According to calculations, around one third of English words have their origins in Greek. This post aims to illustrate the influence of Ancient Greek on the English language and explore the original meanings of 10 intriguing Ancient Greek words.
Did you know that 3 out of every 10 words spoken in English have their origins traced back to Ancient Greek?
For those planning a trip to Greece, this article provides a beginner’s guide to Greek language with some useful words and daily phrases commonly used by Greeks.
Introduction to the Greek Language
The Greek language has a distinctive character. Its alphabet dates back thousands of years and a lot of the words used today were already present during ancient times in Greece. Learning the Greek alphabet can be a challenge for many visitors. Yet, if you commit the Greek letters to memory, it gets much easier to read and understand basic Greek words and phrases.
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Learning the Greek alphabet will be helpful for reading road signs while traveling in Greece and the Greek islands. Other Indo-European languages won’t aid in this task due to the unique Greek alphabet. However, if only a few words and phrases are desired, learning the sound of essential phrases is enough to be a “good tourist” without knowing how to read the alphabet.
This guide will familiarize you with some Greek words and phrases that you will be useful during your stay in Greece.
Useful Greek words and their pronunciation – Basic Greek for tourists
Georgios Babiniotis, a renowned Greek linguist, states that the Greek language comprises of over 100,000 words. However, only a handful of those words are used regularly. Presented below are some of those words.
1. Yes – Neh – Ναι
The Greek word for ‘Yes’ is also used as a phone greeting, but there are other ways to answer a call.
Note: Many other languages use the same word to mean ‘No’, which can be confusing.;
2. No – Óchi – Όχι
The Greek word for ‘No’ is ‘Óchi’ or ‘Óhi’. Despite being short, many English speakers struggle with its pronunciation. One can say it as ‘oh-hee’, with a sharp ‘h’ sound. If the word sounds familiar, that’s because it is the same word written in capital letters as ‘OXI’ in the article about Ochi day.
Note: Greek people use a ‘tsk’ sound instead of saying ‘ohi’ when they are with friends. Although it may not be considered polite, it’s good to be aware of this.
3. OK – Endáxi – Εντάξει
When you stay in Greece for a few days, you might mistake people’s conversations for them constantly searching for a taxi. However, they are actually saying “endáxi” or “daxi,” which means “OK” in Greek.
During your Greek vacation, you will hear the word ‘OK’ frequently. Even though we also use it frequently in everyday conversations, you may find yourself hearing it dozens of times during your trip. You can impress the Greek people you meet by using the word ‘OK’ instead of ‘OK,’ as it is easy to pronounce.
4. Hello / Goodbye – Yiá, yiassou, yiássas – Γεια, γεια σου, γεια σας
If you find kaliméra, kalispéra, and kaliníhta confusing as greetings, you can use yiássou or yiássas instead. These are standard greetings that mean “to your health” and can be used for both hello and goodbye.
To greet one person in Greek, say ‘Yiássou’ pronounced ‘yah soo’. For two or more people, or to show respect to an older person, say ‘Yiássas’ which is often written as ‘geia sas’. For a simpler option, you can use ‘yiá’, which is a short and informal greeting.
5. Good morning – Kalimera – Καλημέρα
In Greece, ‘Kalimera’ is a popular word that means ‘good day’. It is made up of two words- ‘kali’, which means ‘good’, and ‘imera’, which means ‘day’. Generally, people use ‘kalimera’ when they see someone for the very first time in that day or until some time in the afternoon, usually until 1-2 pm.
6. Good evening – Kalispera – Καλησπέρα
‘Kalispéra’ is a Greek greeting that means ‘good evening’. It is used when it is late in the day, typically after 4-5 pm and you want to acknowledge that it’s no longer appropriate to use ‘kaliméra’. Some Greeks might start using ‘kalispera’ just after midday, which may seem a little early considering it is not yet evening.
7. Good night – Kalinihta – Καληνύχτα
The term ‘Kaliníchta’ is a way of wishing someone a good night when you will not see them again that evening. This can be particularly useful when leaving a tavern after having an evening meal. Similarly, if staying at a hotel with a receptionist, saying ‘Kaliníchta’ on the way back to your room is appropriate.
8. Cheers – Yiá mas – Γεια μας
In a Greek taverna, when you receive your food and drinks, use the word “yiámas” or “yiá mas” to say cheers. It means “to our health” and “yiá” is the same word used in “yiá ssou” or “yiá ssas”. Interestingly, “yiá” is a shortened form of the word “hygeia” which is related to English words like hygiene and hygienic.
9. Thank you – Efcharistó – Ευχαριστώ
If you’re a tourist visiting Greece, learning the word “Efharistó” can be extremely helpful. It’s a polite way to say “thank you” and is often used by Greeks. However, be aware that it can be very difficult to pronounce correctly. If someone corrects your pronunciation, it’s only to help you improve. Once you feel comfortable with “Efharistó”, you can move on to “Efharistó polí” – which means “thank you very much”.
10. Please / You are welcome – Parakaló – Παρακαλώ
The Greek word for ‘you are welcome’ is not as difficult to pronounce as ‘efharistó’. It is ‘pa-ra-ka-lo’ which also means ‘please’, although you may not hear it very often in Greece.
11. I am sorry / Excuse me – Siggnómi – Συγγνώμη
Pronouncing the Greek word for ‘I am sorry’ and ‘Excuse me’, which is ‘see-ghno-mee’, with a soft ‘g’ sound can be challenging. However, it’s worth noting that Greeks often use the English word ‘sorry,’ so there’s no need to worry.
12. Come – Éla – Έλα
This word ‘éla’ is often heard when someone answers their phone. Even though its literal meaning is ‘come’, it can also be used as ‘come on’ or an expression of surprise. When paired with ‘tóra’, which means ‘now’, it indicates annoyance.
Sometimes people use the word ‘reh’ after it for extra emphasis, but it’s not very polite and doesn’t have a specific translation in English. It’s better to avoid using it.
13. Water – Neró – Νερό
Since Greece is a warm country, especially in the summer, it would be very helpful to learn the Greek word for “water”. If you want to buy a bottle of water, try to remember the words for small and big – ‘mikró’ (small) and ‘megálo’ (big).
If you’re visiting Greece in summer, here are some additional tips to stay cool. Don’t forget that watermelon (karpoúzi) can be your best ally!
A few phrases in Greek – Greek phrases for tourists
Let’s now review some important Greek phrases after familiarizing yourself with our popular Greek words.
1. How are you – Ti kánis, ti kánete
In Greece, there are two forms of the popular phrase “ti kanis/ti ka nees” depending on the age of the person you are addressing. For young people, use “ti kanis/ti ka nees” and for seniors or groups of people, use “ti kanete”. The standard response to this question is “kalá” meaning “good” or “ola kalá” meaning “all is well.”
2. How much is this – Póso káni
To price of products or Greek souvenirs, consider asking in Greek. However, be prepared for the possibility of a response in Greek, which could prove challenging.
3. I would like the bill please – To logariasmó parakaló
When dining at a taverna, whether it’s a long meal or just ordering two beers, eventually you’ll need to ask for the bill. You already know the word “parakaló”, so all you need to learn is the word for “bill”, which is “to logariasmó” with a soft “g”.
Note: To say the phrase correctly, say “Tha íthela to logariasmó parakaló” where “tha íthela” means “I would like.” However, just saying “parakalo” or “logariasmó” is sufficient to convey the message. Avoid clicking your fingers as it is considered rude.
4. What is your name – Pos se leh-neh
“When in Greece, there are two ways to ask someone’s name. If you are talking to a young person, you can say ‘Pos se lé-ne.’ If you want to be more polite, or if you are talking to a senior, it is more appropriate to say ‘Pos sas le-ne.'”
5. I do not understand – Den katalavéno
If you only know a few Greek phrases, someone might respond to you with an answer you don’t comprehend. In such a situation, the most effective response would be to say, “Den katalavéno,” which implies “I don’t understand” in English.
6. See you / Talk to you later – Ta léme – Τα λέμε
The phrase ‘ta léme’ is a common way of saying goodbye. Even though it’s literal translation is unclear, it is the equivalent of ‘see you later’ or ‘talk to you later’. It is usually accompanied by a waving gesture.
7. Where is the toilet please – Pou ine i tualéta parakaló
It is helpful to know how to ask for a toilet in Greece as most tourist destinations do not have public restrooms available.
The term ‘tualéta’ refers to the place where you can wash yourself, also referred to as a bathroom, washroom or restroom, in different languages. Similarly, the Greek phrase ‘pou einai’ meaning ‘where is?’ can be used to inquire about anything you are searching for such as the beach, the taxi stand, the best taverna on the island, or the Acropolis in Athens.
FAQs about useful Greek words
What are some cool Greek words?
There are many interesting words in the Greek language. One of them is the phrase “yia mas” which is commonly said when Greeks are drinking. It translates to “to our health” and is similar to saying “cheers”.
What are some basic Greek words?
Greek has a few simple words such as neh which means yes, ochi which means no, efcharisto which means thank you, and parakalo which means you are welcome.
What is the most popular Greek word?
In Greece, you will commonly hear words such as “yiassou” (hello in Greek), “endaxi” or “OK”, and “ela” or “come”.
Is Greek a useful language?
If you are going to live in Greece or Cyprus, it is recommended that you learn Greek since it is their official language. However, if you are just visiting Greece for a vacation, you may not need to learn Greek because most people speak English. Nevertheless, to fully experience Greece, it can be beneficial to learn some basic words. Please note that Turkish is also an official language in Cyprus.
How are you?
I’m fine, thank you
Nice to meet you
What is your name?
Πώς σε λένε;
Pos se leneh?
My name is…
Do you speak English?
What time is it?
Τι ώρα είναι;
Ti hora ineh?
How much is this?
Cheers! (when drinking)
A beer/coffee/tea/shot, please
Μια μπύρα/έναν καφέ/ένα τσάι/ ένα σφηνάκι, παρακαλώ
Miah mpira/enan kafe/ena chai/ena sfinaki, parakalo
Όpa! (when dancing)