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7. Verbs

7.1. Introduction

7.1.1. Voice, Mood, Tense, Person, Number

1. The inflection of the Verb is called its Conjugation.

2. Through its conjugation the Verb expresses Voice, Mood, Tense, Person and Number.

3. The Voices are two: Active and Middle (or Middle-Passive).

4. The Moods were up to five: Indicative (plain statement of objective fact) and Imperative (commands) are the oldest ones, while the Optative (intentions or hoped for action) is from Late PIE, and still more recent the Subjunctive (potentiality, possibility); an Injunctive (perhaps mild commands or prohibitions) is also reconstructed.

5. The General Tenses are three, viz.:

a. The Present.

b. The Past or Preterite.

c. The Future.

NOTE. The Future Stem is generally believed to have appeared in Late PIE, not being able to spread to some dialects before the general split of the proto-languages; the distinction between a Present and a Future tense, however, is common to all IE languages.

6. The Aspects were up to three:

a. For continued, not completed action, the Present.

b. For the state derived from the action, the Perfect.

c. For completed action, the Aorist.

NOTE 1. There is some confusion on whether the Aorist (from Gk. αοριστος, “indefinite or unlimited”) is a tense or an aspect. This reflects the double nature of the aorist in Ancient Greek. In the indicative, the Ancient Greek aorist represents a combination of tense and aspect: past tense, perfective aspect. In other moods (subjunctive, optative and imperative), however, as well as in the infinitive and (largely) the participle, the aorist is purely aspectual, with no reference to any particular tense. Modern Greek has inherited the same system. In Proto-Indo-European, the aorist was originally just an aspect, but before the split of Late PIE dialects it was already spread as a combination of tense and aspect, just as in Ancient Greek, since a similar system is also found in Sanskrit.

NOTE 2. The original meanings of the past tenses (Aorist, Perfect and Imperfect) are often assumed to match their meanings in Greek. That is, the Aorist represents a single action in the past, viewed as a discrete event; the Imperfect represents a repeated past action or a past action viewed as extending over time, with the focus on some point in the middle of the action; and the Perfect represents a present state resulting from a past action. This corresponds, approximately, to the English distinction between “I ate”, “I was eating” and “I have eaten”, respectively. Note that the English “I have eaten” often has the meaning, or at least the strong implication, of “I am in the state resulting from having eaten”, in other words “I am now full”. Similarly, “I have sent the letter” means approximately “The letter is now (in the state of having been) sent”. However, the Greek, and presumably PIE, perfect, more strongly emphasizes the state resulting from an action, rather than the action itself, and can shade into a present tense.

In Greek the difference between the present, aorist and perfect tenses when used outside of the indicative (that is, in the subjunctive, optative, imperative, infinitive and participles) is almost entirely one of grammatical aspect, not of tense. That is, the aorist refers to a simple action, the present to an ongoing action, and the perfect to a state resulting from a previous action. An aorist infinitive or imperative, for example, does not refer to a past action, and in fact for many verbs (e.g. “kill”) would likely be more common than a present infinitive or imperative. In some participial constructions, however, an aorist participle can have either a tensal or aspectual meaning. It is assumed that this distinction of aspect was the original significance of the Early PIE “tenses”, rather than any actual tense distinction, and that tense distinctions were originally indicated by means of adverbs, as in Chinese. However, it appears that by Late PIE, the different tenses had already acquired a tensal meaning in particular contexts, as in Greek, and in later Indo-European languages this became dominant.

The meanings of the three tenses in the oldest Vedic Sanskrit, however, differs somewhat from their meanings in Greek, and thus it is not clear whether the PIE meanings corresponded exactly to the Greek meanings. In particular, the Vedic imperfect had a meaning that was close to the Greek aorist, and the Vedic aorist had a meaning that was close to the Greek perfect. Meanwhile, the Vedic perfect was often indistinguishable from a present tense (Whitney 1924). In the moods other than the indicative, the present, aorist and perfect were almost indistinguishable from each other. The lack of semantic distinction between different grammatical forms in a literary language often indicates that some of these forms no longer existed in the spoken language of the time. In fact, in Classical Sanskrit, the subjunctive dropped out, as did all tenses of the optative and imperative other than the present; meanwhile, in the indicative the imperfect, aorist and perfect became largely interchangeable, and in later Classical Sanskrit, all three could be freely replaced by a participial construction. All of these developments appear to reflect changes in spoken Middle Indo-Aryan; among the past tenses, for example, only the aorist survived into early Middle Indo-Aryan, which was later displaced by a participial past tense.

7. There are four IE Verbal Stems we will deal with in this grammar:

I. The Present Stem, which gives the Present with primary endings and the Imperfect with secondary endings.

II. The Aorist Stem, always Past, with secondary endings, giving the Aorist, usually in zero-grade, with dialectal augment and sometimes reduplication.

III. The Perfect Stem, giving the Perfect, only later specialized in Present and Past.

IV. The Future Stem, an innovation of Late PIE.

NOTE. From the point of view of most scholars, then, from this original PIE verbal system, the Aorist merged with the Imperfect Stem in Balto-Slavic, and further with the Perfect Stem in Germanic, Italic, Celtic and Tocharian dialects. The Aorist, meaning the completed action, is then reconstructed as a third PIE tense-aspect, following mainly the findings of Old Indian, Greek, and also – mixed with the Imperfect and Perfect Stems – Latin.

8. The Persons are three: First, Second, and Third.

9. The Numbers in Modern Indo-European are two: Singular and Plural, and it is the only common class with the name. It is marked very differently, though.

NOTE. The reconstructed Dual, as in nouns, whether an innovation or (unlikely) an archaism of Late Proto-Indo-European dialects, is not systematized in MIE, due to its limited dialectal spread and early disappearance

7.1.2. Noun and Adjective Forms

1. The following Noun and Adjective forms are also included in the inflection of the Indo-European Verb:

A. Verbal Nouns existed in Proto-Indo-European, but there is no single common prototype for a PIE Infinitive, as they were originally nouns which later entered the verbal conjugation and began to be inflected as verbs. There are some successful infinitive endings, though, that will be later explained.

NOTE 1. It is common to most IE languages that a special case-form (usually dative or accusative) of the verbal nouns froze, thus entering the verbal inflection and becoming infinitives. Although some endings of those successful precedents of the infinitives may be reproduced with some certainty for PIE, the (later selected) dialectal case-forms may not, as no general pattern is found.

NOTE 2. A common practice in Proto-Indo-European manuals (following the Latin tradition) is to name the verbs conjugated in first person present, e.g. esmi, I am, for the verb es-, to be, or bherō (probably from an older Athematic bhermi), I carry, for the verb bher-, to carry.

B. The Participles are older adjectives which were later included in the verbal inflection.

I. The oldest known is the Present Participle, in -nt-.

II. The Perfect Participle, more recent, shows multiple endings, as -wes-/-wos-.

III. Middle Participles, an innovation in Late PIE, end in -meno-, -mo-; and also some in -to-, -no-, -lo-, -mo-, etc.

C. The Gerund and the Absolutive, not generalized in Late PIE, indicated possibility or necessity.

2. The Participles are used as follows:

A. The Present Participle has commonly the same meaning and use as the English participle in -ing; as, bheronts, calling, sont, being.

NOTE. Some questions about the participles are not easily conciled: in Latin, they are formed with e ending for stems in -i-; in Greek, they are formed in o and are consonantal stems. Greek, on the other hand, still shows remains of the thematic vowel in participles of verba vocalia -ājont-, -ējont-, etc. Latin doesn’t.

B. The Perfect Participle has two uses:

I. It is sometimes equivalent to the English perfect passive participle; as, tegtós, sheltered, klaustós, closed, and often has simply an adjective meaning.

II. It is used with the verb es-, to be, to form the static passive; as, gnōtós esti, it is known.

NOTE. The static passive is a new independent formation of many Indo-European dialects, not common to Late PIE, but a common resource of North-West Indo-European, easily loan translated from Romance, Germanic and Balto-Slavic languages into Modern Indo-European as auxiliary verb to be + perfect participle.

C. The Gerundive is often used as an adjective implying obligation, necessity, or propriety (ought or must); as, awisdhíjendhos esti, he must be heard.

NOTE. The verb is usually at the end of the sentence, as in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. In Hittite, it is behind the particles (up to seven in succession). In Old Irish it was either at the beginning of the sentence or in second place after a particle. For more on this, see PIE Syntax.

7.1.3. Voices

1. In grammar, Voice is the relationship between the action or state expressed by a verb and its arguments. When the subject is the agent or actor of the verb, the verb is said to be in the Active. When the subject is the patient or target of the action, it is said to be in the Passive.

2. The Active and Middle (or Mediopassive) Voices in Modern Indo-European generally correspond to the active and passive in English, but:

a. The Middle voice often has a reflexive meaning. It generally refers to an action whose object is the subject, or an action in which the subject has an interest or a special participation:

gnāskai (only middle), I am born.

wéstijontoi, they dress (themselves), they get dressed.

NOTE. This reflexive sense could also carry a sense of benefaction for the subject, as in the sentence “I sacrificed a goat (for my own benefit)”. These constructions would have used the active form of “sacrificed” when the action was performed for some reason other than the subject’s benefit.

b. The Mediopassive with Passive endings (in -r) is reserved for a very specific use in Modern Indo-European, the Dynamic or Eventive passives; as

moiros píngetor, the wall is being painted,  someone paints the wall, lit. “the wall paints (+ impersonal mark)”.

stoighōs péwontor, streets are being cleaned, someone cleans the streets.

NOTE 1. The dynamic passive usually means that an action is done, while the static or stative passive means that the action was done at a point in time, that it is already made. The last is obtained in MIE (as usually in Germanic, Romance and Balto-Slavic dialects) with a periphrasis, including the verb es, be. Following the above examples:

moiros pigtósi esti, the wall (is) [already] painted.

stoighōs pūts senti, the streets (are) cleaned.

i The infix -n is lost outside the Present Stem; thus, the Participle is not pingtós, but pigtós. Nevertheless, when the n is part of the Basic Stem, it remains. See the Verbal Stems for more details on the Nasal Infix.

NOTE 2. The Modern Indo-European Passive Voice endings (in -r) are older Impersonal and PIE Middle Voice alternative endings, found in Italic, Celtic, Tocharian, Germanic, Indo-Iranian and Anatolian, later dialectally specialized for the passive in some of those dialects. The concepts underlying modern IE Passives are, though, general to the Northern dialects (although differently expressed in Germanic and Balto-Slavic), and therefore MIE needs a common translation to express it. For the stative passive, the use of the verb es-, to be, is common, but dynamic passives have different formations in each dialect. The specialized Mediopassive dialectal endings seems thus the best option keeping thus tradition and unity, v.i.

c. Some verbs are only active; as, esmi, be, edmi, eat, or dōmi, give.

d. Many verbs are middle in form, but active or reflexive in meaning. These are called Deponents; as, keimai, lie, lay; séqomai, follow, etc.

7.1.4. Moods

1. While the oldest PIE had possibly only Indicative and Imperative, a Subjunctive and an Optative were added in Late Proto-Indo-European, both used in the Present, Perfect and Aorist. Not all dialects, however, developed those new formations further.

2. The Imperative is usually formed with a pure stem, adding sometimes adverbial or pronominal elements.

3. Some common Subjunctive marks are the stem endings -ā, -ē, and -s, but it is more usually formed with the opposition Indicative Athematic vs. Subjunctive Thematic, or Indicative Thematic vs. Subjunctive Thematic with lengthened vowel.

4. The Optative is differentiated from the Subjunctive by its characteristic suffix -jē/-ī; in thematic Tenses it is -oi, i.e. originally the same Subjunctive suffix added to the thematic vowel -o-.

5. The Moods are used as follows:

a. The Indicative Mood is used for most direct assertions and interrogations.

b. The Subjunctive Mood has many idiomatic uses, as in commands, conditions, and various dependent clauses. It is often translated by the English Indicative; frequently by means of the auxiliaries may, might, would, should; sometimes by the (rare) Subjunctive; sometimes by the Infinitive; and often by the Imperative, especially in prohibitions.

c. The Imperative is used for exhortation, entreaty, or command; but the Subjunctive could be used instead.

d. The Infinitive is used chiefly as an indeclinable noun, as the subject or complement of another verb.

7.1.5. Tenses of the Finite Verb

1. The Tenses of the Indicative have, in general, the same meaning as the corresponding tenses in English:

a. Of continued action,

I. Present: bhe, I bear, I am bearing, I do bear.

II. Imperfect: bheróm, I was bearing.

III. Future: bhersjō, I shall bear.

b. Of completed action or the state derived from the action,

IV. Perfect: (bhé)bhora, I have borne.

V. Aorist: (é)bheróm, I bore.

NOTE. Although the Aorist formation was probably generalized in Late PIE, Augment is a dialectal feature only found in Ind.-Ira., Gk., Arm and Phryg. The great success of that particular augment (similar to other additions, like Lat. per- or Gmc. ga-) happened apparently later in the Southern proto-languages. Vedic Sanskrit clearly shows that Augment was not obligatory, and for Proto-Greek, cf. Mycenaean do-ke/a-pe-do-ke, Myc. qi-ri-ja-to, Hom. Gk. πριατο, etc.

7.2. Forms of the Verb

7.2.1. The Verbal Stems

1. The Forms of the verb may be referred to four basic Stems, called (1) the Present, (2) the Aorist, (3) the Perfect and (4) the Future.

NOTE. There are some characteristic forms of each stem, like the suffix -n- or -sko, which give mostly Present stems. Generally, though, forms give different stems only when opposed to others.

2. The different stems are used in the verbal conjugation as follows:




Present and Imperfect (Active and Middle)


Aorist (Active and Middle)




Future and Conditional

NOTE. Following Meier-Brügger (2003), “The actual verbal stem is in use either as the present stem, the aorist stem, or the perfect stem. The terms present, aorist and perfect all indicate aspect, which is a grammatical dimmension. The aorist stem indicates the perfective aspect. The present stem indicates the imperfective aspect. The perfect stem indicates a sort of resultative aspect (…) The present, aorist, or perfect stem forms the basis of the tempus-modus stem, which serves in the expression of the categories of tempus and modus, and is created through the addition of tempus-modus suffixes:






-e- + -Ø- = -e- in alternance with -o- + -Ø- = -o-


-e- in alternance with -o-

-e- + -e- = -ē- in alternance with -o- + -o- = -ō-


-jeh1- in ablaut with -ih1-

-o- + -ih1- = -oi-


 The stem with the suffix -Ø- is automatically the indicative stem. In the present and aorist systems, the injunctive and the imperative are both formed from, and attributed to, the indicative stem. With his use of the indicative stem, the speaker indicates that he attributes validity to the contents of his statement. Stems that are marked with the addition of -e- (in alternance with –o-) indicate the subjunctive; while those featuring the suffix -jeh1- (ablaut -ih1-) indicate the optative”.

3. There are some monothematic verbs, as esmi, to be, or edmi, eat – supposedly remains of the oldest PIE. And there are also some traces of recent or even nonexistent mood oppositions. To obtain this opposition there are not only reduplications, lengthenings and alternations, but also vowel changes and accent shifts.

4. Most Late PIE verbs are built with a series of derivational suffixes that alter the root meaning, creating Denominatives and Deverbatives. The first are derived from nouns and adjectives; as, torsējō, dry, “make dry”, from ters-, dry, or newājō, make new, from new-, new.  The last are derived from verbs, as widējō, see, from weid-.

NOTE. It is not clear whether these Deverbatives – Causatives, Desideratives, Intensives, Iteratives, etc. – are actually derivatives of older PIE roots, or are frozen remains, formed by compounds of older PIE independent verbs added to other verbs, the ones regarded as basic.

5. Reduplication is another common resource; it consists of the repetition of the root, either complete or abbreviated; as, sisdō, sit down, settle down, from sed-, sit, gígnōskō, know, from gnō-, mímnāskō, remember, from men-, think, etc.

6. Thematic e/o has no meaning in itself, but it helps to build different stems opposed to athematics. Thus, It can be used to oppose a) Indicative Athematic to Subjunctive Thematic, b) Present Thematic to Imperfect Athematic, c) Active to Middle voice, etc. Sometimes an accent shift helps to create a distinctive meaning, too.

7. Stems are inflected, as in the declension of nouns, with the help of vowel grade and endings or desinences.

7.2.2. Verb-Endings

1. Every form of the finite verb is made up of two parts:

I. The Stem. This is either the root or a modification or development of it.

II. The Ending or Desinence, consisting of:

a. The signs of Mood and Tense.

b. The Personal Ending.

So e.g. the root bher-, carry, lengthened as thematic future verb-stem bher-sje/o-, will carry, and by the addition of the personal primary ending -ti, becomes the meaningful bhér-sje-ti, he will carry.

NOTE. The ending -ti, in turn, consists of the (probably) tense-sign -i and the personal ending of the third person singular, -t (Adrados 1996).

2. Verbal endings can thus define the verb Stem, Tense and Mood:



Primary active

Present Indicative and Subjunctives (Active)

Secondary active

Imperfect,  Aorist and Optatives (Active)

Primary middle

Present Indicative and Subjunctives (Middle)



Secondary middle

Imperfect and Aorist (Middle)





NOTE. This table was partly taken from Fortson (2004).

3. The primary series indicates present and future, and -mi, -si, -ti, and 3rd Pl. -nti are the most obvious formations of Late PIE. The secondary endings indicate Past; as, -m, -s, -t and 3rd Pl. -nt. The subjunctive and optative are usually marked with the secondary endings, but in the subjunctive primary desinences are attested sometimes. The imperative has Ø or special endings.

NOTE. Although not easily reconstructed, Late PIE had already independent formations for the first and second person plural. However, there were probably no common endings used in all attested dialects, and therefore a selection has to be made for MIE, v.i.

They can also mark the person; those above mark the first, second and third person singular and third plural. Also, with thematic vowels, they mark the voice: -ti Active Primary | -t Active Secondary; -toi Middle Primary | -to Middle Secondary.

4. The Augment appears in Ind.-Ira., Gk., and Arm., to mark the Past Tense (i.e., the Aorist and the Imperfect). It was placed before the Stem, and consisted generally of a stressed é-, which is a dialectal Graeco-Aryan feature not generally used in MIE.

NOTE. Some common variants existed, as lengthened -, cf. Gk. η<ē/ā and ω<ō, the so-called Wackernagel contractions of the Augment and the beginning of the verbal root, which happened already by 2000 BC. These are different from those which happened in Attic Greek by 1000 BC.

5. Modern Indo-European verbal endings, as they are formed by the signs for mood and tense combined with personal endings, may be organized in five series.




MIDDLE  (or Mediopassive)










-mi, -ō


-mai, -ai

-ma, -a

-mar, -ar
































NOTE 1. About the Active endings: 1) 1st P. Pl. them. endings -mo, -mos, are found in Italic (Lat. -mus), Celtic (O.Ir. *-mo or *-mos), Balto-Slavic (cf. Pruss. -mai, O.C.S. -mŭ<*-mo, *-mos or *-mom), and from -mo- or -me-,  in Germanic (cf. Goth. -m) and Indo-Iranian (cf. O.Ind. -ma). 2) 2nd P. Pl. ending athematic -the (<*-tHe) is only found differentiated in Old Indian, but this system is sometimes considered the original, while the other dialects would have merged them into a common -te. 3) Dual endings are found in Ind.-Ira., Gk., BSl. and Gmc., but apart from a common 3rd P. Prim. -tom / Sec. -tām in O.Ind. and Gk., there is only a general (usually incomplete) paradigm 1st P. w-, 2nd & 3rd P. t-, with different lengthenings in -e/-o, -es/-os, -ā.

NOTE 2. Original PIE Middle endings (output from the ‘stative voice’) were similar to the Perfect ONES; see Kortlandt’s <>. 1) The Middle secondary endings are easily reconstructed for the singular and the 3rd person plural, even though Toch. B -tai, -te, -nte still suggest to some (Neu 1968) that the original PIE were *-sai, *-tai, *-ntai, instead of the general opinion, -soi, -t