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εἰ with secondary indicative: counterfactual condition


πλείονα δ᾿ ἂν ἔτι τούτων εἰρήκειμεν, εἰ πλείων παρῆν οἶνος ἡμῖν.

‘We should have discussed more than that, if we had had more wine.’ (Plut. Pyrrh. 8)

A subordinate clause in a secondary tense of the indicative, introduced by εἰ without ἄν, signals a counterfactual condition as a satellite. The main clause usually contains the same secondary indicative 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…’

Syntactic usage

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

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

Historical background

In Homer counterfactual conditions are expressed in a different way:

  • in the present: optative;
  • in the past: secondary indicative.


In traditional grammars the counterfactual condition is called irrealis.

Example Sentences: 

εἰ μὴ Ἀλέξανδρος ἤμην, Διογένης ἂν ἤμην

If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes. ֍

εἰ τοῦ μεθύσκεσθαι πρότερον τὸ κραιπαλᾶν παρεγίνεθ ἡμῖν, οὐδ ἂν εἷς οἶνόν ποτε προσίετο πλείω τοῦ μετρίου

If we got hangovers before we became drunk, nobody would drink wine beyond due measure. ֍

χρώματα ὁ θεὸς εἰ πεποιήκει, δύναμιν δὲ θεατικὴν αὐτῶν μὴ πεποιήκει, τί ἂν ἦν ὄφελος;

If God had made colours, but not the possibility to observe them, what would have been the use of them?