Optative mood

Optative mood

The optative mood is a grammatical mood that indicates a wish or hope. It is similar to the cohortative mood, and closely related to the subjunctive mood.

Greek (Ancient and to some extent Koine), Albanian, Georgian, Old Prussian, Sanskrit, and Turkish are examples of languages with an optative mood.

In English, the optative is expressed by the use of a modal verb (e.g. that you might find what you're looking for).

In Romanian, the conditional and optative moods have identical forms, thus being commonly referred to as the optative-conditional mood.

Ancient Greek

In classical Greek, including Plato's Attic dialect, the optative mood is used for a variety of purposes , such as:

  1. Potential Optative, in which the possibility of an action taking place is indicated. "I would be happy to dine with you."
  2. Optative of Wish, which, as the name indicates, is used to express wishes such as those beginning, "If only..." or "Would that...".
  3. Conditional sentences, comprising a main clause, or "apodosis," and a subordinate clause, or "protasis". In these sentences the optative mood is used in particular to convey Future Less Vivid and Past General conditionals.
  4. "Secondary Sequence". The optative mood also frequently substitutes for a verb in the indicative or subjunctive moods within a subordinate clause when that clause is governed by a secondary tense verb such as the imperfect or the aorist.
  5. “Indirect Discourse”. In indirect quotes in which the main verb (“said”) is in a secondary tense verb, the verb in the quotation is in the optative corresponding to the tense that would be used in direct quotation. There is a future optative used mainly for this purpose. The present optative stands for both the present and the imperfect; the perfect optative stands for both the perfect and the pluperfect. The indicative may also be retained.

Over time, as the Koine (common) form of Greek emerged following the conquests of Alexander the Great c. 333 BCE, the use of the optative began to fall away among many Greek writers. In the New Testament, written in Koine Greek, the optative is primarily used in certain fixed expressions like me genoito, "may it not be!" (e.g. Romans 7:7).

Note on forms: Gordon M. Messing attests that in dealing with the endings of the optative mood, Herbert Weir Smyth merely noted without comment that the first person singular ending except after -ιη- was -μι, despite his previous statement that the optative usually has the endings of the secondary tenses of the indicative. The anomaly of the usual ending -μι has now been resolved with the discovery of Arcadian present optative first singular έξελαύνοια, which shows the original secondary active ending previously assumed but hitherto unattested.


In Finnish, the optative is archaic, mainly appearing in poetry. It is used like the imperative, and it denotes a more subtle and polite request. It is formed using the suffixes -os and -ös, depending on vowel harmony; for instance, "kävellös" is the active voice second person singular in present optative of the verb kävellä (to walk). Altogether there are 28 verb inflections in the optative mood, complete with active and passive voice, present and perfect tense, three person forms both in singular and plural and a formal plural form. Most, if not all, of these forms are, however, utterly rare and are not familiar to non-professionals. Only some expressions have remained in day-to-day speech; for instance, one can be heard to say "ollos hyvä" instead of "ole hyvä" ("you're welcome" or "here you go"). This form carries an exaggerated, jocular connotation.

See also


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