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Biblical Greek (Beginners): 12. Subjunctive

Subjunctive

For the time being, we have always met with an indicative mode that generally describes a fact. Subjunctive, however, represents a probability mode, because the action is as uncertain, however probable (action may not occur). It serves to express hope or desire. There are 1827 occurrences in the text of the NT.

Indicative of future tense expresses what happens (fact). The subjunctive, on the other hand, expresses what could happen (possibility). The level of probability is determined by the context.

The action is always perceived from the perspective of who describes it :

Mode Relation to reality Example
Indicative Fact   The boy is running (expressing the action that is actually going on)
Subjunctive Possibility If the boy runs, he escapes (the action does not actually happen but it is objectively possible → the boy has the ability to run)
Optative   May the boy run! (the action does not actually happen but is subjectively possible)
Imperative   Boy, run! (the action does not actually happen but is volative)

The temporal aspect of the conjunctive is suppressed. The verb in the present subjunctive expresses an imperfect aspect of the action. The verb in the aorist subjunctive expresses a perfect aspect of the action (it exists only for the present and the aorist).

It also serves as the form of a verb in the dependent clauses, which describes some dependence on the main verb.

Conjugation

Endings are built on present and aorist endings. However, there is a mophological change of the first vowel of the endind, extending to either η or ω (ο/ου extends to ω and ε to η).

  Active   Middle-Passive
    Sg. Pl.   Sg. Pl.
1   λυ ω → ω λυ ομεν → ωμεν   λυ ομαι → ωμαι λυ ομεθα → ωμεθα
2   λυ εις  ηις λυ ετε → ητε   λυ ῃ →  λυ εσθε → ησθε
3   λυ ει → ηι λυ ουσι(ν)  → ωσι(ν)   λυ εται → ηται λυ ονται → ωνται

For the active and passive aorist subjunctive, we only add proper discerning letter:

  • aorist active: λυσηις
  • aorist passive: λυθηις

Translation

The way in which we will translate the subjunctive will depend on the context and the aspect of the action (perfection, imperfection). These are two basic criteria. If a subjunctive is in the aorist, we must emphasize the perfectiver aspect in translation. We specify the tense of the action by context (control verb or overall tone of the sentence).

Special usage of subjunctive

Hortatory

Usage

  • Exhortation to others to join to action
  • Used as imperative for the first person (cohortative)

Construction: present/aoritst subjunctive of 1. person pl. (but also 5x in sg.)

Example: διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πέραν „let us go to the other side“ (Mk 4:35)

Prohibitive

Usage:

  • Expressing the prohibition as a whole
  • Used to prevent action (only some cases)
  • Never in the present

Constructionμή + aorist subjunctive 

Exampleκαὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν „and lead us not into temptation“ (Matt 6:23)

Deliberative

Usage:

  • Expressing a question that is either rhetorical or real
  • Expressing of certain doubts about the answer

Construction: present/aorist subjunctive of 1. person sg./pl.

Example: μὴ μεριμνήσητε λέγοντες· τί φάγωμεν; ἤ· τί πίωμεν„do not be anxious, saying: what should we eat?, what should we drink?“ (Matt 6:31)

Emphatic negation

Usage:

  • Expressing a strong ban or negation (the strongest negation in Greek)
  • Expresses absolute unreality of action → action is not possible
  • Beware of the context: it is only by the context to determine whether subjunctive has absolute negation or rhetorical function

Constructionοὐ μη present/aorist  subjunctive 

Exampleἐὰν μὴ σημεῖα καὶ τέρατα ἴδητε, οὐ μὴ πιστεύσητε „unless you see signs and wonders, you won't never believe

Expressing probability (Thirt conditional sentence)

The speaker considers the probability that the condition will become a reality. Learn more about conditional sentences in a separate lesson dedicated to all conditional sentences (see advanced course).

Construction: condition (protasis), ἐάν ἄν + verb in subjunctive (apodosis)

Subjunctive of the verb to be (εἶναι)

  Sg. Pl.
1 εἰμί ἐσμέν
2 εἶ ἐστέ
3 ἐστί(ν) εἰσί(ν)

These forms could be learned in exercises sections.


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