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The Most Common Mistakes in Learning Greek

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We all make mistakes. That’s a fact. 

When it comes to learning a new language, it’s almost certain that you’ll make numerous mistakes. And mistakes on top of those mistakes. And a few more.

But you’ll learn. It’s all part of the learning process, right?

In this article, we’ll go over the most common mistakes Greek language-learners make. Learn everything you need to know early on, so that you can avoid these mistakes in Greek and sound more like a native speaker.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Greek Table of Contents
  1. Greek Pronunciation Mistakes
  2. Greek Vocabulary Mistakes
  3. Greek Grammar Mistakes
  4. Other Greek Mistakes
  5. The Biggest Mistake
  6. Conclusion

1. Greek Pronunciation Mistakes

A Woman Shutting Her Mouth with Both Hands

The most common mistake in Greek pronunciation is stressing words incorrectly. As a student, you should pay attention to the accent marks, because they’ll help you pronounce Greek words correctly.

At GreekPod101.com, we pay close attention to pronunciation. It’s the key to speaking and sounding like a Greek, after all. Therefore, alongside each and every Greek word in our learning material, we also offer its romanization, along with accent marks.

Another common pronunciation mistake Greek-learners make involves certain consonants. 

For example, English-speaking learners tend to pronounce the consonants τ and π strangely, whereas French-speaking learners struggle to pronounce the consonant ρ. Since our mother tongue determines our pronunciation capabilities, it makes sense that some difficulties may arise. There’s nothing you can’t overcome with practice, though!

Here’s another typical pronunciation mistake: The problem of digraphs. 

Sounds pretty serious, right? Well, it isn’t, as long as you pay attention to the following guidelines.

First and foremost, you’re most likely wondering: “What are digraphs?”

They’re a pair of vowels that are pronounced as one distinct sound. Here, we’ve gathered some of the most common Greek digraphs for you, including examples:

1.1 “Οι” / “οι”

Sounds like: “i” as in the word “info”
Often mistaken as: “o-i”

Example

Greek: Η οικονομία της Ελλάδας πέρασε κρίση.
Romanization: I ikonomía tis Eládas pérase krísi.
Translation: “The economy of Greece has gone through a crisis.”

1.2 “Ει” / “ει”

Sounds like: “i” as in the word “info”
Often mistaken as: “e-i”

Example

Greek: Η παγκόσμια ειρήνη είναι πολύ σημαντική.
Romanization: I pangózmia iríni íne polí simandikí.
Translation: “Worldwide peace is very important.”

1.3 “Αι” / “αι”

Sounds like: “e” as in the word “error”
Often mistaken as: “a-i”

Example

Greek: Οι άνθρωποι έχουν πέντε αισθήσεις.
Romanization:I ánthropi éhun pénde esthísis.
Translation: “Humans have five senses.”

A Woman Holding Her Head with Her Hand in Despair

1.4 “Ευ” / “ευ”

Sounds like: “ev” as in the word “everything” OR “ef” as in the word “effect”
Often mistaken as: “e-i”

Examples

Greek: Σε ευχαριστώ πολύ!
Romanization: Se efharistó polí.
Translation: “Thank you very much.”

Greek: Ο υπάλληλος ήταν πολύ ευγενικός.
Romanization: O ipálilos ítan polí evyenikós.
Translation: “The (male) employee was very polite.”

So, right now, you must be wondering: “How can I tell when this digraph should sound like ‘ev’ or ‘ef’?”

Luckily, there’s a certain rule: 

  • It’s pronounced as “ev” when the next syllable begins with a vowel sound or a voiced consonant sound: β, γ, δ, ζ, λ, μ, ν, ρ, τζ, μπ, ντ, γγ, and γκ.
  • It’s pronounced as “ef” when the next syllable begins with the consonants ξ (x) and ψ (ps), an unvoiced consonant sound (κ, π, τ, χ, φ, θ, σ, and τσ) or when the combination is at the end of a word or by itself (ex. ευ αγωνίζεσθαι (ef agonízesthai), meaning “fair play”).

At first, you should think about this rule every time you encounter this digraph. However, with practice, you’ll be able to recognize how it should sound in each word.

1.5 “Αυ” / “αυ”

Sounds like: “av” as in the word “average” OR “af” as in the word “after”
Often mistaken as “a-i”

Examples

Greek: Αυτός είναι ο δάσκαλός μου.
Romanization: Aftós íne o dáskalós mu.
Translation: “This is my (male) teacher.”

Greek: Θέλεις να πάμε για καφέ αύριο;
Romanization: Thélis na páme ya kafé ávrio?
Translation: “Do you want to go for a coffee tomorrow?”

Similarly to the last digraph, there’s a rule for deciding whether it should sound like “af” or “av.”

  • It’s pronounced as “av” when the next syllable begins with a vowel sound or a voiced consonant sound: β, γ, δ, ζ, λ, μ, ν, ρ, τζ, μπ, ντ, γγ, and γκ.
  • It’s pronounced as “af” when the next syllable begins with the consonants ξ (x) and ψ (ps), an unvoiced consonant sound (κ, π, τ, χ, φ, θ, σ, and τσ), or when the combination is at the end of a word (ex. ταυ, which is the letter “t” in Greek).

2. Greek Vocabulary Mistakes

We could say that the most common vocabulary mistake in Greek is the one demonstrated below.

Greek: Αυτός είναι Έλληνας.

Romanization: Aftós íne Élinas.

Translation: “He is Greek.”
Greek: Αυτή είναι Ελληνίδα.

Romanization: Aftí íne Elinída.

Translation: “She is Greek.”
Greek: Μου αρέσει το ελληνικό φαγητό.

Romanization: Mu arési to elinikó fayitó.

Translation: “I like Greek food.”
Greek: Εγώ μαθαίνω ελληνικά.

Romanization: Egó mathéno eliniká.

Translation: “I learn Greek (language).”

In English, there’s one word that describes the Greek nationality, language, and anything related to Greece. But in Greek, there are different words that need to be used depending on what exactly you’re talking about.

3. Greek Grammar Mistakes

Correcting a Text with a Red Pen

3.1 The Most Common Mistakes Concerning Nouns & Adjectives

Mixing up genders

In Greek, each noun has its own gender (male-female-neuter). This affects not only nouns, but also the accompanying articles and adjectives. 

Male NounFemale NounNeutral Noun
Greek: Ο πράσινος κήπος.
Romanization: O prásinos kípos.
Translation: “The green garden.”
Greek: Η πράσινη τσάντα.
Romanization: I prásini tsánda.
Translation: “The green bag.”
Greek: Το πράσινο χορτάρι.
Romanization: To prásino hortári.
Translation: “The green grass.”

Mixing up singular & plural

In Greek, each noun is either in the singular form or in the plural. This also affects the accompanying articles and adjectives. 

SingularPlural
Greek: Το ωραίο νησί.
Romanization: To oréo nisí.
Translation: “The beautiful island.”
Greek: Τα ωραία νησιά.
Romanization: Ta oréa nisiá.
Translation: “The beautiful islands.”

Mixing up cases

Nouns in Greek get declined, so they might appear slightly different in each case. The most common source of confusion is between the nominative and accusative cases. A rule of thumb is that when the noun is the subject of the sentence, it should be in the nominative case; when it’s the object of the sentence, it should usually be in the accusative case.

NominativeAccusative
Greek: Ο τοίχος είναι άσπρος.
Romanization: O tíhos íne áspros.
Translation: “The wall is white.”
Greek: Εγώ έβαψα τον τοίχο.
Romanization: Egó évapsa ton tího.
Translation: “I painted the wall.”

3.2 The Most Common Mistakes Concerning Verbs

A Woman Wondering in Front of a Laptop

Mixing up the tenses

Verbs conjugate according to the tense. There are also some irregular verbs, which you should learn by heart.

Here are some examples of the most common irregular Greek verbs in the present and past tenses.

Simple PresentSimple Past
βλέπω (vlépo) – “I see”είδα (ída) – “I saw” 
πηγαίνω (piyéno) – “I go”πήγα (píga) – “I went”
βρίσκω (vrísko) – “I find”βρήκα (vríka) – “I found”
λέω (léo) – “I tell”είπα (ípa) – “I told”
τρώω (tróo) – “I eat”έφαγα (éfaga) – “I ate”
πίνω (píno) – “I drink”ήπια (ípia) – “I drank”

Luckily, the Greek tenses are quite similar to the English ones. Therefore, English-speakers won’t find it difficult to decide which tense to use in each situation.

Mixing up the grammatical mood

Greek verbs also conjugate according to the grammatical mood. Here’s a useful guide on how to select the proper mood for each verb:

Indicative mood: This mood indicates that the action or event is true or really happened (i.e. an objective fact).

Greek: Ο μαθητής πηγαίνει στο σχολείο.
Romanization: O mathitís piyéni sto sholío.
Translation: “The student goes to school.”

Subjunctive mood: This mood presents the action or event as something wanted or expected (but isn’t actually happening / didn’t happen). 

Greek: Ο μαθητής πρέπει να πηγαίνει στο σχολείο.
Romanization: O mathitís prépi na piyéni sto sholío.
Translation: “The student should go to school.”

Imperative mood: This mood may express a command (order), request, or desire.

Greek: Πήγαινε στο σχολείο!
Romanization: Píyene sto sholío!
Translation: “Go to school!”

The participle: This is the uninflected form that has an adverbial function, and it may indicate time, manner, cause, condition, etc.

Greek: Πηγαίνοντας στο σχολείο βρήκα ένα στιλό στον δρόμο.
Romanization: Piyénondas sto sholío vríka éna stiló ston drómo.
Translation: “While going to school, I found a pen on the street.”

The infinitive: This is an uninflected form. It’s used for the formation of the perfective tenses: present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect.

Greek: Αύριο ο μαθητής θα πάει στο σχολείο.
Romanization: Ávrio o mathitís tha pái sto scholío.
Translation: “Tomorrow, the student will go to school.”

Mixing up the voice

In Greek, there are two major voices: the active voice and the passive voice. A rule of thumb for determining whether a verb is in the active or passive voice is demonstrated below.

Verbs in the active voice typically end in . Verbs in the passive voice most commonly end in -μαι in the first person. 

Active VoicePassive Voice
Greek: Ο φούρνος ψήνει το παστίτσιο.
Romanization: O fúrnos psíni to pastítsio.
Translation: “The oven bakes the pastitsio.”
Greek: To παστίτσιο ψήνεται από τον φούρνο.
Romanization: Τo pastítsio psínete apó ton fúrno.
Translation: “The pastitsio is baked by the oven.”

Mixing up the persons

Verbs in Greek also conjugate according to the person they refer to, that is, the person(s) who performs the action. 

4. Other Greek Mistakes

In Greek, you use the second person plural—εσείς (esís), meaning “you”—to speak politely and formally with someone. This is usually a person who is superior to you or who you don’t know well. All components of the sentence should agree with the pronoun you use.

A Man Greeting a Woman in a Business Environment
Informal QuestionFormal Question
Greek: Τι κάνεις; Είσαι καλά;
Romanization: Ti kánis? Íse kalá?
Translation: “How are you? Are you well?”
Greek: Τι κάνετε; Είστε καλά;
Romanization: Ti kánete? Íste kalá?
Translation: “How are you? Are you well?”

5. The Biggest Mistake

Sit back and prepare yourself, because we’re about to reveal the biggest mistake a Greek-learner can make: 

Giving Up

Yes, there it is. 

The biggest mistake is simply giving up. 

Greek, especially its grammar, might seem pretty complicated through the eyes of a novice learner. Take a deep breath and just keep practicing!

Here are some tips to help you study Greek in a fun way:


6. Conclusion

Now that you’ve browsed through the most common Greek language mistakes, what mistakes do you usually make when studying Greek?

Let us know in the comments!

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