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Secondary indicative without ἄν: unattainable wish


εἴθε γὰρ αἱ κρῆναι καὶ ἄρτους ἔφερον

‘If only wells also brought forth bread!’ (D. L. 6.5)

The imperfect or aorist indicative, always preceded by εἴθε or εἰ γάρ, signals an unattainable wish.

Translation tips

This construction is best translated with if only (e.g. εἴθε ὤλλυτο ‘If only he were to die.’ or ‘If only he had died.’)

Syntactic usage

Wishes which refer to the present are always in the imperfect. When the wish refers to the past, an aorist is usually, though not always, used.


This way of expressing the unattainable wish is relatively rare in Greek and occurs mainly in the dramatists.

Example Sentences: 

χειρουργῶν τ᾽ ἐν τῷ μέσῳ συνεχές, εἴθε ἦν, ἔλεγε, καὶ τὴν κοιλίαν παρατριψάμενον τοῦ λιμοῦ παύσασθαι

As he was pleasuring himself in public, Diogenes (the Cynic) said: if only one could dispel hunger by rubbing one's stomach.

εἰ γὰρ κατέσχον μὴ θεῶν κλεφθεὶς ὕπο

If only I had attained that without being robbed by the gods. ֍

εἴθ’ ἐξῆν παρὰ τῇ νέᾳ καθεύδειν

καὶ μὴ 'δει πρότερον διασποδῆσαι

ἀνάσιμον ἢ πρεσβυτέραν

φεῦ· εἴθ’ ἦν Ὀρέστης πλησίον κλύων τάδε

Alas, if only Orestes were around to hear this!