Aorist (//; abbreviated aor) is a grammatical term used to denote particular verb forms in certain languages. It is used particularly with regard to Ancient Greek, and to certain other Indo-European languages such as Proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, Armenian and Macedonian, as well as languages influenced by the Indo-European tradition, such as Georgian. In these languages the aorist is usually a form that expresses perfective aspect and often refers to past events. It is thus comparable in meaning to what is called thepreterite in grammars of some languages.
The word comes from Ancient Greek ahóristos "indefinite", as the aorist was the unmarked (default) form of the verb, and thus did not have the implications of the imperfective aspect, which referred to an ongoing or repeated situation, or the perfect, which referred to a situation with a continuing relevance; instead it described an action "pure and simple".
Because the aorist was the unmarked aspect in Ancient Greek, the term is sometimes applied to unmarked verb forms in other languages, such as the habitual aspect inTurkish.
In Proto-Indo-European, the aorist appears to have originated as a series of verb forms expressing manner of action. Proto-Indo-European had a three-way aspectual opposition, traditionally called "present", "aorist", and "perfect", which are thought to have been, respectively, imperfective, perfective, and stative (resultant state) aspects. By the time of Classical Greek, this system was maintained largely in independent instances of the non-indicative moods and in the nonfinite forms. But in the indicative, and in dependent clauses with the subjunctive and optative, the aspects took on temporal significance. In this manner, the aorist was often used as an unmarked past tense, and the perfect came to develop a resultative use, which is why the term perfect is used for this meaning in modern languages.
Other Indo-European languages lost the aorist entirely. In the development of Latin, for example, the aorist merged with the perfect. The preterites (past perfectives) of the Romance languages, which are sometimes called 'aorist', are an independent development.
In the Ancient Greek, the indicative aorist is one of the two main forms used in telling a story; it is used for undivided events, such as the individual steps in a continuous process (narrative aorist); it is also used for events that took place before the story itself (past-within-past). The aorist indicative is also used to express things that happen in general, without asserting a time (the "gnomic aorist"). It can also be used of present and future events; the aorist also has several specialized senses meaning present action.
Non-indicative forms of the aorist (subjunctives, optatives, imperatives, infinitives) are usually purely aspectual, with certain exceptions including indirect speech constructions and the use of optative as part of the sequence of tenses in dependent clauses. There are aorist infinitives and imperatives that do not imply temporality at all. For example, the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:11 uses the aorist imperative in "Give (δός dós) us this day our daily bread", in contrast to the analogous passage in Luke 11:3, which uses the imperfectiveaspect, implying repetition, with "Give (δίδου dídou, present imperative) us day by day our daily bread."
An example of how the aorist tense contrasts with the imperfect in describing the past occurs in Xenophon's Anabasis, when the Persian aristocrat Orontas is executed: "and those who had been previously in the habit of bowing (προσεκύνουν prosekúnoun, imperfect) to him, bowed (προσεκύνησαν prosekúnēsan, aorist) to him even then." Here the imperfect refers to a past habitual or repeated act, and the aorist to a single one.
There is disagreement as to which functions of the Greek aorist are inherent within it. Some of the disagreement applies to the history of the development of the various functions and forms. Most grammarians differentiate the aorist indicative from the non-indicative aorists. Many authors hold that the aorist tends to be about the past because it is perfective, and perfectives tend to describe completed actions; others that the aorist indicative and to some extent the participle is essentially a mixture of past tense and perfective aspect.
Because the aorist was not maintained in either Latin or the Germanic languages, there have long been difficulties in translating the Greek New Testament into Western languages. The aorist has often been interpreted as making a strong statement about the aspect or even the time of an event, when, in fact, due to its being the unmarked(default) form of the Greek verb, such implications are often left to context. Thus, within New Testament hermeneutics, it is considered an exegetical fallacy to attach undue significance to uses of the aorist. Although one may draw specific implications from an author's use of the imperfective or perfect, no such conclusions can, in general, be drawn from the use of the aorist, which may refer to an action "without specifying whether the action is unique, repeated, ingressive, instantaneous, past, or accomplished." In particular, the aorist does not imply a "once for all" action, as it has commonly been misinterpreted, although it frequently refers to a simple, non-repeated action.
Although quite common in older Sanskrit, the aorist is comparatively infrequent in much of classical Sanskrit, occurring, for example, 66 times in the first book of the Rāmāyaṇa, 8 times in the Hitopadeśa, 6 times in the Bhagavad-Gītā, and 6 times in the story of Śakuntalā in the Mahābhārata.
In the later language, the aorist indicative had the value of a preterite,[clarification needed] while in the older language it was closer in sense to the perfect. The aorist was also used with the ancient injunctive mood, particularly in prohibitions
In the grammar of Ancient Greek, including Koine, the aorist (pronounced // or //) is a class of verb forms that generally portray a situation as simple or undivided, that is, as having perfective aspect. In the grammatical terminology of classical Greek, it is a tense, one of the seven divisions of the conjugation of a verb, found in all moods and voices.
In traditional grammatical terminology, the aorist is a "tense", a section of the verb paradigm formed with the same stem across all moods. By contrast, in theoretical linguistics,tense refers to a form that specifies a point in time (past, present, or future).
The literary Greek of Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, Attic Greek, was the standard school-room form of Greek for centuries. This article therefore chiefly describes the Attic aorist, describing the variants at other times and in other dialects as needed. The poems of Homer were studied in Athens, and may have been compiled there; they are in Epic or Homeric Greek, an artificial blend of several dialects, not including Attic. The Homeric aorist differs in morphology from Attic, but the educated Athenians imitated Homeric syntax.
Conversely, Hellenistic or Koine Greek was a blend of several dialects after the conquests of Alexander; most of the written texts that survive in Koine imitate the Attic taught in schools to a greater or lesser extent, but the spoken language of the writers appears to have simplified and regularized the formation of the aorist, and some of the features of Attic syntax are much less frequently attested.
A verb may have either a first aorist or a second aorist: the distinction is like that between weak (try, tried) and strong verbs (write, wrote) in English. A very few verbs have both types of aorist, sometimes with a distinction of meaning: for example ἵστημι (to set up or cause to stand) has both ἕστησα and ἕστην as aorists, but the first has a transitive meaning ("I set up") and the second an intransitive meaning ("I stood").
The stem of the first aorist is marked by -σα- in the active and middle voice, and -θη- in the passive voice. Because of the σ (sigma), it is also called sigmatic aorist.
Compensatory lengthening affects first aorist forms whose verbal root ends in a sonorant (nasal or liquid: ν, μ, ρ, λ).
In Attic and Ionic Greek (also in Doric, with some differences), the σ in the first aorist suffix causes compensatory lengthening of the vowel before the sonorant, producing a long vowel (α → η or ᾱ, ε → ει, ι → ῑ, ο → ου, υ → ῡ).
In Aeolic Greek (which contributes some forms to Homeric), the σ causes compensatory lengthening of the sonorant instead of the vowel, producing a double consonant (ν → νν, λ → λλ).
The present stem sometimes undergoes sound changes caused by a suffix — for instance, -ι̯- (IPA: /j/, English consonantal y). In this case, the aorist is formed from the verbal root without the present-stem sound changes.
|original form||Attic||original form||Attic||Aeolic|
|μέν-ω||μεν-σα||ἔ-μεινα||*ἔ-μεννα||stay, wait for|
Kiparsky analyzes the process as debuccalization of s (σ) to h in Proto-Greek, metathesis of h and the sonorant so that h comes before the sonorant, and assimilation of h to the vowel (Attic-Ionic-Doric) or to the consonant (Aeolic).
- men-sa → men-ha (debuccalization) → mehna (metathesis) → mēna or menna (compensatory lengthening)
First aorist endings
Most of the active and middle forms of the first aorist are similar to the forms of the present and imperfect, except with an α in the endings instead of an ο or ε. The first person singular indicative active, second person singular imperfect middle, the second person singular imperatives, active infinitive, and masculine nominative singular of the participle (bolded), however, differ, and the subjunctive active and middle of the first aorist have endings identical to the present ones.
Most of the passive forms of the first aorist have endings similar to those of the root aorist.
The stem of the second aorist is the bare root of the verb, or a reduplicated version of the root. In these verbs, the present stem often has e-grade of ablaut and adds anasal infix or suffix to the basic verb root, but the aorist has zero-grade (no e) and no infix or suffix.
When the present has a diphthong (e.g., ει), the second aorist has the offglide of the diphthong (ι).
- present λείπω "leave", aorist λιπ(ο⁄ε)- (e-grade in present, zero-grade in aorist)
When there is no vowel in the present stem besides the e of ablaut, the aorist has no vowel, or has an α from a vocalic ρ or λ.
- present πέτομαι "fly", aorist πτ(ο⁄ε)- (e-grade in present, zero-grade in aorist)
- present τρέπω, aorist τραπ(ο⁄ε)- (e-grade ρε in present, zero-grade ρ → ρα in aorist)
Present stems of verbs with a reduplicated aorist often do not have e-grade or an infix or suffix.
- present ἄγω "lead", aorist ἄγαγ(ο⁄ε)- (bare stem in present, reduplicated stem in aorist)
Second aorist endings
The endings include an ο or ε (thematic vowel). In the indicative, endings are identical to those of the imperfect; in non-indicative moods, they are identical to those of the present.
Second aorist passive
A second aorist passive is distinguished from a first aorist passive only by the absence of θ. A few verbs have passive aorists in both forms, with no distinction in meaning.
There is no correlation between the first/second aorist distinction in the active and the passive: a verb with an active second aorist may have a passive first aorist or vice versa.
The root aorist is characteristic of athematic verbs (those with a present active in -μι). Like the second aorist, the stem is the bare root, and endings are similar to the imperfect in the indicative, and identical to the present in non-indicative moods. It is sometimes included as a subcategory of the second aorist because of these similarities, but unlike the second aorist of thematic verbs, it has no thematic ο⁄ε.
The singular aorist indicative active of some athematic verbs (τίθημι, ἔθηκα; δίδωμι, ἔδωκα) uses a stem formed by the suffix -κα and takes first aorist rather than root aorist endings.
The aorist generally presents a situation as an undivided whole, also known as the perfective aspect.
The aorist usually implies a past event in the indicative, but it does not assert pastness, and can be used of present or future events.
- ἀπωλόμην ἄρ᾽, εἴ με δὴ λείψεις, γύναι.
The aorist and the imperfect are the standard tenses for telling a story. The ordinary distinction between them is between an action considered as a single undivided event and the action as a continuous event. Thus, for example, a process as a whole can be described in the imperfect, while the individual steps in that process will be aorist.
- ἔπαιζε ἐν τῇ κώμῃ ταύτῃ ... μετ᾽ ἄλλων ἡλίκων ἐν ὁδῷ. καὶ οἱ παῖδες παίζοντες εἵλοντο ἑωυτῶν βασιλέα εἶναι... ὁ δὲ αὐτῶν διέταξε τοὺς μὲν οἰκίας οἰκοδομέειν, τοὺς δὲ δορυφόρους εἶναι, τὸν δέ κου τινὰ αὐτῶν ὀφθαλμὸν βασιλέος εἶναι, τῷ δὲ τινὶ τὰς ἀγγελίας φέρειν ἐδίδου γέρας,...
[Cyrus] was playing in this village... in the road with others of his age. The boys while playing chose to be their king this one.... Then he assigned some of them to the building of houses, some to be his bodyguard, one doubtless to be the King's Eye; to another he gave the right of bringing him messages;....
- Here the imperfect ἔπαιζε "was playing" is the whole process of the game (which continues past these extracts); the aorists the individual steps.
The narrative aorist has the same force, of an undivided or single action, when used by itself:
- ἐπεὶ δὲ εἶδον αὐτὸν οἵπερ πρόσθεν προσεκύνουν, καὶ τότε προσεκύνησαν, καίπερ εἰδότες ὅτι ἐπὶ θάνατον ἄγοιτο.
And when the men who in former days were wont to do him homage saw him, they made their obeisance even then, although they knew that he was being led forth to death.
- Were wont to do him homage is the imperfect, made their obeisance the aorist, of προσκύνω "kowtow".
On the other hand, if the entire action is expressed, not as a continuous action, but as a single undivided event, the aorist is used:
Herodotus introduces his story of Cyrus playing with:
- καὶ ὅτε ἦν δεκαέτης ὁ παῖς, πρῆγμα ἐς αὑτὸν τοιόνδε γενόμενον ἐξέφηνέ μιν·
Now when the boy was ten years old, the truth about him was revealed in some such way as this:
The aorist is also used when something is described as happening for some definite interval of time; this particular function can be more precisely called the temporal aorist:
- Οὑμὸς πατὴρ Κέφαλος ἐπείσθη μὲν ὑπὸ Περικλέους εἰς ταύτην γῆν ἀφικέσθαι, ἔτη δὲ τριάκοντα ᾤκησε.
My father Cephalus was persuaded by Pericles to come to this land and lived (there) thirty years.
The other chief narrative use of the aorist is to express events before the time of the story:
- τούς τε Ἱμεραίους ἔπεισαν ξυμπολεμεῖν καὶ αὐτούς τε ἕπεσθαι καὶ τοῖς ἐκ τῶν νεῶν τῶν σφετέρων ναύταις ὅσοι μὴ εἶχον ὅπλα παρασχεῖν (τὰς γὰρ ναῦς ἀνείλκυσαν ἐν Ἱμέρᾳ)
they persuaded the Himeraeans to join in the war, and not only to go with them themselves but to provide arms for the seamen from their vessels (for they had beached their ships at Himera)
It thus often translates an English or Latin pluperfect: the Greek pluperfect has the narrower function of expressing a state of affairs existing at the time of the story as the result of events before the time of the story.
In verbs denoting a state or continuing action, the aorist may express the beginning of the action or the entrance into the state. This is called ingressive aorist (also inceptive orinchoative).
- βασιλεύω "I am king" (present) — ἐβασίλευσα "I became king" or "I ruled" (aorist)
- basileúō — ebasíleusa
The resultative aorist expresses the result of an action. Whether this is truly distinguishable from the normal force of the narrative aorist is disputable.
- ἐβούλευον "I was deliberating" is imperfect; ἐβούλευσα "I decided" is aorist.
The gnomic aorist expresses the way things generally happen, as in proverbs. The empiric aorist states a fact of experience (ἐμπειρίᾱ empeiríā), and is modified by the adverbs often, always, sometimes, already, not yet, never, etc. (English tends to express similar timeless assertions with the simple present.)
The gnomic aorist is regarded as a primary tense in determining the mood of verbs in subordinate clauses. That is to say, subordinate clauses take the subjunctive instead of the optative.
- οἱ τύραννοι πλούσιον ὃν ἄν βούλωνται παραχρῆμ’ ἐποίησαν (not *ἄν βούλοιεν)
Tyrants make rich in a moment whomever they wish.
In dialogues within tragedy and comedy, the first person singular aorist or present expresses an action performed by the act of speaking, like thanking someone (see performative utterance), or, according to another analysis, a state of mind. This is called tragic or dramatic aorist. The aorist is used when the action is complete in the single statement; the present when the speaker goes on to explain how or why he is acting.
- Ἀλλαντοπώλης. ἥσθην ἀπειλαῖς, ἐγέλασα ψολοκομπίαις,
ἀπεπυδάρισα μόθωνα, περιεκόκκασα.
Sausage-seller. I like your threats, laugh at your empty bluster,
dance a fling, and cry cuckoo all around.
Indicative mood with particle
A wish about the past that cannot be fulfilled is expressed by the aorist indicative with the particles εἴθε or εἰ γάρ "if only" (eíthe, ei gár). This is called the aorist of unattainable wish.
- εἴθε σοι, ὦ Περίκλεις, τότε συνεγενόμην.
If only I had been with you then, Pericles!
An unattainable wish about the present uses the imperfect. A wish about the future uses the optative with or without a particle; an optative of wish may be unattainable.
The aorist indicative (less commonly the imperfect) with the modal particle ἄν án, Homeric κέ(ν) ké(n), may express past potentiality, probability, or necessity.
- τίς γὰρ ἂν ᾠήθη ταῦτα γένεσθαι;
For who would have expected these things to happen?
The aorist indicative (also the imperfect, or past iterative in Herodotus) with ἄν án may express repeated or customary past action. This is called the iterative indicative. It is similar to the past potential, since it denotes what could have happened at a given point, but unlike the past potential, it is a statement of fact.
The aorist or imperfect indicative with ἄν may express past unreality or counterfactuality. This is called the unreal indicative. This construction is used in the consequence of past counterfactual conditional sentences.
Outside of indirect discourse, an aorist participle may express any time (past, present, or rarely future) relative to the main verb.
Outside of the indicative mood, sometimes the aorist determines time (often past time), and sometimes the function of the mood determines it. When the aorist does not determine time, it determines aspect instead.
Aorist in indirect discourse refers to past time relative to the main verb, since it replaces an aorist indicative.
An imperative, subjunctive or optative in an independent clause usually refers to future time, because the imperative express a command, the subjunctive expresses urging, prohibition, or deliberation, and the optative expresses a wish or possibility.
In dependent clauses (temporal, conditional, etc.), the time (past, present, or future) of an aorist subjunctive, optative, or imperative is based on the function of the mood. The subjunctive is used with main verbs in the present and future tenses (primary sequence), and the optative is used with main verbs in the past tenses (secondary sequence) and to express potentiality in the future.
In the potential optative, the aorist expresses aspect, and the potential optative implies future time.