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Like all particles, ἄν is a little word that is not necessarily translated by a word in English. But this particle in particular is useful when translating: as it is found in a limited number of constructions it is a useful indicator of meaning.

There are 5 main uses of this particle, all of which are in some way ‘modal’:

  1. In the apodosis of unreal conditional clauses (translate ~would/would have)
  2. With the potential optative (translate ~would)
  3. With the potential indicative (translate ~would have)
  4. In the protasis of future real conditional clauses (translate together with εἰ as if)
  5. With the subjunctive in general relative, temporal or conditional clauses (translate ~ever)

(It may also be found in some purpose clauses, but it is not required here.)

All of the 5 uses above are connected with conditionals.

The use in the apodosis of unreal conditional clauses is what distinguishes these from real conditional clauses, turning them from discussions of events that do happen to ones that might happen.

The potential use of the optative and indicative may be connected with their use in these unreal conditional clauses. If we say:

I could have given these to you yesterday

There is an implied conditional clause:

(if you had been well enough to come to work)


I might go to London at the weekend


... if the weather is nice

As discussed in uses of the moods, the use of ἄν with the optative is what distinguishes the potential optative from the wish optative. Similarly, the use of it with the indicative is the only way to indicate that this event did not happen.

The other two uses are found in a subordinate clause with the subjunctive. The presence of ἄν confirms that the event is not a certain one.

Examples of the 5 different uses below:

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Further examples of constructions associated with this topic: