle/passive form is used with an intransitive verb, the meaning cannot be passive. In fact, the meaning for many English speaking readers will often seem to imply active voice, even though the Greek form is middle.

Grammatical Discussion

Introduction

The Greek middle/passive form presents the subject as receiving or benefiting from the action expressed by the verb. We do not have in English a verb form that parallels this implication. There are several different ways we can express this. All of the following English sentences contain this implication: the subject acts for its own benefit, and the underlined transitive verbs could be expressed in Hellenistic Greek using a present middle/passive form.

We are getting a new car! (English Progressive Present Active: present of be + -ing)

I comb my hair every morning. (English Simple Present Active)

That door is opened only on Sundays. (English Present Passive: present of be + past)

The subjects of the English sentences above are We, I, and That door. Take a minute now to look at how those words are used in these sentences. They express the beneficiary or recipient of the action expressed by the verb (the underlined word in the examples above). For this reason, the Greek middle/passive voice form would be an appropriate way to express these verbs in Greek.

καὶ διαμερίζονται τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ
and they divided his clothes [among themselves] (Mark 15:24)

The implication of using the middle voice form διαμερίζονται rather than the active form διαμερίζουσιν is that they divided the clothes among themselves. That is, "they" are presented as acting for their own benefit. The passive voice has a similar implication (the subject is acted upon), but the subject does not represent the person performing the action expressed by the verb.

εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται
[It] is thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10)

The subject of this verb (It in the English translation) represents the thing thrown into the fire, but not the person doing the throwing.

Transitivity and the Greek Present Middle/Passive

In lesson 20 you learned about transitivity, a term linguists use to express whether or not a particular verb's meaning requires an object. Transitivity is most easily observed in the active voice, but it is crucial for understanding the distinction between middle and passive uses of Greek non-active forms.

Observe the following English sentences. Each sentence contains a noun or noun phrase that functions as the object of the underlined verb.

María welcomes the guests to the party.
I comb my hair every morning.

To find the object in an active voice sentence, ask yourself "Who or what is acted on?" In the first sentence, for example, ask "Who gets welcomed?" and you will immediately\ see the object: "the guests." In the second sentences, if we ask "What do I comb every morning?" the object becomes obvious: "my hair."

In an active voice sentence, the direct object is the noun or noun phrase that expresses what the subject and its verb act upon. All transitive verbs have such an object.

Only transitive verbs can be assigned passive voice.

Everyone likes cookies. (Active)
Cookies are liked by everyone. (Passive)

When we make a verb passive, the noun phrase that would be the object in an equivalent active voice construction, becomes its subject in the passive construction. Contrast the following intransitive verb.

The baby sleeps in her crib.

Why can we not make this sentence passive? Its verb (sleeps) cannot have an object: it is intransitive. While sleep does express an action, that action has no object. It is not something you can do to someone. Such verbs cannot have a passive meaning, but many such verbs in Greek can be expressed with a middle/passive verb form because that form is used not only for passive, but for middle voice. Intransitive verbs can be middle voice, but not passive.

ἀναπαύεσθε
Are you resting? (Matthew 26:45)

In Matthew 26:45 we see the middle/passive form, ἀναπαύεσθε, but we know it has to be middle, not passive, because the verb is intransitive.

Middle and Passive Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs can be either middle or passive, and only the context can help you decide which meaning is intended.

(Transitive) Middle Voice Usage

For transitive verbs, the implication of the of the middle voice is that the action expressed by the verb directly affects the subject. The verbs in the following sentences are all transitive, and they all have a middle/passive form in Greek.

οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε
You do not know what you are requesting (Matthew 20:22)

ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν· πάτερ, εἰς χεῖράς σου παρατίθεμαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου.
Jesus said: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46)

τί διαλογίζεσθε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ...ὅτι ἄρτους οὐκ ἔχετε;
Why are you discussing among yourselves ...that you have no bread?

In each of these examples, the subject is presented as acting for its own benefit. Compare the following example. The verb used there (δέχομαι) is a lexical middle.

ἐμὲ δέχεται
[He/she] receives me (Matthew 10:40)

The form of this verb that appears in the lexicon (δέχομαι) is middle voice. Since the verb always has a middle voice implication—the action it expresses (receiving) directly impacts its subject—it never appears with active voice forms. Its meaning is best expressed in the middle voice.

Passive Voice Usage (always transitive)

Observe the following sentences in which the subject is acted upon by someone not explicitly named.

οὐχὶ δύο στρουθία ἀσσαρίου πωλεῖται
Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? (Matthew 10:19)

ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι
Your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5)

ἕκαστον γὰρ δένδρον ἐκ τοῦ καρποῦ γινώσκεται
For every tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44)

Notice that the subject of these verbs would be the object if the verb were active voice. This is the basic meaning of the passive voice.

When translating Greek middle/passive forms of transitive verbs you may need to try both middle and passive translations to see which makes best sense in the context.

Middle Voice Intransitive Verbs

For intransitive verbs, the middle voice form is frequently translated as active voice in English.

ἄγγελος κυρίου φαίνεται
an angel of the Lord appears (Matthew 2:13)
an angel of the Lord appeared (Matthew 2:13, Historical Present)

Τότε προσέρχονται αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου
Then the disciples of John come to him (Matthew 9:14)
Then the disciples of John came to him (Matthew 9:14, Historical Present)

Ἠλίας ...ἔρχεται
Elijah comes (Matthew 17:11)

κατάκειται ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ Φαρισαίου
He reclines in the house of the Pharisee (Luke 7:37)

Notice that in each of these instances, the middle voice verb form is translated into English as active voice. This is often true of intransitive verbs.

Time, Aspect, and Context: The Historical Present

As two of the examples above show, in Greek the "present" tense could be used to express past action in an appropriate context.

Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις παραγίνεται Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστής
In those days John the Baptist came (Matthew 3:1)

In this example the prepositional phrase Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ("in those days") clearly marks the context as past, so the present tense form παραγίνεται must be translated into English as past, not present. Context is crucial!

Notice that the verb in this example (παραγίνεται) is intransitive. Because of this, its translation is active voice even though its Greek form is middle. In the example that follows, the middle voice verb is transitive, so we see its middle voice function more clearly. As with the example above, the context refers clearly to past time.

Καὶ ἀναβαίνει εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ προσκαλεῖται οὓς ἤθελεν αὐτός, καὶ ἀπῆλθον πρὸς αὐτόν. [οὓς = the ones whom, those whom.]
And he went up to the mountain and called those he wanted, and they came to him (Mark 3:13).

This selection has two present tense verbs (ἀναβαίνει and προσκαλεῖται) but only the second one is middle voice. It also contains an imperfect tense verb (ἤθελεν) that clearly marks the context as past. The final verb (ἀπῆλθον) is aorist. Both the present tense and the imperfect convey imperfective aspect. That is, the beginning point and the end point of the action they describe are not in focus. The aorist, on the other hand, conveys perfective aspect. The beginning and end of the action it describes are in focus. The time reference for the entire construction is conveyed by the imperfect tense verb. It alone directly conveys past time. You will learn more about the imperfect in the next lesson.

In English we have to translate the Greek present tense verbs here as past in order to faithfully represent the time reference of the Greek text. This is what linguists and grammarians call the Historical Present: the present tense used in a context where its time reference is controlled by another word or phrase in the immediate context that demands past time.

Formation of the Present Middle/Passive

In this section you will learn a new set of verbendings that are used for the present middle/passive and other verb forms that you will learn later. They are called the "Primary Middle Endings."

Present Middle/Passive Forms: the "Primary Middle" Endings

The present middle/passive indicative of Ω conjugation verbs is formed using the endings -μαι, -σαι (➾ -ῃ), -ται, -μεθα, -σθε, and -νται (that is, the primary middle endings). These endings are added to the present tense stem plus its thematic vowel.

The basic endings for both the present and future middle are as follows:

Person

Singular

Plural

1st

-μαι

I

-μεθα

we

2nd

-σαι

you (singular)

-σθε

you (plural)

3rd

-ται

he, she, it

-νται

they

Notice that the second person singular ending (-σαι) begins with a sigma immediately followed by a vowel. When the thematic vowel is added before this ending, the σ will be intervocalic (located between two vowels, neither of which belongs to the stem). When this happens, the sigma is normally eliminated. Without this σ the ending is reduced to -αι, and this diphthong then contracts with the thematic vowel (ε) to produce the ending -ῃ. Notice this contraction in the chart below.

Present Middle/Passive: Ω Conjugation Verbs

Study the following table well. It shows the verb νίπτω (I wash [something]) as an example.

Singular

Person

Present Middle/ Passive

Middle Gloss

Passive Gloss

1st

νίπτομαι

I wash [my hands, myself, etc.]

I am washed

2nd

νίπτ (εσαιεαι)

You wash [your hands, yourself, etc.]

You are washed

3rd

νίπτεται

She washes [her hands, herself, etc.]

She/He/It is washed

Plural

1st

νιπτόμεθα

We wash [our hands, ourselves, etc.]

We are washed

2nd

νίπτεσθε

You wash [your hands, yourself, etc.]

You are washed

3rd

νίπτονται

They wash [their hands, themselves, etc.]

They are washed

Exercise 1: Recognizing Present Middle/Passive Forms—Ω Conjugation

Click here to practice recognizing the present middle passive forms of MI conjugation verbs.

Present Middle/Passive: MI Conjugation Verbs

Μι conjugation verbs use the same endings. Compare the verb ἀπόλλυμι (I destroy [something]). Since -μι conjugation verbs have no thematic vowel in the present tense, though, the second person singular retains its original form (-σαι).

Singular

Person

Present Middle/ Passive

Middle Gloss

Passive Gloss

1st

ἀπόλλυμαι

I die

I am destroyed

2nd

ἀπόλλυσαι

You die

You are destroyed

3rd

ἀπόλλυται

She dies

She/He/It is destroyed

1st

ἀπολλύμεθα

We die

We are destroyed

2nd

ἀπόλλυσθε

You die

You are destroyed

3rd

ἀπόλλυνται

They die

They are destroyed

Exercise 2: Recognizing Present Middle/Passive Forms—ΜΙ Conjugation

Click here to practice recognizing the present middle passive forms of MI conjugation verbs.

Vocabulary

New Vocabulary

31

φαίνω, φανῶ/φανήσω, ἐφᾶνα, ἐφάνην

I shine, become visible, appear (as), appear (to be)

95

φοβέω, φοβηθησομαι, ______, ἐφοβήθην

Active Voice (φοβέω » φοβῶ)
I cause (someone) to be afraid; I frighten (someone)
The active voice form of this verb is not found in the N.T., but see LXX of 2 Chronicles 32:18 and Wisdom 17:9.

Middle Voice (φοβέομαι » φοβοῦμαι)
1. I fear (someone or something); I am afraid (of someone or something); intransitive. I am afraid
2. I respect (someone), show reverence for (someone)
This verb is always middle/passive in the New Testament.
Notice the connection between this verb and the noun φόβος (fear, reverence, respect) that you learned in lesson 19.

11

διαμερίζω, ______, διεμέρισα, διεμερίσθην

I divide, separate (something); I distribute (something)

12

ἀναπαύω, ἀναπαύσω, ἀνέπαυσα, ἀνεπαύθην

1. transitive. I cause to rest, give (someone) rest; I refresh, revive (someone)
2. intransitive. I rest, take my rest

54

εὐαγγελίζω, ______, εὐηγγέλισα, εὐηγγελίσθην

I bring good news, announce good news

The argument structure of εὐαγγελίζω is different from the English verbs bring and announce because the Greek verb includes within its meaning the notion of "good news" which must be stated separately as an object in English

4

ἐκτίθημι, ______, ______, ἐξετέθην

1. I expose (something or someone), make (something) public
2. I abandon (a child), expose (a child) to the elements
3. figurative. I explain (something), expose the significance or meaning of something

227

οὐδείς, οὐδεμία, οὐδέν

οὐ + δέ + εἷς/μία/ἕν (1) = no one, nothing

25

δουλεύω, δουλεύσω, ἐδούλευσα, ______

I serve (someone) (as a slave)
Notice the similarity with the noun δούλος (servant, slave) that you learned in lesson 4.

29

προσκαλέομαι, ______, προσεκαλέσαμαι, ______

I summon (someone), call (someone) to myself

37

παραγίνομαι, ______, παρεγένομαι, ______

1. intransitive. I come, arrive, am present
2. intransitive. I appear, make a public appearance
3. transitive. I stand by (someone), come to the aid (of someone)

10

ἐκκόπτω, ______, ἤκοψα, ______

1. I cut down (a tree)
2. I exterminate, destroy (something)

9

προέρχομαι, προελεύσομαι, προήλθον, ______

I go before (someone); I lead (someone)

Review Vocabulary

208

θέλω, ______, ἠθέλησα, ______

I want, wish, intend; I am willing (to do something)
(See lesson 12.)

210

δύναμαι, δυνήσομαι, ______, ἠδυνήθην

I am able, I can (do something)
(See lesson 20.)

The α just before the ending of δύναμαι is a part of its stem, not the personal ending.

γίνομαι

I am; I become, come to be; (Third person only) It happens

Reading and Translation

1. ἤθελεν αὐτός

He wanted [something]

What tense and voice is ἤθελεν? Be prepared to explain your answer.

2. [οὓς is a pronoun form that you will learn later. For now, translate it as "those who" or "those whom."]

οὓς ἤθελεν αὐτός

those whom he wanted (Mark 13:3)

3. ἀναβαίνει εἰς τὸ ὄρος

He goes up to the mountain (Mark 13:3)

4. προσκαλεῖται οὓς ἤθελεν αὐτός

He calls those whom he wanted
He called those whom he wanted (Mark 13:3)

5. Why is the Greek present tense form προσκαλεῖται translated as an English past tense form in the second translation of the sentence above?

The imperfect form ἤθελεν clearly refers to the past ("He wanted"). The Greek present tense from could refer to either the present or the past, depending on the context. Here the context is past.

6. ἀπῆλθον πρὸς αὐτόν

They came to him (Mark 13:3)

7. Καὶ ἀναβαίνει εἰς τὸ ὄρος καὶ προσκαλεῖται οὓς ἤθελεν αὐτός, καὶ ἀπῆλθον πρὸς αὐτόν.

And he went up to the mountain and called those he wanted, and they came to him (Mark 3:13).

8. [παραγίνομαι = I appear, I come. It is a lexical middle.]

παραγίνεται Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστής

John the baptiser comes
John the baptiser appears

9. Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις

In those days

10. Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις παραγίνεται Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστής

And in those days John the baptiser appeared
And in those days John the baptiser came (Matthew 3:1)

11. Why is the present tense form παραγίνεται translated as past in the sentence above?

The phrase Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις clearly refers to the past: "And in those days...." Since the present tense could refer to either the present or the past, depending on the context, this reference to the past means that παραγίνεται should be translated as past.

12. [ποιοῦν is the present active participle of ποιέω, I do, make. You will learn about participles later. For now, translate ποιοῦν as "that produces." Treat μὴ ποιοῦν as "that does not produce."]

πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται

Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down (Matthew 3:10)

13. ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν• τί διαλογίζεσθε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς... ὅτι ἄρτους οὐκ ἔχετε;

Jesus said: Why are you discussing among yourselves... that you have no bread? (Matthew 16:8)

Notice that the phrase ἐν ἑαυτοῖς (among yourselves) makes the middle voice (διαλογίζεσθε) highly appropriate here. The construction is reciprocal. This is one of the several possible functions of the middle voice verb form.

The pronoun ἡμεῖς is nominative plural. It is the subject of the sentence: "we." It emphasizes what is also communicated in the verb ending: -όμεθα.

14. Καὶ ἡμεῖς ὑμᾶς εὐαγγελιζόμεθα

And we bring you good news (Acts 13:32)

Δύναμαι, in the sentence below, is an intransitive lexical middle.

15. Οὐδεὶς δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν

No one is able to serve two masters (Matthew 6:24)

16. [προέχω = I am better off]

προεχόμεθα;

Are we better off? (Romans 3:28)

17. [τὸ πάσχα = The Passover]

τὸ πάσχα γίνεται

The Passover is coming

18. μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται

After two days the Passover is coming (Matthew 26:2).

The Greek present, just like the English present, is sometimes used to refer to a future event. In the following text, this is the case. Can you tell why παραδίδοται must be translated as future even though its form is what grammarians have called "present"?

19. μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται

After two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over (Matthew 26:2)

20. [ὁ λιμός = famine, hunger; ὧδε = here]

ἐγὼ δὲ λιμῷ ὧδε ἀπόλλυμαι

But I am dying here with hunger (Luke 15:17)

Vocabulary Practice

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