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Secondary indicative in main clause with ἄν: counterfactuality


ἡ Ἑλλὰς οὐκ ἂν ἤνεγκε δύο Ἀλκιβιάδας

‘Greece wouldn't be able to handle two Alcibiades.’ (Plut. Alc. 16.5)

The imperfect, aorist or pluperfect indicative with ἄν signals the counterfactual modality of the main verb, i.e. that the speaker presents the state of affairs as impossible in the given circumstances.

Syntactic usage

The choice between the three aspect stems is based on aspectual differences only. There is a correlation in terms of frequency between the imperfect (infective aspect) and the present on the one hand and the aorist (confective aspect) and the past on the other. However, it is still the case that no more than 2/3 of all aorists, for example, refer to the past (Duhoux 2000). It is, therefore, a mistake to speak of a ‘present counterfactual’ and a ‘past counterfactual’ by analogy with the Latin model.
The – counterfactual – conditions in which this state of affairs might have been realised can be expressed by a conditional clause (also with an indicative in a secondary tense), a participle, an adverb or an adverbial.

Example Sentences: 

οὐ γάρ ποτ᾽ ἂν χρηστοί γ᾽ ἔδρων οὐδ᾽ εὐσεβεῖς τάδ᾽ ἄνδρες

Normal and respectable people would never do such a thing. ֍

οὐχ οὕτω δ’ ἂν προθύμως ἐπὶ τὸν πόλεμον ὑμᾶς παρεκάλουν, εἰ μὴ τὴν εἰρήνην ἑώρων ἐξ ὧν μὲν ἐγὼ λέγω καλὴν καὶ βεβαίαν γενησομένην

I would not so eagerly urge you to go to war, if I did not discern that the peace which will follow from what I propose will be a good and lasting one.

καὶ οὐκ ἂν ἐζητήσαμεν τὸ ζητούμενον, εἰ μὴ πρότερον ἐγνώκειμεν αὐτό

We shouldn't have started the investigation, hunt unless we knew exactly what we were looking for. [provisional translation]

πάντες ἂν ἀπωλώλεισαν, εἰ μὴ νυκτὸς ἐπιγενομένης ἀπέσχοντο τοῦ κτείνειν.

All would have perished if they [the Hebrews] had not been prevented from murdering by the arrival of the night. ֍