Ancient Greek/Basic Verbs

Greek verbs are simultaneously incredibly complicated and remarkably simple, as many verbs follow common ending patterns, or inflections, but there are vast number of these endings. Unlike English verbs, which normally have at most five forms (sing, sang, sung, singing, sings), a single Greek verb can have hundreds of forms. However, by breaking Greek verbs down into their respective components, each verb can quickly and easily be identified. This means every verb can give out a lot of useful information about the rest of the sentence. For instance, the English verb form are singing could take a variety of subjects (you are singing, you all are singing, we are singing, they are singing), but a Greek verb includes the subject within its ending.

Personal EndingsEdit

The most important marker on a verb (and usually the easiest to spot) is its personal ending. A finite verb will alter its ending depending upon its subject's person (first, second, or third person) and number (singular or plural). This is similar to the way verbs are formed in English: for example, if you take almost any verb in the present tense in the third person singular (the he/she/it form) will add an -s to the end: I work, but she works. Here is how the present of a simple verb conjugates, or changes its personal ending:

Present TenseEdit

Singular 1 λύω I release
2 λύεις You release
3 λύει He/she/it releases
Plural 1 λύομεν We release
2 λύετε You release
3 λύουσι(ν) They release

Notice that the stem, λυ-, does not change. Additionally, the ν at the end of the third person plural form is usually inserted at the end of a sentence and also before another word that begins with a vowel. This ν makes the ending of a Greek form easier to distinguish, so that words do not elide (this added ν is known as the ν-movable in some grammars). If the verb is not at end of a sentence or before a word that begins with a vowel, the ending is just -ουσι.


Verbs also change according to their time frame. Since most narrative occurs in the past, these verb forms are critical to know. There is a slightly different set of endings used by verbs in the past, and, in Classical Greek, the past time frame is denoted by adding a past temporal augment, commonly as an ἐ-, to the beginning of the verb.

Imperfect TenseEdit

Singular 1 ἔλυον I was releasing
2 ἔλυες You were releasing
3 ἔλυε(ν) He/she/it was releasing
Plural 1 ἐλύομεν We were releasing
2 ἐλύετε You were releasing
3 ἔλυον They were releasing

This is known as the imperfect form. Again, notice how it is composed of the same stem as in the present (λυ-), but includes a past temporal augment. Note also that the accent moves back one syllable.

Future TenseEdit

The future tense takes the same endings as the present tense. However, it is different from a present verb by the addition a sigma to the present stem, then adding the present endings as normal:

Singular 1 λύσω I shall release
2 λύσεις You will release
3 λύσει He/she/it will release
Plural 1 λύσομεν We shall release
2 λύσετε You will release
3 λύσουσι(ν) They will release

Irregular VerbsEdit

Like most languages, Ancient Greek has irregular verbs, which don't follow the same pattern. There are a number of irregular verbs that appear often in Ancient Greek texts, and they must be known along with the regular verbs. Here follows the present tense of the verb to be:

Singular 1 εἰμί I am
2 εἶ You are
3 ἐστί He/she/it is
Plural 1 ἐσμέν We are
2 ἐστέ You are
3 εἰσίν They are

As you can see, like Ancient Greek, even the English forms of to be are far from predictable!

Last modified on 9 November 2013, at 08:09