Να followed by a verb form generally introduces the subjunctive, which is used in Greek in a lot of cases where English would use the infinitive.
Να ρωτήσω uses the aorist (simple past) form of the verb (ρώτησα = I asked) and has a meaning of an action happening once.
Να ρωτάω uses the present form of the verb (ρωτάω = I ask) and has a meaning of an action happening continuously or habitually.
So, I think "προσπαθώ να ρωτήσω" is "I am trying to ask", while "προσπαθώ να ρωτάω" is "I try to ask".
- I am trying to ask a simple question, but I have been waiting for more than an hour in the queue: Προσπαθώ να ρωτήσω...
- I try to ask a question per lesson at least, so that the teacher doesn't forget me: Προσπαθώ να ρωτάω...
Great example! Thanks! So to recap, present tense ρωτάω gave rise to aorist ρώτησα, which then gave rise to subjunctive ρωτήσω. Subjunctive indicate a short, single instance action; while present form indicates a continuous form of action. Please let me know if I had all the grammatical names correct.
Well, since you asked about grammar, excuse me for this long post :P
There are the moods, which show how the speaker feels about the verb. Moods used in Greek are:
- the indicative, that shows certainty and facts;
- the subjunctive, that shows uncertainty, wishes, desires, suggestions, etc.;
- the imperative, that shows orders and commands (and sometimes greetings);
- the infinitive and the participle are also considered moods, but are used differently than the other three.
Each of the three moods has some tenses of its own.
In the indicative, tenses show the time of the action (present, past, future), the duration (instantaneous/happening once, continuous/habitual) and whether the action has already finished or not. So:
- the present tense of the indicative shows an action that takes place in the present and that has not finished yet; the action may be either instantaneous or continuous/habitual
- the simple past tense of the indicative shows an instantaneous/happening once action in the past that has finished.
In the case of the subjunctive (and the imperative), actually all uses of the mood refer to the future of the time of the sentence, which is established by another (main) verb used in the indicative. Therefore, the subjunctive uses only three tenses, that carry no information about the time, only about the duration and whether the action has finished or not:
- the present tense of the subjunctive shows a continuous/habitual action
- the simple past tense of the subjunctive shows an instantaneous/happening once action
- the present perfect tense of the subjunctive shows an action that has finished
After all this, "να ρωτάω" is present tense of the subjunctive, while "να ρωτήσω" is simple past tense of the subjunctive. Both actions refer to the present, because "προσπαθώ" is in the present tense of the indicative.
Thanks so much for this explanation! I feel like it would have helped to have this in the 'Tips and notes' section of the 'Infinitive' module or elsewhere. Now I am only left wondering how to form the subjunctive tenses, but maybe this is dealt with further on in the course. (I'm currently in the 'Imperative' module). It seems like the present tense of the subjunctive is formed identically to the present tense of the indicative, is that correct? And following that logic, is the simple past of the subjunctive formed the same way as the simple past of the indicative?
I guess these rules for the simple past are taught in a later skill, but since they are a bit more complex than that, here you are.
To form the simple past of the subjunctive, take the stem of the simple past of the indicative and add the appropriate ending from the present tense in the active voice (-ω, -εις, -ει, -ουμε, -ετε/-είτε, -ουν). If the verb is in the active voice, stress the stem. If the verb is in the passive voice, stress the ending. For example:
(Present Indicative) -> (Simple Past Indicative) -> (Simple Past Subjunctive)
- ρωτάω -> ρώτησ-α -> να ρωτήσ-ουμε [that we ask (once)]
- σκέφτομαι -> σκέφτ-ηκα -> να σκεφτ-είς [that you (sing.) think (once)]
- γράφω -> έ-γραψ-α -> να γράψ-ουν [that they write (once)]
- γράφομαι -> γράφτ-ηκα -> να γραφτ-ούν [that they be written/inscribed (once)]
As for the present subjunctive, it is indeed formed identically to the present indicative :)