εἰ with optative: possible condition

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μάθοιμ’ ἄν, εἰ λέγοι τις ἐμφανῆ λόγον

I would understand it if somebody were to tell me the story clearly.


A subordinate clause in the optative, introduced by εἰ, signals a possible condition as a satellite. The main clause usually contains an optative with ἄν.

Lexical usage

If the speaker juxtaposes two conditions, he uses one of the two following constructions:

  • (compatible with each other) εἴτε… εἴτε… ‘whether… or…’
  • (excluding each other) εἰ μέν… εἰ δέ… ‘if… but if…’

Translation tips

English does not always make the distinction between a possible and a counterfactual condition. The choice between a conditional form (with the auxiliary 'would' or 'should') and a past tense is mainly determined on stylistic grounds.
If one wishes to express possibility in a more explicit way, the adverb 'ever' or the auxiliary 'should' can be added. Compare 'if I were rich...' to 'if I were ever to be rich...' or 'should I ever be rich...'

Syntactic behaviour

The stems in the conditional clause only signify aspect, not time:

  • present stem (for the infective aspect);
  • aorist stem (for the confective aspect);
  • perfect (for the resultative aspect).


In epic texts the particle ἄν in the main clause may be omitted.

Historical background

Homer sometimes uses εἴ κε in the conditional clause, with the same meaning as εἰ.

Other information

Note that it is possible for the speaker to present a condition as possible, but at the same time not believe that it can ever be fulfilled.
In traditional grammars the possible condition is called potentialis.

Example Sentences: 


εἰ οὖν τις ἡμᾶς περὶ ταῦτα οὕτω σφόδρα σπουδάζοντας ἔροιτο· “εἰπέ μοι, ὦ Σώκρατές τε καὶ Ἱππόκρατες, ὡς τίνι ὄντι τῷ Πρωταγόρᾳ ἐν νῷ ἔχετε χρήματα τελεῖν;” τί ἂν αὐτῷ ἀποκριναίμεθα;

Als dan, wanneer wij ons zozeer hiervoor inzetten, iemand ons zou vragen: “...?” Wat zouden we hem dan antwoorden?



γέγραπται γὰρ οὕτως ἐν τῇ ἀρᾷ, “εἴ τις τάδε,” φησί, “παραβαίνοι ἢ πόλις ἤ ἰδιώτης ἢ ἔθνος, ἐναγής,” φησίν, “ἔστω τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος καὶ τῆς Ἀρτέμιδος καὶ τῆς Λητοῦς καὶ Ἀθηνᾶς Προναίας.”

Want in de vervloeking [aan wie de Amphiktyonie zou schenden] stond aldus geschreven: “Indien iemand deze [voorschriften] overtreedt, zij het een stad, zij het een individu, zij het een volk, dan weze hij vervloekt door Apollon, Artemis, Leto en Athena Pronaia.”



εἴης φορητὸς οὐκ ἄν, εἰ πρᾱ́σσοις καλῶς

Jij [= Prometheus] zou onverdraaglijk zijn, als je welvarend was.



ἐθέλοιτ᾽ ἂν οὖν, εἰ μηχανὴν εὕροιμ᾽ ἐγώ, | μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ καταλῦσαι τὸν πόλεμον;

Als ik een strategie zou vinden, zouden jullie dan de oorlog met mij willen beëindigen?



γνοίητε δ’ ἄν, εἰ σκέψαισθ’ ἐκείνως

You will no doubt understand it if you look at it in this way.



οἷον καὶ Ἡσίοδος περὶ ἁμάξης λέγει τὸ “ἑκατὸν δέ τε δούραθ’ ἁμάξης.” ἃ ἐγὼ μὲν οὐκ ἂν δυναίμην εἰπεῖν, οἶμαι δὲ οὐδὲ σύ· ἀλλ’ ἀγαπῷμεν ἂν ἐρωτηθέντες ὅτι ἐστὶν ἅμαξα, εἰ ἔχοιμεν εἰπεῖν τροχοί, ἄξων, ὑπερτερία, ἄντυγες, ζυγόν

Hesiod says, for instance, of a wagon: a hundred pieces of wood in a wagon. I could not name these pieces, and I think you could not do so either. But if we were asked what a wagon is, we would be satisfied if we could say: wheels, axles, body, rims, yoke.