Chapter I

General View of the Moods.

1. The Mood of a verb shows the manner in which the assertion of the verb is made.

The Greek verb has four moods, properly so called,—the indicative, the subjunctive, the optative, and the imperative. The infinitive, which is a verbal noun, and the participle and the verbal in -τέος, which are verbal adjectives, are so closely connected with the moods in many constructions, that they are discussed with them in Syntax.

The four proper moods, as opposed to the infinitive, are sometimes called the finite moods. The subjunctive, optative, imperative, and infinitive, as opposed to the indicative, are sometimes called the dependent moods.

I. Indicative.

2. The indicative, in its most primitive use, makes a simple, absolute assertion, or asks a question which includes or concerns such an assertion. e.g. Γράφει, he is writing; ἔγραφεν, he was writing; ἔγραψεν, he wrote; γράψει, he will write. Γράφει;, is he writing? ἐγράψατε;, did you write? γράψετε;, will you write? τί ἔγραψεν;, what did he write?

3. The indicative may also express

4. The past tenses of the indicative may, further, express a supposition that some statement either had been or were now true, while it is implied that really it was not or is not true. E.g.

Εἰ ἔγραψα, if I had written; εἰ ἔγραφον, if I were now writing or if I had been writing; the context indicating that really I did not write or am not writing (410). These expressions originally always referred to the past, as they do in Homer.

5. Out of the form of unreal supposition (4) were developed after Homer the use of the past tenses of the indicative with εἴθε or εἰ γάρ in wishes (732); and also the Attic construction of the past tenses of the indicative to express an unaccomplished purpose (333), where there is an assimilation of the final clause to a preceding indicative. E.g. Εἰ γὰρ τοῦτο ἐποίησα, O if I had only done this! Εἴθε τοῦτο εἶχες, O if you only had this!

Εἴθε τότ᾽ ἀπέθανον, ἵνα μὴ τοῦτο ἔπαθον, would that I had then perished, that I might not have suffered this.

For the indicative with ἄν or κέ, the potential indicative, see 243.

II. Subjunctive.

6. 7. The subjunctive in questions of appeal as to the future (287) has, even in Homer, developed the idea of propriety or expediency. E.g. “Αὖθι μένω ἦε θέω;” “shall I remain here or run?” Il. x. 62. So “πῇ ἴω;” “whither shall I go?” Od. xv. 509. But the future indicative can be used in the same sense; as τί δῆτα δρῶμεν; μητέρ᾽ φονεύσομεν; “ what are we to do? shall we slay our mother?” EUR. El. 967.See 68.)


  • In exhortations and in prohibitions with μή (250, 259) the subjunctive has an imperative force, and is always future; as in ἴωμεν, let us go; μὴ θαυμάσητε, do not wonder.
  • The future indicative occasionally occurs in prohibitions with μή (70).

  • (b)
  • The subjunctive with μή, especially in Homer, may express a future object of fear with a desire to avert it; as in μὴ νῆας ἕλωσι, may they not seize the ships (as I fear they will). (See 261.) From such expressions combined with verbs of fearing arose the dependent use of μή with the subjunctive expressing a future object of fear; as φοβοῦμαι μὴ ἀπόληται, I fear that he may perish.
9. In the constructions with οὐ μή (294) the subjunctive and the future indicative are used, without apparent distinction, in a future sense; as οὐ μὴ γένηται and οὐ μὴ γενήσεται, it will not happen.

10. The subjunctive may express a future purpose or a future object of care or exertion. E.g. Ἔρχεται ὅπως τοῦτο ἴδῃ, he comes that he may see this (317); ἐπιμελεῖται ὅπως τοῦτο γένηται (or γενήσεται), he takes care that this shall be done (339). In clauses of purpose the future indicative is sometimes used (324), and in the construction of 339 it became the regular Attic form.

11. In conditional clauses the subjunctive expresses either a future supposition (444), or a general supposition which is indefinite (never strictly present) in its time (462).

  • In the former it supposes such a future case as the Homeric subjunctive (6) states; as ἐάν τις εἴπῃ, if one shall say (the thing supposed being εἴπῃ τις, one will say); here the future indicative may be used in essentially the same sense (447). In the general condition it supposes an event to occur at any time, as we say if any one ever goes or whoever goes, with an apodosis expressing repetition or a general truth; as ἐάν τις κλέψῃ (or ὃς ἂν κλέψῃ), κολάζεται, if any one steals (or whoever steals), he is always punished.
  • (b)
  • The subjunctive in general suppositions is the only subjunctive which does not refer to future time, and here the future indicative can never be used. In most other languages (as in English and generally in Latin), and sometimes in Greek, such a condition is expressed by the present indicative, like an ordinary present supposition; but the Greek, in its desire to avoid a form denoting present time, generally fell into one which it uses elsewhere only for future time. The construction, however, appears in Homer imperfectly established, except in relative clauses (468): this indicates that it does not belong to the primitive uses of the subjunctive. (See 17.)

For the Homeric subjunctive with κέ or ἄν in independent sentences, which does not differ perceptibly in meaning from the future with κέ or ἄν, see 201, 1.

III. Optative.

12. The optative is commonly a less distinct and direct form of expression than the subjunctive, imperative, or indicative, in constructions of the same general character as those in which these moods are used.

13. This is seen especially in independent sentences, where the optative either expresses a wish or exhortation, or is used (regularly with ἄν or κέ) in a potential sense.

Thus ἴοιμεν, may we go, corresponds as a weaker form to ἴωμεν, let us go. Corresponding to ἐξελθών τις ἰδέτω, let some one go out and see, we have “ἐξελθών τις ἴδοι,” “may some one go out and see,” Od. xxiv. 491 . Ἕλοιτο ἄν, he would take or he might take, corresponds to the Homeric ἕληται or ἕληταί κε, he will take or he may take (201, 1).

We find in Homer a few optatives expressing concession or permission, which have a neutral sense and can hardly be classed as either potential or wishing. See Il. iv. 17,εἰ δ᾽ αὖ πως τόδε πᾶσι φίλον καὶ ἡδὺ πέλοιτο, τοι μὲν οἰκέοιτο πόλις Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος, αὖτις δ᾽ Ἀργείην Ἑλένην Μενέλαος ἄγοιτο” , where we may translate the apodosis either let the city still be a habitation and let M. carry away Helen, or the city may still be a habitation and M. may carry away Helen. In iii. 72 we have γυναῖκά τε οἴκαδ᾽ ἀγέσθω, and in iii. 255 τῷ δέ κε νικήσαντι γυνὴ καὶ κτήμαθ᾽ ἕποιτο, where ἀγέσθω and ἕποιτό κε refer to essentially the same thing with ἄγοιτο in iv. 19. Following Il. iii. 255(above) we have οἱ δ᾽ ἄλλοι ναίοιμεν Τροίην, τοὶ δὲ νέονται, i. e. the rest of us may remain dwellers in Troy, while they will return to Greece. From such neutral future expressions were probably developed the two distinct uses of the optative. In its hortatory sense as a form of wishing, the optative was distinguished by the use of μή as a negative; while in its potential sense it had οὐ as its negative (as in οὐ μὴν γάρ τι κακώτερον ἄλλο πάθοιμι, for really I can suffer nothing worse, Il. xix. 321), and it was soon further marked by the addition of κέ or ἄν. (See Appendix I.)

14. In dependent clauses expressing purpose or the object of exertion or of fear, the optative is never an original form; but it always represents a dependent subjunctive or future indicative (8, b; 10) in the changed relation in which either of them is placed when its leading verb is changed from present or future to past time.

We represent this change in English by a change from may to might, or from shall or will to should or would; as ἔρχεται ἵνα ἴδῃ, he comes that he may see, ἦλθεν ἵνα ἴδοι, he came that he might see; ἐπιμελεῖται ὅπως τοῦτο γενήσεται, he takes care that this shall be done, ἐπεμελεῖτο ὅπως τοῦτο γενήσοιτο, he took care that this should be done; φοβεῖται μὴ τοῦτο πάθῃ, he fears that he may suffer this; ἐφοβήθη μὴ τοῦτο πάθοι, he feared that he might suffer this. Here the original subjunctive or future indicative (especially the latter) is very often used in place of the optative.

15. In all forms of indirect discourse the same principle (14) holds, that the optative after past tenses represents (in a changed relation) an indicative or a subjunctive of the direct form, which original mood is always used after present and future tenses, and may be retained after past tenses (667, 1).

Here again we see what the change is, for we represent it by our change from is to was, have to had, shall and will to should and would, etc.; as λέγει ὅτι ἀληθές ἐστιν, he says that it is true; ἔλεξεν ὅτι ἀληθὲς εἴη (or ἐστίν), he said that it was true; λέγει ὅτι γράψει, he says that he will write; ἔλεξεν ὅτι γράψοι (or γράψει), he said that he would write. So οὐκ οἶδα τί εἴπω, I know not what I shall say; οὐκ ᾔδειν τί εἴποιμι (or εἴπω), I knew not what I should say.

16. In future conditions the optative expresses the supposition in a weakened future form, as compared with the stronger future of the subjunctive and the future indicative.

Compare ἐὰν ἔλθω, if I (shall) go (444), with εἰ ἔλθοιμι, if I should go (455). Often the form of the leading sentence (the apodosis) decides whether a given supposition shall be expressed by a subjunctive or by an optative; thus in DEM. iv. 11 we have ἂν οὗτός τι πάθῃ, if anything happens (shall happen) to him (Philip), depending on ποιήσετε; and in the next sentence, referring to precisely the same contingency, we have εἴ τι πάθοι, depending on two optatives with ἄν.

17. The only remaining form of dependent optative is that found in past general suppositions, as εἴ τις κλέψειεν (or ὃς κλέψειεν), ἐκολάζετο, if ever any one stole (or whoever stole), he was (always) punished (462; 531).

Here the optative after a past tense represents an original subjunctive after a present tense (11), differing in this from the optative in future conditions (16), which is in an original construction. The late development of this optative appears from its almost total absence in protasis with εἰ in Homer (468), where the corresponding subjunctive in protasis is also infrequent. It may therefore be disregarded in considering the primitive uses of the optative. (See 11 b.

For a more full discussion of the relations of the optative to the other moods, see Appendix I.

IV. Imperative.

18. The imperative expresses a command, exhortation, entreaty, or prohibition (250 and 259). E.g. Φεῦγε, begone! Ἐλθέτω, let him come. Δός μοι τοῦτο, give me this. Μὴ ποίει ἄδικα, do not do what is unjust.

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