The Present Active Indicative Indicates What?

(This article is written per request of two Christian ladies, now based abroad, and of the five who like others have been reading this blog. Thanks for not being discouraged by the mind-boggling intricacies of the New Testament Greek).

The Greek verbs are somewhat like and somewhat unlike the English verbs—they have tense, voice, mood, person and number. Five very important traits a Greek verb cannot do without. English verbs have four: tense, voice, mood, and number.

Tense here does not mean the Greek verb is capable of having nervous tension (See the meaning at Answers.com). We are talking here about grammatical tense. It is the way language expresses time, and you will know by just looking at the verb if the action or event happened yesterday (as in English verb saw), is happening today (see, is seeing, are seeing), or will happen tomorrow (will see, shall see). This property of a verb, shown in the endings of a Greek verb, which may also be found in the endings of an English verb, shows information relating to time. See Wikipedia, in Answers.com.

In the present active indicative, the verb is in the present tense and speaks of the action happening today.

Tense is the quality of the verb which has to do with action. There are two outstanding things as to the matter of action, i.e., the time of action and the kind of action. As to time of action, there are three possibilities: past, present and future. As to kind of action, there are (for present consideration) two possibilities: linear or punctiliar. Linear action is an action regarded as a line ( ______ ). It is also called progressive or continuous action. Punctiliar action is action regarded as a point (.), i.e., action contemplated as a single perspective” (Ray Summers, Essentials of New Testament Greek, 11. Broadman Press, 1950). On the other hand, Hewett says, “The basic kinds of actions are linear, unitary, and completed with continuing resulting” (James Allen Hewett, New Testament Greek: A Beginning and Intermediate Grammar, 13. Hendrickson Publishers, 1992).

Voice. Every verb has a voice. It does not mean that verb can speak, or that it has a sound. The voice of the verb indicates how the subject performs, whether it is doing the action, or it is being acted upon. In the sentence, “The Lord heals Peter’s mother-in-law,” the Lord is doing the action of healing. The verb of this sentence is in the active voice. The subject of the sentence is “the Lord,” the verb is “heals” (present tense, singular), and the direct object is “Peter’s mother-in-law.”

The voice, in grammar, is “the form of a verb indicating the relation between the participants (subject, object) in a narrated event and the event itself. English grammar distinguishes between the active voice (“The hunter killed the bear”) and the passive voice (“The bear was killed by the hunter”). In the active voice, the emphasis is on the subject of the active verb (the agent performing the action named), whereas the passive voice indicates that the subject receives the action” (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, in Answers.com).

Want to hear more? Here’s one from Machen: “The active voice represents the subject as acting” or doing the action; in the passive voice, the subject is represented as being acted upon (Machen, 17).

And from Summers: “Voice is the quality of verbs, which indicates the relationship of the subject to the action. The active voice means the subject is acting… The passive voice means that the subject is being acted upon…” (Summers, 12). There is in the Greek also the middle voice, which speaks of the subject as acting in its own interest.

Mood. In grammar, this refers toa category that reflects the speaker’s view of an event’s reality, likelihood, or urgency. Often marked by special verb forms (inflections), moods include the indicative, for factual or neutral situations (e.g., “You did your work”); the imperative, to convey commands or requests (“Do your work”); and the subjunctive. The subjunctive’s functions vary widely. It may express doubt, possibility, necessity, desire, or future time. In English it often indicates a condition contrary to fact (e.g., “If he were to work here, he would have to learn to be punctual”) (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, in Answers.com).

Machen says, “the indicative mood makes an assertion, in distinction, for example, from a command or a wish” (Machen, 17). Summers, on the other hand, says, “Mood is the quality of the verb which indicates the relation of the action to reality” (Summers, 12). The indicative mood indicates that the action is really taking place: “He is loosing the dog” (Ibid.). The imperative mood (the mood of request or command) indicates potential action, such as in, “Loose the dog,” without telling us if the action has really taken place. Such is the use of moods in the Greek.

Person and Number. In Greek grammar this refers to the category of whether the action is done by the speaker or writer (by the first person, “I,” singular; “We,” plural), or by the second person (“you” plural, “you” singular), or by the third person (“They,” plural; “he,” “she, “it,” singular).

Machen shows how the verb luo, “I loose,” is conjugated: luo, lueis, luei; luomen, luete, luousi (Machen, 18).

First person singular, luo, “I loose,” “I am loosing.” Second person singular, lueis, “He looses,” “He is loosing.” Third person singular, luei, “He is loosing.” First person plural, luomen, “We loose,” “We are loosing.” Second person plural, luete, “You loose,” “You are loosing.” Third person plural, luousi, “They loose,” “They are loosing.” “He looses,”

In English, the distinction between the singular-plural first person (“I,” “we”), singular-plural second person (“you” singular; “you” plural), and the singular-plural third person (“he, she, it,” singular; “they,” plural) “are indicated for the most part by the subject-pronouns” (Machen, 19). In the Greek, they are indicated by the endings: luo, lueis, luei, which are singular; luomen, luete, luousi, which are plural. “The part of the verb that remains constant throughout the conjugation” is called the stem (Machen, 19). The endings added to the stem are: -o, -eis, ei; -omen, -ete, -ousi. The pronouns, and the number, whether plural or singular, are indicated by these endings. When translating into the English, these endings must be taken into consideration.

“I loose,” “I go,” “I run,” represent actions as taking place in the present time. “I am loosing,” “I am going,” “I am running,” refer to actions that are continuing at the time of speaking.

In the Greek, the verb luo, present tense, active voice, indicative mood, may be translated “I loose,” signifying an action taking place in the present. But it may also be translated “I am loosing,” signifying a continuing action (Machen, 21).

There you are. Hope this “loosens” whatever hang-ups you may have about Greek.

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