Infinitive of εἰμί (εἶναι) with a Predicate Nominative

December 11, 2010

Here’s something I just noticed. Perhaps I’ve seen it before and perhaps I’m just sleepy this afternoon (curled up in my chair with the wood stove going–watching three of my grandsons [ages 3, 4, & 5] play on the living room floor; at the moment the legos and trains have been forgotten since the oldest is using his newly developing reading skills to explain a stack of story books to his younger brother and his cousin!). In any event, with linking verbs, infinitives can have either nom or acc subjects and objects.


When a linking verb is used in the infinitive form, e.g. εἶναι, it can have a predicate nominative. This is the only time you’ll see a nominative with an infinitive since the subject of the infinitive (when it is expressed) is normally in the accusative case.

Acts 17:18, ξένων δαιμονίων δοκεῖ καταγγελεὺς εἶναι (He seems to be a preacher of strange gods).

Gal 2:9, Ἰάκωβος καὶ Κηφᾶς καὶ Ἰωάννης, οἱ δοκοῦντες στῦλοι εἶναι (James and Cephas and John, the ones perceived to be pillars).

1 Tim 1:6f, ἐξετράπησαν εἰς ματαιολογίαν 7 θέλοντες εἶναι νομοδιδάσκαλοι (They have wandered into vain talking 7 desiring to be teachers of the Law).

John 9:27, μὴ καὶ ὑμεῖς θέλετε αὐτοῦ μαθηταὶ γενέσθαι; (You don’t wish to be his disciples do you?)

1 Sam 3:21, ἐπιστεύθη Σαμουηλ προφήτης γενέσθαι τῷ κυρίῳ εἰς πάντα Ισραηλ (Samuel was believed to be a prophet of the Lord in all Israel).

It is also possible, however, for linking verbs to follow the usual infinitive pattern and take an accusative subject or a predicate accusative as the following examples show.

Luke 20:41, Εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς· πῶς λέγουσιν τὸν χριστὸν εἶναι Δαυὶδ υἱόν; (He said to them, “How do they say that the Messiah is David’s son?”)

1 Tim 6:5, νομιζόντων πορισμὸν εἶναι τὴν εὐσέβειαν (imagining godliness to be gain).

Notice that the “subject” of the infinitive is determined by the same hierarchy of rules as it was with finite forms. In this example, the article indicates that τὴν εὐσέβειαν is the accusative subject of the infinitive εἶναι and πορισμόν is the predicate accusative.

Rom 15:8 λέγω γὰρ Χριστὸν διάκονον γεγενῆσθαι περιτομῆς ὑπὲρ ἀληθείας θεοῦ (For I say Christ became a servant of the circumcision for the truth of God).

3 responses to Infinitive of εἰμί (εἶναι) with a Predicate Nominative

  1. This is discussed in Smyth §§ 1972-1981. The basic rule is: “§ 1973. When the subject of the infinitive is the same as that of the governing verb, it is omitted, and a predicate noun stands in the nominative case.” I’m not aware of a case where the expressed subject of an infinitive is in the nominative, however.

  2. Thanks Stephen. Perhaps I was sleepy since I discovered that my copy of Smyth is hi-lighted and marked up in the sections you note! So I have seen this before. One thing that I do note, however, is that Smyth does not discuss this in terms of linking verbs. I’m wondering if there are NT (or LXX) exs of a nominative with an infinitive other than a linking verb? All the ones I’ve identified thus far are εἶναι or γενέσθαι, but there are a lot more infinitive exs that I haven’t examined yet. With a standard grammar search one can only request something like this (Accordance search): [verb infin] [noun nom]. That produces 152 hits in NT, but many (most?) are instances of the nom subject of the main verb occurring adjacent to the inf in word order. Now if I could figure out the new syntax search options in Accordance, I might be able to narrow this down, but I’m still learning that.

  3. Good thought. Perhaps looking for a verb like καλεῖσθαι might turn up something.