74 • On the Grammar and Etymology of “Being”

Now of course, and particularly in Greek, there is also the infinitive in the passive and middle voice, and one in the present, perfect, and future, so that the infinitive at least makes manifest voice and tense. This has led to various disputed questions concerning the infinitive, which we will not pursue here. We will clarify only one point in what follows. The infinitive form λέγειν, to say, can be understood in such a way that one no longer even thinks about voice and tense, but only about what the verb in general means and makes manifest. In this respect, the original Greek designation hits the mark especially well. In the sense of the Latin term, the infinitive is a word form that, as it were, cuts off what it means from all definite relations of meaning. The meaning is pulled away (ab-stracted) from all particular relations. In this abstraction, the infinitive offers only what one represents to oneself with the word in general. This is why today’s grammarians say that the infinitive is the “abstract verbal concept.” It conceives and grasps what is meant only overall and in general. [52|72] It names only this general meaning. In our language, the infinitive is the form with which one names the verb. There is a deficiency, a lack, in the infinitive, in its word form and its manner of meaning. The infinitive no longer makes manifest what the verb otherwise reveals.

Furthermore, the infinitive is a later, if not the latest, result in the chronological development of the word forms of language. This can be shown with the infinitive of that Greek word whose questionableness is the occasion for our discussion. “To be” is εἶναι in Greek. We know that a standardized language unfolds from the speech of dialects that originally stand rooted in soil and history. Thus, Homer’s language is a mixture of various dialects that preserve the earlier form of the language. It is in the formation of the infinitive that the Greek dialects diverge from each other the most, and so linguistic scholarship has made the differences among infinitives into a principal criterion “for separating and grouping the dialects”

Introduction to Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (GA 40) by Martin Heidegger

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