The optative mood (// or //; Ancient Greek [ἔγκλισις] εὐκτική, [énklisis] euktikḗ, "[inflection] for wishing", Latin optātīvus [modus] "[mode] for wishing") is a grammatical mood of the Ancient Greek verb, named for its use as a way to express wishes.
The optative mood in Greek is found in four different tenses (present, aorist, perfect and future) and in all three voices (active, middle and passive). It has multiple uses:
Post-Homeric Greek is similar to many languages in its use of a "fake past" for contrary-to-fact clauses, e.g., "if dogs had hands". However, Homer uses the present optative for such statements when they are imagined to be at the present time. Together, the optative and the subjunctive cover most of the areas for which the Latin subjunctive is used, but Greek is unlike Latin in not using the subjunctive for contrary-to-fact suppositions.
Over the centuries, the optative mood became more and more rarely used, and it has disappeared in Modern Greek.
The optative of wish or volitive optative expresses wishes for the future: "may it happen!" It is sometimes preceded by εἴθε (eíthe) or εἰ γάρ (ei gár) "if only":
A wish is not always expressed in Ancient Greek by an optative mood. If the wish is for the present or past, the imperfect indicative or aorist indicative is used:
In the New Testament, the volitive optative is often used in formal benedictions and prayers, for example:
It can also be used for wishes, as in this example from Luke's Gospel:
The potential optative expresses something that would happen in a hypothetical situation in the future. In the main clause of conditional sentences it is always accompanied by the modal particle ἄν (án), Homeric κέ(ν) (ké(n)):
After εἰ (ei) "if" the optative without ἄν (án) is similarly used to refer to a hypothetical future situation:
In the New Testament, the potential optative with ἄν (án) occurs, but rarely (e.g. Acts 8:31); εἰ (ei) with the optative also sometimes occurs (e.g. 1 Peter 3:14).
The optative is used by some authors in dependent clauses in past time of the type "so that it might", "for fear that it might", "(they begged) that it might", "in case it might be possible" and so on to express what it was planned, feared, requested or hoped might happen at a later time than the main verb.
For purpose clauses in past time, the optative can follow a conjunction such as ὅπως (hópōs), ὡς (hōs) or ἵνα (hína) "so that":
Some authors, however, such as Herodotus and Thucydides, sometimes use the subjunctive mood in such sentences, even in a past context, for example:
In the New Testament, this use of the subjunctive for purpose clauses in past time became the usual one.
When the optative is used after a verb of fearing or caution, the negative particle μή (mḗ) "in case" or "lest" is added after the verb of fearing:
Again, the subjunctive mood can be used instead of the optative even after a past tense verb (see Subjunctive (Ancient Greek)). The subjunctive is also used in New Testament Greek, replacing the optative in such sentences:
Although the optative after a verb of fearing usually refers to an event that might happen later than the main verb, sometimes it appears to refer to something that may have already happened:
Smyth explains examples of this type as meaning "I was afraid that it might turn out that you had gone mad", referring to what might prove to be the case later than the time of the main verb. The following example, which uses the perfect optative, is similar:
A conditional clause of the type "if by chance it happens" (made with ἐάν (eán) + the subjunctive) becomes "if by chance it might happen" (εἰ (ei) + the optative) in past time, as in this example from the New Testament, which looks forward prospectively to a potential situation which might occur in the future relative to the main verb:
In classical writers, the optative is frequently used in indefinite clauses in past time of the type introduced by the equivalent of words such as "whenever", "if ever", "wherever", "whatever" and so on, referring to repeated events in the past. In such clauses, when alternatives exist, the longer form of the conjunction (e.g. ὁπότε (hopóte) "whenever" rather than ὅτε (hóte) "when") is preferred.
Mostly the word for "whenever" is ὁπότε (hopóte), or occasionally ὁσάκις (hosákis), for example:
The difference between the present and the aorist optative in the above examples is that when the aorist is used it implies that the first action took place and was completed before the second one began.
The optative mood can similarly be used after εἰ (ei) "if" in clauses of the type "if ever it happened":
The optative is similarly used in general relative clauses in past time, for example:
This type of "whenever" or "whoever" clause in past time with the optative does not seem to occur in the New Testament.
In reported speech, the indicative in a direct quotation is usually replaced by the optative in an indirect quotation when the verb of saying is in a past tense ("said", "asked", etc.). The present optative stands for both the present and the imperfect indicative, and the perfect optative stands for both the perfect and the pluperfect. The future optative stands for the future, and its main use is in this construction.
In the following example, the perfect optative represents a perfect indicative in direct speech:
However, the optative mood is not used after every past tense verb that introduces indirect statements. For example, after some verbs such as ἔφη (éphē) "he said" an infinitive is used for reported speech; after verbs of perceiving, such as ᾔσθετο (ḗistheto) "he noticed", a participle is often used.
In the New Testament the optative mood in indirect speech is found only in Luke and Acts (apart from one example in John 13:24, where the text is disputed), and it seems often to be used in indirect questions where there is an element of potentiality, for example:
Homer uses the optative to express contrary-to-fact suppositions when they are imagined to occur in the present:
Later dialects shifted to expressing such things using a past tense in the indicative.
Later, as Koine Greek emerged following the conquests of Alexander the Great c. 333 BC, the use of the optative began to wane among many Greek writers.
In the New Testament, the optative still occurs (mainly in Luke, Acts, and Paul), but it is rare. There are about 68 optatives among the 28,121 verbs in the New Testament – about a quarter of 1%. 15 of these are the stereotyped phrase μὴ γένοιτο mḕ génoito "may it not happen!" (or "God forbid!"). It has been suggested that the frequent use of the optative in benedictions in the New Testament was due to a desire to make the language of such benedictions formal and thus appropriate for religious purposes.
In modern Greek the optative mood has entirely disappeared, leaving only the indicative, subjunctive and imperative moods.
Further information: Modern Greek grammar
Optative endings can be recognised because they contain οι, ει or αι. Regular ω-verbs and the verb εἶμι "I (will) go" have the endings -οιμι, -οις, -οι, while contracted verbs and other verbs have -ίην. The endings with -ίη- are usually found only in the singular, but sometimes in the plural also.
The order of the cells in the tables below is: first-person singular ("I"), second-person singular ("you"), third-person singular ("he", "she", or "it"), first-person plural ("we"), second-person plural ("you"), and third-person plural ("they").
A 2nd and 3rd person dual number (e.g. εἶτον "you both might be", εἴτην "they both might be") exists but is very rare. It is omitted from these tables.
λελύκοιεν, λελυκότες εἶεν