If you see numbers in  square brackets in this message, look at
the bottom of the page for footnotes. Yes, I'm afraid it's come to
Gothic has three moods: indicative, imperative and one other which
can be called either "subjunctive" (=konjunktiv) or "optative". I
think "subjunctive" means a mood for unreal or doubtful
actions. "Optative" means to do with wished or desired actions or
intentions. The Gothic optative/subjunctive performs both
functions, so either name would be appropriate. Some people use
one, some the other. Most English books that I've seen on the early
Germanic languages use "subjunctive". Wright calls
it "subjunctive". Streitberg and Braune "Optativ". Histiorically,
the inflections of this mood (in Gothic and the other Germanic
languages) are descended from those of the Indo-European optative.
At first sight, Gothic does seem to have a limited range of tenses,
but actually it's not as bad as it looks. True, the future is often
not expressed, but then even in English you could say "We´re going
shopping", "they´re getting married", "I'm sitting an exam
tomorrow", "She leaves in three weeks time", "do that again and
you're dead!" (a threat) all with future meaning. Likewise in
Gothic J 8,36, jabai nu sunus izwis frijans briggiþ, bi sunjai
frijai sijuþ "so if the son makes you free (ELEUQERWSH), then you
really will be (ESESQE) free". Both of these verbs are future in
Greek, both present in Gothic. In the Early Modern English of the
King James Bible, both verbs are explicitly future, but in modern
colloquial English the first verb at least would normally be
present. And compare the Swedish "Om nu Sonen gör eder fria, så
bliven i verkligen fria." In English "would that it were not so"
(past subjunctive), or more colloquially "if only it wasn't like
this" (past indicative), both use past forms in reference to the
present state of affairs. Gothic too uses the preterite subjunctive
for unreal conditions, whether past, present or future: jabai þis
fairhvaus weseiþ, aiþþau so manaseds swesans frijodedi "if you were
of this world then the world would love its own" but you're not,
so the world doesn't love you (J 15,19).
But even if Gothic doesn't normally require the future to be
expressed, there are various ways of making it clear, where
necessary. In fact, a distinction is made between two types of
future, durative and perfective but more on that later. And
although the Gothic preterite is used more freely than the simple
past in English, and appears also where English has a perfect or
pluperfect, Gothic does have some other ways of emphasising past
action relevant to the present, where need be (e.g. the dative
absolute). Here´s a list of some of the distinctions Gothic
expresses; see below for an explanation of these terms.
continuous present durative present
simple past durative preterite, perfective preterite
continuous past durative preterite
perfect durative present, perfective preterite, absolute
pluperfect durative preterite, perfective preterite,
future present, durative future, perfective future
*The following is just my interpretation. Don't take it as in any
way authoritative or complete I still have a lot to learn! In
particular, my knowledge of New Testament Greek is still very
limited. Again, see below for a fuller explanation.
I am sitting (i.e. in a state of being seated) sita, sitands im
I sit down, I will sit down (i.e. go from a standing to a sitting
state) - gasita
I sat, I was sitting, I would (on various occasions in the past)
sit sat, sitands was
I sat down gasat
I have sat down sita, gasat
I had sat down gasat
I had been sitting sat, sitands was
having sat down, when I sat down, when I had sat down (at) mis
while I was sitting, with me having been sitting (at) mis sitandin
I will sit, I will be sitting - sita
I will sit down gasita
I will sit, I will be sitting, I will go on sitting, I will continue
to sit sitan haba
I will sit, I will [be, continue] sitting; I begin to sit sitan
I will sit, I will [be, continue] sitting; I must sit sitan skal
?(I will (gradually) come to be seated sitands wairþa)?
I would (later) sit down gasitan habaida
I would (later) be sitting sitan habaida, sitan dugann, sitan
shall I sit, should I sit? sitau?
jabai sita, ni gadriusa if I'm sitting, I won't fall (REAL
CONDITION, generally applicable to any time period when I sit)
jabai sitau, sitan habau (duginnau, skuljau) if I was sitting be
sitting (should I happen to be sitting), I would go on sitting
(POTENTIAL CONDITION, a future possibility, something that may
ni nauhþanuh setjau, gasetjau, akei sat if I wasn't already
sitting (If I hadn't already been sitting), I would sit down (I
would have have sat down), but I was sitting (NEGATIVE UNREAL
CONDITION, no time distinction made)
iþ setjau, nauh sitan habaidedjau, akei ni sat if I was sitting, I
would have gone on sitting (would go on sitting), but I wasn´t
sitting (POSITIVE UNREAL CONDITION, no time distinction made)
To begin at the beginning... In Gothic, as in the Slavonic
languages, the idea of time is linked to the idea of "aspect" .
There are essentially two aspects: perfective and durative
(imperfective) . Perfective verbs express a single action with
no reference to it lasting for any length of time (they may imply
the beginning of a task, the action taken as a whole event, the
completion of a task, even the successful result). Durative verbs
(also called "imperfective") describe an ongoing action, something
that is (has been, or will be) happening for some duration.
Perfective verbs are sometimes simple (niman, qiman, finþan, qiþan,
wairþan), but more often are formed from the corresponding durative
by means of a prefix, especially GA-, though sometimes another
prefix with a more specific meaning . In the following I'll use
the English continuous tenses to translate the duratives, but it
would be possible with some verbs in some contexts to translate them
with the simple tenses.
sitan "to be sitting" (durative)
gasitan "to sit down" (perfective); ussitan "to sit up" (perfective)
standan "to be standing" (durative)
gastandan "to stop, to come to a standstill" (perfective);
usstandan "to stand up" (perfective)
swiltan "to be dying"
gaswiltan "to die"
rodjan "to speak" (durative)
qiþan "to say" (perfective)
wisan "to be" (durative)
wairþan "to become" (perfective)
swa rinnaiþ, ei garinnaiþ "run in such a way that you achieve the
result of running", in other words: "run to win"! King James
Bible: "so run, that ye may attain." Good News Bible: "run then in
such a way as to receive the prize". Swedish 1917 "Löpen såsom
denne, för att I mån vinna lönen" (1Cor 9,24).
The perfective present typically implies future action, as in
Russian , and is sometimes used to make a contrast between
present and future.
timreiþ OIKODOMEI "builds" (1Cor 10,23)
gatimrja OIKODOMHSW "I will build" (Mk 14,58)
gaarma þanei arma ELEHSW ´ON AN ELEW KAI OIKTIRHSW ´ON AN OIKTIRW "I
will take pity on whoever I pity and I will have mercy on whoever I
am merciful towards". Swedish 1917 "Jag skall vara barmhärtig mot
den jag vill vara barmhärtig emot, och jag skall förbarma mig över
den jag vill förbarma mig över" (R 9,15).
The future of the verb "to be" is often, but not always, rendered
with WAIRÞAN .
jus wairþiþ mis du sunum jah dauhtrum "you will be (ESESQE) my sons
and daughters" (2Cor 16,18).
guda sijuþ "you are (ESTE) gods" (J 10,34)
jus frijai sijuþ "you will be (ESESQE) free" (J 8,36)
wai izwis, jus sadans nu, unte gredagai wairþiþ (PEINASETE) Good
News Bible: "How terrible for you who are full now; you will go
hungry!" (i.e. "be hungry"); "Ve eder, som nu ären mätta, ty I
skolen hungra!" (L 6,25).
The durative future can be expressed with one of three auxiliary
verbs: HABAN, DUGINNAN or SKULAN. Examples of these composite
futures are rare (7 with ´haban´; 2 with ´duginnan´; not sure about
´skulan´ -- SKULAN is harder to count because it's more common and
has other auxiliary uses). They are used where a contrast is made
between present and future: tauja jah taujan haba "I do and will
continue to do" (2Cor 11,12). Or they are used to express future in
past: ni kunnandans, hvaþar skuldedi maiza "not knowing which was to
be the greater" (Sk 3,4 - Marchand's translation); þanei skuldedun
niman þai galaubjandans du imma "which those believing in him would
receive" (J 7,39); sa auk habaida ina galewjan "for he would betray
him", "for he was going to betray him" (J 6,71). As can be seen
from these last two examples, the future in the past with HABAN and
SKULAN can also be used with a perfective infinitive. All examples
of the simple future with HABAN seem to me to be durative though.
There are no examples of DUGINNAN being used for future-in-the-
past. gaunon jah gretan duginniþ "you will mourn (TENQHSETE) and
weep (KLAUSETE)" (L 6,25); in þamma fagino akei jah faginon
duginna "I rejoice (XAIRW) in that and will go on rejoicing
(XARHSOMAI)" (Php 1,18). `duginnan' can also mean "to begin to".
hva skuli þata barn wairþan TI ARA TO PAIDION TOUTO ESTAI, King
James Bible "what manner of child shall this be?" (L 1,66)
Here the Greek future ESTAI "will be" is translated with two Gothic
verbs: skuli...wairþan. On other occasions too, the present
subjunctive indicates a durative future. Streitberg has three
examples. Here are two I've found where the subjunctive is used
with uncompounded verbs for what seems to me like a perfective
future. (If any speakers of Slavonic languages are reading this,
I'd be interested in your opinions...)
hva taujau TI POIHSW "what shall I do?" (L 16,3)
niu drigkau þana MH PIW AUTO "am I not to drink that?" (J 18,11)
An inchoative future ([gradually] becoming) can be expressed with
WAIRÞAN + present participle: jus saurgandans wairþiþ ´UMEIS
LUPHQHSESQE "you will become sorrowful" (J 16,22; jah stairnons
himinis wairþand driusandeins KAI ´OI ASTERES ESONTAI EK OURANOU
PIPONTES "and the stars will start falling out of the sky" (Mk
13,25). The latter example follows the Greek closely, but note the
choice of verb, WAIRÞAN rather than WISAN. The construction is also
found in Old and Middle High German (Priebsch & Collinson "The
German Language" 328), and gave rise ultimately to the modern German
future with ´werden´ + infinitive.
New Testament Greek has the following past tenses: aorist (did);
imperfect (was doing); perfect (has done); pluperfect (had done).
Gothic usually translates these in the following ways:
aorist (did) perfective preterite (gaswalt "died").
imperfect (was doing) durative preterite (swalt "was dying").
perfect (has done) often with present (atist asans "harvest time
is here"); occasionally with perfective preterite (qam hveila "the
time has come"; nahts framis galaiþ "night is far spent", "it has
got towards the end of the night"). Sometimes Greek has an aorist
where English would use the perfect: jus gatawideduþ ita du filigrja
waidedjane "you have made (EPOIHSATE) it into a den of criminals"
in this instance, at least, Gothic uses the perfective preterite.
pluperfect (had done) The formal pluperfect is rare in New
Testament Greek and often expressed in other ways. Here's an
example where a Gothic perfective preterite translates a Greek
aorist: biþeh þan gaandida rodjands "when he had finished
speaking". Here a Gothic durative preterite translates a Greek
imperfect: saei was blinds "the man who had been blind". From this
it would appear that Gothic uses the preterite, durative or
imperfective depending on the sense required.
(Incidentally, going back to your example, there is SAHV
meaning "has seen" at Col 2,18 and 1Tim 6,16; and SAHV = "saw" J
18,26. Can't see an example of SAHV = "had seen", but I'm sure it's
possible. GASAHV appears with both meanings too, "saw", "has
seen".) The perfective prefix, I think emphasises "perception", the
moment of seeing, or of coming to notice, or the result of seeing.
The "absolute" is often equivalent to an English perfect or
pluperfect. In Greek this uses the genitive, in Gothic the dative
case. It is formed with the present or past participle. Sometimes
the preposition AT comes before the verb. dalaþ þan atgaggandin
imma af fairgunja "when he had come down from the mountain"; at Jesu
ufdaupidamma "when Jesus had been baptised"; at andanahtja þan
waurþanamma "when evening had come"; jabai auk diabulau...nih
nauþjandin ak uslutondin mannan "for if the devil had been not
compelling but deceiving man". As far as I can see, the present
participle doesn't make any time distinction from the past
participle in the absolute. But the same construction, with the
present participle, is also used to express an ongoing action or
situation: at bajoþum daupjandam "with both of them (at that time)
baptising"; at urrinnandin sunnin "at the rising of the sun". It is
a genuine Germanic construction as can be seen from Old Norse prases
like: at áliðnum vetri "towards the end of winter", "when winter was
far spent"; at liðnum vetri "when winter had passed", "at the end of
NT Greek sometimes uses a "narrative present" to describe past
events. This is common in Old Norse sagas and in colloquial Modern
English. But Gothic generally translates the Greek narrative
present with the preterite. Examples from Streitberg: Mk 8,4; Mk
1,12; Mk 1,21.
In NT Greek, the tense in reported (indirect) speech matches the
original statement, rather than that of the verb "say". So "they
said that they will come" (so long as the coming is in the speaker's
future, even if the coming is in our past), rather than "they said
that they would come". Gothic follows the Greek practice.
Unreal conditions, as mentioned above, are expressed with the
preterite subjunctive, whether they refer to past present or future;
no time distinction is made: jabai allis Moses galaubidedi, ga-þau-
laubidedeiþ mis "for if you had believed Moses, you would have
Present participles are very common in the Gothic bible, but almost
always correspond to Greek participles. So it's unclear to what
extent this was a genuine feature of Gothic syntax. See J 16,22 for
an example of a present participle construction not in the
original. Let me know if you find others. It is generally assumed
that present participles would have been less prelevant in natural
Gothic, since this is the case in the other early Germanic
languages. But it´s hard to be sure. NT Greek could express more
tenses with participles than either Gothic or English, leading to
potential confusion when these languages try to imitate Greek too
closely. But still, a present participle + WISAN may well have been
used in some circumstances; there are parallels in Old English,
etc. But bear in mind that this was (a) much rarer in OE than in
Modern English, though most frequent in translations from Latin, and
(b) not restricted to the same contexts as the modern English
progressive, e.g. seo ea bið flowende ofer eal Ægypta land,
literally "that river is flowing ofer all the Egyptians' land" but
we would now say "floods"
]. This paper
says it can be used for any durative action. The following paper
[www.mab.ms/doc/reanalysis.pdf ] is hard for me to understand in
many places, but has some stuff relevant to the present question in
Chapter 5. See especially 5.1.2 and 5.1.4 for some useful quotes.
"...when such a periphrasis occurs in early Germanic languages
(including, of course, Old English) its source, Mossé points out,
can be traced directly to Greek or Latin influence. [...] Mossé
attributes the overwhelming development of this form to the demise
of the aspectual system of the preverbs which he argues were used to
mark, in OE, perfective events."
If so, we might assume that present participle + WISAN constructions
were are in natural Gothic, since the system of aspectual preverbs
is still thriving there. Here is a quote from Mitchell concerning
Old English, cited in 5.1.4.
"First, the verbs which on Nickel's evidence display periphrastic
forms tend to be `imperfective' (...) and to belong to certain
semantic groupsverbs of rest, e.g. wunian; of movement, e.g. faran;
of speaking, e.g. cweþan; and of physical action, e.g. feohtan; and
verbs which express a state or a change of state, e.g. libban and
growan, or a mood, e.g. sorgian. (...) Second, they tend to be
intransitive (...) The periphrases are more often found in the third
person singular or plural (...) They are often accompanied by
temporal, local, or modal, adverb modifiers (Mitchell, Bruce. 1985.
Old English Syntax (vol. I). Oxford: Clarendon Press. §691)."
It would be interesting to know how much these tendencies are
reflected in other old Germanic languages. Álvarez says that the
predicate use of the present participle appears in Old Norse in
learned style, "en estilo culto" with VERA and VERÐA (Pilar
Fernández Álvarez, Antiguo Islandés: Historia y lengua). "Learned"
might imply Latin influence, though Álvarez doesn't make that
explicit. As in Old English, the construction is rarer than the
corresponding Modern English progressive, and used in contexts where
it would not appear in Modern English. Hallfreðr var eggjandi at
við honum væri tekit "H. was urging them to take him on [as a
guide]" (Hallfreðar saga vandræðaskálds (Möðruvallabók)). ...ok
eggjandi vil ek þess vera at... "...and I hope that..." (Hálfdanar
saga Eysteinssonar, Pálsson & Edwards translation in Seven Viking
Romances). ok fór Helga til bús með honum ok varð honum lítt
unnandi "Helga went there to live with him, but had little feeling
for him" i.e. "not much affection affection" (Gunnlaugs saga
ormstungu, Gwyn Jones´s translation in Eirik the Red and Other
Icelandic Sagas). It´s not that she once loved this man Þorkell and
then loses affection for him; rather, she never had much in the
first place, and that doesn't change.
So, to know how exactly it worked in Gothic, we'd need some more
evidence in the form of examples that differ from the Greek.
Streitberg just says that the present participle with WISAN serves
to express durative action, following the model of the Greek
(Gotische Syntax 323). Until we have more examples or some handy
references, we might have to leave that for now.
Another thing to consider, when thinking about Gothic tenses, is how
WISAN and WAIRÞAN are used to express the preterite passive.
Streitberg gives statistics for which is chosen to translate which
Greek tense. There are strong tendencies, but no absolute one-to-
one correspondence. Another time, perhaps...
 What Streitberg calls "Aktionsart" (Wilhelm
Streitberg "Gotische Syntax"). Actually sometimes linguists make a
distinction in English between "aspect" and "aktionsart". When such
a distinction is made, the latter is a broader term, I think,
while "aspect" would be restricted to the perfective-imperfective
duality as found in the Slavonic tongues. But, rightly or wrongly,
I'm just using "aspect" here for Streitberg's "Aktionsart", since it
is this duality that forms the main part of his description. For
more on the history of these terms, and references to Streitberg's
critics, see Anna Mlynarczyk, "Aspectual Pairing in Polish", LOT
Dissertation Series 87, chapter 2 [
The objection has been made that there are too many exceptions to
Streitberg´s rules. Nevertheless, I think there must be something
in the idea, even if it isn´t such a strict dichotomy in Gothic as
 Streitberg also identifies "inchoative", gradually becoming,
slowly entering into a state of being. This is expressed, he says,
by the Class 4 weak verbs. He also suggests that an "iterative"
meaning (repeated action) can be expressed by the present of
perfective verbs when used with a present rather than the (more
usual?) future meaning.
 According to Streitberg, the association of future with
perfective present is not as strict as in the Slavonic languages
because Gothic lacks a formal iterative.
 With certain verbs however, GA- means "together"; to this may
be added a second perfectivising GA-, thus GAGAHAFTJAN, GAGAWAIRÞJAN.
 Streitberg regarded examples of WAIRÞA for Greek ESOMAI "I will
be" as only possible where the Greek future can be understood as
perfect (wenn das griechische Futurum perfektiv aufgefasst werden
kann (Gotische Syntax 302.b)). If so, I suppose `gredagai wairþiþ'
would have to be interpreted as, say, "you will become hungry",
rather than either "you will be hungry", "you will go hungry",
or "you will hunger". And likewise the other examples of WAIRÞAN
here. But clearly they haven't always been interpreted thus by
translators from the Greek to these various languages.