I don't know about you but I've looked in a few books and websites to try to find a good referance for verb tenses and conjugations. In an earlier post I mentioned Verbix as being fairly complete, but it still suffered from two problems. The first being that you need to know the greek translation of the verb to start with, which isn't too bad if you have a dictionary to hand, but secondly you need to understand what all the tenses mean. So the present tense in Greek seems to have three (well 4 really, but see the first comment to this post where I'll go into that) forms: the indicative, the subjunctive and the imperative.
All of these we've either heard or used in the most basic of Greek but what on earth they mean is another thing. The Imperative is the easy one as that is the "normal" present tense:
- I write a book (γράφω ένα βιβλίο)
The other relatively easy one to understand is the third one - the imperative as this is the "command" form of the verb and you only get it when it refers to the second person (You). So the Imperative form of our "writing" example is like this:
- Write a book! (γράφε/γράφετε ένα βιβλίο - depending if it's singular or plural, informal or polite)
Perhaps you have heard "έλα!, έλα!" shouted in Greece? Thats an imperative form of the verb "to come" (έρχομαι).
And so now we come to the subjunctive, which is the hardest to understand as it has very little to compare it with in english, but there are a few examples to show what it's all about. Basically the subjunctive is the form of the verb you use when the action the verb describes isn't certain to be happening. So for instance the verb in english is the same when you can "I write" or "Can I write", but in Greek the verb has a different form, so:
- Can I write a book (μπορώ να γράψω ένα βιβλίο)
We've come across this when learning ordering in the taverna ("Can I Have" = "μπορώ να έχω"). The way to form the subjunctive is simply to stick "να" in front of the normal (indicative) form, but unfortunately there is usually a small change in the verb itself too. Notice above the fourth letter in γραφω/ΓΡΑΦΩ changed from φ/Φ to ψ/Ψ, so the subjunctive form of the verb is να γραψω/ΝΑ ΓΡΑΨΩ. The verb έχω/ΕΧΩ is one of the few verbs that doesn't suffer this change in the subjunctive.
The easiest way I have found to work out if you use the subjunctive form or not, is to compare to the english verb "to be", which is one of the only verbs in English to have a present subjunctive form. To illustrate the diffence look at these two phrases:
- You are the captain
- Can You be the captain
the first is indicative and the second is subjunctive as it expresses the wish to be captain rather than the certainly that you are captain. Other verbs don't do this in english (e.g. You see the captain/Can you see the captain), but this one example where the verb does change can help.
Consider the other phrase we have learnt for ordering in the taverna - "Perhaps, you have...". In Greek should we use the subjunctive or the indicative? Test it out by using the "to be" example above:
- You are the captain
- Perhaps you are the captain
So when we say "perhaps" rather than "Can" the verb stays as "are" and doesn't change to "be". Hence we follow the same rule in Greek so "Perhaps you have..." translates to, "μήπως έχετε..." and not "μήπως να έχετε..."
I think the whole thing would be a lot easier if grammatitians would use normal language to start with. So instead of calling these verb forms, indicative, subjunctive and imperative, why not call them normal, possible and commanding, which would give the layman a chance at understanding what they are going on about.