The Proto-Indo-European
essive and fientive in Greek

by George Hinge



“The PIE what?,” I suspect, you ask yourselves. From the point of view of the history of our discipline, the introduction of the categories fientive and essive in recent scholarship would be an excellent case-study of what one could call an accumulative doctrine - a concept becoming a dogma, not on the basis of a thorough examination of the material, but due to the repetition of the concept in scholarship and the authority of those repeating it. However, this paper is not going to contest the basic truth of the fientive-essive reconstruction. But I shall try to review the doctrine within the framework of a more systematic exploration of the Greek material. Yet, before I raise your expectations too high, I must emphasise that it is a work in progress, and the conclusions are, therefore, If I dare say it, preliminary. For your convenience, and for mine, I have put the material I am working with in four tables on the handout. It is not complete, but it is extensive enough as to give a more solid impression of the position of Greek in regard to this question.

But first a few words about the categories fientive and essive themselves: In the first box on your handouts, you will find the classical reconstruction as it has been canonised in the Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben. The basic idea is that what previous scholarship categorised as a stative, viz. the various forms going back to a derivation with a long ē, is in fact a fientive, i.e. it designates the becoming and not the being. Our most important witness to this form is the Greek aorist passive, which is telic by nature. In addition to the fientive, the adherents of this school also reconstruct an essive, which is characterised by the zero degree of the suffix and the addition of the present suffix *-ie-. In Balto-Slavic the reduced laryngeal disappears, and this is normally the case in Indo-Iranian too, where the essive is the basis of the -ya- passive. In some verbs, however, we have compensatory lengthening of the previous vowel. In the other IE languages, on the other hand, the reduced laryngeals has been vocalised giving forms like Latin taceō and Greek θαρσέω.

As you will see in box B on your handouts, the late Cornelis Ruijgh [2004] contested this reconstruction. He argued that the telic value of the Greek passive aorist is secondary and caused by the addition of an aorist -s- that later disappeared - partly regularly and partly analogically. I am not all happy about this reconstruction, which has no positive evidence for it - except the telic value of the suffix itself; but taking that into account would lead into a vicious circle, since it is after all the telic value we shall account for. Furthermore, it would be rather unsatisfactory if the Greek passive, which fits our reconstruction of an athematic *-eh1- so perfectly, were in fact an innovation, whereas the underived stative had left no direct traces.

In box C in your handouts, I have attempted at a combined scenario, where I accept that some *-eh1- formations were not telic - namely the ones represented by the Greek -έω / -ησα conjugation. The Latin second and Germanic third conjugations seem to be ambiguous in this aspect, so the telic nature of the *-eh1- suffix may represent a Greek development, where the ē-aorists came to stand in a paradigmatic contrast to atelic yod-presents.

Yet, since there is a firm basis for reconstructing a PIE yod-extension of this stative suffixe, namely the essive *-h1ié- suffix lying behind the Balto-Slavic -jo verbs and the Indo-Iranian -ya- passives, it seems safe to suppose that the bare *-eh1- suffix was originally neutral in relation to the verbal aspect. And many *-eh1- derivations may still have been, depending on the natural aspect of the root. Thus in a verb having a natural telic semantics, the so-called fientive formation would add nothing to the aspect or the aktionsart. In that case, the essive enlargement is much more marked, adding the concept of a state to an otherwise act-orientated verb. A possible example would be *uid-h1ié- ‘seem’ in contrast to *uid-éh1- ‘be discovered’.

At any rate, these nuances were apparently lost in Latin and Germanic, whereas in Greek they made an important contribution to the development of an all-pervasive aspectual distinction between imperfective and aorist stems. It was no longer a question of state versus ingression, but a matter of different points of view of the very same act: either an emphasis on the content of the act or on the fact of the act, so to speak.

What is more important about the reconstruction given in box C is that it finds the continuation of the PIE essive in another Greek category than the one adduced by Harðarson [1993, 1998] and his followers. I develop an idea mentioned in a forthcoming article of mine [= Hinge 2007, pp. 152-3]; and in the meantime, I see that Rasmussen walks along the same path in a contribution from 1993. The basic idea is that a laryngeal would disappear regularly before a yod and therefore, the essive is to be found, not in the -έω verbs, but in the innumerable yod-presents.

My main argument for this revision of the essive-fientive doctrine is the fact that the Greek aorist passive never alternates with- έω present made from the same root, whereas there are numerous examples of an ē-aorist alternating with a yod-present. I refer to Table I on your handouts, where I have quoted 114 such correspondences - but I could have added literally thousands of derivations in -άω, -έω, -όω, -ύνω, -ίζω, etc.

First a few words about the phonology of this reconstruction: Pinault’s rule about the disappearance of a laryngeal before yod [Pinault 1982] has not been universally accepted. On the handout, I have put some obvious counterexamples, which may, however, be explained either analogically or with a better definition of the rule. Harðarson [1998], on the other hand, points to Armenian and the work of Barton [1990-91] in order to establish that a laryngeal would in fact be vocalised in this context. It would indeed be comfortable to derive the Armenian a-stative from the essive suffix. At any rate, just because one language vocalised, it doesn’t mean that all languages of the family would too. And there are several positive examples of the rule working in Greek.

A more serious obstacle is found in the semantics of most yod-presents. If you look at the translations given in Table I, which are for the most part taken from LSJ, you will see that they are generally transitive, whereas the essive and fientive are, in principle, intransitive. After all, they are the basis of the Indo-Iranian present passive and the Greek aorist passive respectively. So what has gone wring here?

As I point out in the discussion on page 1 and 2 on your handouts, there are several intransitive yod-presents either in the active or in the middle. Some of the transitive verbs occur in intransitive uses, like τείνει ‘stretch out’, ἀγγέλλει ‘be a messenger’, βάπτω ‘sink’. And almost all of the may have an intransitive or passive meaning in the middle, which would be categorised ad the imperfective passive, like θάπτομαι ‘I am being buried’.

The Indo-Iranian passive has middle endings too, but it need not reflect the PIE state. At any rate, it is likely that many of the yod-presents were originally intransitive, and th transitive semantics was associated with the active endings only later. Eventually, they would replace the original present formations, many of which were formed with the n-infix, like σχίζω instead of *sk’hinédmi found in Skt. chinádmi and L scindō. The same development is seen in Latin by the way, e.g. videō instead of *uinédmi.

Of course, not all yod-presents continue old essives. The *-ie- suffix became increasingly popular as a means of deriving present stems in late PIE, and the essive suffix itself is after all a combination of the fientive suffix and this *-ie-. However, the frequent coexistence of *ē-aorists and yod-presents in early PGk was probably decisive for the paradigmatisation of the passive. Thus, the lenition of the laryngeal in the essive strengthened the position of the *-ie- suffix in the verbal system.

Some of the verbs listed in Table I have e-degree of the root and cannot be original essives. However, as I write on the handout, I found that e-degree yod-presents have a corresponding aorist passive less often than the zero-degree yod-presents. If this impression is true, it would be a solid corroboration of the connection between the zero-degree yod-present and the ē-aorist.

Furthermore, it turned out that almost half of the e-degree presents had zero-degree variants in some varieties of Greek. It may be an indication of the fact that different derivations representing different functions have fallen together in Classical Greek: καίνω and αἴρω may in fact be continuations of the old essives meaning something like ‘be slain’ and ‘hang in the air’ respectively. In Classical Greek, however, these forms cannot be distinguished from the e-degree counterparts semantically anymore: καίνω or κταίνω is simply a poetic variant of κτείνω or κτείνυμι, and both mean ‘slay’ in the active and ‘be slain’ in the middle.

It is symptomatic that the zero-degree variants are as a whole marginalized or even unattested outside the ancient grammarians like φθαίρω and δαίρω - the latter occurs as a varia lectio in the mediaeval manuscripts, though, due to the homonymy of δέρω and δαίρω, i.e. ['ðero] in Byzantine Greek. One of them, αἴρω, is regular in classical prose, whereas poetry normally has ἀείρω. it cannot be a simple contraction, for in that case, we would have had a long diphthong like in ᾄδω ‘sing’ < older ἀείδω. At any rate these variants are typical residuary forms.

In Table III on your handouts, I have listed the examples of fientives and essives given in the Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben. I have only included those which are also referred to in the index, even though more possible forms occur in the lexicon itself. However, the authors categorise those as innovations quoted at the end of each lemma. Yet many of the forms quoted in the main part of the lemmas are considered dubious by the authors themselves; they have been indicated by a question mark in the table.

The LIV-material is listed in the first two columns. To the right, in three columns, you will find any Greek ē-aorist from the same root, any yod-present and finally the usual present, if there is one. As you see, LIV almost always quotes the aorist passive as possible evidence for the PIE fientive. In total 27 examples.

The essive, on the other hand, is testified by Greek only in three instances, all of them denominative: θαρσέω, ἀνθέω and ῥιγέω and, what is ore, they are rare in the imperfective aspect which should be the direct continuation of the essive. Table II shows all these denominal statives found in the text of Homer, where the sigmatic forms are far more frequent and probably older, as printed out by Watkins [1973] and Tucker [1990].

If we accept the possibility of yod-presents representing old essives, the uncomfortable gap is suddenly filled out by the 18 potential forms, which were ruled out by the traditional analyses.

Germanic and Italic have a gap in the fientive system instead with zero and six examples respectively. However, the distinction between fientives and essives was probably not withhold in these branches; or better, the two forms, which belonged to a close paradigmatic system, were never separated, but remained united in one paradigm - like in most Balto-Slavic examples.

The authors of the lexicon seldom quote Indo-Iranian passives as evidence for a PIE essive, but there are many more potential examples. The total disappearance of the fientive in this branch is an enigma, but it may be consequence of the elimination of the PIE vowel opposition.

The Greek ē-aorist is the most straightforward continuation of the PIE fientive. It has retained not only the original root structure, but also the old athematic inflection. Thus, in examples like ἐδάην and ἐμάνην, we have a perfectly regular development of the PIE fientives *dnséh1m and *mnéh1m.

Yet, most Greek aorists exhibit a feature that is completely unknown in the fientives of all other IE dialects, namely the insertion of the consonant, not only between two vowels to avoid hiatus, but also after a consonant.

I am now have venturing into a dangerous minefield In Greek historical linguistics. The major positions in the discussion have been summarised on page 2.

But first I will ask you to look at table IV on your handouts. It is systematic list of all aorist passives used in the Homeric poems. They have been ordered according to the final consonant of the root and the means of the corresponding imperfective stem (zero-suffix, yod-suffix, n-infix, nu-suffix and -ske-suffix. This extensive, if not complete, overview of the examples found in one corpus enables us to draw the following conclusion:

  • -η- is restricted to monosyllabic roots

  • all derived stems have -θη-

  • all roots ending in a dental have -θη-

  • all roots ending a laryngeal have -θη-

  • all roots ending in a velar with a j- present have -θη-

  • in all other contexts -η- and -θη- occur side by side

The obvious conclusion is that -θη- spread via certain derivational types, first the roots ending in a laryngeal and later the verbs in a dental.

Even though I have spent sleepless nights trying to come up with an alternative solution, I have not succeeded in doing so - yet. However, I feel that there must be some connection between this dental and the dental of the third-person middle suffix and the verbal adjective. After all, these forms fit each other perfectly in the associated ablaut and in their original semantics: PIE *dh3 ‘was given’ has been replaced, in Greek, by the patientive ἐδόθην and the medial ἔδοτο.

But how is one going to explain the aspiration? One sleepless night, I got the idea that the aspiration was due to some influence of the laryngeal standing right before ending in the very stems where the -θ- seems to have originated. However, at broad daylight this solution didn’t seem so convincing anymore. Instead, I will opt for the old hypothesis of Wackernagel [1890], but with certain modifications.

Basically I accept that the second person singular was the place of origin for the aspiration, but I do not reconstruct *-thēs, but *-thó. I conjecture that this ending was specialised as a passive, when new middle endings were introduced from the thematic paradigm. Furthermore. I suggest that this ending was extended to the third person as well. Eventually, the passive *-thó was clarified with the addition of the passive suffix.

Which conclusions can be made from of this work in progress? I hope, I have established that the PIE essive must be searched for, not in the Greek -έω verbs, but in the numerous yod-presents. This conclusions is above all supported by statistical evidence, which must however be examined further before a final conclusion is reached. Yet, as far as the material given on the handout goes, there seems to be strong structural support in favour of my reconstruction.



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