Biblical Greek (Beginners): 05. Greek verb overview, Present tense

In this lesson, you will be introduced to a Greek verb system in order to get the general picture. The second part of the lesson will teach you present tense indicative.

Overview of the Greek verb

Before we discuss particular Greek tenses, we will have to pause for a moment to see general characteristics of the Greek verb. This pause will further help us in overall comprehension of the Greek verb.

Grammatical Categories of Greek Verbs

Greek verb has five grammatical categories:

  • Person (1., 2., 3.)
  • Number (singular, plural)
  • Voice (active, passive, middle)
  • Tense (present, future, imperfect, aorist, perfect, pluperfect)
  • Mood (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, optative)

When analyzing Greek verbs, we will have to determine these categories to rightly translate the verb. For example in English, we would analyze the word I phoned as 1. person., pl., active, past tense, indicative. This process of analyzation is called parsing.

Let's make some detailed notes about these categories.


Voice determines in what manner the subject performs the action:

  • Active: the subject actively performs the action: I am killing
  • Passive: action is performed upon the subject, it suffers the action: I am killed
  • Middle: the subject performs the action upon himself or for his benefit: I am killing myself, I am killing for my own


Detailed specification of each tense will be discussed in the following lessons. We will now point out general characteristics of tenses:

  • Present: present tense, expresses imperfective action: I kill
  • Future: future tense, expresses expected action in future, perfective/imperfective action: I will kill
  • Imperfect: past tense, enduring action in past, imperfective action: I was killing
  • Aorist: past tense, simple action in past, perfective action: I killed
  • Perfect: perfect tense, performed action in past with results in present, perfective action: I have killed
  • Pluperfect: perfect past tense, past result arising from the previous action in past: I had killed

Greek verbs do not always perceive time as English does. This will be discussed later in the course.


Compared to indicative all of other moods (subjunctive, imperative and optative) do not convey time (emphasis on time is suppressed), it is only conveyed by indicative. Therefore, we will have to determine time by a context or by the main verb.

  • Indicative: denotes an action of a verb as reality
  • Subjunctive: denotes indefiniteness of an action, the action as such could objectively happen
  • Imperative: an action is not happening in reality, however depending on the choice it is possible to happen (it depends on obeying the command)
  • Optative: denotes a wish (it is not a reality)

Other verbal categories:

  • Participle: is a verbal adjective, meaning that it has characteristics both of verb and adjective
  • Infinitive: is a verbal substantive, it cannot be inflected

These verbal categories will be discussed in special lessons.

Basic Verbal Endings

All of the verbal endings can be summarized into 24 basic forms. Based on these forms other endings are derived for a particular tense. Knowing these forms, we will be able to safely recognize a verb. Therefore mastering these endings is essential for a proper analysis.

Past + Others   Present + Future
    Active Middle/Passive   Active Middle/Passive
Sg. 1 ον ομην   ω ομαι
  2 ες ου   εις (σαι)
  3 ε(ν) ετο   ει εται
Pl. 1 ομεν ομεθα   ομεν ομεθα
  2 ετε εσθε   ετε εσθε
  3 ον οντο   ουσι(ν) ονται

These endings apply only for indicative. Endings for infinitive and other moods will be introduced for each tense alone.

Discerning Features of Verbal Tenses

In the case of regular verbs, we can safely determine its tense and voice according to the table below. We recommend memorizing the discerning letters.

Tense Voice Discerning letters Augment
Present All -  
Future Active σ  
Passive θης  
Imperfect All -
Aorist Active σα
Passive θη
Perfect Active κα  
Middle -  
Pluperfect Active κει ()
Middle -  

A key factor for successful recognition is the discerning letters. Verbs expressing past will always have augment ε before verbal root, there we will safely know that this form is of past tense. Perfect tense contains reduplication before its verbal root (a prefix composed of beginning letter of the verbal root plus ε). All specifics will be discussed in particular instances.

Present tense

The most basic tense in Greek is present tense. Present expresses imperfective action. Endings of the present tense correspond to those mentioned in the table above on its right side.

  Sg. Pl.
Indicative Active
1 λυ ω λυ ομεν
2 λυ εις λυ ετε
3 λυ ει λυ ουσιν
Imperative λυ ε λυ ετε
Infinitive λυ ειν
Indicative Middle-Passive
1 λυ ομαι λυ ομεθα
2 λυ λυ εσθε
3 λυ εται λυ ονται
Imperative λυ ου λυ εσθε
Infinitive λυ εσθαι  

Deponent verbs

Deponent verbs are specific in that they exist only in middle-passive voice form while having active meaning. Although they have middle-passive endings, we will always translate them actively. We will recognize deponent verb by the εσθαι ending in the dictionary (present infinitive of middle-passive voice). Usual deponent verbs are for example πορευομαι (go), ἐρχομαι (come), προσευχομαι (pray).


J 3:32 τὴν μαρτυρίαν αὐτοῦ οὐδεὶς λαμβάνει
  No one accepts his testimony
J 13:5 ἤρξατο νίπτειν τοὺς πόδας τῶν μαθητῶν
  He begun to wash feet of disciples
J 7:52 ἐκ τῆς Γαλιλαίας προφήτης οὐκ ἐγείρεται
  Prophet does not come from Galilee (verb is deponent, we will translate it actively)