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Greek/Inchoative/Inceptive Verbs


QUESTION: Michael,

THANKS for offering your service as an expert. Question: I know there are verbs in other languages that LOOK like inceptives, but are not due to tense/mood. Here is my question. In the NT, Ephesians 5:18 states:

(sorry, greek characters are setting off "spam" alert???)

Kai me methyskesthe oino en ho estin asotia alla plerousthe en pneumati

So, while  methyskesthe appears to be inceptive, I'm not aware of any present-tense inceptives. Does the "me"  also impact the usage as a negative command?

Which would be the better translation:

1. Do not get drunk
2. Do not drink (begin the process of getting drunk)

The latter is used to make the case for total abstinence from wine.

Would the phrase above not need to be in the aorist subjunctive to make the case for "do not begin" to be accurate?  



ANSWER: Hi Peter,

thank you for your question on Ancient Greek topics.
The particular verb has several usages and meanings. Also, not all verbs that contain the -sk- characteristic have an inceptive (inchoative) meaning. But among those that do are:

γηρ-άσκ-ω (= to grow old / be in the process of growing old)
θν-ῃσκ-ει (=he/she dies / is at the moment of dying, cf. ἀπέθανεν = he/she is dead or he/she died)
ἡβ-άσκ-ω(to enter the youth/to start being a teenager)
ὑποφα-ύσκ-ω (=to start shedding light)
διδ-άσκ-ω (=to teach, to be in the process of teaching)
ἀναλ-ίσκ-ω (=to give for consumption i.e. waste or spend, cf. ἀναλῶ = to directly consume)
εὑρίσκω (=to find sth./ to look for sth)
βιβρώσκω (=to eat, consume)
πιπράσκω (=to sell)
μιμνῃσκω (=to remind)
γαμ-ίσκ-ω (=to give sb for wedding, cf. γαμῶ = to marry sb)
κυ-ΐσκ-ω (=to make pregnant, cf. κυῶ = to be pregnant)
ἀρέσκω (=to satisfy, to please, cf. ἀρέσκομαι [middle and passive] = to be well-liked | to be satisfied)

The form that you submitted is a passive form! If we consider Liddell-Scott's note, it could be an alternative form of the active (μεθύσκετε).

The verb is used as:

μεθύω (intransitive/neutral state, same as "to sleep", but not "to fall asleep") =
1. to be (already) drunk | 2. to become drunk (process)

μεθύσκω (transitive)= to make someone drunk / let or give sb to drink (and consequently make him drunk)

μεθύσκομαι (passive) = to be made drunk by sb/sth | (possibly reflexive) to make oneself drunk [for the reflexive use it is my personal opinion in the way I understand it in the multi-repeated phrase "μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ", i.e. "don't make yourselves drunk with wine", or - due the passive morphology of the verb - "don't be made drunk by wine", which in proper English doesn't work verbatim; it should be "don't let wine make you drunk"]

To answer your penultimate question, neither of the two options would be very precise for the translation. I'd say something like: don't make yourselves drunk or don't let yourselves drink (after all it reaches the "do not drink" option, but I see it a bit differently).

And the last question is also clear to me. The speaker uses the imperative form to make it sound like an order. It's a strict rule of life and a piece of advice for a proper life (let's ay) such as "Hey, do not drink!" (imper.) and not "let's not drink tonight" (subjunctive)

The subjunctive doesn't affect the aspect (meaning) of a verb. It's only a conjugation (function) and has nothing to do with "start to do something". This would be shown in the verb stem. Have a look again at some of the obvious examples of the verbs with the affixes in their stems.

Should you need anything else let me know. Hope this is clear for you. Have a good day.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Michael,

Thanks again for your help, it is truly appreciated!

So, if I understand correctly, μεθύσκεσθε is NOT an inchoative? And the reason is because it is in the present imperative middle-passive voice?  

Thanks again!


ANSWER: Hi again Peter,

in the given verse I would say that it doesn't work as inchoative (it has, though, the morphology of an inchoative verb, as explained in the previous response). It's because it wouldn't match the expected meaning so much. Then, we have to agree that it might sometimes occur as inchoative and sometimes not. In this particular example, I'd say that it functions as a reflexive verb.

Take care!


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you again, Michael! Your expertise is appreciated!  I apologize for the continued responses, but I'm really trying to understand the issue. I appreciate your patience with me.

I agree that the context makes it clear that the verb here is not inceptive/inchoative. How, then, do I explain the Vines entry here:

signifies "to make drunk, or to grow drunk" (an inceptive verb, marking the process or the state expressed in No. 1), "to become intoxicated," Luke 12:45; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 5:7.

Is Vines dated? Has scholarship improved since this entry?

Thanks again for your assistance!

Hey Peter, no worries about asking many questions.

The use of the verb seems to be the same in all verses that you sent me. Plus, if along with the passive verb you find a dative form, it is likely to be dativus auctoris. As I told you in the previous answers the verb μεθύσκομαι has a passive morphology, but in order to satisfy the meaning it might work as reflexive, too. Because with the absence of a subject/object many verbs tend to alter their meaning (except if these are aforementioned).

So, with the presence of a dative you might want to consider the verb as passive and the dative as dativus auctoris (to be made drunk by wine - "wine makes drunk"). On the other hand this dative could also be explained as dativus instrumentalis. In this case the verb would/could keep its reflexive meaning; the dative is just additional information on HOW one became drunk. It isn't possible to decide what the writer wants to express. At both cases, the meaning is the same, though. To sum up you can have the following translations for Eph. I, 5:18:

1. Don't become intoxicated by wine (passive meaning)
2. Don't intoxicate yourselves with wine (reflexive meaning)

I can't tell how scholarship has improved since that, sorry. But I've also came upon many sentences where the translation can slightly vary (without altering the meaning significantly)

Let me know if it is clearer now.
Have a good day.



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Michael Barkas


I provide assistance in linguistic, literary topics of Greek and Latin covering, thus, the following fields: translation, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, etymology, morphology, semantics and interpretations etc.


Studies: University of the Aegean, Dept Rhodes Friedrich Wilhelm Universitšt Bonn

Magister Artium (Archeology/Linguistics) Bachelor (Latin/English/Greek)

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