Popular phrases and words you need to know before visiting

A land famous for its enchanting ancient mythology, archeology and art, its tumultuous ruins or for adventure seekers who hop to beautiful islands, pretty coastal towns, photograph through delicate white buildings draped in bougainvillea, or for foodies who love delicacies such as Moussaka, Papoutsakia, Greek lasagna or just the buzzing nightlife of revelers, Greece will rarely be on anyone’s bucket list. However, wouldn’t it be interesting to know some Greek expressions and words before visiting this “cradle of Western civilization”.


About the Greek language

One of the oldest Indo-European languages, Greek is divided into ancient and modern. Modern Greek is considered to be derived from Koine, a common dialect of Ancient Greek and later made into the official language of the Kingdom of Greece. According to one estimate, more than 150,000 words of English are of Greek origin. The Greek language may be over 100,000 words, but let’s go over some basic phrases and words for now. Nevertheless, few Greek apps such as Pimsleur, Mondly, Drops, and Italki are great for learning Greek like a native speaker.

greetings of the day

Today’s greetings are especially important when traveling and the people of Greece will surely appreciate this effort on the part of the tourist to be greeted.

Hello is the most common term universally and when visiting Greece one will often come across “Yeia sou”, “Yeia sas” and “Yah”. Yah is basically “Hey” in informal contexts that can be used in closed contexts, while “Yah Soo” casually means hello. Although, if you address it formally and also to a group of people, it is “Yah Sas”. The word Yah comes from the word “Health”

The letter A is Alpha in Greek and is therefore pronounced as “AA” and not “A”.

  • Hello: “Kah-lee-meh-rah”

An important greeting of the day, Good Morning which is “Kah-lee-meh-rah” in Greek can be used until 5 p.m., in fact.

The “A” in “Kah-lee-meh-rah” is pronounced like A and not AA.

  • Good evening: “Kah-lee-speh-rah” and good night: “Kah-lee-nee-khtah”

After 5 p.m., good evening can be wished as “Kah-lee-speh-rah” and good night as “Kah-lee-nee-khtah”. Again, the pronunciation of “A” follows as “AA” in both greetings. Meanwhile, Your Leme is “See you soon” where we say goodbye and expect to see the person again.

The “A” in Ta Léme is pronounced like “AA” and the stress is on “é” in Léme. Whereas, “Adio” or “Avtio” are also other ways to say goodbye.

Related: What to expect in Greece if you visit during the summer

Basic requests, questions and good manners

Manners are still revered all over the world. As a tourist, you have to be polite when talking to the natives. Here are some basic manners to consider in conversation.

  • (Me si-horite, Syngnómi): Excuse me

“Excuse Me” is the widely used term for finding directions to a new place as a tourist. Wandering the streets of Greece, if you ever get lost, you can ask for help from the natives with this term, “Me synchoreíte, Syngnómi”. Simply means asking for forgiveness, either term can be used.

When pronouncing, Syngnómi, the stress is on “ó” whereas “ME SI-HORITE” is pronounced like “MEH” and in “SI-HORITE”, “ei” is pronounced like “E”.

  • (Para-kah-LO): Please / You are welcome

A humble request to ask for directions, order food, ask for help or a suggestion, please is an essential term in conversation. Don’t forget to use “Para-kah-LO” as your next humble request in Greece. So if you order in a restaurant it might look like “Spanakopita, Parakalo”.

The “A” is pronounced as “AA” all the time in the word, Par-kah-LO.

Gratitude is always a virtue that one must possess and what better than simply saying “Thank you” to practice it at a basic level. So if you seek and find help in Greece, don’t forget to say Echaristo

The “R” sound in Greek usually has a rolling “R” sound which may take some practice.

  • HA-ree-ka po-LEE: Nice to meet you.

A greeting to end the conversation on a polite note is the term “Nice to meet you”. In Greek we say HA-ree-ka po-LEE where “HA” is pronounced like “HAA” and the emphasis is on LEE at the end.

Related: Top-Rated Restaurants to Try in Greece

“How are you” is a universal phrase to start any conversation, so if you are in Greece, POS E-SE is the casual way to ask about someone while POS E-STE is the formal way to ask questions about someone. And, if you want to ask someone just like, AND YOU? The translation is “E SEES” in the formal version and “E SEE” in the informal version. Here, E is pronounced like “EEY” and not just “E”.

The pronunciation pauses correspond exactly to the way the word is spelled.

  • Ka-la e-me ef-xa-ree-sto: I’m fine, thank you!

If a Greek native, friend, or your guardian asks, “How are you? The response, “I’m fine, thank you,” can be translated as “KA-LA E-ME EF-XA-REE-STO.” It does seem endless, right? Although it is as simple as a practice. The way the whole term is broken up and put together cohesively is exactly how it is pronounced.

The letter X is silent in “XA” and is pronounced like “AA”

  • Tee gi-ne-te: What’s up?

The slang word “What’s Up” is the most common phrase and if you ask a local Greek or a friend the same thing, it’s TEE GI-NE-TE. Although “TEE” is pronounced like Tea and “NE”, “TE” is pronounced NAY and TAY.

The Greeks are quite expressive and use hand gestures a lot to articulate themselves. So next time, if someone asks you “Do you want to travel to Greece”, your immediate response should be “NEI”. Surprisingly, “NEI” sounds “NO” in English while it’s “YES” in Greece. Meanwhile, “OHI” is “NO” in Greek

A very commonly used term in Greece is Cheers which is YAMAS. Yamas actually means “to our health”. So if you’re toasting or toasting, don’t forget to say “YAMAS”.

  • Meraki: Doing something with passion

We may have often heard this word when we put our heart and soul into something. “Meraki” is the burning passion to do everything and literally means “An essence of ourselves”. So, if you start learning the Greek language by immersing yourself in it completely, that’s “MERAKI”.

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