development of a copula from the verb 'to come'

Nick Bailey nicholas_bailey at SIL.ORG
Sat Dec 26 05:48:53 UTC 2009

Dear Sebastian,

I realize this is coming rather late in the discussion but perhaps the following details about Koine and Classical Greek might be of interest to you.

In Koine and Classical Greek, the verbs εἰμί EIMI (be) and γί(γ)νομαι GI(G)NOMAI (become/happen/come), which may both be used as copulas, share much semantic turf while also retaining their independence in certain areas. EIMI is generally reserved for static states of affairs and GI(G)NOMAI for dynamic ones (i.e. ones involving a change of state). In fact, in certain constructions, GI(G)NOMAI can substitute for a motion verb and in English at least be translated as "come".

But the details of when eimi is used as opposed to ginomai are actually pretty messy. For example, on the one hand, in the future tense in Koine of the Bible at least, one hardly ever finds γί(γ)νομαι; rather the future of EIMI (ESONTAI) tends to be used. On the other hand, there are certain situations where one uses ginomai where I might have expected instead eimi. I have noticed for example certain cases of existential or presentational/thetic uses of ginomai (which are properly speaking not true copular uses of these verbs, at least from an information structure perspective) where ginomai occurs for something like "There was a man...". In the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible one actually finds that in one manuscript one has eimi but in another ginomai.

So it appears that for at least some ancient authors or some varieties of Koine and Classical Greek, there is some weakening in the eimi (static) versus ginomai (dynamic) distinction, that is at least in some semantic/pragmatic domains, such that in some areas ginomai can apparently be used for static states of affairs. 

I don't know what happened to either of these verbs in later stages of Greek. But perhaps others on this might.


More information about the Lingtyp mailing list