Learning Greek for Beginners – Lesson 1

  • This Knol is part of the Learning Greek for Beginners collection. (Note: This series was started in Google Knol that is now discontinued)
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Philosophy Knols of Spiros Kakos

About the Greek language

Greek is a language that is considered from many as the oldest in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. All other European languages actually descend from Greek and you can find literally thousands of words in English, French, German or Latin that have Greek roots.

For example the word “philosophy” is composed of the Greek words “philos” (Greek: “φίλος”) and “sophia” (Greek: “σοφία”), which in Greek mean “friend” and “wisdom” respectively. Thus, knowing Greek is of great importance if someone wants to understand his/her own language.

“…Our alphabet {English} came from Greece.

Our language is full of Greek words.

Our science created an international language through Greek terms.

Our Grammar and our oratory, even the punctuation

and the division in paragraphs are Greek discoveries.”

~ W. Durant

Getting started – The alphabet

The Greek alphabet should be familiar to most of you, since it is the basis for the alphabets now used in European languages. Namely, the Greek letters (with the equivalent English characters in parenthesis) are: α (a), β (b), γ (g), δ (d), ε (e), ζ (z), η (h), θ (u), ι (i), κ (k), λ (l), μ (m), ν (n), ξ (j), ο (o), π (p), ρ (r), σ (s), τ (t), υ (y), φ (f), χ (x), ψ (c), ω (v).

The pronunctiation of these letters in Greek sometime confuses people who have not spoken Greek. The only advice is that “practice makes perfect”. The way you should pronounce the alphabet letters is:

α – Alpha

β – Beta

γ – Gamma

δ – Delta

ε – Epsilon

ζ – Zeta

η – Eta

θ – Theta

ι – Iota

κ – Kappa

λ – Lambda

μ – Mu

ν – Nu

ξ – Xi

ο – Omikron

π – Pi

ρ – Ro

σ – Sigma

τ – Tau

υ – Ypsilon

φ – Phi

χ – Chi

ψ – Psi

ω – Omega

Speaking with someone who speaks Greek could be helpful. I plan to install audio-playing capabilities to this Knol so that you can hear to some proper pronunciation here. Stay tuned for updates.

Dialogue No. 1

The lessons will be carried out with the help of dialogues. I will write one dialogue at each lesson and then analyze it. Through that dialogue you will learn a small piece of Greek grammar and language syntactic rules so that after the first twenty lesson you will be able to speak easily in Greek and understand Greek when someone talks to you.

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The first dialogue takes place at a coffee shop in the morning. In Greek it goes like this:

– Καλημέρα [Kalimera]

– Καλημέρα. Πως είσαι; [Kalimera. Pos ise?]

– Είμαι καλά. Εσύ πως είσαι; [Ime kala. Esi pos ise?]

– Πρέπει να πάω στη δουλειά τώρα. [Prepei na pao sti douleia tora]

In English the same dialogue is:

– Good morning

– Good morning. How are you?

– I am fine. How are you?

– I have to go to work now.

In that dialogue, the first and most easy part if the “Καλημέρα” part. “Καλημέρα” in Greek means “Good morning”. It is the sum of two words actually: “Καλή” (= “Good” in English, pronounced “Kali”) and “Ημέρα” (= “Day” in English, pronounced “Imera”).

So Καλή + Ημέρα = Καλημέρα = Good morning! Simple?

It is important to understand that Greek is a very structured, logical and self-reliable language. Almost every word is logically decucted from more simple ones in a very consistent way.

The second important word to notice is the word “είσαι”. In Greek the equivalent to “I am” is the “Είμαι”. The following list shows how the “I am” matches the “Είμαι” words in Greek

I am                    => Είμαι

You are               => Είσαι

It is                     => Είναι

We are                => Είμαστε (plural)

You are (plural)     => Είσαστε (plural)

They are              => Είναι (plural)

Since “Πως” means “How”, asking “Πως είσαι;” means “How are you?”. And when you want to answer that you are fine you can say “Είμαι καλά”, as in “I am fine” (“Καλά” = “Fine” in this context, pronounced “Kala”). Leaning the “Είμαι” (“ειμί” in ancient Greek) is crucial to understand Greek.

The word “Πρέπει” means “I have”. So when saying “Πρέπει να …” you say “I have to…”. In our case the speaker has to go to work (= “δουλειά” in Greek, pronounced “douleia”, derived from the ancient Greek word “δουλεία” which means “slavery”), so he says “Πρέπει να πάω στη δουλειά”.

But we haven’t explained the word “πάω” yet. “Πάω” is based on “Πηγαίνω” which means “to go”. The verbs in Greek are used more or less in a similar way in English. So the various uses of the word “Go” are listed side-by-side with the uses of the word “Πηγαίνω” in the following list.

I go                => Πηγαίνω (phgaino)

You go           => Πηγαίνεις (phgaineis)

He/She goes   => Πηγαίνει (phgainei)

Go! (order)      => Πήγαινε! (phgaine)

If you want to say “I must go there” you say “Πρέπει να πάω εκεί” (pronounced “Prepei na pao ekei”).

If you want to say “I wish to go there” you say “Εύχομαι να πάω εκεί” (pronounced “Euchomai na pao ekei”).

Lesson summary

In the first lesson we came to learn very few basic things about Greek: the alphabet, the pronunciation of the Greek letters, the word “Είμαι” and a small everyday dialogue. In the next lessons I will analyze more in depth the structure of the verbs in Greek and show you more complicated examples.

> This Knol is part of the Learning Greek for Beginners collection.

> You can visit the second part at Learning Greek for Beginners Lesson 2

Comments (

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  5. Panagiotis Peteinatos

    Very good work! — Spiros Bravo! 5-stars from me…

    1. Spiros Kakos

      Untitled — Thanks!

  6. Narayana Rao

    Pronounciation in english — The first dialogue takes place at a coffee shop in the morning. In Greek it goes like this:- Καλημέρα- Καλημέρα. Πως είσαι;- Είμαι καλά. Εσύ πως είσαι;- Πρέπει να πάω στη δουλειά τώρα.You can give pronounciation in English alphabets below of the each of the above sentences.

    1. Spiros Kakos

      Untitled — You are right. I will do that probably today. Thanks!

  7. Anonymous

    Untitled — I like this lesson! when are you gonna post the next one?

    1. Spiros Kakos

      Untitled — Next lesson is published.

    2. Spiros Kakos

      Untitled — Very soon!

  8. Spiros Kakos

    Questions and Answers — Please post here any questions you have!I will gladly help you with anything you want concerning Greek!

  9. Anonymous

    Translation help? — Hi, I have a question on how to translate something to greek. I want to translate “an open mind breeds opportunity”Can you help?

    1. Spiros Kakos

      Untitled — Actually “eukairia” (ευκαιρία) in Greek means “opportunity” as well as “occassion”.

    2. Anonymous

      Untitled — When I type what you gave me into a translator it comes out “An open brain cultivates occassions.” Is there any way to translate it to say “An open mind breeds opportunities” or “An open mind cultivates opportunities?”

    3. Anonymous

      Untitled — Ok, thank you! Is this ancient or modern greek you gave me? Also, what do these translate into english as:1. Έna aneektό meealό yena’ efkereea2. ένα ανοιχτό μυαλό αναπαράγει την ευκαιρία

    4. Spiros Kakos

      Untitled — That would translate to “Το ανοιχτό μυαλό καλλιεργεί ευκαιρίες” (To anoichto myalo kalliergei eukairies). The “open mind” translates as “anoichto myalo”. The “breed” in this sentence means more “grow” than “instantly create” (or else you would use the word ‘creates’). In this context I would better translate it with “kalliergei”, which means “cultivate, grow”.

  10. P V Ariel

    Thanks Kakos — Thanks Kakos for these basic tips to learn Greek. Some years back I made an attempt to learn this wonderful language but couldn’t do it, I am sure these lessons will give a helping hand to the one who really wants to learn G. Hey Spiros, You must give a link to the following lessons at the bottom of the article. I just picked it from the Home page of knol I am saving it for my further reference and study.Thanks a lot.Rgds,Philip ARiel

    1. Spiros Kakos

      Untitled — Thanks Ariel!

  11. Mitko Nikolov

    Great job ! — I like it! Very helpful!

    1. Spiros Kakos

      Untitled — Thanks. Hopefully I will write more in the future.

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