Chapter X. The Limitative Tenses

§199. Under the term ‘Limitative’ are grouped all those tenses which have a definite standpoint in time, as opposed to the relatively timeless notion implied by the Durative tenses. The term ‘Limitative’ is here used to stress the fact that the verbal action is limited to a specific point in time. The action can be regarded as achieved in the past, or so certain of achievement that it can be regarded as completed in the future. Under ‘Limitative’ are included the following: The Perfect (§200ff), the Tense of Habitude (§204ff), the Future (§208ff) including the Optative (§220) and the two tenses of Unfulfilled Action (§223, 24). Note that, in contrast to the Durative Tenses (§187.1), those tenses classed as Limitative cannot use the Qualitative form of the verb, but can use the Construct and Pronominal forms of the verb where they exist (cf further §326); e.g. a.3.`oo.s ‘He said it’, a.tek.mna  `pe  mhte  n.mna ‘Thy mina has produced ten mina’ (Lk 19:16),`eu  pa.aggelos ‘I will send my messenger’ (Mk 1:2).

§199a. Limitative Tenses


Perfect: Instantaneous Past Action (§200)

I Tense (§200a)

II Tense (§202)

I Negation (§201)

II Negation (§203)







... an
















a- before Nom Subj

nta- before Nom Subj

mpe- before Nom Subj


                    Tense of Habitude: Ongoing, customary, characteristic (§204)

I Tense (§204a)

II Tense (§206)

I Negation (§205)

II Negation (§207)







... an
















4arebefore Nom Subj

e.4are- before Nom Subj

mere- before Nom Subj


Future: Instantaneous (§208)

I Tense (§209)

II Tense/Circumstantial (§211-12)

Future Imperfect (‘was about to’, §214)

II Negation of I+II Future, Imperfect (§213, 215)



(n-) ... an  (te.ra)

Nom Subj -na

ere- ... na

nere- ... na


III Future (Energetic, §217)

III Negation (§218)

IV Future (Intent, result, §219)

Optative §220 (Negation §221)



  n-na- (n-ne.i+-)



























ere- ... (e) Nom Subj

n-nebefore Nom Subj

tarebefore Nom Subj

mare- before Nom Subj

§200. The Perfect:
§200a. I Perfect: This is the historic tense indicating an action which has been completed in the past. In contrast to the Durative notion of the Imperfect, this tense represents Instantaneous Past Action; e.g.  de  a6.erat.3  a.3.`e.nai ‘The Pharisee stood; he said this’ (Lk 18:11), a.u.n.apot  n.hrp  n.ou.6llo ‘They gave a cup of wine to an old man’ (Z 291.d.1). Note: When a- stands before a Nominal Subject with the Indefinite Article, contraction usually occurs (§16); e.g. a.u.4a  (for a.ou.4a) de  4wpe  n.ouoei4 ‘A feast once took place in Shiët (Z 291.d.1).
§201. Negation of I Perfect: e.g. mpe.rwme  4a`e  ene6  n.q.m.pei.rwme ‘Man did not ever speak as this man’ (Jn 7:46), auw  on  mpe.p.6llo  toloma  e.tnnoou  m.p.maqhths ‘And still the old man dared not send the disciple’ (Z 294.c.6), etbe.ou  mp.ou.5.pei.so2n  ebol  6a  4mt.4e  n.sateere ‘Why did they not sell this ointment for 300 staters?’ (Jn 12:5). Note 1: The 1st pers sing sometimes appears in the form mp.i-; the fuller forms mpe.k-, mpe.3-, and mpe.s- are also common; e.g. mpe.s.mise ‘She did not give birth’ (Z 296.14). Note 2: mpe- as a bad spelling for e.mpe- with the meaning ‘Until’ (§231).
§202. II Perfect: This tense, while expressing instantaneous Past action, indicates that the main stress in the sentence is placed on the Adverbial Extension; e.g. nta.u.ei  gar  e.m4t  p.ka6 ‘For to spy out the land have they come’ (Josh 2:3), nta.3.ouon6.3  de  ebol  n.tei.6e ‘In this way he revealed himself’ (Jn 21:1), nta.nai  gar  4wpe  `ekas  ere.te.grafh  `wk  ebol ‘In order that the scripture should be fulfilled, these things happened’ (Jn 19:36); cf also the 3rd example quoted in §186.
§203. Negation of II Perfect: Negation of this tense follows the model of II Present (§193), but it is to be noted that the first negative particle n  falls away before the initial n  of the auxiliary (it may be noted here that n is similarly dropped with the II tenses of Habitude [§207] and Future [§213]); e.g. nta.i.ei  gar  an  `e  m.p.kosmos ‘For in order that I should judge the world I have not come’ (Jn 12:47), anok  nta.4a`e  an  6aro.i  mauaa.t ‘In respect of myself I have not spoken’ (Jn 12:49).
§204. Tense of Habitude: This tense, which has  the distinctive syllable  4a , has the meaning of  repeated instantaneous action . Customary action is indicated, but it is to be noted that a series of reiterated actions may not only be regarded as effected in the past, but also due to be effected in the future. This tense has been named, somewhat misleadingly, Praesens Consuetudinus; but the basic notion of a repetition of past action demands the relinquishing of the term Praesens at least.
§204a. I Habitude: e.g. 4are.peu.pna  ei  ebol ‘Their spirit is wont to come forth’ (Ps 104:29?),`e  e.q.oou  take ni.6ht  et.nanou.ou ‘Evil words will go on destroying good hearts’ (I‑Cor 15:33), e.u.4an.56e  4a.3.ka  pet.2o`b ‘When they become drunken, he will go on putting forth that which is defective’ (Jn 2:10), 4a.3.swlp  n.n.6alusis ‘He was wont to break the chains’ (Mk 5:4).
§205. Negation of I Habitude: e.g. 5 te3.kite ‘Your master is not wont to pay his tribute’ (Mt 17:24), me.u.`ere  ou.6nbs ‘They do not go on lighting a lamp’ (Mt 5:15).
§206. II Habitude: This tense expresses the notion of repeated instantaneous action, the main stress in the sentence being laid on the Adverbial Extension; e.g. e.4are.p.rwme  n.agaqos  taue.agaqon  ebol  6m.pa6o  m.pe3.6nt  et.nanou.3 ‘Out of the treasure of his good heart the good man is wont to send out goodness’ (Lk 6:45), e.4a.3.ka  p.hrp  e.6rai et.nanou.n.4orp ‘First of all he is wont to put out the good wine’ (Jn 2:10).
§207. Negation of II Habitude: Negation of this tense is effected by means of the particle an (§203); e.g. mh  e.4a.3  `oo.s  an  na.3  `e  sobte ‘Prepare that which I shall eat!, is he not wont to say to him?’ (Lk 17:8): stress laid upon direct speech introduced by `e.
§208. Future Tenses: All the Future tenses, including the Optative and the two tenses of unfulfilled action (§222ff), originated from compound forms. Thus in I and II Future  the distinctive syllable na  is the final form of the old verb ni, ‘To go.’ The I Future probably sprang from a form *mnir, ‘To be going to’; the fundamental meaning of such a form as  would therefore seem to be ‘I am to be going to hear’. Similarly the III Future can be traced back to the old compound iw.subject.r.infinitive; thus e.3.e.swtm  originated from, ‘He is to hear’. In this compound form, the preposition r (Coptic e-, ero=) had a strong implication of futurity. However, it should be noted that with the possible exception of the Future Imperfect, the verbal action is regarded as instantaneous, and not as durative. It is as if the action was regarded as so certain of achievement that already, in the speaker's mind, it was visualized as completed.
§209. I Future: This tense is used in statements and in questions introduced by an interrogative. It is to be noted that, as is the case with I Present, when the Subject is Nominal it stands first in the sentence without any preceding auxiliary; e.g. nei.wne  na.4kak  ebol ‘These stones will cry out’ (Lk 19:20),  mn  p.ka6  na.sine ‘Heaven and earth will pass away’ (Lk 21:33), ‘They will arrest you’ (Lk 21:12), etbe.ou  na.n  ebol ‘Why wilt thou reveal thyself to us?’ (Jn 14:22), na4  n.6e`oo.m.pek.son ‘How wilt thou say to thy brother?’ (Lk 6:42). Note 1: When the Nominal Subject is undefined or has the Indefinite Article, it must be introduced by oun-, (m)mn- in negation (§190); e.g. oun.6a6  gar  na.`oo.s  na.i ‘For many will say to me’ (Mt 7:22), mmn.laau ‘No one will take away your joy’ (Jn 16:22). Note 2: The 2 fem sing sometimes shows the form te.ra. The 1st and 2nd pl forms frequently appear as  and (§12).
§210. The verb `pi- or `pe- preceded by I Future and followed by another verb, conveys the meaning  ‘must’ ; e.g. p.4hre  m.p.rwme  na.`pe.4p.6a6  n.6ise ‘The Son of Man must suffer many (things)’ (Mk 8:31),`pe.bwk  ebol  e.nau  ero.s ‘I must go to see it’ (Lk 14:18).
§211. II Future: This tense expresses the Future, the main stress of the sentence being placed on the Adverbial Extension. It is especially used in Questions in which the Interrogative cannot stand at the head of the sentence; e.g. mh  ere  p.`oeis  na.kaa.nsw.3  4a.ene6 ‘Will the Lord forever forsake us?’ (Ps 76:7), ‘As the dust will they be’ (Ps 1:4), ‘What shall I do?’ (Lk 20:13). Note: The 2nd pl form alternates between  and (§12).
§212. Future Circumstantial: As has been noted (§192n, 197), in Sahidic this tense is the same as the II Future in formation, although syntactically it functions quite differently; e.g. nto.k  de  bwk  e.6oun  e.pek.tamion ‘But thou, as thou art about to pray, go into thy chamber’ (Mt 6:6),`i  paulos  de  e.6oun  e.t.parembolh, pe`a.m.p.xiliarxos ‘As Paul was about to be taken into the camp, he said to the Chiliarch’ (Acts 21:37). (Bohairic distinguishes between II Future and Future Circumstantial: II Fut  are na, a=na; Fut Circum  ere na, e=na.)
§213. Negation of I and II Future: Negation is effected by means of the particles n ... an; e.g. laau  an ‘We shall not eat anything’ (Z 346.b.10),  na.r.6ote  an ‘My heart will not fear’ (Ps 26:3). But frequently the particle n  is omitted before I Future, e.g.  an ‘I shall not rise up’ (Z 326.b.7); and almost always before II Future (§203), e.g. ere.p.rwme  na.wn6  an  eoeik  m.mate ‘Not by bread only will men live’ (Mt 4:4).
§214. Future Imperfect: This tense conveys the notion of  future action conceived in the past , an action which from the speaker's point of view has now been completed, although originally it was declared with reference to the future. Thus the meaning might be conveyed by the phrase X was on the point of doing something’ or X was about to do something’. A free rendering of such a form as  might be ‘He would hear’; e.g. nere.p.kosmos  na.mere  pe ‘The world would love that which is its own’ (Jn 15:19), nere.p.`oi  gar  na.4ouo  et.mmau ‘For the ship was about to discharge its cargo in that place’ (Acts 21:3),  gar  pe ‘For he was on the point of dying’ (Jn 4:47). Note: As in the case of the Imperfect (§195), the Existential Particle pe often appears after the verbal form; cf the first and third of the aforementioned examples.
§215. Negation of Future Imperfect: Negation is effected by means of the Negative Particles n ... an; e.g.  an ‘He was not about to hear’. More often n  is omitted; e.g.  na.mou  an  pe ‘My brother would not have died’ (Jn 11:32). It may be noted that examples of Negation of Future Imperfect are not common.
MS lacks §216.]
§217. III Future (Energetic): This tense lays special stress on the achievement of an action in the future. It carries a much stronger notion of futurity than the I Future, and is commonly found  in commands, strong wishes and in Final Clauses introduced by `e or `eka(a)s  (cf the last example in §186); e.k.e.taie  pek.eiwt ‘Thou shalt honor thy father’ (Mt 19:19), pe`a.n.ne3.`aio6s  `e  p.`oeis  e.3.e.4wpe  pe`a.u  na.3  `e  ere.p.`oeis  smou  ero.k ‘He says to his harvesters: May the Lord be with you!; they say to him: May the Lord bless thee!’ (Ruth 2:4). Note: When the Subject is Nominal, and in view of the origin of this tense (§208), one would expect the construction: ere.p.rwme  e.swtm ‘The man shall hear’ or ‘May the man hear’. In practice, however, the e (representing the old r) falls away, so leaving the construction ere.p.rwme  swtm, a form identical to II Present. The second example quoted above indicates a case in which the context shows that III Future is to be understood, and the same example also shows the marked preference in Coptic for the use of the suffix forms of the auxiliaries, even when the subject is nominal (cf further §322); e.g. ere.p.rwme  e.swtm ‘The man will hear’ or ‘May the man hear’.
§218. Negation of III Future; e.g. nne.u (for nne.ou, §16).alektwr  moute ‘A cock shall not crow’ (Jn 13:38), nne.k.6wtb ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (Mt 19:18), mp.r.krine  `e  n.neu.krine ‘Do not judge, in order that they shall not judge you’ (Lk 6:37).
§219. IV Future (Finalis): The use of this tense is confined to direct speech, either real or fictitious. For the most part it follows an Imperative, and signifies the result which should follow when the action of the Imperative has been achieved. Preceded by a Question, it indicates the result which should happen if the course of action postulated by the questioner is carried out. Though as a rule this tense conveys a Final meaning, sometimes more than the result of action prescribed or avoided is implied. In some cases there is the implication of  intention , either on the part of the speaker or by some third party alluded to by the speaker cp the idiomatic use of ‘shall’ and ‘will’ in English; e.g. swtm  ero.i  tare.tetn.yuxn  wn6 ‘Hear me (and) your soul shall live’ (Isa 55:3), au eis  p.nta.3.meut  p.3.son  tar.n.moout.3 ‘Bring out him who has slain his brother (and) we will kill him’ (II‑Sam 14:7), nto.k  pet.nhu  `n  tar.n.2w4t  6ht.3 ‘Art thou he who is coming, or do we look for another?’ (Mt 11:3), nne.u.ket  tei.kuph  tare.t.oikoumenh  thr.s  eime  `e  aukhph [sic6e  6n.4iht  etbe  ou.apot  n.hrp ‘This dome shall not be built in my time, so that the whole world shall see that a dome fell in Shiet because of a cup of wine’ (Z 292.a.8). Note: 1st pres sing is replaced by auw  and I Future, or by the Conjunctive.
§220. The Optative: This tense expresses the notion of a wish, a hope or a request, which may or may not be fulfilled in the future; e.g. mare.pek.ran  ouop ‘May thy name be hallowed’ (Mt 6:9), mare.s.4wpe  ne  n.q.e  et.e.oua4.s ‘May it happen to thee as thou wishest’ (Mt 15:28), mare.mari6am  ei  ebol  n-.6ht.n-  ‘Let Mariam go out from among us!’ (Thomas 114). Note: An old Absolute Form  maro.n ‘Let us!’  still exists in Coptic. This form is used, without any following Infinitive, to express the meaning ‘Let us go’; e.g. alla  maro.n  4aro.3 ‘Let us go to him’ (Jn 11:15), toun.thutn  maro.n  ebol ‘Rise, let us go from this place’ (Jn 14:31).
§221. Negation of the Optative: Negation is effected by means of a compound form  mp.r-. This compound is formed by the negative of the Imperative (§242) and the Causative Infinitive (§243); e.g. mp.r.tre.3.swtm ‘Do not cause him to hear’, mp.r.tre.laau  eime ‘Do not let anyone perceive’ (Mt 9:30), mp.r.tre.n.moo4e  6n  te.6ih  m.p.rro ‘Let us not proceed by the King's Highway’ (Mon. 587.f.98n).
§222. Tenses of Unfulfilled Action:



‘Not yet, before’

   1 com

  4an.5- (or 4an.ta-)


   2 masc





   2 fem



   3 masc





   3 fem



Nom subj  4ante-


§223. Model 4ant.3.swtm ‘Until he hears’. This auxiliary, originating from the old r sdmt.f, later replaced by the more forceful š3i.f sdm, has the meaning  ‘Until’ . In the other dialects, and in the oldest form of Sahidic, this auxiliary appears in the form 4ate.3.swtm. The which appears in the Sahidic form is probably due to some contamination of 4ate.3.swtm  with the Conjunctive nte.3.swtm (§225) with which, however, it has no affinity; e.g. a.u.`ioor ... 4ante.p.laos  thr.3  `ioor  m.p.iordanhs ‘They crossed over ... until all of the people (had) crossed over the Jordan’ (Josh 3:17), ari.6wb  4an.5.ei ‘Work until I come’ (Lk 19:13). Note: In the 1st pers sing 4an.5- is more frequently found than 4an.ta-.
§224. Model mpat.3.swtm. This auxiliary, which originated from the old compound form bw sdm, has the meaning of action which has not yet been effected, but which is due to be effected in the future. It may be translated by  ‘Not yet’ or ‘Before’ ; e.g. mpate.ta.ounou  ei ‘My hour has not yet come.’ (Jn 2:4), amou  e.p.esht  mou ‘Come down before my son dies’ (Jn 4:49), mpa.5.4wpe  m.monaxhs ‘I have not yet become a monk’ (Z 384.a.1).