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Hellenistic Greek © 2011, 2015
Lesson 23: Imperfect Middle and Passive

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The Lesson at a Glance

Middle/Passive Voice

You will continue your study of the Greek Middle and Passive Voice.

Imperfective Aspect

You have already learned that the Greek imperfect portrays an action or state as incomplete or in progress at a specified time in the past. In this lesson you will learn to interpret this verbal aspect in conjunction with the middle/passive voice.

Morphology of the Imperfect Middle/Passive

You will learn to recognize the middle/passive forms of the Greek imperfect.

Narrative

A narrative text is one that tells a story. The imperfect is used predominantly in narrative texts.


Grammatical Discussion

Introduction

You studied the imperfect active indicative in lesson 16. You may find it helpful to take a few minutes now to review that lesson before reading this one. In lessons 20 and 21 you studied the aorist middle and passive, and in lesson 22 you studied the present middle and passive. What you learned about the middle and passive voice in those lessons applies equally to the imperfect middle and passive you will study here, but in this lesson you will learn more about how the middle voice functioned in the hellenistic κοινή.

Narrative

The imperfect middle/passive appears 294 times in Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Revelation. These are narrative texts. They each tell a story. The imperfect middle/passive only appears 21 times in all of the Pauline and Deutero-pauline letters, however. These are epistolary texts (letters).

Imperfective aspect, when it refers to past time, is much more useful in narrative texts than in other genres, so this difference in frequency of the imperfect is not surprising. For this reason, most of the examples presented in this lesson come from narrative texts. Few come from the epistles.

The Imperfect Middle/Passive

Voice.

Voice functions in the same way for the imperfect as it does for the present and aorist. The middle voice implies that the subject is directly affected by the action expressed by the verb.

ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐκυλίετο
He rolled around on the ground (Mark 9:20)

The passive voice implies that the subject did not initiate the action or state, but is the recipient of it.

ἐδεσμεύετο
He was tied up
He was bound (Luke 8:29)

Tense and Aspect.

As you saw in lesson 16, the tense and aspect of the imperfect differ from the other verb forms you have studied. The imperfect differs from the present in the clarity of its time reference (tense). The time reference of the imperfect is unambiguous. It is used with clear reference to the past.

τότε πορεύεται (Present)
Then he goes (Matthew 12:45)

ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπορεύετο (Imperfect)
Jesus was going away from the temple
Jesus was leaving the temple (Matthew 24:1)

The aorist form ἐπορεύθη in John 8:1 presents Jesus' "going" as a completed event. The imperfect form ἐπορεύετο in Luke 7:6 presents Jesus' "going" or "leaving" as something in progress when the action presented in the next clause (not shown here) took place.

The imperfect differs from the aorist primarily in terms of aspect. While the aorist presents an action as completed or a state as ended, the imperfect presents an action as not completed—as being in progress at some point in the past—or a state as still being in effect at some previous time.

Ἰησοῦς δὲ ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὸ ὄρος τῶν ἐλαιῶν (aorist)
And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives (John 8:1)

ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐπορεύετο σὺν αὐτοῖς (imperfect)
And Jesus was going with them
And Jesus went with them (Luke 7:6)

Setting and the Imperfect. The primary function of the imperfect is to present a framework or setting in which the state of affairs described by a different verb took place.

καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν· ἐφοβοῦντον γάρ.
And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (Mark 16:8).

The imperfect is used here to convey the context in which the women "said nothing to anyone." The context of their silence—what was going on when they were silent—is that "they were afraid."

Here the middle voice implication is also clear. The subject of this sentence, "they," refers to the women visiting Jesus' tomb. The "fear" affects them directly.

The Middle Voice and Verbs of Bodily Motion/Location.

Verbs that refer to movement or location of the body are frequently expressed in the middle voice in Ancient Greek. The subject of such verbs is directly affected by the action or state expressed by the verb. The highlighted verb in each of the following examples uses a middle/passive form. Contrast the aspect of the aorist and imperfect in these examples.

Matthew uses the aorist form ἐπορεύθη in 12:1 and the imperfect formἐπορεύετο in 24:1. Can you tell the difference in what is implied in each case?

Jesus' going through the grain fields is presented as completed (12:1). His leaving the temple is presented as in progress, not yet completed (24:1) at the time the action of the following clause takes place. It sets the context for that following clause (not shown here).

Ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ ἐπορεύθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοῖς σάββασιν διὰ τῶν σπορίμων
At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbaths (Matt. 12:1)

ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπορεύετο
Jesus was going out of the temple
Jesus was leaving the temple (Matthew 24:1)

Ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ. . . ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐκάθητο παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν
On that day. . . Jesus was sitteing beside the sea
On that day. . . Jesus sat beside the sea (Matt. 13:1)


Formation of the Imperfect Middle/Passive

Ω Conjugation

The Imperfect Middle/Passive of ω conjugation verbs is formed using an augment (ε-), the present tense stem, a thematic vowel (ο or ε) and the secondary middle endings. These are the same endings you have already learned for many second aorist middle/passive verbs.

Person

Singular

Plural

1st

-μην

I

-μεθα

we

2nd

-σο** (-ου)

you (singular)

-σθε

you (plural)

3rd

-το

he, she, it

-ντο

they

**When the second person singular ending (-σο) is added to an ω conjugation verb, the σ becomes intervocalic, appearing between the thematic vowel (ε) and the vowel ο of the ending. Neither of these two vowels belongs to the stem, so the σ is eliminated. The ο then contracts with the thematic vowel to produce -ου.

Study the way these personal suffixes appear on the imperfect middle/passive forms of θεραπεύω (I heal):

Number

Person

Imperfect Middle/Passive

Middle Gloss

Passive Gloss

Singular

1st

θεραπευόμην

I got well, was getting well

I was (being) healed

2nd

θεραπεύου**

You got well, were getting well

You were (being) healed

3rd

θεραπεύετο

She, He, It got well, was getting well

She, He, It was (being) healed

Plural

1st

θεραπευόμεθα

We got well, were getting well

We were (being) healed

2nd

θεραπεύεσθε

You got well, were getting well

You were (being) healed

3rd

θεραπεύοντο

They got well, were getting well

They were (being) healed

**ο + σο = ου (οσο οο ου)

Θεραπεύω uses first aorist forms, so you should never confuse its aorist and imperfect forms (ἐθεραπευσάμην = aorist; ἐθεραπευόμην = imperfect).

With verbs that use the ε/ο endings for their second aorist forms (like γίνομαι, I become, I am, I exist), the challenge can be a little greater, but there still should be little confusion. While these verbs use identical endings for the second aorist and the imperfect, the stems are different. The imperfect froms use the present tense stem, while the aorist forms use the aorist stem (the third form in the vocabulary list for each verb). The imperfect of γίνομαι uses the stem γίν- (ἐγινόμην). Since the aorist middle/passive of this verb uses the stem γέν- rather than γίν- (ἐγενόμην), you can always distinguish its imperfect from its aorist forms.

ΜΙ Conjugation

With μι conjugation verbs, the secondary middle/passive endings are added directly to the stem, with no thematic vowel. Because of this, the σ of the second person singular ending is not eliminated, and the ending keeps its original form (-σο).

Observe the forms of ἐκτίθημι (ἐκ + τίθημι, I expose [something or someone], I make [something] public, I abandon [a child]. Ἐκτίθημι could also be used figuratively to mean I explain [something]). It's present stem is θε (reduplicated to τιθε).

Number

Person

Imperfect Middle/Passive

Middle Gloss

Passive Gloss

Singular

1st

ἐξετιθέμην

I exposed [myself]

I was exposed

2nd

ἐξετίθεσο

You exposed [yourself]

You were exposed

3rd

ἐξετίθετο

She, He, It exposed [her-, him-, itself]

She, He, It was exposed

Plural

1st

ἐξετιθέμεθα

We exposed [ourselves]

We were exposed

2nd

ἐξετίθεσθε

You exposed [yourself]

You were exposed

3rd

ἐξετίθεντο

They exposed [themselves]

They were exposed

Take the time to learn these forms now before you move on. The imperfect middle/passive occurs 321 times in the New Testament alone, and many hundreds more in the wider hellenistic literature.

Practice Recognizing Imperfect Middle/Passive Forms

How well can you recognize these imperfect middle/passive forms? Click here to practice.

Vocabulary

If you know the present active, future active, aorist active, perfect active, perfect middle/passive, and the aorist middle/passive indicative first singular form of any verb, you can correctly identify all of its other forms. These six basic forms are called the principal parts of the verb.

Beginning with this lesson, four of these six forms are given for each verb: the present active, future active, aorist active, and aorist (θ)η middle/passive (if the verb has one). Where the perfect active and middle/passive forms traditionally go in the list, brackets [ ] are shown here if those forms exist. If they do not exist, an underscore (______) is shown in their place. You will learn the perfect active and perfect middle/passive in a future lesson.

If no active voice form is found for a particular tense/aspect, a middle voice form is listed in its place if appropriate.

New Vocabulary

16

διαλογίζομαι, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______

I reason, think carefully about (something); I discuss, consider (something)

13

ἐκπλήσσομαι, ______, ______, ______, ______, ἐξεπλάγην

I am amazed
All occurrances of this word in the New Testament and Septuagint have middle/passive forms.

33

ἐκπορεύομαι, ἐκπορεύσομαι, ______, ______, ______, ______

I go out, come out; I leave
(ἐκ + πορεύομαι)
Notice that this is a verb of bodily motion. It appears only with middle/passive forms.

17

ἐξίστημι, ______, ἐξέστην, ______, ______, ______

I amaze (someone); I confuse (someone)
(ἐκ + ἵστημι)

91

κάθημαι, καθήσομαι, ______, ______, ______, ______

I sit, sit down; I remain, stay
Notice that this is a verb of bodily motion. It appears only with middle/passive forms. Notice also that where you might expect to see a thematic vowel (ο/ε), there is an η. This η belongs to the stem of this verb, and the endings are added without the thematic vowel.

7

καθέζομαι, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______

I sit, sit down
Notice that this is a verb of bodily motion. It appears only with middle/passive forms.

24

κεῖμαι, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______

I lie down; I am present (in a particular place)
Notice that this is a verb of bodily motion. It appears only with middle/passive forms. Notice also that κεῖμαι is written and pronounced without a thematic vowel.

103

ὅτε

when, while

1243

πᾶς, πᾶσα, πᾶν

all, whole

12

πυνθάνομαι, ______, ἐπυθόμην, ______, ______, ______

I inquire, ask
Can you see why this verb always appears with middle voice forms? How is its meaning a good fit for the middle voice?

29

σκανδαλίζω, ______, ______, ______, ______, ἐσκανδαλίσθην

I anger (someone); I offend (someone); I cause (someone) to stumble or to sin

7

συνανἀκειμαι, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______

I recline with (someone); I share a meal with (someone)
(σύν + ἀνά + κεῖμαι)
Notice that this is a verb of bodily motion. It appears only with middle/passive forms.

28

τελέω (Contracts to τελῶ), ______, ἐτέλεσα, τετέλεκα, τετέλεσμαι, ἐτελέσθην

I finish, complete (something); I fulfill

70

τηρέω (Contracts to τηρῶ), τηρήσω, ἐτήρησα, τετήρηκα, τετήτημαι, ἐτηρήθην

I keep, guard





Review Vocabulary

77

βαπτίζω, βαπτίσω, ἐβάπτισα, ______, βεβάπτισμαι, ἐβαπτίσθην

I dip in water, immerse, baptize
(See lessons (8, 9, 18, and 21).

97

γεννάω (Contracts to γεννῶ), γεννήσω, ἐγέννησα, [], [], ἐγεννήθην

I give birth, become the father of, produce
(See lessons 8, 9, and 18)
This verb never appears in the imperfect tense in the New Testament.

210

δύναμαι, δυνήσομαι, ______, ______, ______ ἠδυνήθην

I am able (to do something); I can
(See lessons 20 and 22)
Notice the unusual form of this verb. There is an α where you would normally expect to see the thematic vowel (ο/ε)
.

634

ἔρχομαι, ἐλεύσομαι, ἤλθον (ἤλθα), [], ______, ______

I come, go
(See lessons 12 and 20)
Notice that this is a verb of bodily motion. It appears only with middle/passive forms in the present, imperfect, and future. It does have active voice forms in the aorist, however.

153

πορεύομαι, πορεύσομαι, ______, ______, ______, ἐπορεύθην

I go
(See lesson 20)
Notice that this is a verb of bodily motion. It appears only with middle/passive forms.

159

τότε

then, at that time
(See lesson 17)




Reading and Translation

What is the implication of using the imperfect rather than the aorist for the verb ἐφοβοῦντον in this sentence?

The imperfect is used to explain the setting for the clause "They said nothing to anyone." The context of them saying nothing is explained by their fear. "They were afraid." This is a frequent reason for using the imperfect: to provide the setting or background necessary to make the context of another verb clear.

1. καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν· ἐφοβοῦντον γάρ.

And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (Mark 16:8).

2. Ἰούδας. . . προήρχετο αὐτούς

Judas. . . was leading them (Luke 22:47)

Why is the imperfect tense a fitting choice for this statement?

The imperfect is used here to suggest that at this point in the story Judas' leading is not completed; it is in progress when something else happens. The next clause provides that something else: "He approached Jesus and kissed him." The imperfect is used to fill out the picture of what was happening when Judas aproched Jesus. He was leading the guards to arrest Jesus. The verb in the imperfect tense provides the background. If fills out the scene.

Προέρχομαι is a lexical middle. It is a verb whose meaning is well suited for the middle voice. If you lead someone, you inevitably go as well. The subject is directly affected by the action expressed by the verb.

Even though we may sometimes translate the imperfect tense as a simple English past (as in the first example translation here), we must remember that the Greek writer is presenting the action as incomplete or still in progress at the time of some other event in the immediate context. That other event is not included here, but you can find it by looking at Matthew 3:5—7!

3. Τότε ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν Ἱηροσόλυμα

Then Jerusalem came out to him

At that time Jerusalem was coming out to him (Matthew 3:5)

4. [ποταμός = river]
καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ἐν τῷ ᾽Ιορδάνῃ ποταμῷ

and they were baptized in the Jordan river
and they were being baptized in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:6)

5. καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ἐν τῷ ᾽Ιορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ὑπ᾽ αὐτοῦ

and they were being baptized in the Jordan river by him
and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:6)

6. [πᾶσα is the feminine singular nominative form of πᾶς (all, whole); περίχωρος = the region around a particular place]

Τότε ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν Ἱηροσόλυμα καὶ πᾶσα ἡ Ἰουδαία καὶ πᾶσα ἡ περίχωρος τοῦ Ἰορδάνου καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ἐν τῷ ᾽Ιορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ὑπ᾽ αὐτοῦ

The second translation provided here uses more natural English phrasing, but is less clear about the aspectual implication of the Greek imperfect tense. It does not clearly portray the coming out to meet John or the baptizing as being in progress. For this reason, your instructor may want you to use the less natural forms was going out and was being baptized to show that you understand the implications of the imperfect.

At that time all Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan was going out to him and being baptized by him in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:5—6a).

Then all Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan went out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:5—6a).

7. ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους. . .

When Jesus finished these words. . .
When Jesus finished these sayings. . . (Matthew 7:28)

Notice that the verb ἐγένετο (it happened) does not change the meaning of this sentence. That is, it does not add a separate assertion from what is already implied by the sentence. When this is the case, ἐγένετο is usually left untranslated, as in the second translation provided here.

8. Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους . . .

And it happened that when Jesus finished these sayings . . .

And when Jesus finished these sayings . . . (Matthew 7:28)

9. [ἐκπλήσσω = I am amazed]
Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους, ἐξεπλήσσοντο οἱ ὄχλοι ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ

And when Jesus finshed these sayings, the crowds were amazed at his teaching (Matthew 7:28).

With verbs that express feelings or emotional reactions, such as ἐκπλήσσω, the meaning of the verb itself includes the notion of the subject being affected by the state the verb asserts. Often such verbs are lexical middles, but this one is not. It is reasonable to conclude that the middle voice form here strengthens the focus on the subject's experience since the active voice form already includes this implication.

10. [συνανάκειμαι = I recline with (someone), I sit at a table with (someone), I share a meal with (someone)]
Καὶ ἐγένετο. . . συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ

Which one of these three translations do you think best captures the implication of the imperfect—that the action was incomplete, or still in progress?

And. . . they were sitting at the table with Jesus and his disciples
And. . . they were joining Jesus and his disciples at the table
And. . . they were taking their seats at the table with Jesus and his disciples (Matthew 9:10)

11. [ἐξίστημι = I amaze (someone), I confuse (someone)]

καὶ ἐξίσταντο πάντες οἱ ὄχλοι

And the crowds were amazed
And the crowds were confused (Matthew 12:23)

12. [μήτι = not, unless, neither, nor]

μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς Δαυίδ;

Is this not the son of David?
Isn't this the son of David? (Matthew 12:23)

12. καὶ ἐξίσταντο πάντες οἱ ὄχλοι καὶ ἔλεγον‧ μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς Δαυίδ;

And the crowds were amazed and said: Isn't this the son of David? (Matthew 12:23)

13. [πάντοθεν = from all sides, on all sides; πρός = to, toward]

καὶ ἤρχοντο πρὸς αὐτὸν πάντοθεν

And they came toward him from all sides
And they came to him from every direction (Mark 1:45)

14. [νήπιος = very young, a child]

ὅτε ἤμην νήπιος, . . .
When I was a child

Aspect: Notice that Paul uses the imperfect to describe his characteristic way of reasoning in the past, the way he used to reason. He is not picturing a single act of reasoning, but his ongoing, characteristic reasoning without focusing on the time when that way of reasoning began or ended.

15. [λογίζομαι = I reason, think]

ὅτε ἤμην νήπιος, . . . ἐλογιζόμην ὡς νήπιος

When I was a child. . . I reasoned like a child (1 Corinthians 13:11)

16. [δεσμεύω = I bind (someone), tie (someone) up]
ἐδεσμεύετο
He was tied up
He was bound (Luke 8:29)

17. [τηρέω = I keep; I guard. τηρέω contracts to τηρῶ.]

ὁ . . . οὖν Πέτρος ἐτηρεῖτο ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ
. . . so Peter was kept in jail
. . . so Peter was being kept in jail (Acts 12:5)

How do we know that the last two sentences should be translated as passive rather than middle? The truth is that only context can make this clear. No context is provided for ἐδεσμεύετο in number 16, so it could have been translated as "He bound himself," or "He bound [someone] for his own benefit." But the context of Luke 8:29 rules out these possibilities. Similarly, while it might be possible to translate ἐτηρεῖτο as middle voice in number 17, that possibility is ruled out by the context of Acts 12:5. There Peter has just been arrested. He did not keep himself in jail. Someone else kept him there. He was kept (passive voice).

A good rule of thumb for deciding between middle and passive translations is to test each one against the context. Which one makes best sense in the context in which the verb appears? The context will almost always rule out one or the other.

Vocabulary Practice

Drag and Drop Game 2
Drag and Drop Game 3
Drag and Drop Game 4
Practice Quiz


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