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22. In speaking of the time denoted by any verb, we must distinguish between time which is present, past, or future with reference to the time of speaking or writing (that is, time absolutely present, etc.), and time which is present, past, or future with reference to the time of some verb with which the verbal form in question is connected (that is, time relatively present, etc.) Thus, when we say τοῦτο ἀληθές ἐστιν, this is true, ἐστίν is present with reference to the time of speaking; but when we say ἔφη τοῦτο ἀληθὲς εἶναι or εἶπεν ὅτι τοῦτο ἀληθές ἐστιν (or εἴη), he said that this was true, (i.e. he said “this is true”), the present tense which we use denotes time present to the time of the leading verb, i.e. time absolutely past and only relatively present. The same distinction is seen between the future in τοῦτο γενήσεται, this will happen, and that in ἔφη τοῦτο γενήσεσθαι or εἶπεν ὅτι γενήσεται (γενήσοιτο), he said that this would happen; where the future in the first case is absolutely future, but in the other cases is only relatively future and may be even absolutely past. Again, in τοῦτο ἐγένετο, this happened, the aorist is absolutely past; but in ἔφη τοῦτο γενέσθαι, or εἶπεν ὅτι τοῦτο ἐγένετο (or γένοιτο), he said that this had happened, it denotes time past to the time of the past leading verb, and so is doubly past. But in connection with a future expression an aorist, though relatively past, may be absolutely future; as in PLAT. Rep. 478 D,τὸ φανέν” as subject of ἔσεσθαι means that which will hereafter have appeared. So διαπραξάμενος in 496 E. (See 143.)

It is a special distinction between the Greek and the English idioms, that the Greek uses its verbal forms much more freely to denote merely relative time. Thus, we translate the Greek presents εἶναι and ἐστί after ἔφη or εἶπεν (above) by our was; the futures γενήσεσθαι and γενήσεται by would happen; and the aorists γενέσθαι and ἐγένετο by had happened. This distinction appears especially in the indicative, optative, and infinitive of indirect discourse; in future forms after past tenses in final and object clauses with ἵνα, ὅπως, etc.; and usually in the participle; but not in protasis.

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