Saturday, September 30, 2023

The non-indicative forms of εἰμί, part 1: subjunctive, infinitive, imperative

Participles are also a non-indicative form, but they are used frequently enough to be covered in a separate post.

I find the subjunctive of εἰμί difficult in terms of spelling; the singular forms are entirely vowels.  All six forms (singular and plural, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person) are found in the New Testament. 

The proper translation of subjunctive forms is particularly dependent on context.  English makes a distinction between 'might' and 'should', for example; Greek, not so much.  In the New Testament, in practice, many (most?) of the subjunctive forms of εἰμί are translated by 'might be'.

Present subjunctive 


                               I could / should / might be

ᾖς                              you could / should / might be (sing.)

                                he/she/it could / should / might be

ὦμεν                          we could / should / might be

ἦτε                            you could / should / might be (pl.)

ὦσιν                          they could / should / might be



1  Generally, subjunctives contain lengthened vowels; specifically, here we find ω and η.  Notice, for example, the subjunctive 2-P ἦτε in comparison to the indicative 2-P ἐστέ.

2  However, this means that - again, in the case of εἰμί - present subjunctives with η may be confused with imperfect indicatives.  For example, the subjunctive ἦτε is identical in spelling to the imperfect indicative ἦτε, and the subjunctive ᾖς looks very similar to the imperfect ἦς.


There is only one infinitive for εἰμί: the present infinitive εἶναι.  It is a common form in the New Testament, used about 125 times.

There are no separate (one-word) infinitive forms in modern Greek, but είναι persists as the 3-S present indicative: he/she/it is.          


One convention to indicate an 2nd person imperative form in the context of a paradigm is to add '!', i.e., γράψον, 'write!'.  

____                     (no first person forms)

ἴσθι                      [you, sing.]  be!  

ἤτω / ἔστω          let him / her / it be   

____                    (no first person forms)

ἔστε                    [you, pl.]  be!

ἔστωσαν            let them be


1  The form ἔστω is considerably more common than ἤτω.


2  I can find no instances of ἔστε being used in the NT.  The form ἐστε or ἐστέ is common as the 2-P present indicative.

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