Primary and Secondary Personal Endings

How can I best learn the paradigms of nouns and verbs and the other inflected parts of speech?

Primary and Secondary Personal Endings

Postby cwconrad » July 8th, 2011, 5:33 pm

I have been asked to say something helpful or make some suggestions about understanding the bewildering array of personal (pronominal) endings of the Greek verb. To phrase the question in that manner is to confess the nigh-impossibility of fulfilling the request. One can say something simple that is true and that may seem, at first glance, to be helpful -- I’ll try to do that --, but it will soon become evident that what I can say is far less helpful than might have been hoped.

So, let’s take the easy part first. There’s plenty of evidence that the original Proto-Indo-European pronominal verb additives have survived, more or less, in ancient Greek:
1 sg. PIE “m” Lat. sum Greek μ (as final consonant becmes ν)
2 sg. PIE “s” Lat. habeσ Greek ς
3 sg. PIE “t” Lat. habεt Greek τ (as final consonant drops away)
1 pl. PIE “me/os” Lat. habemus Greek με
2 pl. PIE “te” Lat. habetis Greek τε
3 pl. PIE “nt” Lat. habent Greek ντ (τ as final consonant drops away)

In Greek these pronominal endings are preserved with the least phonological change in the Secondary “Active” endings that we observe in the thematic imperfect and aorist:
1 sg. ἔλυο-ν
2 sg. ἕλυε-ς
3 sg. ἕλυε (τ dropped away)
1 pl. ἐλύο-μεν (question: whence the ν?)
2 pl. ἐλύε-τε
3 pl. ἔλυο-ν (final τ dropped away)

The comparable Secondary Middle-Passive endings display in most of the surviving forms an omicron additive to the pronominal morpheme:
1 sg. ἐλυό-μην (inexplicable on the basis of anything thus far mentioned)
2 sg. ἐλύε-σο (intervocalic σ drops out, compensatory lengthenings
3 sg. ἐλύε-το
1 pl. ἐλυό-μεθα (θα inexplicable in terms of anything thus far mentioned)
2 pl. ἐλύε-σθε (this does seem to be a middle-marking variant of τε
3 pl. ἐλύο-ντο

The Primary Active endings display in most of the surviving forms an iota additive to the pronominal morpheme:
1 sg. εἰ-μι
2 sg. ἐσ-σι (Homeric, later ἔσι, later εἷ after loss of intervocalic sigma)
3 sg. ἐσ-τι
1 pl. ἐσ-μεν (whence the ν?)
2 pl. ἐσ-τε
3 pl. ἐσ-ντι becoming through phonological change εἰσι

The Primary Middle-Passive endings display in most of the surviving forms an -αι additive to the pronominal morpheme:
1 sg. λύο-μαι
2 sg. λύε-σαι becoming λύῃ after loss of intervocalic sigma and contraction)
3 sg. λύε-ται
1 pl. λυό-μεθα (just like Secondary middle 1 pl.)
2 pl. λύε-σθε (just like Secondary middle 2 pl.
3 pl. λύο-νται

Τhus we see the pronominal morphemes μ, σ, τ, με, τε, ντ

--in their purest form in the secondary active endings: ν, σ, _, με(ν), τε, ντ
--with o additive in the secondary mp endings: μην, σο, το, μεθα, σθε, ντο
--with ι additive in the primary active endings: μι, σι, τι, με(ν), τε, ντι
--with αι additive in the primary mp endings: μαι, σαι, ται, μεθα, σθε, νται

BUT: although we can trace the archaeology of the verb-forms in Classical and Koine Greek, the complexities of phonological change to the original combinations of vowels, diphthongs, and consonants is dismayingly complex. The upshot of all this is that what I have written about the pronominal endings as intelligible combinations of pronominal elements and vocalic additives is of almost no use at all to one learning the paradigms of the verbs. As Robert E. Lee is said to have moaned aloud repeatedly as he rode away with his battered troops from the field at Gettysburg, “Too bad, too bad!”

If one wants to explore about as clear an accounting of the personal endings of the Greek verb and their derivation, I would point to Smyth §§462-486.

I have an account of how roots, tense-stems and all the voice and mood markers link together to produce the seemingly myriad forms that ancient Greek verbs may take; it is accessible at

http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/d ... ekVerb.pdf

But, alas, I’m told that it too is not helpful, not useful to anyone who has not already mastered the whole gamut of extant verb forms. I don’t believe memorization of paradigms is much help in learning to read Greek -- I’ve seen too many students who could recite the paradigms but couldn’t read Greek. Knowing the paradigms as paradigms is of little value; what ultimately is important is discerning the exact meaning of verb forms when they are encountered in a text or in oral discourse.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Primary and Secondary Personal Endings

Postby Barry Hofstetter » July 9th, 2011, 8:43 am

cwconrad wrote:But, alas, I’m told that it too is not helpful, not useful to anyone who has not already mastered the whole gamut of extant verb forms. I don’t believe memorization of paradigms is much help in learning to read Greek -- I’ve seen too many students who could recite the paradigms but couldn’t read Greek. Knowing the paradigms as paradigms is of little value; what ultimately is important is discerning the exact meaning of verb forms when they are encountered in a text or in oral discourse.


Yes and no (go not to the Elves for wisdom...). If we could have total immersion courses such as Randall Buth advocates, using teaching strategies similar to modern language instruction, this would be good. But when you are limited to 3 hours or so a week, paradigm memorization is, in my opinion, a must. I tell my beginning students that, based on the restrictions we have, there are two "pillars" for learning the language -- memorization of vocabulary and paradigms, and practice. The former teaches you the basic structure of the language, the latter how to use it. I have deliberate strategies in play which encourage the students (sometimes forces them) to integrate their paradigms into their practice. It can be tough going at times, but its worth it when a student begins to have automatic recognition of forms and what they mean.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Re: Primary and Secondary Personal Endings

Postby cwconrad » July 9th, 2011, 9:33 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
cwconrad wrote:But, alas, I’m told that it too is not helpful, not useful to anyone who has not already mastered the whole gamut of extant verb forms. I don’t believe memorization of paradigms is much help in learning to read Greek -- I’ve seen too many students who could recite the paradigms but couldn’t read Greek. Knowing the paradigms as paradigms is of little value; what ultimately is important is discerning the exact meaning of verb forms when they are encountered in a text or in oral discourse.


Yes and no (go not to the Elves for wisdom...). If we could have total immersion courses such as Randall Buth advocates, using teaching strategies similar to modern language instruction, this would be good. But when you are limited to 3 hours or so a week, paradigm memorization is, in my opinion, a must. I tell my beginning students that, based on the restrictions we have, there are two "pillars" for learning the language -- memorization of vocabulary and paradigms, and practice. The former teaches you the basic structure of the language, the latter how to use it. I have deliberate strategies in play which encourage the students (sometimes forces them) to integrate their paradigms into their practice. It can be tough going at times, but its worth it when a student begins to have automatic recognition of forms and what they mean.


IF knowing the paradigms enables a student to discern immediately what sense a given verb form (let's say, ἀπεκρίθην) indicates, then it works. But (a) I've had students who could parse ἀπεκρίθην as 1 sg. indic. aor. pass. and still had no idea what the form means, and (b) I've had students who could grasp at once the sense of a simple clause like ὁ δὲ Παῦλος ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ ... without being able to analyze the verb form. You speak of two "pillars" but you name three items: memorized vocabulary, memorized paradigms, and practice. But "practice" doing what? Reciting vocabulary lists and reciting paradigms? I think that the primary confrontation of student with a language is understanding a spoken or written text, and I think that vocabulary and paradigm drills in and of themselves will not enable the student to understand spoken or written texts. The analytical tools that are the foundation of traditional pedagogy in ancient Greek (and Latin too) do not themselves enable students to understand texts. What they do is enable students to analyze texts which they have somehow already understood the meaning of. Those analytical tools -- parsing and recognition of vocabulary items -- may serve to decode the words of a written or spoken text, but the meaning of the word-sequence must be grasped intuitively as greater than the sum of its parts. That is why, I'm convinced, the formulation of a woodenly-literal English version of a Greek sentence so often remains largely unintelligible to the student or to others listening to or reading the student's "translation." The "practice" that is a sine qua non is reading or listening to chunks of text, particularly texts that repeatedly use the same constructions; it is assimilating words in their native sequence as they communicate a cumulative sequence of meaning that culminates in a complete intelligible thought -- a περίοδος.

Some students, I think, may be helped by learning the vocabulary lists and paradigms to confront the spoken or written text and find that the sequence of words is intelligible, but I am convinced that there is an intuitive leap from successive simple words recognized as intelligible terms in themselves to grasping the meaning of a sequence as a comprehensive thought. Without that intuitive leap all the memorization is fruitless, like a word such as "stop" recognized as nothing more than a combination of four characters in the alphabet.

I do think that the analytic tools are useful and indeed essential to discussion about texts, when we want to account for the how of the text's meaning. But at the heart of learning to read or speak a language is an experience of communication that transcends the analytic tools. However mystical that may sound, I think it's at the core of λέξαι, γράψαι, and σημᾶναι.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Primary and Secondary Personal Endings

Postby Barry Hofstetter » July 9th, 2011, 11:29 am

cwconrad wrote:
IF knowing the paradigms enables a student to discern immediately what sense a given verb form (let's say, ἀπεκρίθην) indicates, then it works. But (a) I've had students who could parse ἀπεκρίθην as 1 sg. indic. aor. pass. and still had no idea what the form means, and (b) I've had students who could grasp at once the sense of a simple clause like ὁ δὲ Παῦλος ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ ... without being able to analyze the verb form. You speak of two "pillars" but you name three items: memorized vocabulary, memorized paradigms, and practice. But "practice" doing what? Reciting vocabulary lists and reciting paradigms? I think that the primary confrontation of student with a language is understanding a spoken or written text, and I think that vocabulary and paradigm drills in and of themselves will not enable the student to understand spoken or written texts. The analytical tools that are the foundation of traditional pedagogy in ancient Greek (and Latin too) do not themselves enable students to understand texts. What they do is enable students to analyze texts which they have somehow already understood the meaning of. Those analytical tools -- parsing and recognition of vocabulary items -- may serve to decode the words of a written or spoken text, but the meaning of the word-sequence must be grasped intuitively as greater than the sum of its parts. That is why, I'm convinced, the formulation of a woodenly-literal English version of a Greek sentence so often remains largely unintelligible to the student or to others listening to or reading the student's "translation." The "practice" that is a sine qua non is reading or listening to chunks of text, particularly texts that repeatedly use the same constructions; it is assimilating words in their native sequence as they communicate a cumulative sequence of meaning that culminates in a complete intelligible thought -- a περίοδος.


I couldn't agree more, and we have all known students who could parse up a storm and not see the relationship of that parsing to reality. I should have been more clear, the two pillars are memorization (subdivided into vocab and paradigms) and practice. By practice, I mean lots of reading and composition, and now (more recently for me in my own pedagogy) spoken practice too.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Re: Primary and Secondary Personal Endings

Postby cwconrad » July 9th, 2011, 12:01 pm

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
I couldn't agree more, and we have all known students who could parse up a storm and not see the relationship of that parsing to reality. I should have been more clear, the two pillars are memorization (subdivided into vocab and paradigms) and practice. By practice, I mean lots of reading and composition, and now (more recently for me in my own pedagogy) spoken practice too.


Now I think we are on the same wave-length (probably always were, but didn't quite see what the other was saying): the analytical tools are useful and probably essential, if those learning the language are not growing up or living among native-speakers of the language. But it is deep involvement in using the language as a vehicle of communication -- reading, composition, and, if the situation permits, oral exchanges -- that real facility with the language is acquired and intensified. The analytical tools are of value primarily when we want to discuss how utterances and texts in ancient Greek convey their meaning.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Primary and Secondary Personal Endings

Postby Jonathan Robie » July 9th, 2011, 6:05 pm

I have a hard time learning tables from flashcards. I'm better at taking a table and constructing a list of examples, then reading through them. And it gets phrases into my head.

So if I were trying to learn the primary active endings, I might put these verses on flashcards, or simply read through them repeatedly - while also looking at the table - until the forms take root in my brain:

Code: Select all
(Book 05 19:15) Τὸν Ἰησοῦν γινώσκω
(Book 04 10:27) τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἐμὰ τῆς φωνῆς μου ἀκούουσιν, κἀγὼ γινώσκω αὐτά

(Book 23 02:05) ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐσμεν
(Book 07 13:09) ἐκ μέρους γὰρ γινώσκομεν καὶ ἐκ μέρους προφητεύομεν
(Book 23 02:03) Καὶ ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐγνώκαμεν αὐτόν

(Book 04 01:48) λέγει αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ Πόθεν με γινώσκεις;
(Book 04 03:10) Σὺ εἶ ὁ διδάσκαλος τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ καὶ ταῦτα οὐ γινώσκεις;
(Book 04 21:17) σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε.

(Book 01 24:32) γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος
(Book 01 24:33) γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις

(Book 04 10:15) καθὼς γινώσκει με ὁ πατὴρ κἀγὼ γινώσκω τὸν πατέρα
(Book 23 03:20) ὅτι μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ θεὸς τῆς καρδίας ἡμῶν καὶ γινώσκει πάντα
(Book 23 04:07) καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἀγαπῶν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται καὶ γινώσκει τὸν θεόν.

(Book 04 10:14) καὶ γινώσκω τὰ ἐμὰ καὶ γινώσκουσί με τὰ ἐμά


If I were trying to learn the secondary active endings, using the present stems, I might construct a list like this:

Code: Select all
(Book 14 02:05) οὐ μνημονεύετε ὅτι ἔτι ὢν πρὸς ὑμᾶς ταῦτα ἔλεγον ὑμῖν;
(Book 07 13:11) ὅτε ἤμην νήπιος, ἐλάλουν ὡς νήπιος

(Book 05 16:13) καὶ καθίσαντες ἐλαλοῦμεν ταῖς συνελθούσαις γυναιξίν
(Book 24 01:05) οὐχ ὡς ἐντολὴν καινὴν γράφων σοι ἀλλὰ ἣν εἴχομεν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς ,

(Book 04 21:18) ἐζώννυες σεαυτὸν καὶ περιεπάτεις ὅπου ἤθελες

(Book 04 05:46) εἰ γὰρ ἐπιστεύετε Μωϋσεῖ, ἐπιστεύετε ἂν ἐμοί
(Book 04 08:39) εἰ τέκνα τοῦ Ἀβραάμ ἐστε, τὰ ἔργα τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ ἐποιεῖτε
(Book 04 09:41) εἰ τυφλοὶ ἦτε, οὐκ ἂν εἴχετε ἁμαρτίαν

(Book 03 07:39) ἐγίνωσκεν ἂν τίς καὶ ποταπὴ ἡ γυνὴ ἥτις ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ
(Book 04 02:25) αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐγίνωσκεν τί ἦν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ

(Book 03 18:34) καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκον τὰ λεγόμενα
(Book 01 22:03) καὶ οὐκ ἤθελον ἐλθεῖν
(Book 01 12:23) καὶ ἐξίσταντο πάντες οἱ ὄχλοι καὶ ἔλεγον Μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς Δαυίδ ;


I've been playing with ways to make it easier to construct such lists, I think that will be helpful.

That's how I learn vocabulary best, and I'm learning that it's also the way I learn grammar best. And it adds to the Greek phrases in my memory, which is always a good thing.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Primary and Secondary Personal Endings

Postby RandallButh » July 10th, 2011, 5:09 am

If we could have total immersion courses such as Randall Buth advocates, using teaching strategies similar to modern language instruction, this would be good. But when you are limited to 3 hours or so a week, paradigm memorization is, in my opinion, a must.


A couple of small tweeks:

1. 3 hours/week vs. 10 hours/wk vs. 20 hours/wk should not change the pedagogy but the length of the program. 20/wk x 5 weeks will approximately equal 3/wk x 30 weeks.

2. I advocate having access to paradigms. But memorizing them are not the gate or conduit for learning, they are the 'monitor'. I've found that fluency is enhanced when a piece of a paradigm is plunged into a person and below their subconscious through rapid use and exposure to myriad examples. πεινᾷς; πεινῶ. θέλεις φαγεῖν τι; οὐ θέλω. τί αἰτεῖς; οὐδὲν αἰτῶ. οὐδὲν αἰτεῖς; οὐδέν. διψᾷς; διψῶ. τί θέλεις πεῖν. ὕδωρ πρωί. τί ἔπινες ἐχθές; [διψῶν] ἔπινον ὕδωρ. ἔπινες ὕδωρ.
Paradigms are best used in summary, not in introduction. Same is true in Hebrew. עשית? עשיתי Once they get the ability to rapidly switch -ta to -ti they are in a better position to discuss paradigms. "parse->decode/encode->produce" is not the neural-wiring that we want, but "comprehension->production", with an additional ability to discuss ""parse->decode/encode->produce"".
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