Biblical Greek (Beginners): 07. Imperfect, verb to be (εἰμί)


Imperfect expresses past imperfective action. In general, it portrays an action, which took some time in the past without defining boundaries of its beginning or ending. We will encounter imperfect mostly in storytelling texts (narratives) like gospels and acts. 

Indicative   Active   Middle-Passive
Sg. 1    λυ ον    λυ ομην
  2    λυ ες    λυ ου
  3    λυ ε(ν)    λυ ετο
Pl. 1    λυ ομεν    λυ ομεθα
  2    λυ ετε    λυ εσθε
  3    λυ ον    λυ οντο

The word λυον would be thus translated as „I was loosing“, not „I loosed“, in order to stress imperfectness in the translation.


All past tenses indicative are prefixed with letter  which makes you to easily determinate that the verb is in past. However, two special situations might occur affecting the resulting form of the letter :

  • in combination with a vowel (there is lengthening):

    • α, ε → η

    • ο → ω

    • αι, ει → ῃ

    • οι, ει → ῳ

  • in verb with prefix:

    • there is lengthening of a vowel after prefix: ὑπαγω → ὑπ + ε + αγον = ὑπηγον (I was leading out)

    • the last letter in prefix will drop off: ἐπιφέρω → ἐπι + ε + φερον = ἐπεφερον (I was bringing)

Deponent verbs

This kind of verbs has active meaning as it is in the present tense. The information about verb's deponency is available in a dictionary.


Rom 7:7 λεγεν· οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις.
  He said: you shall not covet
John 4:30 ἐξῆλθον ἐκ τῆς πόλεως καὶ ρχοντο πρὸς αὐτόν
  They came out of the city and went to him
Matt 9:35 καὶ περιγεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὰς πόλεις πάσας
  And Jesus went through all the cities
John 6:21 καὶ εὐθέως ἐγένετο τὸ πλοῖον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἰς ἣν ὑπγον
  And immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Verb to be

Greek word εἰμί or infinitive εἶναι (to be) is not quite regular in its forms. Therefore it is needed to be learned alone. However, we can draw some rules and connections to regular verbal endings from its forms.

  Sg. Pl.   Sg. Pl.   Sg. Pl.
Indicative Present   Future   Imperfect
1 εἰμί ἐσμέν   ἔσομαι ἐσόμεθα   ἤμην ἦμεν
2 εἶ ἐστέ   ἔσῃ ἔσεσθε   ἦς ἦτε
3 ἐστί(ν) εἰσί(ν)   ἔσται ἔσονται   ἦν ἦσαν
Infinitive εἶναι   ἔσεσθαι   -

We will encounter this verb in NT text quite often. The number of its occurrence is 2462.