Lesson ζ': The Participle

The participle is a verbal adjective. It has gender, number and case like an adjective, tense and voice like a verb. In English, the active participle is an -ing word, such as swimming, and it modifies a noun, as in the swimming girl. The passive participle is an -ed word, such as lifted, and again it modifies a noun, as in "the lifted lorax." Some verbs have the passive participle in -en, such as given, as in "the given triangle." The English participle is a feeble thing compared to the Greek. Greek uses participles a great deal, so it is important to be able to recognize them. There are active and middle present, future, aorist and perfect participles, and aorist passive participles, all of which are frequently encountered, as well as a few other rare kinds that we shall not consider here. Since these participles are adjectives, their declensions are extensive, so the whole thing looks nearly impossible to learn the first time you encounter it. However, it is not as bad as that, since there is an underlying simple principle to forming the various tenses and moods, and you already know the case endings.

The box at the right shows that it is simply a matter of using tense signs, which are shown in red, and adding the endings, which are in blue. The masculine and neuter nominative singular nominative endings are shown under mns and nns. Between them in the column labelled mngs is the genitive singular, ending in -οσ, like a noun of the consonant declension. This shows what the participle really looks like. Simply add the familiar consonant declension endings instead of the -οσ. The only trick is in the dative plural, which ends in -σι and omits the ν or whatever in the ending. The feminine endings are different, and are those of the α-declension. The nominative uses α, but the other cases have η, except after ι as usual, when α is retained in the ending. The middle participles all have the same characteristic ending, which is declined according to the ο and α declensions. All the peculiarities of the accents are not shown, but the general characteristics are plain. The penultimate accent of the perfect middle is typical, distinguishing it from the present middle participle. The last line shows the aorist passive participle, with its characteristic tense and mood sign θε. From this table, it should be easy to recognize any participle you come across. The participles are subject to the same stem variations as the finite verb, which lends some spice to the contest. The strong aorist will have a stem change, but otherwise look like present.

The tense of the participle has to do mainly with the type of action rather than the time. The aorist and perfect are the tenses most used in Euclid. The aorist describes a single definite action, while the perfect describes an action that is done first and has a lasting effect, before a later action. Therefore, an aorist participle generally refers to a past action that is complete at the time of the main verb, while the present participle refers to a current action that continues indefinitely at the same time as the action of the main verb. This comes up over and over in Greek, which uses tenses differently than Latin or English. Temporal relations are not of the essence in Greek.

The -οντ- participles are like English -ing words, while the -ομεν- participles are like English -ed words. pau/saj is "stopping" (transitive), while pausa/menoj (aorist middle), or pepaume/noj (perfect middle) is "stopped." If the perfect is used, it means whatever was stopped is still stopped. The present active participle pau/wn would mean something is continuously stopping something. This is not easy to explain in English, which has few participles and no real passive, not to mention middle, voice. Participles make concise, precise expression possible. Latin authors admired Greek for this.

The future middle participle pauso/menoj seems to be an exception to this. It is specifically used to express intent or design, so it is not really an exception. The aorist participle can just as well describe a future action, however. These things are important in a general study of Greek, but will not be needed for Euclid. You need only be aware that Greek has a lot of participles, and uses them extensively.

A much-used participle in Euclid is shown above, which means "given". di/dwmi is a -μι verb, one which uses perfect forms for the present stem, and the aorist is conjugated like a perfect tense. This, perhaps, reflects the lasting nature of giving. In Euclid, it only appears as this participle, making our life a little easier. This is also our paradigm for declining similar participles, when they arise. It is formed regularly from the sixth principal part, e)do/qhn, the aorist passive. The stem is found by dropping the augment ε and the personal ending qhn.

The -αs participles of the weak aorist are declined like the word meaning every or all, so we can serendipitously show it here as a paradigm for these participles. Since the masculine and neuter share so many forms, they are combined here, and this will generally be done. The remaining kind of participle is the perfect active, which ends in -εs in the masculine singular nominative. The verb te/mnw, cut, will serve as the example, seen in the box on the left. This has a ν (a "liquid") in the stem, which makes for a number of changes. The κ is another sign of the perfect, appearing in all the regular perfect active endings. The endings here look familiar, so it is not as hard a job to recognize the case as it would be to form the word. The Greeks relied on these hints, just as we do in our language. If we hear the word gorving, we think of the present participle of the verb to gorve, and know what being gorved would be, if we knew what the verb meant. It is the same here, but there is more of it. Some of the meanings of the Greek participles are hard to express in English, but you will be able to feel the meaning when you read the Greek.

We have now learned how to decline most of the participles. The present and future participles are formed from the stem in the first and second principal parts. The aorist active and middle are formed from the third principal part. The aorist passive is formed from the sixth principal part. The perfect active and perfect passive (middle) are formed from the fourth and fifth principal parts. For our purposes, it is only important to be able to recognize the participles, not build them, and the information given here should make that possible.

A noun in the genitive accompanied by a participle can be used independently in a sentence to express a condition. "The circle having been given" can be written tou~ ku/klou doqe/ntoj. Of course, we use the aorist, since the deed has been done. Euclid uses this construction quite frequently. It is called the genitive absolute, and is used exactly like the Latin equivalent, the ablative absolute. The functions of the Latin ablative have been assumed by the other cases in Greek, and this is one that belongs to the genitive. Genitive absolutes will be pointed out when they occur in the text. They are a very powerful and concise means of expression.


1. Form all the participles for te/mnw, whose principal parts were shown above, and write out their declensions. Try to give an English translation for the different participles.

2. Use genitive absolutes to express "the circle is being given", and "the line having been drawn".

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 11 September 2000
Last revised 16 June 2002