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Hi, everybody! Stefania here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Greek questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is “Why do some words get contracted and get an apostrophe?”
When we speak or write in Greek, some words might lose their initial or final vowel sound. In written speech, that lost vowel gets replaced by an apostrophe. This phonological phenomenon usually, but not always, happens when the vowels between two words meet. For example, με ένα → μ' ένα (me éna → m' éna), meaning "with one." Such a meeting of vowels is called a “hiatus,” or χασμωδία in Greek, which is usually avoided, when possible, by removing a vowel sound, because pronouncing contiguous vowels that are not a diphthong soun ds unappealing to Greeks most of the time.
There are 3 different phonological phenomena that cause a vowel to be replaced by an apostrophe. The first one is called “aphaeresis,” or αφαίρεση (aféresi) in Greek.
Aphaeresis is the loss of the first vowel sound of a word after another word that ends with a vowel. For example,
Πού είσαι; → Πού 'σαι; (Pú íse? → Pú 'se? "Where are you?")
εσύ είσαι → εσύ 'σαι (esí íse → esí 'se "you are")
Aphaeresis usually happens to verb forms that have their initial /e/ or /i/ vowel sound accentuated when one of the following words precedes it.
• The interrogative adverb πού (pú, "where")
• The conjunction που (pu, "that")
• Strong and weak personal pronouns that end in a vowel such as μου (mu, "me"), εσύ (esí, "you"), etc.
• The particles θα (tha, "will") and να (na, "to").
Since an accentuated syllable is lost, when speaking only, the stress moves to the previous syllable. For example,
αυτή μου είπε → αυτή μου 'πε (aftí mu ípe → aftí mu 'pe, "she told me")
Aphaeresis is optional and contracted forms are more appropriate for casual oral and written speech.
Here are some sample sentences.
Αύριο θα 'χω τα λεφτά. (Ávrio tha 'ho ta leftá.)
"Tomorrow, I'll have the money."
Θέλω να 'χω μακριά μαλλιά. (Thélo na 'ho makriá maliá.)
"I want to have long hair."
The next phenomenon we shall see is called “ecthlipsis,” or έκθλιψη (ékthlipsi) in Greek.
Ecthlipsis is the loss of the last vowel sound of a word before another word that starts with a vowel. Usually, but not always, it's the same vowel. For example,
το ωραίο → τ' ωραίο (to oréo → t' oréo, "the beautiful one")
θα ακούς → θ' ακούς (tha akús → th' akús, "you will hear")
με άφησε → μ' άφησε (me áfise → m' áfise, "he/she/it left me")
Ecthlipsis usually happens to the following words.
• The articles το, του, τα (to, tu, ta, "the")
• The particles θα (tha, "will") and να (na, "to")
• The weak personal pronouns με (me, "me"), σε (se, "you"), το (to, "it"), and τα (ta, "them")
• The adverb μέσα (mésa, "in/inside")
• The conjunction και (ke, "and") which is an exception, as it becomes κι (ki) without an apostrophe
• And the preposition για (ya, "for") as well as με (me, "with"), σε (se, "to/in/on/at"), από (apó, "from"), and παρά (pará, "despite"), which might lose their last vowel even before a word that starts with a different vowel. For example, παρά όλα → παρ' όλα (pará óla → par' óla, "despite all").
Ecthlipsis is quite common in both casual and formal speech.
Here are some sample sentences.
Θέλω μία πίτα γύρο με απ' όλα. (Thélo mía píta yíro me ap' óla.)
"I want a pita with gyros and everything in it."
Ο θόρυβος έρχεται μέσ' απ' την τουαλέτα. (O thórivos érhete més' ap' tin tualéta.)
"The noise comes from inside the toilet."
Finally, the last phonological phenomenon is called “apocope,” or αποκοπή (apokopí) in Greek.
Apocope is the loss of the last vowel sound of a word before a word that starts with a consonant (usually a /t/ sound). For example...
• κάνε το → κάν' το (káne to → kán' to, "do it"). The /t/ sound here becomes /d/ with assimilation.
• από το χωριό → απ' το χωριό (apó to horió → ap' to horió, "from the village")
• μέσα στο κουτί → μες στο κουτί (mésa sto kutí → mes sto kutí, "inside the box." Μέσα (Mésa) is an exception as the σ (s) changes to a final ς (s) without an apostrophe in order to differentiate apocope from ecthlipsis, where μέσα (mésa) becomes μέσ' (més') with an apostrophe before a word that starts with a vowel. For example, μέσ' απ' το σχολείο (més' ap' to scholío, "from inside the school").
Apocope usually happens to the preposition από (apó, "from") and to some first conjugation verbs when they are formed in the singular number of the aorist tense imperative mood, also called a “momentary imperative.”
Apocope is also quite common in both casual and formal speech.
Here are some sample sentences.
Κόψ' το και φέρ' το μου. (Kóps' to ke fér' to mu.)
"Cut it and bring it to me."
Πάρ' τον τηλέφωνο. (Pár' ton tiléfono.)
"Call him."


How was the lesson? Pretty interesting, right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
Γεια χαρά! (Ya hará!)

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