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ὥστε (or ὡς) with the infinitive: result clause


χαλεπὸν γὰρ οὕτω τι ποιῆσαι ὥστε μηδὲν ἁμαρτεῖν

‘For whatever one does, it is difficult to avoid mistakes.’ (Xen. Mem. 2.8.5)

The infinitive, preceded by ὥστε (sometimes ὡς), signals a possible result as a satellite. The speaker does not explicitly state whether the result is actually fulfilled or not. The result often has an additional nuance of purpose or of condition.

Lexical usage

Translation tips

Because of this it is often possible to use the auxiliary 'can' in the translation of result clauses.

Syntactic usage

Sometimes the infinitive is accompanied by ἄν to put additional emphasis on the possible modality.

Historical background

The conjunctions ὡς and ὥστε (sometimes transcribed as ὥς τε in Homer) go back to the adverb ὡς ‘thus, in that way’, sometimes followed by an ‘epic τε’. The infinitive would then have functioned as a type of apposition.
Until the end of the sixth century B.C. the construction with the infinitive is the only possible construction. This means that the markedly subjective force of the infinitive emerged only later.

Example Sentences: 

οὕτως ἰσχυρόν ἐστιν ἡ ἀλήθεια, ὥστε πάντων ἐπικρατεῖν τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων λογισμῶν

The truth is so strong that it conquers all human sophisms. ֍

εἰ δέ τι μὴ σπουδῆς ἦν ἄξιον ὥστε κεκτῆσθαι διέφθειραν

But if something was not worth keeping in their possession they destroyed it. ֍

ἴσως γάρ — σὺν θεῷ δ’ εἰρήσεται —

γαμεῖς τοιοῦτον ὥστε θρηνεῖσθαι γάμον

For perhaps - and these words will be godlike - you will enter into a such a marriage that it will make you weep.

νεώτεροί εἰσιν ἢ ὥστε εἰδέναι οἵων πατέρων ἐστέρηνται

They are too young to realise what kind of fathers they have been robbed of.

Πλάτωνί τινος λέγοντος ὅτι “τινὲς λοιδοροῦσί σε” ἔφη· “ἀλλ’ ἐγὼ οὕτως διάξω ὥστε ἀπιστεῖσθαι αὐτούς”

When someone told Plato: There are people who slander you, he replied, Nevertheless I will continue like this, until they are themselves disbelieved.