Saturday, October 17, 2009

Aspect of Verbs in Koine Greek

Professor James Voelz was my teacher and author of Fundamental Greek Grammar (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1993). Professor Voelz developed an innovative way of understanding aspect in Biblical Greek. This is particularly demonstrated with the imperfect tense. Most textbooks just say that imperfects are ongoing action and leave it at that. Dr. Voelz recognized through his Ph.D. work in Luke that this understanding does not fit all imperfects. He developed the additional term aspect to sort of supplement tense in categorizing verbs.

What is often called present tense he refers to as focus-on-connection, (FoC) that is, it conveys a meaning that emphasizes the link between the subject and the action that is referred to by the verb. Statements like, "I leave the check" are conveying a sense that I is connected to the action (leaving). Focus-on-connection is one type of aspect.

Another major type of aspect is focus-on-action (FoA). This aspect is more worried about the fact that the action is/was done than who did it. An example sentence would be "I see you."

As present tense is FoC, so aorist is FoA. Aorist is past time so it is focusing on the action that has been completed. It is the action that is important. Now, imperfect is FoC and is sort of a past time correspondent to present.

Professor Voelz lists 6 different connections conveyed by an imperfect. Context must help you resolve between these:
  1. Continuous, e.g. "I was loosing."
  2. Habitual, e.g. "I used to loose."
  3. Inceptive (beginning), e.g. "I began to loose."
  4. Conatative (attempting), e.g. "I tried to loose."
  5. Repetitive, e.g. "I repeatedly loosed."
  6. Emphatic, e.g. "I did loose."
I have found this understanding of the imperfect has been very helpful. Since I got no Google hits on this topic, I decided it was time for me to do something. For further information, see Prof. Voelz' textbook and other books and papers by him. You may also find some discussion of this by Professor Jeffrey Gibbs; he refers to it as syntactical sugar.

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