1 Introduction

The goal of this article is to discuss the status of verbal theme vowels and other verbal stem-forming morphology in Ancient Greek (AG), specifically Archaic Greek (ca. 800–500 BCE), with a focus on Homeric Greek (8th century BCE).1 Theme vowels are a type of conjugational class marker that have recently received a fair amount of attention in the theoretical literature, where they are variously treated as (semantically vacuous or underspecified) adjuncts to functional projections (Oltra-Massuet 1999; Oltra-Massuet & Arregi 2005), as verbalizers (e.g., Spyropoulos et al. 2015; Panagiotidis et al. 2017), or as equivalent to light verbs or roots (Lowenstamm 2014; Fábregas 2017). Independent of the formal analysis, another pertinent question is that of the semantic content or function of theme vowels—that is, is the choice of the thematic formant determined solely by root-specific lexical information, or do theme vowels (and their associated projections) contribute meaning, however abstractly? This paper tackles this question from a diachronic perspective and provides arguments from the history of Greek theme vowels for a connection between verbalizing “theme” morphology and Aktionsart/v in the framework of Distributed Morphology (DM). Specifically, I argue that both thematic and athematic verbal stem-forming morphemes in AG pattern as verbalizers, and that the reanalysis of stem-forming morphology in denominal and deadjectival verbal derivation gave rise to new types of vocalic (and other) “themes” that interacted with older, inherited conjugational morphology. I identify several diagnostics for distinguishing between synchronically denominal and deadjectival verbs and verbs in which a nominal or adjectival formant has been reanalyzed as a verbal “theme”.

Crucially, we will see that a diachronic perspective is essential for understanding the paths of reanalysis that lead to the development and synchronic distribution of verbal “themes”. This is all the more important as the diachrony of verbalizers and other categorizers is somewhat understudied from a formal perspective, especially with respect to a possible connection with aspect and argument structure alternations.

The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 discusses the theoretical background and status of theme vowels in DM, as well as the relevant concepts for the diachronic background, such as reanalysis. Section 3 discusses the structure of the Ancient Greek verb and the status of its “primary” (root-selecting), inherited theme vowels and verbalizers, including the problematic “complex thematic suffixes”. This section also discusses diagnostics for identifying verbalizing morphology synchronically and for distinguishing it from morphology related to Voice and (syntactic) Aspect. Section 4 focuses on synchronically denominal verbs and diagnostics for distinguishing their “theme formants” from inherited (vocalic) themes. Section 5 concludes.

2 Background: Theme vowels in DM

2.1 Verbalizers

In Distributed Morphology (DM), verbal stem-forming morphology is usually equated with the verbalizing projection v, which may be associated with different (Aktionsart-related) “flavors”, e.g., become, do, cause (Folli & Harley 2005; 2007; Harley 2005; 2009; Alexiadou & Lohndal 2017; Panagiotidis et al. 2017; etc.). Like other categorizers, v mediates between the root and higher functional projections. In the verbal domain, alternations relating to argument and event structure, such as the causative alternation, passivization, etc., are thought to result from the interaction of v with the higher, external argument-introducing projection Voice and other argument structure-related functional projections (Alexiadou & Anagnostopoulou 2004; Schäfer 2008; 2017; Alexiadou & Doron 2012; Alexiadou 2013; Harley 2013; 2017; Alexiadou et al. 2015; Kastner 2020; etc.). The standardly assumed “verbal spine” with its functional projections is given in (1).

    1. (1)
    1. The verbal spine

Elements like the vocalic conjugational class markers in Spanish, (2), which categorize roots as (different inflectional classes of) verbs, look like good candidates for overt markers of the verbalizing projection v in (1): They “verbalize” roots without contributing argument structure-, Voice- or Tense-related information; and the choice of inflectional class marker (e.g., first, second, or third conjugation) is lexically determined by the root.

    1. (2)
    1. Spanish conjugational class markers
    1. a.
    1. cant-a-r ‘to sing’ (1st conjugation)
    1. b.
    1. tem-e-r ‘to fear’ (2nd conjugation)
    1. c.
    1. part-i-r ‘to leave’ (3rd conjugation)

However, Oltra-Massuet (1999) and Oltra-Massuet & Arregi (2005) argue that forms like (3) show that the Spanish verbal spine actually has several positions that are spelled out as vocalic “themes”.

    1. (3)
    1. 1Pl ipfv. ind., 1st conj. (cantábamos ‘we sang’; Oltra-Massuet & Arregi 2005: 47)
    1. [ √
    2.    cant
    1. [ v
    2.    Ø
    1. Th
    2. á
    1. ]] [[ T
    2.          b
    1. Th ]
    2. a
    1. Agr ]
    2. mos

According to them, the vocalic themes in (3) do not spell out the functional heads v and T but adjoin to them postsyntactically/at MS (“a Morphological Structure level (…) between Spell-Out and Phonology”, Oltra-Massuet & Arregi 2005: 44) due to a morphological well-formedness condition, given in (4).

    1. (4)
    1. Morphological well-formedness condition on Spanish nouns & verbs (Oltra-Massuet & Arregi 2005: 46; on Catalan Oltra-Massuet 1999: 12)
    1. a.
    1. At MS, all syntactic functional heads require a theme position.
    1. b.

The evidence for this analysis comes from suffixes that are argued to be segmentable into a functional head plus a theme vowel, such as the ones in (5).

    1. (5)
    1. Morphologically complex verbalizers in Spanish (Fábregas 2017: 7)
    1. a.
    1. -iz-a- (autor-iz-a-r ‘to authorize’)
    1. b.
    1. -ific-a- (clas-ific-a-r ‘to classify’)
    1. c.
    1. -it-a- (debil-it-a-r ‘debilitate’)
    1. d.
    1. -ec-e- (palid-ec-e-r ‘to become pale’)
    1. e.
    1. -e-a- (tont-e-a-r ‘to act silly’)

In the following, these will be referred to as “complex thematic suffixes”, as opposed to “simple thematic suffixes” that consist only of the theme vowel, as in (2). Fábregas (2017) actually takes a different approach than Oltra-Massuet & Arregi (2005) and argues that complex thematic suffixes as those in (5) are allomorphs of the simple theme vowels in (2) and, like them, spell out v. Fábregas provides three arguments in favor of this analysis: 1) Suffixes like those in (5) never occur without the suffix-final theme vowel (e.g., -ific- never occurs without -a-, etc.), 2) they never attach to light verbs, which is expected if they are light verbs/v’s themselves, and 3) complex thematic suffixes never vary in the theme vowel they select, i.e., -ific- always inflects with the theme vowel of the first conjugation, -ec- with that of the second conjugation, etc. Deciding between these two analyses is not the goal of this article, so complex thematic suffixes will be cited with a bracketed hyphen in the following (e.g., Span. -ific(-)a-). However, apart from the formal question (are theme vowels heads of or adjuncts to functional projections?) there is also the question of whether theme vowels have specific functions or “meaning” (however abstract), or whether they are “ornamental”, semantically vacuous elements—“pure morphology, form without meaning” (Aronoff 1994: 47), as generally argued in the DM literature (e.g., Oltra-Massuet 1999; Oltra-Massuet & Arregi 2005; Embick 2010; Calabrese 2015a; 2020). In the following, we will approach this problem from a diachronic perspective, based on data from the history of Greek.

2.2 Diachrony of verbal “themes”

The study of the diachrony of verbal stem-forming morphology is relatively well represented in the grammaticalization literature, especially where morphology expressing tense, aspect, and mood is concerned (e.g., the Germanic “weak preterite” dental suffix, the Latin imperfect suffix -bā̆-, the Romance synthetic future from infinitive + have, etc.). However, the diachrony of purely categorizing or “first phase” synthetic, derivational morphology (including theme vowels) has received less attention, especially from a theoretical perspective. Some relevant examples of diachronic reanalysis and resegmentation (e.g., “affix telescoping”) are discussed in Haspelmath (1995); (cf. also Rainer 2015) from a descriptive, functionalist perspective, but without explicitly treating the diachrony of theme vowels. And while some verbal themes are generally acknowledged to be diachronically related to, or even descended from, nominal morphology (for example, the Latin 1st conjugation marker (*)-ā-, Leumann 1977: 545; Bertocci 2017; Weiss 2020: 423), the exact circumstances of their reanalysis from nominal to verbal (and, in an Oltra-Massuet-style approach, from syntactic head to postsyntactic adjunct) are rarely explicitly stated, and the synchronic analysis is complicated by the fact that these morphemes are usually used in primary and in derived environments at the same synchronic stage of the language (cf. de Vaan 2012 on deverbal ā-verbs in Latin).

In this paper I will assume that one way of creating new synthetic verbalizing morphology is via reanalysis of originally nominal or adjectival morphology in the context of denominal and deadjectival verb formation (see Grestenberger Forthcoming for a more detailed discussion of the theoretical assumptions behind this approach). An example is given in Table 1, illustrating the development of the Modern Greek (MG) verbalizer -ev- from Ancient Greek verbs in -eú-ō. These AG verbs were originally denominal verbs derived from agent nouns in -eú-. In this context, the originally nominal suffix was reanalyzed as part of the verbal domain and subsequently became a productive verbalizer in MG, where it can select nouns, adjectives, adverbs and loanwords.2

Table 1

AG -eú-ō > MG -ev-o, (MG ex. from Panagiotidis et al. 2017).

(a) Ancient Greek -eú(-ō) (b) Modern Gk. -ev-
basil--ō ‘am king; rule’ (basil--s ‘king’) stox-év-o ‘aim at’ (stóx-os ‘target’)
khalk--ō ‘am a coppersmith’ (khalk--s ‘coppersmith’) kont-év-o ‘approach’ (kontá ‘near’)
hipp--ō ‘am a horserider’ (hipp--s ‘horserider’) xak-év-o ‘I hack’ (Engl. hack)

This reanalysis is descriptively “upwards” in that an element of the lower nominal domain was reanalyzed as part of the higher verbal domain in this particular context (i.e., denominal verb formation), as illustrated in (6).

    1. (6)
    1. “Upwards reanalysis” of AG nominal -eu-

This is reminiscent of other types of “Upwards Reanalysis” (UR, Roberts & Roussou 2003) that have been discussed in the literature, such as the reanalysis of lexical verbs as modal verbs (e.g., Roberts & Roussou 2003; Fischer 2003; Cournane 2014), or, more broadly and not restricted to the verbal domain, changes that fall under the “Late Merge Principle” (LMP, van Gelderen 2004; 2008; 2011; etc.) by which an element in a lower domain becomes reanalyzed as base-generated higher up in the structure (essentially an updated version of “Merge-over-Move”). Economy principles such as these have long had their place in the formal literature on syntactic change (cf. also Biberauer 2019; Biberauer & Roberts 2017), and from the perspective of a non-lexicalist framework like DM, it is not surprising that we should see the same principles at work in the diachronic reanalysis of synthetic derivational morphemes, as the difference between “words” and “morphemes” is epiphenomenal in DM. As argued in Grestenberger Forthcoming, such cycles seem to include an n > v cycle, in which nominal morphology gives rise to (different types of) verbalizers, and an a > v cycle, in which adjectival morphology gives rise to (different types of) verbalizers, especially those associated with the causative/factitive alternation. By the same mechanism, verbalizers themselves can also move “upwards” and become reanalyzed as Voice, Aspect, or Tense morphology. Possible examples include the *-ske/o-verbalizer in Greek discussed in Section 3.3, which has turned into an aspectual or maybe a tense marker in Ionic Greek (cf. Ittzés 2008; Ringe & Eska 2013: 168–170) and the Greek suffix -th(ē)- which seems to have been reanalyzed from an inchoative/stative verbalizing suffix in AG (García Ramón 2014; Grestenberger 2021) to a Voice and/or Aspect marker in MG (Christopoulos & Petrosino 2018; Alexiadou 2021).

In fact, the same type of reanalysis gave rise to a number of other MG verbalizers that Panagiotidis et al. (2017) discuss, such as -iz-, -(i)az-, -on-, -ar-, -en-. However, it is unclear whether “vocalic elements” or theme vowels can be treated parallel to these. Spyropoulos et al. (2015) and Panagiotidis et al. (2017) argue that the vocalic themes of the MG second conjugation (-a-, -i-) are indeed reflexes of the same v-position as -ev-, specifically, that they spell out an abstract vocalic “slot” -□v which “in second-conjugation verbs is the morphological exponent of a categorizing verbal head v” (Panagiotidis et al. 2017: 34). Assuming, then, that at least some theme vowels are verb(alizer)s, we hence expect them to 1) have the same diachronic development as other verbalizers and 2) to behave synchronically like other verbalizers. Concerning 1), this means that nominal and adjectival stem-forming morphology is a possible diachronic source of theme vowels. Concerning 2), we need clear diagnostics for distinguishing verbalizers from other elements in the “verbal spine” in order to compare theme vowels to other types of (primary) verbal stem-forming morphology. We return to a discussion of these diagnostics in section 3.2.

In the following, we are going to compare thematic and athematic verbs in Ancient Greek from this perspective and examine the synchronic distribution and function of the different kinds of AG theme vowels and verbalizers, arguing that AG verbal stem-forming morphology inherited from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) spells out v, not Asp, and that new verbalizers are grammaticalizing in AG through a → v and n → v reanalysis.

3 “Primary” theme vowels and verbalizers in Ancient Greek

3.1 Thematic vs. athematic verbs

AG roots combine with stem-forming affixes to form different types of verbal stems: The present stem, usually characterized as [-pfv], which can occur with past tense endings (imperfect) or nonpast tense endings (present), the aorist stem, which is [+pfv] and only takes the past endings (except for the aorist subjunctive, which takes the present/nonpast endings), the future stem, which takes the nonpast endings and is underspecified for perfectivity, and the perfect stem, whose aspectual properties are notoriously difficult to pin down and which takes nonpast (perfect) and past endings (pluperfect). The synthetic perfect is analyzed as Asp[-aor, +perf] by Reed (2014) and as Asp[perfect] by Schreiner 2021. I follow the latter here, but note that the analysis of the feature(s) of the perfect does not affect the following discussion.3 What is important is that the stem-forming morphology of the perfect, whatever its featural content, is in complementary distribution with that of the present and the aorist.

These stems can moreover combine with different moods, namely subjunctive (present, aorist, perfect), optative (present, future, aorist, perfect), and imperative (present, aorist).

Voice (active/nonactive) is expressed on the finite verbal endings together with Person, Number, and Tense. Specifically, the active and nonactive (“middle”) sets of endings are analyzed here as allomorphs conditioned by the feature [±D] (i.e., presence/absence of an external argument DP) on Voice (Grestenberger 2016; 2018; 2021, following, e.g., Alexiadou 2013; Alexiadou et al. 2015; Schäfer 2017 for MG; Kastner & Zu 2017 for Latin; Kastner 2020 for Hebrew; etc.).

The perfective “passive aorist” suffix -thē̆- (older allomorph -ē̆-) was originally a verbalizer that formed stative and inchoative verbs (Jasanoff 2004; Tronci 2005; García Ramón 2014), but seems to have been reanalyzed as a Voice/Asp[pfv] marker on the way to Modern Greek (Christopoulos & Petrosino 2018; Alexiadou 2021). This suffix will not be important to the following discussion. I will also ignore the “augment”, a prefix e- analyzed as T[+past] by Reed (2014), but still optional as a marker of the [past] tenses (imperfect, aorist, pluperfect) in Archaic Greek.

The following tree summarizes the structure of AG verbs and its features, leaving aside the projections pertaining to Mood for now. Note that Voice is missing in certain verbs (unaccusative activa tantum and the passive aorist, Grestenberger 2021) and is therefore given in brackets.

    1. (7)
    1. Summary: structure of AG verbs (cf. Grestenberger 2018; Schreiner 2021)

The question that arises now is where in this structure verbal theme vowels are spelled out and what their relationship to other types of verbal stem-forming morphology is. Consider a (synchronically) simple thematic verb like lū́ō ‘I release’ (tr.), whose partial paradigm for the imperfective (present) stem is given in Table 2. The partial paradigm of the aorist active (indicative, subjunctive, and optative) and perfect active (indicative) are given in Table 3. The bolded elements are those that can and will be considered “theme vowels” in the following. For expository reasons I use the Classical Greek forms in the following tables.

Table 2

AG active present and imperfect indicative, present subjunctive and optative of lū́ō ‘release’ (dual, imperative, and non-finite forms excluded).

(a) Pres. (b) Ipf. (c) Pres.subj. (d) Pres.opt.
1sg lū́-ō /-o-ō/ é-lū-o-n lū́-ō /-o-o-ō/ lū́-o-i-mi
2sg lū́-e-is é-lū-e-s lū́-ēis /-e-e-is/ lū́-o-i-s
3sg lū́-e-i é-lū-e lū́-ēi /-e-e-i/ lū́-o-i-Ø
1pl lū́-o-men e-lū́-o-men lū́-ō-men /-o-o-/ lū́-o-i-men
2pl lū́-e-te e-lū́-e-te lū́-ē-te /-e-e-/ lū́-o-i-te
3pl lū́-ousi (< *-o-nti) é-lū-o-n lū́-ōsi (< *-o-o-nti) lū́-o-i-en
Table 3

AG aorist indicative, subjunctive, and optative; perfect indicative of lū́ō ‘release’ (dual, imperative, and non-finite forms excluded).

(a) Aor. (b) Aor.subj. (c) Aor.opt. (d) Perf.
1sg é-lū-s-a lū́-s-ō /s-o-ō/ lū́-s-ai-mi lé-lu-k-a
2sg é-lū-sa-s lū́-s-ē-is lū́-s-ai-s lé-lu-ka-s
3sg é-lū-s-e lū́-s-ē-i lū́-s-ai-Ø lé-lu-k-e
1pl e-lū́-sa-men lū́-s-ō-men lū́-s-ai-men le-lú-ka-men
2pl e-lū́-sa-te lū́-s-ē-te lū́-s-ai-te le-lú-ka-te
3pl é-lū-sa-n lū́-s-ō-si lū́-s-ai-en le-lú-kā-si (< *-ka-nti)

Columns (a)–(b) in Table 2 show the imperfective indicative forms of a simple thematic verb, in which the theme vowel alternates between -o- in the first person and third person plural, and -e- everywhere else (including the dual); the same distribution holds in the nonactive indicative forms (not illustrated here for reasons of space). However, this is not the only thematic element we can identify. For example, the theme vowel seems to be invariant -o- in the present optative (column d), and -a- in the so-called “alphathematic” inflection of the sigmatic aorist indicative (column a) of Table 3) and the the perfect indicative (column d) of Table 3), as well as in certain reduplicated aorists, the “kappa-aorist”, and the pluperfect. The “long-vowel subjunctive” in column c. of Table 2 is originally composed of theme vowel + subjunctive marker, which happens to be identical to the theme vowel,4 resulting in the corresponding long vowels. The long-vowel subjunctive was extended to athematic formations as well, in which the modal suffix was originally a short vowel *-e/o- (again, identical to the simple indicative theme vowel), so I will treat it as simplex morpheme in the following.

While the stem forms seen so far all contain elements that are usually considered theme vowels, AG also has “athematic” verb classes without any theme vowels. Table 4 gives the partial paradigm of an athematic present with the suffix -nū̆-, Table 5 its aorist and perfect forms (corresponding to the thematic ones in Table 3). Verbalizing/stem-forming morphemes are given in bold.

Table 4

Present and imperfect indicative, subjunctive, optative (active) of deíknūmi ‘show’.

(a) Pres. (b) Ipf. (c) Pres.subj. (d) Pres.opt.
1sg deík--mi e-deík--n deik- deik--oi-mi
2sg deík--s e-deík--s deik--ē-is deik--oi-s
3sg deík--si e-deík- deik--ē-i deik--oi-Ø
1pl deík-nu-men e-deík-nu-men deik--ō-men deik--oi-men
2pl deík-nu-te e-deík-nu-te deik--ē-te deik--oi-te
3pl deik--āsi e-deík-nu-san deik--ō-si deik--oi-en

For the s(a)-aorist and kappa-perfect in Tables 3 and 5, I assume that the distribution of the allomorphs is -sa-/-ka- before consonants and -s-/-k- before vowels,5 and hence treat these classes as “athematic” in the following, in the sense that they lack the alternating theme-vowel -e/o- of, e.g., simple thematic verbs as in Tables 2 and 7 (though recall that this type of aorist/perfect inflection is traditionally called “alphathematic”). This means that the segmentation of the aorist optativ allomorph is -ai-, parallel to the reanalyzed imperfective optative suffix -oi-, which was extended from the thematic conjugation to athematic verbs where it replaced the older athematic optative.6 For reasons of space, the following discussion will focus on the comparison of the present and aorist indicative forms (see Zukoff 2017 and Schreiner 2021 for recent analyses of the Greek perfect), while further motivation of the segmentation of the modal markers (and their changes between Homeric and Classical Greek, which are significantly more pronounced than in the indicative) will have to be deferred.

Table 5

Aorist indicative, subjunctive, and optative active; perfect indicative active of deíknūmi ‘show’.

(a) Aor. (b) Aor.subj. (c) Aor.opt. (d) Perf.7
1sg é-deik-s-a deík-s deík-s-ai-mi dé-deikh-a
2sg é-deik-sa-s deík-s-ē-is deík-s-ai-s dé-deikh-a-s
3sg é-deik-s-e deík-s-ē-i deík-s-ai-Ø dé-deikh-e
1pl e-deík-sa-men deík-s-ō-men deík-s-ai-men de-deíkh-a-men
2pl e-deík-sa-te deík-s-ē-te deík-s-ai-te de-deíkh-a-te
3pl é-deik-sa-n deík-s-ō-si deík-s-ai-en de-deíkh-ā-si

In the classes seen so far, the stem-forming suffixes -nū̆- and -s(a)- in Tables 3, 4, 5 seem to be in complementary distribution with the theme vowel in Table 2: both are linearly immediately adjacent to the root (Table 6) and both can cause root allomorphy, specifically ablaut alternations and suppletion (Table 7). In the following, I use the 1st person plural as citation form, since this tends to be the most transparent form of the paradigm in terms of morphophonology. For the athematic root present (eĩ-mi ‘I go’, 1pl. i-men) and the reduplicated athematic present (tí-thē-mi ‘I place’, 1pl. tí-the-men) in Table 6, column a., I assume that the verbal stem-forming morpheme is (linearly) zero, but that it triggers reduplication in the latter type which is then expressed as a prefix to the root (with reduplicating vowel -i-). This is compatible with Schreiner (2021)’s analysis of the perfect reduplicant, namely that “the phonological instantiation of an Aspect node specified for [perfect] has the shape RED/e/-” (Schreiner 2021: 12), except that I analyze the node in question as v (more below). However, adding “Ø” in the (linear) representation of these reduplicated forms will be useful for comparing athematic reduplicated verb stems with thematic reduplicated ones (such as reduplicated -ske/o- presents or reduplicated aorists), where by assumption the node that triggers reduplication is spelled out overtly (or: receives a theme-vowel adjunct in the sense of Oltra-Massuet 1999 etc.). That is, reduplicated athematic tí-the-Ø-men ‘set, place’ in Table 6 is the athematic equivalent of reduplicated thematic forms such as mí-mn-o-men ‘stay, remain’ in column b., as deík-nu-men is the athematic equivalent of its later thematic replacement deik-nú-o-men, etc.8

Table 6

Theme vowels vs. verbalizers (1pl. forms).

a. Athematic verbs
Ø/“root” -nū̆- pres.red perf. -s(a)-aor.
√í-Ø-men √deík-nu-men red-√the-Ø-men lered-√lú-ka-men (e-)√lū́-sa-men
‘go’ ‘show’ ‘set, place’ ‘release’ ‘release’
b. Thematic verbs
simple (pres.) complex (pres.) redupl. them. (pres.) simple (aor.)
√lū́-o-men √deik-nú(-)o-men red-√mn-o-men (e-)√drák-o-men
‘release’ ‘show’ ‘stay’ ‘see’
Table 7

Theme vowels and root allomorphy/suppletion, 1pl. (act./mid.) forms, augment excl.; root = bold, theme vowel/verbal stem-forming suffix = underlined.

Pres. Aor. Perf.
a. stéll-o-men steíl-a-men stál-ka-men ‘send’
b. derk-ó-metha drák-o-men dered-dórk-a-men ‘see’
c. peith-ó-metha pith-ó-metha red-pith-Ø-men ‘trust’
d. pheúg-o-men phúg-o-men (pered-pheug/phug-) ‘flee’
e. theín-o-men red-phn-o-men pered-phás-Ø-metha ‘slay’
f. manth-án(-)o-men máth-o-men mered-math(-)ḗ-ka-men ‘lean’

Table 7 illustrates root allomorphy in different types of thematic stems. Most commonly, root allomorphy in AG manifests as ablaut alternation in which the root vowel changes in terms of quality (place of articulation, as in rows b–c) or quantity (as in row a) depending on the morphosyntactic environment (e.g., “present” vs. “aorist” stem). This allomorphy is locally conditioned, outward-looking, and morphosyntactically conditioned in the sense of, e.g., Embick 2010; 2012; 2015. It is local in the sense that it requires strict adjacency: Morphemes to the right of the theme cannot condition any changes in the root, as shown in the presents in rows b. vs. d: middle derk-ó-metha in b. and active pheúg-o-men in d. have the same root ablaut (so-called “e-grade”). That is, neither the phonology nor the morphosyntactic features of Voice (active vs. middle/nonactive) can influence the shape of the root across the intervening theme, and the same is true for even higher projections such as Mood or Tense/Agr.9 That the allomorphy is outward-looking and morphosyntactically conditioned is illustrated by the present vs. aorist forms in rows b.–d.: Both are “simple thematic” forms, but the present stem-forming theme triggers e-grade of the root, while the aorist theme triggers so-called zero grade of the root. This shows that the conditioning factor is the morphosyntactic feature of the functional head spelled out by the theme rather than its phonology.10 The same holds for themes that cause quantitative modifications of the root (vowel), as in row a: In the present, the theme vowel diachronically reflects a complex thematic suffix *-j(-)e/o-, with the glide assimilating to give a geminate, and the aorist is diachronically an s-aorist formed with the same suffix -s(a)- as in Table 5, with the loss of -s- causing compensatory lengthening of the root vowel (written <ei>).11 Finally, row e. and possibly also row f. show instances of root suppletion: The root that means ‘slay’ in row e. has the allomorphs then (/thɛn/), thein (/theːn/; with compensatory lengthening of the root vowel in, e.g., the present stem) vs. pha(n)/phn (in, e.g., the reduplicated aorist and the verbal adjective). Historically, both allomorphs go back to the same root , but synchronically they may as well be treated as suppletive pairs (cf. Kölligan 2007: 360–1).12 The root variants manth/math in row f. could likewise be treated as suppletive allomorphs or via a morphologically conditioned infixation rule (see section 3.5 on “complex thematic” suffixes, including “nasal-infixing” -an(-)e/o-).

Synchronically, some or all of these root alternations could be implemented as morphonological readjustment rules or as root suppletion (i.e., as “late insertion” of different root shapes depending on the morphosyntactic environment, cf. Haugen & Siddiqi 2013)—I will remain agnostic on the exact implementation in the following. The important point is that this allomorphy is strictly local, outward-looking, and morphosyntactically (rather than phonologically) conditioned. Moreover, both thematic elements such as the e/o-theme vowel and athematic elements such as the stem-forming morphemes -nū̆-, -s(a)-, -(k)a-, etc., condition these particular ablaut grades on the adjacent roots (cf. row b for an example of archaic “o-grade” of the root in the perfect).

To summarize, in comparing the basic averbos of selected thematic and athematic verb classes, we have arrived at a preliminary segmentation of AG verbs as spelling out √-v/Asp-Mod-T/Agr. As mentioned above, (active/nonactive) Voice is expressed together with T/Agr on the endings—there are several ways in which this can be formally implemented, which will not concern us here.13 The important take-away is the observation that thematic and athematic suffixes (including complex thematic suffixes; see section 3.5 for a more detailed discussion of these) are in complementary distribution in the sense that they compete for the same position and cause the same types of locally conditioned root allomorphy. We can now turn to the question of whether -nū̆-, -s(a)-, -o-, -an(-)e/o- etc. spell out v, Asp, or a “span” consisting (minimally) of both.

3.2 Diagnostics for v-status

The forms discussed in the previous section suggest that thematic present and aorist suffixes occupy the same structural position as the inherited athematic verbal stem-forming suffixes -nū̆-, -s(a)-, etc., but it is less clear what that position is, exactly. Do these affixes spell out v or Asp, or do they adjoin to one of these projections? Answering these questions is related to a general problem of the older Indo-European (IE) languages, but specifically relevant to Ancient Greek and (Vedic) Sanskrit, namely the fact that their verbal stem-forming morphemes seem to combine properties of inner (“lexical”) aspect/”Aktionsart14 markers (for example, related to transitivity or boundedness) and of “outer”/syntactic aspect, i.e., perfectivity. The standard analysis is that these stem-forming elements (including the theme vowels of the simple thematic present and aorist) were originally (in pre-Proto-Indo-European, that is, before the reconstructable ancestor stage of the attested Indo-European languages) Aktionsart/lexical aspect markers that were reanalyzed as temporal-aspectual markers. They are therefore usually termed “tense-aspect stems” (and “present” vs. “aorist” stem instead of the more accurate “imperfective” and “perfective” stem), cf., e.g., Hoffmann 1970; Rix 1986; Strunk 1994; and standard textbooks and handbooks such as LIV2; Fortson 2010; Meier-Brügger 2010; etc. (though see Hollenbaugh 2018; 2021 for a more recent analysis of aspect in Vedic, Greek, and Proto-Indo-European that departs from the traditional view15). Formal accounts that adopt this analysis and treat verbal stem-forming morphemes explicitly as realizations of Asp include Reed 2014; Calabrese 2019; 2020; and Schreiner 2021. Diachronically, this development would be an instance of UR as described in section 2.2, with v-elements becoming reanalyzed as ±pfv elements and a “more functional” (semantically bleached, strictly “synsem”) meaning. But this is not quite how these affixes behave in AG (or Sanskrit, for that matter), where they have properties that indicate that they are positioned adjacent to the root (cf. again Tables 6, 7) and are semantically and morphonologically idiosyncratic in ways that are generally associated with “inner”, categorizing, rather than “outer”, functional projections in the DM-tradition of, e.g., Marantz 2001; 2007; Arad 2003; Anagnostopoulou & Samioti 2014. The goal of the following sections is therefore to provide more specific arguments in favor of analyzing these elements as v- rather than Asp-morphemes. For reasons of space, this is not the place for an in-depth engagement with previous formal Asp-accounts (especially Calabrese 2019 and Schreiner 2021), though I plan to return to this elsewhere. Rather, the goal is to provide arguments that have not received much attention so far and that favor the v-analysis of these Greek verbal stem-forming elements, including (simple and complex) thematic stems.

Besides these two formal options (realization of v vs. Asp), there are other analytical options that have been proposed in the literature. For example, it is possible that the verbal stem-forming elements discussed in the previous section actually spell out a span (“a contiguous sequence of heads in a head-complement relation”, Svenonius 2016: 205) consisting of v-(Voice-)Asp (see Merchant 2015 for a Spanning account of the MG verb) or a “rebracketed” v/(Voice/)/Asp head (Christopoulos & Petrosino 2018 propose that MG has a rebracketed [Voice,Asp] head), rather than just (contextually conditioned allomorphs of) v or Asp. These four possibilities are summarized in (8).

    1. (8)
    1. a.
    1. -nū̆-, -s(a)-, -e/o-, etc., realize Asp
    1. b.
    1. -nū̆-, -s(a)-, -e/o-, etc., realize a span consisting of (at least) v + Asp
    1. c.
    1. -nū̆-, -s(a)-, -e/o-, etc., realize a rebracketed head consisting of [v, (Voice?),Asp]
    1. d.
    1. -nū̆-, -s(a)-, -e/o-, etc., realize v

In the following I will provide arguments in favor of the latter analysis, fully aware that some of them are compatible with more than one option in (8), or even with all four. First, we need clear diagnostics for identifying verbalizing morphology. The following diagnostics are based on the discussion in Spyropoulos et al. 2015 and Panagiotidis et al. 2017 on identifying MG verbalizers and the diagnostics in Harley 2017 for distinguishing between “Voice-bundling” and “Voice-splitting” languages—that is, languages that “bundle” the properties of v and the agent-introducing projection Voice, and languages in which these are two separate projections.

    1. (9)
    1. Diagnostics for v-morphology, after Spyropoulos et al. 2015: 301f.; Panagiotidis et al. 2017: 35ff.
    1. a.
    1. v-related morphology is independent of morphology relating to Voice, Tense, Aspect, and Agreement; and this morphology cannot occur without v-related morphology
    1. b.
    1. v-morphology does not systematically encode Aktionsart, valency or Voice; it may be associated with more than one type of argument structure (e.g., unergatives, unaccusatives, psych-verbs, etc.)
    1. c.
    1. The choice of the verbalizer depends on the root (cf. “conjugational classes”); at the same time one and the same root can combine with different verbalizers to produce different lexical-aspectual semantics
    1. d.
    1. The semantic relationship between root and verbalizer may be lexically idiosyncratic and/or opaque16
    1. e.
    1. Verbalizers are used in category-changing (cross-categorial) derivation, i.e., the formation of deadjectival and denominal verbs

According to Panagiotidis et al. (2017), these diagnostics pick out the MG verbalizers that are historically reanalyzed from nominal suffixes + verbalizer (i.e., -ev-, -iz-, -(i)az-, -on-, -ar-, -en-) as well as the “theme vowels” of second conjugation verbs like aγapó ‘love’ (-a-, -i- <η>, pres.ind. aγapáo, pfv. past aγápisa, etc.), which as we will see in section 4 are also diachronically denominal.

Applying these now to the Ancient Greek situation, (9a) is not particularly controversial and easily verified for AG: Voice and Tense morphology are realized separately from verbal stem-forming morphology, as we saw in the previous section. Moreover, there is no close relationship between agent introduction and verbal stem-forming morphology, suggesting that agents are introduced separately by Voice (thus fulfilling one of Harley 2017’s criteria for a Voice-splitting language). Whether v and Asp are also separate projections still remains to be seen.

(9b) is more controversial because it depends on whether one conceives of categorizing morphology as purely syntactically categorizing (thus essentially doing what ±N, ±V and similar categorial features were doing in classical G&B approaches), without being associated with Aktionsart or valency semantics such as causative, factitive, inchoative, etc., as Oltra-Massuet (1999) and Oltra-Massuet & Arregi (2005) argue. Panagiotidis et al. (2017) seem to reach the same conclusion (“…the verbalizing suffixes do not encode Aktionsart in the sense that they are neutral with respect to inner aspect”, Panagiotidis et al. 2017: 37), but then also state that “the same verbalizing suffix can create verbs with a variety of argument structures” (Panagiotidis et al. 2017: 39), presumably meant to indicate that there is no one-to-one correlation between a particular verbalizing morpheme and a particular argument structure type, unlike with “high” (syntactic) causatives (v-selecting causative morphology, Harley 2017) and ‘high” passives (i.e., Voice-selecting passive morphology in the sense of Bruening 2013; Alexiadou et al. 2015; Schäfer 2017, etc.). But this still does not exclude the possibility that there are subregularities and correlations with specific Aktionsart types: There is mounting evidence that such correlations can predict the distribution of thematic vowels and other conjugational class markers in, e.g., French (Kastner & Martin 2020; 2021) and Serbo-Croatian (Kovačević et al. 2021; Mišmaš & Simonović 2021; Milosavljević & Arsenijević 2022) to some extent.

This is true for AG verbal stem-forming morphology as well, at least at the oldest stage. Among the generalizations that have been noted in the literature concerning the function of the verbalizers discussed here are, among others, that -nū̆- and -s(a)- tend to form alternating transitive verbs (cf. Bertocci 2013 on Greek nasal presents in general), -ane/o- is found with verbs of perception and psych verbs and is characterized as transitive/terminative by van de Laar (2000: 345), -ske/o- is found with verbs of motion (van de Laar 2000: 364), etc.,17 though there are naturally exceptions to such generalizations. Moreover, roots with seemingly similar meaning may use different verbalizers to express the same argument structure, and one and the same root may use different verbalizers for different (alternating) contexts, e.g., √pag/pēg ‘thick, fixed, solid’ forms both an inchoative -ē- (-η-) aorist (‘became fixed, solid’) and a transitive-causative sigmatic aorist (‘cause to be fixed, solidify’) in Homeric Greek. These examples can be multiplied (see again van de Laar 2000 for a detailed study of such “individual verbal systems” in Greek). The AG verbal stem-forming morphemes therefore fulfill both (9b) and (9c), as well as (9d) because the selectional relationship seems to be root-specific: Thus alternating √pag/pēg uses the ē-aorist to form its perfective inchoative, while alternating √or ‘rise’ uses a middle root aorist (3sg. ō̃rto) to express the same meaning. This close relationship between root and verbal stem-forming morpheme holds for the morphophonological side as well: As we already saw in Table 7, verbal stem-forming morphology in turn determines the shape and ablaut grade of the root.

Finally, certain AG verbal stem-forming morphemes productively derive denominal and deadjectival verbs, and this is crucially the case both for the ones associated with the present system ((*)-je/o-) and those associated with the aorist system (-s(a)-; -(th)ē-). This argument has so far been neglected in the discussion of their status, and we will therefore return to it in section 4.

Taken together, these diagnostics point towards v-status of the Greek verbal stem-forming suffixes, both the athematic and the simple thematic ones (section 3.5 provides arguments that complex thematic suffixes also pattern the same way). Nevertheless they do not unambiguously tease apart v and Asp—a Spanning or Rebracketing account is thus still in the picture.

However, if the order of functional projections given in (1) is indeed cross-linguistically invariant, then evidence for a separate v and Voice should also imply a separate v and Asp, since Voice would intervene. At least in some versions of Spanning, the intervening alternating features of Voice would then exclude the possibility of treating v-Voice-Asp as a span.18 Harley (2017) provides the following criteria for Voice-splitting languages, in which v and Voice are separate functional projections:

    1. (10)
    1. A Voice-splitting language (Harley 2017: 16)
    1. a.
    1. has agglutinating (“stacking”) passive morphology
    1. b.
    1. can have high applicatives
    1. c.
    1. can show causative morphology in the absence of a syntactic Causer argument

(10a) is difficult to apply to AG, which has been argued to have the same type of syncretic “middle” Voice head that is realized with nonactive morphology in anticausative, reflexive, reciprocal, and passive contexts as MG does (Alexiadou & Doron 2012; Alexiadou 2013; Alexiadou et al. 2015; Schäfer 2017; on AG Grestenberger 2016; 2021). A designated passive suffix -(th)ē- does develop eventually, but behaves synchronically like a verbalizer rather than a Voice marker in (archaic) AG (Tronci 2005; García Ramón 2014; Grestenberger 2021) and thus cannot be argued to be a “high”, Voice-selecting Pass head (in the sense of Bruening 2013). On the other hand, alternating causative and agentive-transitive verbs as in Table 8, which share the same verbal stem-forming morpheme, but take active endings in the causative/transitive and nonactive endings in the inchoative/passive alternants show that the introduction of the external argument takes place independently from verbal stem-forming morphology, unlike in Voice-bundling languages. These verb classes could then be taken as evidence for the criteria in (10a) and (10c).

Table 8

Voice alternations in AG causative/agentive transitive verbs; segmentation into stem vs. endings.

Caus. (act.) Anticaus. (nonact.) Meaning Agent. tr. (act.) Passive (nonact.) Meaning
rhḗgnū-mi rhḗgnu-mai ‘break’ (tr./itr.) dídō-mi dído-mai ‘give/be given’
khé-ō khéo-mai ‘pour out/flow’ zeúgnū-mi zeúgnu-mai ‘yoke/be yoked’
thermaín-ō thermaíno-mai ‘make/turn hot’ témn-ō témno-mai ‘cut/be cut’
melaín-ō melaíno-mai ‘make/turn black’ kakó-ō kakóo-mai ‘mistreat/be mistreated’
pakhū́n-ō pakhū́no-mai ‘make/turn thick’ túpt-ō túpto-mai ‘beat/be beaten’

(10b) could also apply to AG, provided that the dativus (in)commodi is to be interpreted as a high applicative. While there is no designated applicative verbal suffix in AG, animate datives of convenience/inconvenience (benefactives/malefactives) like in (11), which can modify transitive and intransitive unergative predicates, could be interpreted in this way and thus fulfill (10b). However, further study of these constructions is needed to confirm this analysis.

    1. (11)
    1. tō̃ide
    2. dem.pron.dat.sg.m
    1. d’
    2. ptcl
    1. egṑn
    2. I.nom.sg
    1. autòs
    2. self.nom.sg
    1. thōrḗk-so-mai
    2. armor-fut-1sg.nonact
    1. “Against this one I myself will put on armor” (Hom. Il. 7.101)

To summarize, the AG verbal stem-forming suffixes fulfill all of the criteria for v-status in (9) (with a question mark over their relationship with Aktionsart, 9b), and Harley’s diagnostics for Voice-bundling vs. Voice-splitting languages suggest that AG belongs to the latter, though this is based on a preliminary assessment. However, in order to make a stronger case for v-status of these elements, we need additional, ideally unambiguous evidence of their co-occurrence with genuine aspectual morphology relating to outer/syntactic aspect. The implicit assumption so far is that Asp is in fact not expressed overtly in most contexts in AG, effectively the opposite of approaches in which Asp is overt and v is covert and/or “pruned” (e.g., Calabrese 2019). But if it were possible to find contexts in which Asp can be independently shown to be realized overtly and in which it combines with verbal-stem forming morphemes, this would make a stronger case for the latter’s status as verbalizers. This aspectual morphology would be expected to be morphophonologically and semantically more regular than “inner” morphology as it expresses a limited set of morphosyntactic features (presumably only ±pfv vel sim.) and to be compatible with many, if not all of the putative v-elements discussed in this section.

There are two environments that have hithero been neglected in this discussion and that could potentially fulfill these criteria: the epic/Ionic “iterative preterit” and the participles and verbal adjectives of the stems discussed above.

3.3 Additional arguments for v, I: the Ionic iterative preterit

The so-called “Ionic iterative preterit” (cf. Brugmann 1902–03; Schwyzer 1939: 710ff.; Chantraine 1984: 226f.; Ittzés 2008; Kimball 2014) is particularly productive in (epic) Ionic Greek and is formed with a complex thematic suffix -sk(-)e/o- which selects verbal stems and does not co-occur with the augment. That is, unlike all the other verbalizers discussed so far, which select and are linearly adjacent to the root and restricted to either the present or the aorist (or the perfect) stem, the iterative preterit suffix -sk(-)e/o- can select present and aorist stems (no forms from the perfect stem are attested), rather than just the root. Together with its semantics, which can be characterized as progressive or iterative, this makes it a plausible candidate for actually spelling out Asp unlike the verbal stem-forming suffixes discussed so far. Table 9 gives some examples of Ionic iteratives and their respective bases.

Table 9

Ion. iterative preterits (Kimball 2014: 163), 1pl. act.; root = bold, primary stem = underlined, iterative suffix = italics.

Iterative Base
a. hi-stá-sk(-)o-men ‘continually placed sth.’ hí-sta-men (pres.) ‘place’
b. rhēg-nú-sk(-)o-men ‘continually broke, smashed’ rhḗg-nu-men (pres.) ‘break, smash’
c. pheug-sk(-)o-men ‘kept fleeing’ pheúg-o-men (pres.) ‘flee, escape’
d. phug-sk(-)o-men ‘kept escaping’ e-phúg-o-men (aor.) ‘escaped’
e. spei-sá-sk(-)o-men ‘kept pouring (drinks)’ e-speí-sa-men (aor.) ‘pour (drinks)’

These examples show that iterative -sk(-)e/o- selects verbal stems rather than roots,19 independent of whether the stem is athematic (rows a–b) or thematic (rows c-d). Rows a. and b. illustrate iterative preterits from an athematic reduplicated and a nū̆-present, respectively. Rows c. and d. illustrate iterative preterits from a simplex thematic present and a simple thematic aorist, respectively (crucially from one and the same root; see Kimball 2014 for a discussion of the semantics of iterative preterits from present vs. aorist stems). All in all, this suffix is therefore a good candidate for a genuine aspectual suffix.20

3.4 Additional arguments for v, II: nonfinite forms

So far we have concentrated on theme vowels and verbalizers in finite verb forms. But in nonfinite “deverbal” forms we see quite clearly that some suffixes select stems (minimally √-v), while others select roots. The “verbal adjective” in -t- (-t-ó- m./n., t-ḗ f.) selects roots and forms state-denoting adjectives, as illustrated in Table 10.

Table 10

Finite verbs (augment excluded) vs. verbal adjectives; underlined = verbal stem, bold = root.

a. Redupl. pres. b. nū̆-pres. c. Them. present d. s(a)-aor.
1pl. tí-the-men eks-ai-nú-metha eukh-metha euk-sá-metha
red-place-v-1pl.act prvb-choose-v-1pl.mid pray-v-1pl.mid pray-v-1pl.mid
verbal the-tós éks-ai-tos euk-tós
adj. ‘placed, put’ ‘chosen; choice’ ‘prayed for, desired’

As these examples show, -t- treats thematic and athematic verbs alike in attaching to the root and ignoring any verbal stem-forming material, including theme vowels as in column c. Assuming that this stem-forming material realizes v, this affix can therefore be used as a diagnostic for the presence vs. absence of v—more precisely, it seems to be in complementary distribution with verbalizers. (13a) gives the proposed structure of -t-verbal adjectives, based on the analysis of their Modern Greek descendants by Alexiadou et al. (2015), who argue that -t- selects (event-denoting) roots and spells out stative aspect (thus also Anagnostopoulou 2003; Anagnostopoulou & Samioti 2014; Grestenberger 2018; Calabrese 2020; etc.). Given that it only selects the root to the exclusion of any verbal stem-forming morphology, the examples in Table 10 suggest the same structure for AG verbal adjectives in -t-. In addition, AG -t- is also able to form possessive adjectives from nouns (cf. Schwyzer 1939: 503), as in the examples in (12). The presumed structure for these is given in (13b).

    1. (12)
    1. a.
    1. lépas, lépad- ‘limpet, snail’ → lepas-tḗ (< *lepad-tó/ḗ-) ‘limpet-shaped drinking vessel’21
    1. b.
    1. thaũma ‘marvel’ → thauma-tós ‘marvelous’
    1. c.
    1. thúsanos ‘tassel’ → thusanō-tós ‘tasseled, with tassels’
    1. (13)
    1. a.
    1. b.

The verbal adjectives in -t- differ from the participial suffixes -nt- (pres./aor. active participle), - (w)ō̆s/-uia (m.-n./f. perf.act. participle) and -men-o/ē- (nonactive/“middle” participle): These always select the verbal stem—contrast the participial forms in Table 11 with the “verbal adjectives” in Table 10.

Table 11

(1pl) finite verbs vs. participles, underlined = verbal stem, bold = root.

Redupl. pres. nū̆-pres. Them. present s(a)-aor.
Finite 1pl.act. tí-the-men deík-nu-men lū́-o-men deík-sa-men
1pl.mid. ti-thé-metha deik-nú-metha -metha deik-sá-metha
Ptcp. act. ptcp. ti-thé-nt- deik-nú-nt- lū́-o-nt- deík-sa-nt-
mid. ptcp. ti-thé-men-o- deik-nú-men-o- -men-o- deik-sá-men-o-

The fact that these participles contain verbal stem-forming and Voice (act./mid.) morphology and can be construed transitively with direct objects (if the corresponding finite forms are transitive, that is) suggest that these participial suffixes contain more structure than the -t-forms, as illustrated in (14) (following Grestenberger 2018; 2020, as well as Alexiadou et al. 2015 on Modern Greek and Embick 2000 on Latin participles).

    1. (14)
    1. Structure of AG participles

Crucially, just like in (13), the participial suffixes are analyzed as overt allomorphs of the aspectual head Asp, with the Spell-Out conditions on the active and nonactive participle suffixes given in (15).22

    1. (15)
    1. Spell-Out conditions for AG participles (Grestenberger 2018; 2020, based on Embick 2000):
    1. a.
    1. Asp ↔ -men-/ Voice[-ext.arg] _
    1. b.
    1. Asp ↔ -nt-: elsewhere

If this is the correct synchronic analysis, it means in effect that Asp is realized as zero (and/or is “pruned”, Embick 2010; 2015, etc.) in all finite forms (with the exception of iterative/progressive “Ionic” Asp, section 3.3), and only surfaces overtly in the participial system. More precisely, the Spell-Out rule for Asp in finite forms must be as in (16), to ensure that the participial allomorphs do not surface in the infinitival forms (assuming the latter spell out nonfinite T).

    1. (16)
    1. Asp Ø /– ͡ T

An anonymous reviewer has criticized that this seems incompatible with the handbook view that present participles (used as adjuncts, or “circumstantially”, that is) express simultaneity with respect to the event described by the main verb, while aorist participles express anteriority of the event with respect to that of the main verb (e.g., Rijksbaron 2002: 117; though not uniformly, cf. Napoli 2017: 116). But as long as the participles in these contexts are not specified for Tense independently of the main verb (on which there is widespread agreement, e.g., Smyth & Messing 1956: 457; Napoli 2006; 2017; Pompei 2012; Buijs 2013), the analysis above holds assuming that the Spell-Out of Asp is syncretic—that is, there are no separate allomorphs for Asp[+pfv] and Asp[-pfv] (or however one wants to characterize syntactic aspect in Greek at this stage, cf. footnote 8 above), either in finite or in non-finite contexts (again with the exception of the particular “flavor” of Asp spelled out by the Ionic iterative preterit suffix). This parallels the analysis by Embick (2000) of the Latin participial suffixes -nt- and -t-(-s-) as unspecified for the features of Voice, despite their traditional labels as “active” and “passive” participles, respectively, and hence as compatible with both “active” and “passive” syntactic contexts (as in the widely referenced active, transitive deponent participles in -t(us), cf. Grestenberger 2017; 2018). Similarly, the realization of Asp as -nt- vs. -men- in (15) would be sensitive to the adjacent Voice head, but not to the features of Asp itself (with the exception of the perfect active allomorph, which is more highly specified than active/Elsewhere -nt-; cf. Grestenberger 2022 for a more detailed discussion).

To summarize, assuming that the Ionic iterative preterit suffix -sk(-)e/o- and the participial suffixes -nt- and -men- are overt allomorphs of Asp, and given that these co-occur with verbal stem-forming morphology, we conclude that the latter must spell out something lower in the structure. This, together with its adjacency to the root, its root-specific/lexical selection-based distribution and its ability to trigger root ablaut, points towards verbalizing v.

Note that an interesting prediction follows from the discussion of the two overt Asp morphemes in this section: If both of them compete for the same structural position, we do not actually expect Ionic iterative preterits to form participles, i.e., we do not expect *-sk(-)o-nt- and *-sk(-)o-men-participles to be formed to these preterits. This is indeed the case: No participle is attested for any of the iterative preterits in Homer and Herodotus (the main sources of attestation of this type).23

Before turning to denominal verbs, we will briefly look at complex thematic suffixes in the next section.

3.5 Complex thematic suffixes

To recapitulate briefly, “complex thematic” suffixes appear to consist of a verbalizing affix + a theme vowel and thus structurally pose the same problem as the complex Spanish verbalizers in ex. (5), e.g., clas-ific(-)a- ‘to classify’. The point of this section is not to weigh in on whether these are (essentially monomorphemic) allomorphs of v (as proposed by Fábregas 2017) or v + thematic adjuncts (Oltra-Massuet 1999; Oltra-Massuet & Arregi 2005, followed by much of the DM literature), as the diagnostics introduced in the previous section, in particular verbal adjective and participle formation, do not help distinguish between these two analyses. They do show, however, that complex thematic suffixes are treated like simple thematic suffixes and athematic affixes in being able to co-occur with Asp morphology (the participial suffixes and the Ionic iterative preterit), but not with morphology that selects the root, like the verbal adjective-forming suffix -t-. The following tables illustrate this for the complex thematic present stem suffixes -n(-)e/o-, -an(-)e/o-, and -(i)sk(-)e/o- (on which see also footnote 23). The first two classes actually form simple thematic aorists, whose stem-forming suffix has the same distribution as its complex thematic counterpart, as shown in Tables 12, 13. Table 14 exemplifies two -(i)sk(-)e/o-verbs without and one with reduplication in the present stem. The finite aorist forms are given as unaugmented.

Table 12

-n(-)e/o-verbs, 1pl.pres.act. & 1pl.aor.act. (augment excluded), active participles, verbal adjective (va); root = bold, stem = underlined.

1pl.pres. Ptcp.act. 1pl.aor. Ptcp.act. Verbal adj.
tém-n(-)o-men tém-n(-)o-nt- tám-o-men tám-o-nt- tmē-tó- ‘cut’
cut-v-1pl.act cut-v-ptcp- cut-v-1pl.act cut-v-ptcp- cut-va-
kám-n(-)o-men kám-n(-)o-nt- kám-o-men kám-o-nt- -kmē-to- ‘wrought’
toil-v-1pl.act toil-v-ptcp- toil-v-1pl.act toil-v-ptcp- toil-va-
pī́-n(-)o-men pī́-n(-)o-nt- -o-men -o-nt- po-tó- ‘what one drinks’
drink-v-1pl.act drink-v-ptcp- drink-v-1pl.act drink-v-ptcp- drink-va-
Table 13

-an(-)e/o-verbs, 1pl.pres.act./mid. & 1pl.aor.act./mid. (augment excluded), act./mid. participles, verbal adjective (va); root = bold, stem = underlined.

1pl.pres. Ptcp. 1pl.aor. Ptcp. Verbal adj.
punth-an(-)ó-metha punth-an(-)ó-men- puth-metha puth-men- á-pus-to-
learn-v-1pl.mid learn-v-ptcp- learn-v-1pl.mid learn-v-ptcp- neg-learn-va-
lanth-án(-)o-men lanth-án(-)o-nt- láth-o-men láth-o-nt- á-las-to-
forget-v-1pl.act forget-v-ptcp- forget-v-1pl.act forget-v-ptcp- neg-forget-va-
lamb-án(-)o-men lamb-án(-)o-nt- láb-o-men láb-o-nt- (*lap-tó-)
seize-v-1pl.act seize-v-ptcp- seize-v-1pl.act seize-v-ptcp-
Table 14

-(i)sk(-)e/o-verbs, 1pl.pres.act. & 1pl.aor.act. (augment excluded), active participles, verbal adjective (va); root = bold, stem = underlined.

1pl.pres.act. Ptcp.act. 1pl.aor.act Ptcp.act. Verbal adj.
thnḗ-isk(-)o-men thnḗ-isk(-)o-nt- thán-o-men thán-o-nt- thnē-tó- ‘mortal’
die-v-1pl die-v-ptcp- die-v-1pl die-v-ptcp- die-va-
-sk(-)o-men -sk(-)o-nt- á-bo-to- ‘without pasture’24
feed-v-1pl feed-v-ptcp- neg-feed-va-
ki-klḗ-sk(-)o-men ki-klḗ-sk(-)o-nt- kalé-s(s)a-men kalé-s(s)a-nt- klē-tó- ‘summoned’
red-call-v-1pl red-call-v-ptcp- call-v-1pl call-v-ptcp- call-va-

Stems with complex thematic suffixes (including the ones in Table 14) are also able to form Ionic iterative preterits, as illustrated in Table 15.

Table 15

Ion. iterative preterits from complex thematic present stems, 1pl. act.; root = bold, primary stem = underlined, iterative suffix = italics.

Iterative Base
a. bo-sk(-)é-sk(-)o-men25 ‘kept feeding’ -sk(-)o-men ‘feed’
b. -n(-)é-sk(-)o-men26 ‘kept drinking’ pī́-n(-)o-men ‘drink’

3.6 Interim summary

The main point of this section was to show that the distribution of the theme vowel -e/o- of simple thematic verbs corresponds to that of primary athematic verbalizers, and that both spell out the verbalizing head v (or an adjunct to it, in the case of the theme vowel), rather than Asp. Evidence for this comes from their semantics (i.e., their association with particular verb classes such as motion verbs or verbs of perception, or with telic/terminative inner aspect, cf. section 3.2), their adjacency to the root, their idiosyncratic root-selection, their ability to trigger root-specific alternations, and their ability to co-occur with elements that have been independently argued to spell out Asp (participial suffixes, the Ionic iterative preterite suffix). Moreover, complex thematic suffixes have the same distribution as simple thematic suffixes, in that they show up in all finite forms and participles, but not in the verbal adjective (i.e., in root-selecting formations), and in the iterative preterit.

Having established these properties of primary verbalizers and verbal theme vowels, the next section compares the behavior of synchronic denominal verbs. Some of these, too, contain elements that could be interpreted as theme vowels. However, we will see that these do not pattern with the primary verbalizers/theme vowels according to the diagnostics established in this section, and should hence not be analyzed as verbalizing morphemes synchronically.

4 Denominal verbs

AG productively forms denominal and deadjectival verbs with the inherited present stem-forming complex thematic suffix *-j(-)e/o- (other affixes are used as well, but this is by far the most common one in the present stem), as well as with aorist and perfect stem-forming suffixes (especially -s(a)- and -(th)ē- in the aorist; more on this below). The initial glide of the *-j(-)e/o-suffix was lost well before the composition of the Homeric epics, but affected the final consonant or vowel of the nominal/adjectival base in specific ways. These sound changes gave rise to characteristic stem-final alternations of the different denominal and deadjectival verb classes. (17) summarizes the most important developments:

    1. (17)
    1. a.
    1. Labial stop + j > pt
    1. b.
    1. Voiced dental or velar stop + j > z (/dz/ or /zd/)
    1. c.
    1. Voiceless dental or velar stop + j: -tt- (Attic, Boeot.), -ss- (other dialects)
    1. d.
    1. Liquid (r, l) or nasal (m, n) + j: Loss of j with gemination of preceeding consonant (i.e., Vrj > Vrr), or with compensatory lengthening of vowel preceeding liquid/nasal (i.e., Vrj > V̄r), depending on the dialect.
    1. e.
    1. Intervocalic j is lost, initially creating a hiatus which is later followed by contraction (VjV > VV > ; outcome again depending on the dialect and the vowel sequence involved)

This very condensed summary will suffice for our purposes.27 (17e) is especially important for denominal and deadjectival verbs from stems ending in a vowel, namely verbs in -e-e/o- (< *-e-j(-)e/o-), -a-e/o- (< *-ā̆-j(-)e/o-), and -o-e/o- (< *-ō̆-j(-)e/o-), the so-called contract verbs (verba contracta). Diachronically, these suffixes consist of the stem vowel of the nominal base (-e-, -o-, -ā-) + the theme vowel of the verbalizing suffix -(j-)e/o-. But the loss of the glide and subsequent contraction of the two vowels eventually gave rise to a new class of verbal theme vowels in the ancestors of the MG second conjugation verbs, whose vocalic themes are argued to be equivalent to v in Modern Greek (Alexiadou 2009; Spyropoulos et al. 2015; Panagiotidis et al. 2017). (18) summarizes the relevant vowel contractions and their development into MG.

    1. (18)
    1. a.
    1. -a-o- > ɔ: (<ō>/ω) > MG o
    1. b.
    1. -a-e- > -ā- > MG a
    1. c.
    1. -e-o-, -o-o- > o: (<ou>/ ) > MG u
    1. e.
    1. -ā- > -ē- (η) > MG i

However, in Ancient Greek, especially in Homeric/epic Greek, the stem-final vowel of the nominal/adjectival base and the vowel of the verbalizing suffix are still clearly distinct affixes. Table 16 gives some examples of presents and aorists (without the augment) in 1sg. a.) -éō (-ɛ́ω), b.) -áō (-άω), and c.) -óō (-óω).

Table 16

Denominal verbs from vocalic bases (Tucker 1990), 1pl.act.; nominal/adjectival stem = bold, verbal stem = underlined.

Pres. Aor. Meaning Base
a. phil-é-o-men phil-ḗ-sa-men ‘to love’ phíl-o-s ‘dear’
turann-é-o-men turann--sa-men ‘to be a tyrant’ túrann-o-s ‘tyrant’
b. nīk-á-o-men nīk--sa-men28 ‘to be victorious’ nī́kē, nī́kā ‘victory’
tīm-á-o-men tīm-ḗ-sa-men29 ‘to respect’ tīmḗ, tīmā́ ‘respect’
c. stephan-ó-o-men stephan--sa-men ‘to crown’ stéphan-o-s ‘crown’
orth-ó-o-men ōrth--sa-men ‘to straighten’ orth-ó-s ‘straight’

Some comments on the phonology of these classes are in order before proceeding: Concerning the - class (a.), the nominal theme vowel of the base originally alternated between -e- and -o-, like in the verbal system (cf. the simple thematic verbs in Table 2). The original distribution of -e- and -o- is a bit more difficult to reconstruct than in the verbal system, but is synchronically still visible in the vocative singular of thematic nouns (e.g., voc.sg. túranne ‘oh tyrant!’), and also reconstructable for the locative singular (which merged with the dative in Greek). It is also the alternant of the nominal theme vowel that surfaces in secondary formations (Schindler 1976), and therefore fully expected in denominal verbs like the ones in (a.). Within Greek, however, a more recent rule developed by which denominal and deadjectival verbs were derived from the o-alternant of the nominal theme vowel, giving rise to the - class in c. (see Tucker 1990 for a more detailed discussion of the development of these two classes).

In all three classes, there is a regular, morphologically conditioned alternation of the nominal/adjectival stem vowel, which is a short vowel in the present stem and a long vowel in the aorist (and, where it exists, the perfect) stem. But because ā was raised to ē in Attic-Ionic, its nominal “theme vowel” in the aorist became -ē- in Classical (Attic) Greek, like in class a. (it remained -ā- in other dialects; some examples of such forms are given in the footnotes to Table 16).

With these facts in place, let us now compare how these verbs behave with respect to the diagnostics discussed in section 3. As expected, all three classes form present and aorist participles in -nt- and -men- of the structure √-n-v-ptcp (that is, containing both the nominal suffix of the base and the verbal stem-forming suffix).

In section 3.4, we saw that the verbal adjective suffix -t- selects roots or nominal stems (cf. ex. (12)). The verbal adjective forms in Table 17 thus suggest that the vocalic stem elements of the denominal (and deadjectival) contract verbs were still interpreted as nominal suffixes, and therefore licensed to surface in the -t-verbal adjective, whereas synchronic verbalizers such as -(j-)e/o- and -s(a)- are not.

Table 17

Denominal verbs in -éō (a.), -áō (b.), -óō (c.), 1pl.pres. & aor.act., active participles, verbal adjectives; nominal/adjectival stem = bold, verbal stem = underlined.

Pres.act. Ptcp.act. Aor.act. Ptcp.act Verbal adj.
a. philé-o-men philé-o-nt- philḗ-sa-men philḗ-sa-nt- philē-tó- ‘loved, loveable’
b. tīmá-o-men tīmá-o-nt- tīmḗ-sa-men tīmḗ-sa-nt- tīmē-tó- ‘respected’
c. kholó-o-men kholó-o-nt- kholṓ-sa-men kholṓ-sa-nt- kholō-tó- ‘angered’

Denominal and deadjectival verbs can moreover form Ionic iterative preterits, selecting the verbal stem (as expected) rather than the nominal or adjectival base, cf. Table 18.

Table 18

Ionic iterative preterits to denominal presents & aorists (1pl.act.), adj./nominal base = bold, denominal verbal stem = underlined, iterative suffix = italics.

Iterative Verbal base Adj./nominal base
phile-sk(-)o-men philé-o-men (pres.) ‘love’ phíl-o-s ‘dear’
-sk(-)o-men sṓ-o-men (pres.) ‘save, rescue’ sō̃-s (sáo-s) ‘safe’
agnō-sá-sk(-)o-men agnṓ-sa-men (aor.) ‘fail to recognize’ *á-gnō-s30 ‘not recognizing’
homo-klē-sá-sk(-)o-men homo-klḗ-sa-men (aor.) ‘call out, rebuke’ homo-klḗ ‘rebuke’

Denominal and deadjectival verbs from stems that end in a consonant, illustrated in Table 19 show exactly the same pattern: They form participles from the derived verbal stem, but verbal adjectives in -t- from the nominal base (to the exclusion of the verbalizing suffixes), cf. Table 20, and their iterative preterits mirror those of the vocalic stems as well, cf. Table 21.

Table 19

Denominal verbs from consonantal bases (1pl.act.); nominal stem = bold, verbal stem = underlined.

Present Aorist Base
sēmaín-o-men (<*-mán-j(-)o-) sēmḗn-a-men (<*-mán-sa-) ‘to indicate’ sē̃ma(n)- ‘sign’
phulátt-o-men (< *-ak-j(-)o-) phulák-sa-men ‘to guard’ phúlak-s ‘guard’
kharíz-o-men (< *-id-j(-)o-) kharís-a-men (<*-id-sa-) ‘to oblige’ khárid/t- ‘kindness’
Table 20

Active participles & verbal adjectives of denominal verbs from consonantal bases; nominal stem = bold, verbal stem = underlined.

Pres.ptcp. Aor.ptcp. Verbal adj. Base
sēmaín-o-nt- sēmḗn-a-nt- a- sḗman-to- ‘leaderless’ sē̃ma(n)- ‘sign’
phulátt-o-nt- phulák-sa-nt- a-phúlak-to- ‘unguarded’ phúlak-s ‘guard’
kharíz-o-nt karís-a-nt- a-kháris-to- ‘ungracious’ khárid/t- ‘kindness’
Table 21

Ionic iterative preterits to denominal verbs from consonantal bases (1pl.act); nominal base = bold, denominal verbal stem = underlined, iterative suffix = italics.

Iterative Verbal base Nominal base
poimain-sk(-)o-men poimaín-o-men ‘to (shep)herd’ poimḗn (*-má(n)-) ‘shepherd’
eriz-sk(-)o-men eríz-o-men (< *-íd-j(-)o-) ‘to seek strife’ érid- ‘strife’

Note that whether or not the verbal adjectives in Table 20 are “part of the verbal paradigm” of these verbs or not is not at issue here31—for some or even all of these, it could be argued that they are synchronically denominal, like the forms in ex. (12). The point is that these forms allow us to distinguish clearly between root- and n-derived adjectives on the one hand, and v-derived adjectives (“participles”) on the other. Moreover, these forms show that there is no difference in the distribution of vocalic themes/bases and consonantal themes/bases (compare Tables 17 and 20): both pattern as n according to this diagnostic.

To conclude, denominal verbs provide crucial evidence that primary verbal stem-forming suffixes like -j(-)e/o- and -s(a)- realize v rather than Asp: Denominal and deadjectival verb formation is generally agreed to be one of the core properties of v. Crucially, both “imperfective” -j(-)e/o- and “perfective” -s(a)- productively form new denominal and deadjectival verbs at the oldest stage of Greek: As Tucker (1990) points out, there are several classes of denominal/deadjectival verbs in which the aorist stem is older or occurs more often than the present stem, such as the denominal -áō-class, in which “sigmatic stem forms are slightly more common than those based on the present stem, and other tense stems, particularly the aorist passive are quite well-attested.” (Tucker 1990: 268) or the deadjectival factitive -óō-class, in which the sigmatic and passive aorist forms prevail at the oldest stage of the language (including in Mycenaean; Tucker 1990: 294–6). This suggests that “perfective” -s(a)-, “imperfective” -j(-)e/o-, and “passive” -(th)ē- could all be used to verbalize nouns and adjectives at this stage, and thus should be analyzed as verbalizers (rather than as Aspect or Voice markers as suggested by the traditional terminology), all the more so given that at least -s(a)- and -(th)ē- are associated with particular Aktionsart “flavors” at the earliest stage (transitive/factitive and inchoative, respectively). The traditional use of the present stem as citation form thus obscures the fact that this may not actually be the oldest or best-attested stem form of any given verb.

Finally, we have seen that at this stage the vocalic themes -ē̆-, -ā̆-, and -ō̆- of the denominal and deadjectival contract verbs still behave like nominal/adjectival affixes with respect to their distribution, and not like verbalizers or verbal themes, unlike their MG descendants. The details of when and how exactly they were reanalyzed as part of the verbal domain through UR (cf. section 2.2) on the way to MG still need to be further elucidated, however.

5 Conclusion: old and new “themes”

The main findings of this paper are twofold: First, we have seen arguments in favor of analyzing AG primary verbal stem-forming suffixes (athematic, simple thematic, and complex thematic ones) as realizing the verbalizing head v, rather than (perfective/imperfective) Asp. This was based on morphophonological and semantic criteria discussed in the literature (primarily on Modern Greek) on identifying verbalizers, as well as on two additional diagnostics, i.e., the ability of these verbal stem-forming suffixes to co-occur with morphology that can independently be argued to realize Asp, namely the participial morphemes and the Ionic iterative preterit in -sk(-)e/o-. The second finding is that the nonfinite forms of the verb can also be used to distinguish between verbal and nominal bases in secondary derivation, especially the formation of denominal and deadjectival verbs. Participles and verbal adjectives in AG select different “heights” of functional structure and can therefore be used as a diagnostic for the presence and absence of v (as well as Voice, cf. Grestenberger 2018). Since the participial morphemes are synchronically v/Voice-selecting, while the verbal adjective-forming suffix -t- selects roots or nominal stems, this diagnostic shows that the AG “secondary” vocalic themes of the contract verbs in -ē̆-o-, -ā̆-o-, and -ō̆-o- have the same distribution as secondary consonantal themes and still pattern synchronically as nominal (/adjectival) morphemes. Given that these are argued to be verbalizers in Modern Greek, this suggests that these new “themes” (vocalic and otherwise) have arisen through the type of Upwards Reanalysis discussed in section 2.2. This confirms that at least one diachronic pathway for creating new theme vowels and other verbalizers is through the reanalysis of nominal and adjectival morphology in the context of derived verbs.

Naturally, there are still many open issues. The diagnostics presented here cannot distinguish between an analysis in which theme vowels are adjuncts to functional projections and one in which they are heads thereof. In fact, the distributional arguments for simplex vs. complex thematic suffixes are almost exactly the same as for, e.g., Spanish -a- vs. -ific(-)a- (Fábregas 2017). Moreover, additional evidence for the analysis of primary verbal stem-forming suffixes as v rather than Asp could come from a more detailed scrutiny of other deverbal forms (e.g., agent nouns and the formation of verbal abstracts). The account presented here could moreover have implications for understanding the nature of thematic formants such as the Latin first conjugation marker -ā- and second conjugation -ē- and their diachronic development in the Romance languages (cf. recent work on this topic such as, e.g., Calabrese 2015a; 2019; 2020; Bertocci & Pinzin 2020; 2021; Zyman & Kalivoda 2020; Pomino & Remberger 2022), as well as for the development of the Greek verb into Classical and eventually Modern Greek (e.g., Alexiadou 2021; Grestenberger Forthcoming).

Finally, the status of the inherited theme vowel -e/o- needs to be elucidated further. This element is so widespread that any meaningful generalization as to its semantics seems impossible, and it is moreover the only element that is able to adjoin to more than one functional position in a complex verb form in AG, reminiscent of the wellformedness condition in (4) by Oltra-Massuet & Arregi (2005). It thus differs from the distribution of the “new” MG verbalizers/verbal theme vowels which arose from a diachronic n → v reanalysis. The cause of this differing behavior is still to be determined, as is the ultimate origin of the verbal theme vowel.32

Crucially, the analysis of AG primary verbal stem-forming suffixes as verbalizers could pave the way for a closer study and formalization of their Aktionsart properties, as well as of those of the newly developing, originally denominal and deadjectival suffixes. We have only hinted at these connections (e.g., -(th)ē-: inchoative ( passive), -nū̆-: transitive-agentive, -ō̆-e/o-: factitive; -eu-e/o-: state/activity; -sa-: boundedness(?), etc.), but in the light of recent studies on the flavors of verbalizers and theme vowels, including the contributions to this special issue, a fresh look at the diachronic development of the Aktionsart and argument structure properties of these elements and their interaction with different types of roots and nominal/adjectival bases seems like a promising avenue for further research.


acc = accusative, act = active, AG = Ancient Greek, dat = dative, dem = demonstrative, fut = future, m = masculine, MG = Modern Greek, mid = middle, nom = nominative, nonact = nonactive, perf = perfect, pers = person, pfv = perfective, pl = plural, pron = pronoun, prvb = preverb, ptcl = particle, ptcp = participle, sg = singular, v = verbalizer, va = verbal adjective.


  1. The standard periodization of Ancient Greek is ca. 1500–300 BCE, divided into Mycenaean Greek (ca. 1500–1100 BCE), Dark Ages (1100–800 BCE), Archaic Greek (800–500 BCE), and Classical Greek (500–300 BCE), followed by Hellenistic/Koine Greek (ca. 300 BCE–300 CE), cf. Joseph 1992; Ralli 2012. [^]
  2. For typographical convenience, I transliterate AG forms rather than using a phonetic transcription, hence ɛι = ei, ου = ou (including spurious diphthongs) and η = ē, ω = ō. [^]
  3. The Greek synthetic perfect underwent a change from an inherited resultative/resultant state perfect to a perfective past tense (on the semantics of the Greek perfect cf., e.g., Chantraine 1926; Schwyzer 1939: 768; Haspelmath 1992; Bentein 2012a; 2012b; 2013), while the resultant state meaning was taken over by the newer analytic perfect forms consisting of the perfect participle plus the copula eimí ‘be’. The feature that underwent the reanalysis is therefore characterized as Asp[res] (for resultative) in Grestenberger (2022), but a compositional solution that derives the semantics of the perfect from a combination of a specific “flavor” of v plus its aspectual specification is preferable in any case and could explain the different semantic subclasses such as the stative perfects. [^]
  4. And in fact the “short vowel subjunctive” theme vowel and the indicative theme vowel are presumably diachronically related, though there is some debate which use is older: The communis opinio represented by Rix (1986) is that the simple thematic indicative arose from reanalyzed subjunctives (to perfective/bounded stems; cf. also Jasanoff 2003, appendix I), whereas Bozzone (2012) makes a case for the development of the subjunctive function from erstwhile present indicatives. [^]
  5. Alternatively, one could treat the -a- of the sigmatic aorist and the kappa-perfect as another type of theme vowel, e.g., conditioned by perfective aspect in the environment /_C. I see no particular advantage or disadvantage of this analysis over the one proposed in the main text. [^]
  6. See Willi 2018: 9ff. for a recent synopsis of the development of the mood markers in Greek. [^]
  7. Perfects from roots ending in a velar or labial stop occur with root-final aspiration (instead of the expected -k- of the perfect suffix) in Attic-Ionic from the 5th century onwards. The distribution of the -a-“theme” is the same as in the regular kappa-perfect in Table 3. [^]
  8. Note that having “Ø” in the gloss of the reduplicated present is merely a representational decision that follows from the DM-analysis of reduplicants (and other non-concatenative morphology such as infixes) as underlyingly suffixal. If this were wrong and the reduplicant were underlyingly a prefix, nothing about the analysis would have to change — we would still have to account for the fact that reduplicating present stem-forming morphology and other types of present- and aorist-stem forming morphology are in complementary distribution, and hence argue that they compete for the same position. We would also still have to account for the fact that reduplicated presents and nū̆-presents seem to have thematic and athematic variants. [^]
  9. Though number on T/Agr can trigger suffix ablaut when nothing else intervenes, as in the present and imperfect indicative of the nū̆-presents illustrated in Table 4, but crucially not root ablaut. It can moreover trigger root ablaut if the stem-forming suffix is Ø, i.e., in root presents and aorists and in reduplicated presents like tí-thē-Ø-mi ‘place, set’ (1sg.), 1pl. tí-the-Ø-men in Table 6, which makes a pruning account of v along the lines of Christopoulos & Petrosino 2018 an attractive option for these cases; see also Calabrese 2015a; 2015b for a discussion of the connection between overt verbalizers and locally-conditioned root allormorphy. [^]
  10. The distribution of the e- vs. the o-variant is the same in the thematic present and the thematic aorist, namely o in the first person (singular & plural) and the third person plural, and e elsewhere. [^]
  11. In Attic-Ionic; but Aeolic dialects have gemination in this environment. [^]
  12. Instances of suppletion from historically distinct roots also exist, of course, e.g., 1pl.pres. phér-o-men ‘bring’ vs. 1pl.aor. en-énk-o-men (reduplicated thematic aorist); 1pl.pres. erkh-ó-metha ‘go’ vs. 1pl. aor. élth-o-men, etc. See Kölligan 2007. [^]
  13. As amply discussed in the literature, the fact that the nonactive voice marker in Greek, Sanskrit, and Latin is realized on the endings together with Person and Number seems to be in violation of the Mirror Principle (Baker 1985): Given the order of functional projections in ex. (7), Voice should surface closer to the root, between the verbal stem-forming morphemes and the inflectional endings. The fact that it seems to “skip” Asp on its way to T/Agr can be modeled in different ways, for example using Spanning (e.g., Merchant 2015 for MG; Grestenberger 2016; 2019; Schreiner 2021 for AG; Bertocci & Pinzin 2021 for Latin), some form of phrasal movement (e.g., Kastner & Zu 2017; Zyman & Kalivoda 2020 for Latin), clitic adjunction to VoiceP/”FP” followed by morphological merger of the Voice clitic to Agr (Calabrese 2019 for Latin and Sanskrit), or Fission plus M-Merger (Embick 2000). It would be dishonest to claim that one of these proposals is more parsimonious or more interesting from a theoretical perspective than any of the others. [^]
  14. “Inner aspect/Aktionsart” are here used to refer to different types of argument and event structure (alternations) in the v/Voice domain, and thus more broadly than the usual Vendlerian classification into states, activities, accomplishments, and achievements (Vendler 1957). [^]
  15. For reasons of space (and personal sanity) I cannot discuss this literature in detail here and instead focus on lexical aspect. Hollenbaugh essentially argues against the traditional characterization of the imperfect (in Greek and Vedic) as expressing imperfective syntactic aspect and the aorist as expressing perfective syntactic aspect. He does not discuss the implications for the morphological analysis of the associated stem-forming suffixes, but his discussion of e.g., durative vs. completive readings of Homeric imperfect forms in Hollenbaugh 2018 seems at least compatible with the view proposed here—though his own analysis of the Homeric aorist as “old anterior” and the imperfect as “simple past” (e.g., Hollenbaugh 2018: 62) is in line with the traditional view of these stems as “tense-aspect” stems. [^]
  16. “We therefore conclude that verbalizing morphology in Greek exhibits certain degrees of idiosyncraticity and lexicalization in the sense that it may not only affect but also define the meaning of the verb formation.”, Panagiotidis et al. 2017: 47. [^]
  17. Such generalizations can also be made for the PIE ancestors of these suffixes, cf. the literature on nasal infix presents and transitivity (Strunk 1967; Meiser 1993; Steer 2013/2014; etc.), and in general the handbook descriptions of these suffixes in, e.g., Tichy 2004; Fortson 2010; Meier-Brügger 2010; LIV2; among others. [^]
  18. Cf. the statement by Merchant (2015: 295, fn. 22) that a node cannot be allowed to condition the allomorph of a span across an intermediate node, since otherwise “the Span Adjacency Hypothesis could easily be vacuously satisfied by the inclusion of multiple intervening nodes that play no role at all in conditioning the allomorphy. The constraint must be that no otiose nodes are included, that every node in the conditioning span is required, and that no conditioning environment can be stated that includes less information.” [^]
  19. Whether this is an inherited property of this suffix is controversial, as there is comparative evidence for both the primary stem-forming uses discussed in section 3.5 and fn. 23 below (cf. LIV2: 19, type (1p)) and for the stem-selecting uses of the cognate suffixes in, e.g., Latin (-scō, -ē-scō, Watkins 1971) and Hittite (-ške/o-imperfective, Melchert 2017). See also Ringe & Eska (2013: 168–70) for a formal analysis of the diachrony of this suffix in Greek. [^]
  20. Rix (1986) analyzes -sk(-)e/o- as a modal affix, but as Ittzés (2008: 19) points out this is semantically unlikely and seems primarily motivated by a desire to explain its ability to co-occur with verbal stem-forming morphology, parallel to the subjunctive and optative mood markers. Ittzés’ own explanation of 1sg. -skon, etc., as allomorphs of the inflectional endings (effectively T/Agr) also fails to convince, as -skon is clearly segmentable into complex thematic -sk(-)o- + 1sg. past ending n, and the same goes for the other person/number combinations throughout the paradigm. The comparison with the 3pl.act. of the root aorist of -/do- ‘give’, édosan, in which the 3pl. ending -san was introduced from the -s(a)-aorist through missegmentation of -sa-n as -san is unconvincing, as this allomorph is restricted to the 3pl., unlike the iterative preterit suffix. [^]
  21. If your kitchen cabinet lacks such extravagances, here’s an example of one: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/G_1978-0401-1. [^]
  22. Excluding the allomorph of the perfect active participle, which must be more highly specified than the vocabulary items in (15). [^]
  23. Confirmed by a search of both authors in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/index.php). Note that there are various primary present stem-forming suffixes containing a complex thematic element -sk(-)e/o- in Greek as well, for example, the reduplicating -sk(-)e/o-presents (didáskō ‘I teach, instruct’, gignṓskō ‘I recognize’, mimnḗskō ‘I remind’, etc.) and the simple -sk(-)e/o-presents (thnḗiskō ‘I die’, bóskō ‘I feed’, etc.); cf. section 3.5. These are not semantically iterative and also differ from the Ionic iterative presents in a number of other ways (they are compatible with the augment and can occur in the present indicative, for example). They clearly pattern with the primary stem-forming suffixes as summarized in Table 6 and are thus expected to form participles, which they do. These were of course excluded from the search. Two borderline cases which have been interpreted as iterative preterits or as primary stems form participles in Herodotus: pháskon ‘assert, say’ (phaskóntōn 3.58.9) could be an iterative preterit to phēmí ‘say’ and sterískō ‘deprive’ (steriskómenai 2.66.7; steriskómenoi 4.159.13), which could be an iterative preterit to steréō ‘deprive’—but in both cases the evidence weighs more heavily in favor of the interpretation as a synchronic primary present (van de Laar 2000 treats sterískō as a primary -isk(-)e/o-present but remains agnostic on pháskon; on the latter see also Ittzés 2008: 14, fn. 4). [^]
  24. Hsch. (Latte & Cunningham 2018: 10); “ábotoi: (those) pastures/fields which are not used for grazing or which do not bear fruit”. [^]
  25. 3pl.mid.  boskéskonth’, Hom. Od. 12.355. [^]
  26. 3sg.act.  pī́nesken, Hom. Il. 16.226. [^]
  27. For a more detailed discussion of the morphophonology of the palatal glide in Greek, see, e.g., Schwyzer 1939: 712ff.; Rix 1992: 60ff., 90ff., 212f.; Barber 2013, ch. 7. [^]
  28. Cf. aorist ptcp.act. nīk-ā́-sa-nt-, Pindar, I. 5.10, etc. [^]
  29. Cf. tīm-ā-s-e (3sg.act), Pindar, N. 6.41, etc. [^]
  30. < *á-gno(i)o-s, cf. Att. ágnoia ‘ignorance’. The aorist stem agnōsa- is regularly contracted from agno(i)ēsa- (in, e.g., Hom. Il. 2.807); cf. Tucker 1990: 84. [^]
  31. Schwyzer (1939: 501–2), for example, argues that -t-adjectives in general are not integrated into the verbal system (“nicht ins Verbalparadigma einbezogen”) at the oldest stage of Greek. [^]
  32. No communis opinio exists on this matter, see Willi (2018: 185f.) and Villanueva Svensson (2021) for recent surveys. The latter actually proposes a denominal origin of the thematic conjugation (an idea that goes back at least to Vaillant 1937), which would then represent another instance of the n → v reanalysis discussed in section 2.2. Another standard explanation takes the thematic conjugation to be ultimately related to the PIE 3sg. ending *-e, traditionally reconstructed as the 3sg. perfect active ending but more recently also in other contexts. This view is represented by Watkins 1969; Jasanoff 1998; 2003; 2017; among others, and essentially derives the verbal theme vowel from a reanalyzed inflectional ending. There is, however, also widespread agreement that there are different types and diachronic layers of thematic verb classes across the older IE languages which most likely arose in different manners. [^]

Funding information

This research was supported by the Austrian Science Fund, grant FWF V 850-G.


I am grateful to Hannes Fellner, Dieter Gunkel, Itamar Kastner, Alexander Nikolaev, Gabriel Pantillon, and the audiences at BCGL 12 (Brussels, Dec. 2019) and the workshop “Theme vowels in V(P) Structure and beyond” (Graz, April 22–23, 2021) for helpful comments and discussion. I also thank the editors of the Glossa special issue on thematic formatives and linguistic theory, as well as the three anonymous reviewers of this paper for their thoughtful feedback and suggestions. Remaining errors are quite possibly my own.

Competing interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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