εἰ with optative: iterative condition

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τῶν ἐχθρῶν εἴ τινα λάβοιεν, ἀπέκτεινον

Telkens ze een vijand te pakken kregen, vermoordden ze hem.


A subordinate clause in the optative, introduced by εἰ, signals a repeated condition as a satellite. The main clause usually contains an indicative secondary tense, with or without 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

‘whenever’, ‘as often as’, ‘every time (that)’

Syntactic behaviour

In the main clause an indicative imperfect is almost invariably used, but sometimes also an aorist or a pluperfect. Iterativity can be expressed in the main clause by means of an ‘iterative ἄν’ or – in Ionic (among other,s in Herodotus) – by the iterative prefix -σκ-.

Historical background

The use of the optative for an iterative condition seems to have originated from the use of an oblique optative in the place of a subjunctive with ἄν (for a plausible, since repeatable condition). This hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that ἄν can never be used in an iterative condition. Furthermore Homer, for whom the oblique optative is restricted to indirect questions, does not use the optative of the iterative condition.

Other information

In traditional grammars the iterative condition is called iterativus.

Example Sentences: 


ἐλοιδορεῖτο μὲν γὰρ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἁμαρτήμασιν, ἐτίμα δ’ εἴ τι καλὸν πράττοιεν, παρίστατο δ’ εἴ τις συμφορὰ συμβαίνοι

Hij maakte hun verwijten over hun misstappen, eerde hen telkens als zij iets goeds deden en stond hen bij telkens als enig onheil hen overviel.



Λύσανδρος δὲ τούς τε φρουροὺς τῶν Ἀθηναίων καὶ εἴ τινά που ἄλλον ἴδοι Ἀθηναῖον, ἀπέπεμπεν εἰς τὰς Ἀθήνας, διδοὺς ἐκεῖσε μόνον πλέουσιν ἀσφάλειαν, ἄλλοθι δ’ οὔ

Lysandrus sent the scouts of the Athenians, and every other Athenian he saw, away to Athens, by giving them an escort to sail there but nowhere else.



ὑμῖν δ’, εἴ τι δέοισθε, χρήμαθ’ ὑπῆρχε κοινῇ πλεῖστα τῶν πάντων Ἑλλήνων

You, [men of Athens,] whenever you lacked anything, had the most money in your treasury of all the Greeks together.



ἀλλ’, εἴ τι μὴ φέροιμεν, ὤτρυνεν φέρειν

But if we did not bring something with us he admonished us to bring it.