Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.01.17

William W. Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb (reprint of 1867 third edition). Cambridge Library Collection.   Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2009.  Pp. xv, 264.  ISBN 9781108011761.  $23.99 (pb).  

Reviewed by Richard Beck, University of Oklahoma (

Ninety-nine years after William Watson Goodwin’s death his Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb is as ubiquitous as a work of ancient Greek philology can be. It continues to be reprinted and used copies abound. The improved 1897 impression of the revised and enlarged edition of 1889 is available online from Textkit and Perseus. Every edition is available in e-book form from Google books.1 This reflects the high regard in which the book has always been held. In the annotated bibliography of the chapter on syntax in the 2010 A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language we read, “There is a mountain of scholarship on the Greek verb: important overviews are Rijksbaron 2002 and Goodwin 1889.”2 Rijksbaron 2002 also lists Goodwin 1889 in its annotated bibliography with the comment, “Many fine observations.” (Rijksbaron 2002, 166) A look at the publication history and reception of Goodwin’s book will make it clear why Cambridge University Press is publishing it again, and why in the third edition.

The first edition of Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb (hereafter Moods and Tenses) appeared in 1860. In the preface Goodwin wrote, “The present work is designed to give those who are already acquainted with the elements of Greek Syntax such a knowledge of the use of the Moods and Tenses as is necessary for writing Greek correctly, and at the same time to serve as a book of reference in reading” (Goodwin 1860, i). The preface to the 1865 second edition begins, “In the first edition of the present work ... I attempted to give a plain and practical statement of the principles which govern the relations of the Greek Moods and Tenses” (Goodwin 1865, i). The 1867 third edition corrected typographical errors, made “several verbal changes,” and enumerated eight changes which “materially affect the sense” (Goodwin 1867, vi).

“In preparing the fourth edition,” Goodwin wrote, “the work has been carefully revised; several sections and notes have been rewritten, and a few notes have been added” (Goodwin 1871, vii). A similar remark opens the preface to the fifth edition, reprinted in the sixth and seventh editions, which have no prefaces of their own. The preface to the second edition was reprinted in the third through the seventh editions. With the fifth edition the work had begun to change significantly. Goodwin wrote:

The most important change made in the fifth edition will be found in the statement of the classification of conditional sentences (§ 48). This has been adopted to make clearer the position of the present and past ‘general suppositions’ which have the subjunctive and optative in Greek (§ 51), as opposed to the present and past ‘particular suppositions’ which have the simple indicative (§ 49,1). This distinction of these two classes in protasis is a striking peculiarity of Greek syntax; most languages having a single form of expression for both particular and general conditions here, as the Greek has in other kinds of conditions. I cannot state too distinctly, that the chief peculiarity of my classification of conditional sentences consists in treating present and past general conditions as closely allied to ordinary present and past conditions (being actually united with them in one class in most languages, and occasionally even in Greek), and as only remotely connected, at least in sense, with the externally similar forms of future conditions which have the subjunctive and optative. (Goodwin 1874, vii-viii)

A note added in the second impression of the sixth edition refers readers to an article3 “in which the change in the classification of conditional sentences…is explained and the whole system is defended…” (Goodwin 1876, viii). Despite numerous changes and the addition of about three dozen examples, Goodwin was able to hold the book’s size steady at 264 pages through the first seven editions.

The title page of the 1889 edition of the book has no edition number but prominently displays the phase “rewritten and enlarged.” This new version has 200 more pages and about 2,000 more examples than earlier editions. In the preface Goodwin wrote, “When it falls to the lot of a writer to revise under the greater sense of responsibility which doubled years and more than doubled experience have brought him, a book written in the enthusiasm of youth as an ephemeral production, he is sure to be his own severest critic; and what begins as a revision inevitably becomes as he proceeds, more and more a new and independent work” (Goodwin 1889, v). The impression of 1893 added a table of parallel references for the older and newer editions. The impression of 1897 made a few more corrections and improvements and added a final twenty-two examples. That version of the book remains in use today.

When Goodwin died in 1912, Clifford H. Moore wrote:4 “When but twenty-nine he published his Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, which for a full half-century has been the standard work for English-speaking students. Only the few who are familiar with the history of syntactical studies can understand today the service which this book did in substituting reason, clearness, and precision for the metaphysical speculations which were still rife in the middle of the last century.… Furthermore, he possessed unusual skill in formulating principles clearly and exactly, so that the forms of statement which he adopted in 1860 have long been the commonplaces of students and scholars” (Moore 1912, 2). Herbert Weir Smyth wrote: “only he who has tried his hand at formulating a grammatical principle can appreciate the lucidity and precision that marks Goodwin's power of statement. …[Moods and Tenses] is distinguished for clearness, sanity, and restraint. …it laid the foundations on which has been raised much of the ampler and more detailed investigation of later works” (Smyth 1912, 396).

In 1967, reviewing a reprint of the version of 1897, Valdis Lejnieks wrote,5 “A better treatment of Greek moods and tenses can now be written and, no doubt, will be written. But until this is done Goodwin's book must be recognized as the best and most complete treatment of the subject” (Lejnieks 1967, 39). He carefully described the problems with the book made evident by “a considerable increase in our understanding of the nature of language” (Lejnieks 1967, 36). “The least satisfactory part of Goodwin's book is his treatment of aspect. … Although Goodwin manages on the whole to keep tense and aspect distinct…, the faulty terminology leads to unnecessary duplication of discussion and some errors” (Lejnieks 1967, 36). His other major criticism is of Goodwin’s “excessive preoccupation with conditional clauses. As much space is devoted to conditional clauses as to all other clauses which exhibit the same mood and tense contrast combined. …Goodwin draws up a classification of the more frequent combinations of moods and tenses in protases and apodoses and gives them special names. This is of doubtful value, since the moods and tenses in the two clauses are chosen independently of one another and all the different combinations are possible” (Lejnieks 1967, 38). Albert Rijksbaron’s linguistically modern book, a candidate for a “better treatment of Greek moods and tenses,” reduces the prominence of conditional clauses and downplays Goodwin’s classification system, merely mentioning the names (Rijksbarn 2002, 66-74). But the names live on in elementary Greek classrooms, where they are useful.

To Lejnieks’ criticisms one must now add that Goodwin focuses on individual sentences and, as Michel Buijs puts it, “There are linguistic features that can be understood better, if not only so, if their contribution to pieces of discourse longer than a sentence is rated its true value…."6 There has been an enormous amount of fruitful work in Greek linguistics in recent years.7 Goodwin’s book now stands as a superseded, but still interesting and helpful, attempt to think about the Greek language. Lejnieks’ conclusion is still apt: “the treatment is thorough by any standard. The problems have been recognized and discussed. The observations are supported by well chosen examples. The explanations are by and large lucid and reasonable, and the excesses of theorizing and etymologizing have been avoided. The exposition can be readily adapted to pedagogical uses” (Lejnieks 1967, 39).

But Goodwin himself had said, “Every teacher will see that many parts of this work, in its present enlarged form, are not adapted to the ordinary uses of a grammatical text-book for the recitation room. On the other hand, it is hoped that the increased fullness and greater space given to discussions will make the work more useful for private study and for reference” (Goodwin 1889, ix). The great wealth of examples and discussions for which the later and larger form of Moods and Tenses remains useful to more advanced students and scholars can be intimidating to less advanced students. What they need are clear explanations of the basic facts and a few well selected examples; precisely what the earlier smaller version provided. As Goodwin put it, “An elementary grammar should be as short as the best scholar can make it, but it should be as accurate as a chapter in Geometry” (Goodwin 1867, ii).

Cambridge University Press, by reprinting Goodwin’s book in its earlier form, before he layered in years of further reflections, has not only encouraged scholars to compare the early and late thoughts of this extraordinary classicist, but has also provided students with a small, inexpensive, but attractive book which is an excellent introduction to and reference work for traditional grammar, still a useful descriptive and analytic tool and important for the understanding of the contributions of earlier scholars. For teachers and students alike, to return to Goodwin is to be confronted with his impressive insistence on and achievement of precision and clarity. As Clifford H. Moore so nicely put it, “Dull indeed was the pupil who did not carry away from Mr. Goodwin's classroom new concepts of the scholar's aim and new ideals of the teacher's office” (Moore 1912, 3).


1.   Here are links to the editions of the book: first edition, 1860, second edition, 1865, third edition, 1867, forth edition, 1871, fifth edition, 1874, sixth edition, 1875, sixth edition, with added note, 1876, seventh edition, 1877, (eighth) revised and enlarged edition, revised and corrected impression of the eighth edition, 1897.
2.   Evert van Emde Boas and Luuk Huitink, “Syntax,” in Egbert J. Bakker, editor, A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 149. Albert Rijksbaron, The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek, third edition. (Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 2002).
3.   William Watson Goodwin, “On the Classification of Conditional Sentences in Greek Syntax,” Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 5, No. 10 (1873) pp. 60-79.
4.   There is much of interest in Clifford H. Moore, “William Watson Goodwin,” The Classical Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1 (October 1912) pp.1-4, which has a good picture of Goodwin, and in Herbert Weir Smyth, “William Watson Goodwin,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 52, No.212 (Nov. – Dec. 1913) pp. iii – ix, expanded from his “William Watson Goodwin,” Classical Philology, Vol. 7, No. 5 (July 1912) p. 396.
5.   Valdis Lejnieks, “[Review of] Syntax of the moods and tenses of the Greek verb, by WILLIAM WATSON GOODWIN. New York: St. Martin's Press 1965….” The Classical Journal, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Oct., 1967) pp. 36 + 38–39.
6.   Michel Buijs, Clause Combining in Ancient Greek Narrative Discourse: The Distribution of Subclauses and Participial Clauses in Xenophon’s Hellenica and Anabasis. (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2005), 1.
7.   See, for example, Michael Buijs, A Bibliography of Greek Linguistics.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2012
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review
Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
HTML generated at 22:15:36, Saturday, 14 January 2012