The Middle Voice, as mentioned above, is a third "voice" that exists in a variety of languages, the others being the Active Voice, and the Passive Voice. The Active Voice, remember, is just "I eat", and the Passive Voice is “I am eaten”. My only proper experience of the Middle Voice is in Ancient Greek, where - as mentioned above by Tiefling - it has its own distinct verb forms*.

The Middle Voice conveys a subtly different meaning from that of either the Active or Passive Voices. The Middle Voice carries a sense that’s hard to convey in English – the idea of doing something on your own behalf. To be honest, the ideas that this concept can convey vary a lot, but generally, it’ll mean either:

  • the verb implies getting or having something done [by someone else], so the middle form of διδασκω (“didasko”), meaning in the Active Voice “to teach”, in the Middle Voice means “to get [someone] taught”. Similarly, λυω (“luo”), meaning in the Active Voice “to set free”, means in the Middle Voice “get [someone] set free” (which is normally translated as “to ransom”).
  • or...

  • the verbs implies doing something with respect to yourself – so φερω (“fero”), the verb meaning in the Active Voice “to carry” or “to bear”, means in the Middle Voice “to win” (as in, a prize), or “carry off as one’s own”. Similarly, παυω (“pauo”), meaning in the Active Voice “to stop [someone else]” means in the Middle Voice simply “to stop yourself” (which is normally translated “to cease”).
  • or...

  • the verb seen in the Middle Voice is just the Greek equivalent of a Deponent Verb in Latin – i.e., it always appears in the Middle Voice, and this has little if any effect on its meaning. Normally the verbs to which this applies can simply be learnt. An example is μαχομαι (“machomai”), which means to fight, and αυφιζομαι (“Aulizdomai”), to encamp. Both are always found in the Middle Voice.

Any of these senses can theoretically be read into a verb in the Middle Voice, but it’s usually obvious which one is most suitable. Plus, the more original Greek you read, the more obvious it becomes how to interpret a particular verb.

* Well, mostly. Ancient Greek is one of the most horrendously complicated and irregular languages out there, so it’s not quite that simple. The problem is that whilst in all tenses – that is, present, future, imperfect, aorist, perfect, etc. – the Middle Voice has a distinct meaning from that of the Passive Voice, only the aorist and future tenses have separate forms for both the Middle and the Passive Voice. The present, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect, etc. all share a single verb form, and whether a verb is middle or passive has to be worked out from context. It’s rare, though, that the voice of a verb isn’t immediately apparent from the sense of the piece you’re reading.