Verbs – Biblical Greek

by | Nov 29, 2018 | 04 Bible Study 101, Greek

Verb Basics

In any language, the function of a verb is to express action, but there is a distinct difference between verb usage in English and biblical Greek. Basically with English verbs, we emphasize the time of the action. With Greek verbs, the kind of action is primary and the time of action is secondary.

You’ll recall from elementary school grammar that the major features of a verb are:

  1. Person: the person(s) doing the action of the verb
  2. Number: singular or plural; how many people are doing the action of the verb
  3. Voice: explains the relationship between the verb and the subject, indicating whether the subject performs the action or receives the action.
  4. Tense: indicates aspect. Only in the indicative does it express the time and/or duration of an action.
  5. Mood: expresses the author’s view of the relationship of the verb’s action to reality.

Person & Number

There are three persons and each can be singular or plural (number).

  • 1st person singular: I speak; plural: we speak
  • 2nd person singular: you speak; plural: you (all) speak
  • 3rd person singular: he, she, it speaks; plural: they speak

The ending of the Greek verb indicates the person and number. Consequently, Greek sentences do not need to have an expressed subject; the subject can be contained in the verb.

Greek Verb Voices

Voice explains the relationship between the verb and the subject, indicating whether the subject performs the action or receives the action. Biblical Greek as 3 voices:

  • Active: the subject of the verb produces the action (e.g. “John was baptizing.” or “John baptized.”)
  • Passive: the subject of the verb receives the action (e.g. ‘Luke is being baptized’; ‘Luke was baptized’).
  • Middle: the subject performs the action for himself or with special significance or benefit to himself. (e.g. ‘I am washing myself’; the ‘I’ both receives and does the action; note many times the middle voice is not as obvious as this example.)

Greek Verb Tenses

Tenses expresses the aspect or kind of the action: continuous, completed or indefinite. Only in the indicative mood does tense express the the time of the action.

TenseKind of ActionTime
PresentContinuous Present (e.g. ‘You are being build into a dwelling place of God’)
In the future
Future (e.g. ‘We will be like him’)
In the past
Past (e.g. ‘you walked in darkness’)
Viewed as a
Undefined (Aorist is past ONLY in the indicative mood; e.g. ‘God made us alive together with Christ’)
In the past with ongoing results
Action completed in the past, with continuing results in the present (e.g. ‘We were crucified with Christ’)
In the past
Past (e.g. ‘it was founded on a rock’; This tense is rarely used in the NT and is only found in the indicative mood)

The Greek word “aorist” means indefinite.  Aorist is perhaps the most difficult for English speakers.  The aorist tense tells us the action happened without specifying the manner of occurrence or completeness or duration.  It views the event as a whole.  If the present tense is a movie, then aorist is a snapshot.  There is a common misconception that the aorist represents “once for all” action.  This is not a given, but may be indicated by a particular context.

Greek Verb Moods

Mood expresses the relationship of the action of the verb to reality. Broadly speaking, mood indicates whether the actual is fact, possible or wishful.

IndicativeDeclaration of reality;
indicatives what is actually true (e.g. ‘God is not mocked’)
potential reality
Imposes a demand to do what is commanded; contingent upon the response (e.g. ‘Flee temptation’)
potential possibility
Expresses uncertainty. The action is possible, conditional or contingent (e.g. ‘in order that the wisdom of God might be made known’)
conceivably possible
Expresses a wish or desire (e.g. ‘may the peace of God sanctify you’)

Participles & Infintitives

Participles are verbs used to modify a noun (like an adjective) or substitute for a noun (e.g. ‘the coming one’). In English, they often end in -ing. Participles may also be used as adverbs to further clarify the action of the verb (e.g. ”by speaking the truth in love’).

Infinitives is the form of the verb usually translated with the word “to” in front of it and often complements another verb. Infinitives can also function as nouns (e.g. ‘for me to live is Christ’).

Summary: Verb Categories

Note: Read this table down by column (not across by row).


Further Study:

The Basics of Biblical Greek: Grammar by Bill Mounce; recommend, along with the online course.

The Greeks had a Word For it” (page 91) from the book Basics of Bible Interpretation by Bob Smith

Brief overview of Greek Verbs in the Greek New Testament.

I learned biblical Greek from New Testament Greek: An Introductory Grammar by Eric G Jay  (now out of print) and A Beginner’s New Testament Greek Grammar by Sake Kubo (also now out of print).  If you learned biblical Greek more recently, please email me with your book/software recommendations.  I’d love to know which ones are currently the best.

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