Bookmark and Share

Hellenistic Greek © 2009, 2015
Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice,
The Aorist Passive
Suggest an improvement to this lesson.

Lesson at a Glance


While the following two sentences convey the same basic information, they do not present it in the same way.




sent an email to Mary.

An email was sent to Mary by Jessica.

The verb form is different ("Sent" in the first sentence becomes "was sent" in the second), and the grammatical functions of the nouns are different. Linguists and grammarians call this a difference of voice.

Semantic Roles

Semantic roles are an important part of the meaning that nouns express in relationship to a verb. In this lesson you will learn about two semantic roles: Agent, and Patient.

Active and Passive

In both English and Greek, the "passive voice" verb form can be used to make someone or something other than the AGENT serve as the subject of the sentence.





sent an email[PATIENT] to Mary[GOAL]


An email[PATIENT]

was sent to Mary[GOAL] by Jessica[PATIENT]



was sent an email[PATIENT] by Mary[AGENT]

Don't worry if you don't understand the meaning of agent at this point. Just observe the examples for now. You will learn the meaning of agent and patient in this lesson.

Grammatical Discussion

Semantic Roles

In both English and Greek, the relationship between a noun and a verb involves both a grammatical relation and a semantic role. Grammatical relations are functions like "subject" and "object." These are marked in Greek by case endings on the nouns. Semantic roles are conceptual roles such as "the person doing the action" or "the person acted upon." These do not correspond directly with grammatical relations.

In this lesson we will focus on only two semantic roles: AGENT and PATIENT.

Agent. The agent is the person or thing that performs the action expressed by the verb. For example, "María" is the agent in both of the sentences, "María saw a robin," and "A robin was seen by María."

Patient. The patient is the person or thing acted upon. In both of the sentences about María and the robin, the robin is the patient.

These semantic roles are not directly related to grammatical functions. Observe the following table:

Robert opened the door.
The key opened the door.
The door opened.

Grammatical Relation
"Robert" = SUBJECT
"The key" = SUBJECT
"The door" = SUBJECT

Semantic Role
Robert = AGENT

In all three sentences, the door is what is opened (patient), but it is the grammatical object in the first two and the subject in the third.

The Passive Voice

Compare the following sentences:

Jennifer ate the hotdog
The hotdog was eaten by Jennifer

The two sentences have a significant overlap of meaning: (1) something was eaten (the hotdog); (2) someone ate it (Jennifer).

In the change from active to passive voice, the verb changes form, and the nouns exchange grammatical relations, but their semantic roles do not change.

There are two main differences between these sentences, though: the form of the verb, and which noun functions as the subject. The verb changes from ate to was eaten. The subject changes from Jennifer to The hotdog. We call this change of verb form and gramatical relations a change in voice. The first sentence is active voice. The second is passive voice.

In English we add a form of be to the verb to signal this change of functions from active to passive. The passive version of “Someone bought the house” for example, is “The house was bought by someone.” Greek does not add a separate verb to signal passive voice. Instead, it changes the form of the main verb.

Ἰωάννης ἐβάπτισεν... (Acts 19:4)
John baptised...


ἐβαπτίσθη... ὑπὸ Ἰωάννου (Mark 1:9)
He was baptised by John


The AGENT of a Passive Voice Verb

As in English, the phrase that would serve as the subject of an equivalent active voice sentence (usually, but not always, the AGENT) may be omitted in a passive sentence:

John cleaned the floor
The floor was cleaned [by John]

In many cases, however, the author might want to include the AGENT in a passive sentence. In English we do this by adding a phrase with “by."

John cleaned the floor [Active]
The floor was cleaned by John [Passive]

The same may be accomplished in Greek by adding a phrase with ὑπό followed by a genitive case noun or pronoun.

παρακαλούμεθα. . . ὑπὸ τοῦ θεού
We were comforted. . . by God (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Ὑπό is not the only preposition that may be used in this way, but it is the one used most frequently to identify the AGENT in a passive voice sentence.

Formation of the Aorist Passive

In this lesson you will learn a set of verb forms traditionally called the Aorist Passive. You will see later that while these forms are often used where we would use a passive voice verb in English, they are not exclusively passive and require a different translation in some contexts.

The stem traditionally called aorist passive must be learned for each verb. It is the sixth "principal part" (the sixth form listed in a lexicon) for each verb. Since we have not yet learned the fourth and fifth principal parts, a blank space between brackets [ ] is left for them in the vocabulary list for this lesson.

First Aorist Passive

What has traditionally been called the first aorist passive is constructed using an augment + the aorist passive stem + θη + the secondary active endings. Observe the aorist passive forms of βαπτίζω (I dip, wash, submerge).




(You will
learn other



I was washed



You were washed



He, She, It was washed




We were washed



You were washed



They were washed

Notice that, except for the third person plural, the personal endings are the same as those you learned for the second aorist active indicative. The third person plural ending looks like a first aorist active form (with σ).

Exercise 1: Recognizing the First Aorist Passive

Click here to practice recognizing the person and number of First Aorist Passive forms.

Second Aorist Passive

The second aorist passive is formed in the same way as the first aorist passive except that where the first aorist adds θη, the second aorist adds only η. Observe the aorist passive forms of κρύπτω (aorist passive stem = κρύβ-).




Gloss (You will
learn other



I was hidden



You were hidden



He, She, It was hidden




We were hidden



You were hidden



They were hidden

Exercise 2: Recognizing the Second Aorist Passive

Click here to practice recognizing the person and number of second aorist passive verbs.

In later lessons you will learn that these same forms are sometimes used to express other grammatical relations besides the passive interpretation given here. For now, though, you should work on learning to recognize the forms well.


Beginning with this lesson, the Aorist Passive form of each verb is shown as the sixth form in that verb's listing. This is the same place you will find the Aorist Passive form in the lexicon.

Square brackets [ ] are used to reserve the space for a verb form that has not yet been introduced. If you would like to see that form, check the lexicon. As always in this grammar, a black line (________) indicates that the relevant form does not appear in the Hellenistic literature.


Words Occurring More than 50 Times


χαίρω, χαρήσομαι, ________, [ ], [ ], ἐχάρην

I rejoice, am glad [The passive voice of this verb is often translated "be glad."]

The second person imperative forms of χαίρω were commonly used as greetings: "Rejoice!" "Be glad!" These forms will be studied later.


καρπός, -οῦ, ὁ

fruit, crop, result

Words Appearing 45—47 Times in the New Testament


ἁμαρτολός, -όν

sinful (ὁ ἁμαρτολός = sinner)

Notice that the adjective ἁμαρτολός has only two forms in the vocabulary list (rather than the usual three). The first form listed is used for both nominative masculine and feminine singular. The ending -όν is used for the nominative neuter singular. (Remember: ἡ ἁμαρτία = sin)


θυρίον, -ου, τό

animal, beast


καθίζω, καθίσω, ἐκάθισα, ________, ________, ________

I cause to sit down; I appoint; (especially middle voice) I stay, live


κρατέω, κρατήσω, ἐκράτησα, [ ], [ ], ________

I grasp, attain, take; hold, arrest, retain


κρίσις, κρίσεως, ἡ

judgment, condemnation, punishment



no longer, no more (οὐκ + ἔτι)


μικρός, -ά, -όν

small, humble (ὁ μικρός = child, little while)



woe, sorrow, disaster

Οὐαί was used as an exclamation of lament. We no longer have a good English equivalent. Most of the expressions used for this effect in English today involve profanity, and would not be appropriate translations of οὐαί, since the Greek word did not imply anything profane.



before, in front of, at (prologue = a short section before a book, in the front of the book)


προσφέρω, προσοίσω, προσήνεγκον (or προσήνεγκα), [ ], [ ], προσηνέχθην (or προσηνείχθην)

I bring to, offer, present
(πρός = to, toward; φέρω = I bring, carry)


σταυρόω, σταυρώσω, ἐσταύρωσα, [ ], [ ], ἐσταυρώθην

I crucify


σωτηρία, -ας, ἡ

salvation, deliverance, preservation, rescue (soteriology = theory of salvation)


φόβος, -ου, ὁ

fear, reverence, respect, cause of fear (the thing feared) (claustrophobia = fear of enclosed places)


φυλακή, -ής, ἡ

watch (period of the night), guard, prison




from, out of, away from, by, of, because of


ἐγείρω, ἐγερῶ, ἤγειρα, [ ], [ ], ἠγέρθην

I raise up, rise


ἔχω, ἕξω, ἔσχον, [], [], ______

I have, hold, keep, consider as



from, away from; by, of, because of



but, yet, rather, nevertheless, at least


ἄλλος, -η, -ο

other, another, otherwise, different, more


μαρτυρέω, μαρτυρήσω, ἐμαρτύρησα, [ ], [ ], ἐμαρτυρήθην

I give testimony, I testify, bear witness; Passive = I am approved, I receive approval

Prepositional Markers of Agency

The prepositions listed below are sometimes used to mark the AGENT in a sentence with a Passive Voice Verb. Whenever they are used this way, we usually translate them as "by" in English.

Frequency numbers are not given in this list of prepositional markers of agency, since some disagreement exists regarding how often these prepositions function as markers of agency. These same prepositions have other translations when they are not used to mark agency.

ὑπό + genitive case






Reading and Translation

Some of the examples in this section have aorist passive verbs. Others do not. See whether you can recognize when the verb is aorist passive and when it is active.

1. προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα (Matthew 2:11)
They offered him gifts
They brought him gifts

2. Τότε προσηνέχθησαν αὐτῷ παιδία (Matthew 19:13)
Then children were brought to him

3. ἐκράτησεν τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς (Matthew 9:25)
He grasped her hand

4. [τὸ κοράσιον = the girl]
ἐκράτησεν τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς, καὶ ἠγέρθη τὸ κοράσιον. (Matthew 9:25)
He grasped her hand, and the girl was raised.
He took her hand, and the girl arose.

The first translation, using "was raised" to translated ἠγέρθη, could be used to show your teacher that you recognize that the verb is passive voice. The second translation, though, fits the larger context better in English.

5. ἐξεβλήθη ὁ ὄχλος (Matthew 12:22)
The crowd was put outside
The crowd was kicked out

6. [ἔξω = out, outside, away]
αὐτὸν ἐξέβαλον ἔξω (Matthew 21:39)
They threw him out
They cast him out
The put him outside

7. [ὅτε = when]
ὅτε δὲ ἐξεβλήθη ὁ ὄχλος. . . ἐκράτησεν τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς, καὶ ἠγέρθη τὸ κοράσιον. (Matthew 9:25)
When the crowd was put outside, . . . he took her hand, and the girl arose.

8. ἡ γῆ ἐκρατήθη ὑπ᾽ αὐτῶν (Joshua 18:1 LXX)
The land was taken by them
The land was seized by them

9. [κῆπος = a garden]
ἦν δὲ ἐν τῷ τόπῳ κῆπος
And there was a garden in the place

10. [ὅπου = where]
ἦν δὲ ἐν τῷ τόπῳ ὅπου ἐσταυρώθη κῆπος (John 19:41)
And there was a garden in the place where he was crucified

While the following word order would more closely match the order of the Greek sentence, it is not a particularly good translation:

And there was in the place where he was crucified a garden

The problem with this order is that it creates the impression that the Greek sentence is much more formal or poetic than it actually is. The word order of the Greek sentence is perfectly normal. It is not unusual or emphatic in any way. A good English translation will use a word order in English that is equally common, ordinary, not emphatic or poetic.

11. [ταράσσω = I troube, bother, worry (someone)]
ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης ἐταράχθη (Matthew 2:3)
King Herod was troubled.

12. [εἰσελθόντες = having gone in, after going in]
καὶ εἰσελθόντες εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῶν σαββάτων ἐκάθισαν (Acts 13:14).
And on the Sabbath day, after entering the synagogue, they sat down.
Having gone into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, they sat down.

13. φωνὴ ἐν ῾Ραμὰ ἠκούσθη (Matthew 2:17)
A voice was heard in Ramah

14. αὐτὸς ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν (Matthew 14:2)
He was raised from the dead

15. ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲτ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη εἰς τὸν Ἰορδάνην ὑπὸ Ἰωάννου (Mark 1:9).
Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Which word in the preceding sentence represents the AGENT of the verb ἐβαπτίσθη? The author used one of the prepositional markers of agency shown in the vocabulary list above.

16. Μωϋσῆς. . . ἐκρύβη. . . ὑπὸ τῶν πατέρων αὐτοῦ (Hebrews 11:23)
Moses. . . was hidden. . . by his parents

Vocabulary Practice

Flash Cards
Drag and Drop Game One
Drag and Drop Game Two
Drag and Drop Game Three
Vocabulary Practice Quiz