My general understanding of Greek verbs is that if you know the six principal parts, you should be able to infer all forms of the verb (although there may be complications such as contractions, the augment's being optional in some dialects, or a few endings that have more than one form). However, I'm confused about infinitives. Can one always form the infinitive given the relevant principal part, or do infinitives have to be memorized or looked up separately?

For example, take πολεμίζω. If I want to form its present infinitive, I would have guessed πολεμίζεν, but actually it's πολεμιζέμεν.

As suggested by cmw, I've spun off a separate resource request in which I describe the places I've tried looking for a comprehensive treatment of this subject.

Based on White and the paradigm of λύω (λύειν, λύσειν, λῦσαι, λελυκέναι, -, λύεσθαι, λυθήσεσθαι, λυθῆναι, λελύσθαι, *λελύσεσθαι), it looks to me like:

  • Primary-tense active forms are regularly built with -εν, others with -αι, which makes sense because α is a thematic vowel in the secondary tenses.
  • The accent falls on the penult for most -αι verbs, according to regular rules given in White.
  • There are σ's and θ's where you'd expect for aorist, future, and mediopassive. (White describes the aorist infinitive as "irregular," but the example he gives looks pretty regular in the sense that you just insert a sigma.)
  • The ending -ναι is used for the perfect active and aorist passive.
  • There is a contraction of -εεν to -ειν (which I don't understand yet and have spun off into a separate question).

Is there some set of rules such as the ones above that allow us to form all infinitives, or is it not entirely rule-based, requiring some memorization?

Maybe the list above needs to be augment with some sort of phonetic rule that we avoid certain consonant clusters by inserting ε (λελυκέναι, πολεμιζέμεν)...?

  • 1
    Please stop trying to get into Greek through Homeric Greek. It's a Frankenstein dialect of Aeolic, Ionian, and miscellaneous archaic forms, of course it's going to be weird, and of course you're going to be confused if you try to make sense of it through grammars of Attic Greek (i.e. the "normal" Ancient Greek). The behavior of Attic infinitives can be summed up in a few lines, and they're plenty regular; πολεμίζω isn't an Attic verb.
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 17, 2021 at 3:29
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    As an addendum, it might be easier to break this up into several smaller questions: one on -ειν, one on the Homeric -έμεν, and one on a resource-request for an overview of Greek infinitives. Something to bear in mind so an answer isn't too unwieldy.
    – cmw
    Sep 17, 2021 at 6:34
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    @cmw: Good suggestion, done. Spin-offs: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/16852/… latin.stackexchange.com/questions/16853/…
    – user3597
    Sep 17, 2021 at 13:09
  • @Cairnarvon: As described in the original version of the question (now split off into a resource request), I have been referring to Pharr, which contains a grammar of the Homeric dialect. I would be happy to know of other treatments of Homeric grammar, but have been resorting to Attic ones to supplement Pharr, because they're what seem to be mostly available. Guidance about what road to take into Greek would be of interest in some other forum, but is off topic here, and you are also guessing incorrectly what road I've actually taken (actually modern->koine->Homer).
    – user3597
    Sep 17, 2021 at 13:16
  • @Cairnarvon. If you think that the Homeric poems are composed in a Frankenstein dialect you need to read the Rigveda and the Avesta. The ancient Indo-European languages have lots of unrelated forms for the infinitive, which get pared down in later forms of the language.
    – fdb
    Sep 17, 2021 at 15:13


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