μή with present subjunctive in main clause: cautious assertion


μὴ γὰρ οὐ φαῦλον ὃ λέγει

For there might well be a great deal in what he says.


The present subjunctive in the main clause, preceded by μή, signals a cautiously expressed assertion, often with an ironic nuance.

Translation tips

In translation perhaps or presumably may be used. It is also possible to express the elided clause of fearing: ‘I fear that…’ (or ‘I suspect that…’).

Syntactic behaviour

The negation is (μὴ) οὐ.
Beside the conjunctive the (present or aorist) indicative also occurs with this meaning, albeit less frequently and only with a negated μὴ οὐ.

Historical background

This construction is current from the 5th century B.C. onwards and is regarded as typically Platonic. Historically it may be explained as a case of insubordination, i.e. in which an (obligatory) subordinate clause becomes a main clause through ellipsis of the main verb: [φοβοῦμαι] μὴ (οὐ) φαῦλον ἦ ‘[I fear] that it is not stupid.’
The presence of the indicative in later instances proves that Greek speakers no longer regarded this construction as a case of insubordination.

Example Sentences: 


μὴ οὐ τοῦτό σε, ὦ παῖ Δημοκράτους, κωλύῃ

Presumably it is not that, son of Democrates, which hinders you.



μὴ γὰρ οὐ καλῶς σκοπῶμεν οὕτω σκοποῦντες, ὦ Κρατύλε

Perhaps we are not considering the matter in the right way by looking at it like that, Cratylus.