Matthew (for one example) uses two different words for eating, and I'm trying to figure out if there's any difference in meaning. In Matthew 12:1, he uses ἐσθίω:

...and His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.

Then in 12:4, he uses φάγω:

...he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat...

Is there any reason for the change in word choice?

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    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 17:17

1 Answer 1


There is no verb φάγω. That is, there is no verb whose first person singular present active indicative is φάγω. Rather, what we have here is that the aorist of ἐσθίω "to eat" (which itself derives from the primary verb ἔδω "to eat") is the defective form ἔφαγον. From this, we of course get that the first person singular aorist active subjunctive would be φάγω; however this may be, the forms ἔφαγον and φάγω would still be considered as part of the paradigm of the verb ἐσθίω.

Turning to Matthew 12 then: in Mt 12:1 we find the present infinitive active ἐσθίειν, whereas in Mt 12:4, where the aorist is used, we encounter the forms ἔφαγον and φαγεῖν.

The relevant Proto-Indo-European verbal roots here are: *h1ed- "eat" and *bheh2g- "distribute". See Beekes/Van Beek Etymological Dictionary of Greek.

  • So the verb ἐσθίω has acquired the forms of the no-longer-extant φάγω in the aorist? (This would be like how go acquired the forms of wend for its past tense.)
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 23:52
  • 2
    Indeed that is exactly what is happening here. One could also compare Latin sum "I am" with the perfect fui "I have been". The first derives from the root -es- "to be" but the second from -bheu- "to grow". The same thing happens within the English verb "to be", which combines not two but three original roots! There are many more examples of these "suppletive verbs" in both Latin and Greek. By the way, I think the reconstructed present would be φήγω rather than φάγω, but that is a minor quibble.
    – R.P.
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 0:10

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