On Starting Greek Verbs with Infinitives

I think Greek as it has been taught is somewhat pedagogically challenged. That’s one reason why I decided to write my own curriculum for my class. It has been a very time consuming experience, but very fun.

One of the things that has seemed odd to me for a while is the way that verb forms are taught. Why is the present stem learned first? It is actually kind of an odd-ball stem and has unique characteristics all of its own. Take, for example, the verb "Ballo", "I throw/am throwing." It is only in the present stem that two lambdas appear. The present tense stem will frequently have unique features like this. Some of the other stems might be more useful to start with, such as the aorist, because their stems more closely resemble the "true" root of the word. I’ve thought that something needed to change in this respect, but wasn’t sure what I was going to do about it.

Then I read the chapter "Verbs of Perception and Aspect: Greek Lexicography and Grammar" by Randall Buth in the book Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography, edited by Taylor, Lee, Burton, and Whitaker. The volume is a collection of essays in honor of Danker, the main editor of BDAG. In his article he argues that the form to start with is the infinitive, and that the accusative infinitive is the best choice. His basic reasons (at least as I interpret them) are as follows:

1. The present tense forms of a word have a continuative aspect, like "I am throwing" instead "I throw" or something similar. The latter is more of a natural idea to start with. When we learn verbs in other languages we’ll generally start with the idea of "to throw," not "to be throwing."
2. Aorist tense verbs are more common than any other tense form.
3. When non-indicative, aorist forms are much more commonly used.

His suggestion is to memorize the aorist infinitive. He also says "While the aorist infinitive should probably be our point of reference to a verb, it would help to have the continuative (present) infinitive listed with this." I dig that.

So that’s the way I’m going to approach verbs in my curriculum. I’m not sure if he would have his students memorize both forms (that seems to be the case, but I’m not sure), but that’s my current plan. Vocab listings of verbs will include both the aorist and the present active infinitive forms.

Will it work? I expect it to. I’ll give a report later on after we’ve spent some time in verbs. There’s a little more to this as well (both positives and difficulties), but since I have to leave for work in 10 minutes, I better stop now :)