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151894Re: Irrealis mood and non-finite verbs

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  • R A Brown
    Apr 1, 2008
      Mark J. Reed wrote:
      > My understanding is that the optative is restricted to non-factual
      > conditions being wished for/desired/etc,

      ...and then only when these refer to future time.

      But your statement needs another qualification: the compulsory use of
      the optative is restricted to non-factual conditions and wishes for the

      The optative had other _optional_ uses. It was optionally used in place
      of the subjunctive in subordinate clauses if the main verb was past, and
      it was also optionally used in place of the indicative in indirect/
      reported speech if the main verb was past. But the optional use was not
      at like it is, as I understand, in modern Spanish where the use of the
      indicative or subjunctive gives a different nuance. There is no
      indication that this was so in the ancient language. it seems to have
      been a matter of dialect or idiolect preference; for example, Xenophon
      used the optative whenever he could. Thucydides avoided it as far as

      > while the subjunctive is for
      > all the other things we're lumping into "irrealis" here.

      Sometimes the indicative was used with "irrealis" meaning, for example
      in present or past wishes.

      >But I
      > haven't ever studied Greek, so I could be completely wrong.

      No, not completely wrong. But some qualifications are needed. Indeed,
      even what I've added above does not give the complete picture, which
      would require rather more than a simple email. I have on my shelves a
      book of 464 pages entitled "Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek
      Verb." It's a tall order to summarize that adequately in an email :-)

      But if we assume that 'realis' and 'irrealis' are the ends, poles, or
      whatever, of the modal continuum, then it is certainly true to say that
      the optative tends more toward the irrealis end than the subjunctive. as
      Goodwin writes in his "Greek Grammar":
      "The optative in many of its uses is a vaguer and less distinct form of
      expression than the subjunctive, indicative or imperative....."

      Personally, while the realis ~ irrealis distinction may be useful in the
      description of some languages, I do not think it is very helpful in
      describing either Latin or Classical Greek where the use of the various
      moods is very much grammaticalized. Indeed, I think trying to posit some
      simple overall realis ~ irrealis distinction in these languages is
      unhelpful and can be misleading. The thing to do in learning these
      languages is to learn which mood is required in various different
      grammatical construction.

      Frustra fit per plura quod potest
      fieri per pauciora.
      [William of Ockham]
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