Lesson 3: Greek greetings and a grain of grammar

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Grammar

First, I’m afraid, a bit of grammar. Learning a little bit now will make things much quicker in the long run.

Cases

Greek has a case system. This means that nouns (words that name things) change their form depending on the job they are doing in the sentence. The words only change at the ends, and so they are still easily recognisable.

The two cases we need now are the nominative and the accusative. The nominative (nom. for short) is used for the noun doing the action in an ordinary sentence, also called the ‘subject’, while the accusative (acc.) is used for the thing or person acted on, the ‘object’. So in ‘The man saw the dog’, ‘man’ is nominative, ‘dog’ accusative.

Quite often the nominative and accusative forms of a word will happen to be the same.

Genders

Greek also has a system of genders: nouns can be masculine, feminine or neuter. In principle you have to learn the gender of each noun, but there are a few big groups that you can distinguish by the endings of their nominative forms. For example:

Ending Gender Example (nom.) Example (acc.) Meaning
ος Masculine δρο'μος δρο'μο road (‘hippodrome’=‘horse road’, i.e. a course for horses to run round on)
η Feminine ο'ρεξη ο'ρεξη appetite (‘anorexic’=‘without appetite’)
α Feminine με'ρα με'ρα day (‘ephemeral’=‘for the day’)
ο Neuter φαρμακει'ο φαρμακει'ο chemist (‘pharmacist’)
ι Neuter ταξι'δι ταξι'δι journey (from the same origin as ‘taxi’)
υ Neuter βρα'δυ βρα'δυ evening

There are plenty of exceptions to the table above, but most are rare words. Only the first row is significantly misleading: there is a considerable number of common words ending in ος that are feminine and neuter.

Greetings

Greek has an enormous range of greetings you can use. They fall into two classes: ‘nice wishes’ and ‘health’.

Nice wishes

The formula here is to think of a noun, put it in the accusative, and prefix it by the right form of καλο'ς (nice: ‘calligraphy’ is ‘nice writing’). The form of καλο'ς depends on the gender of the noun. For masculine and neuter, use καλο'; for feminine, use καλη'. Hence:

Noun Meaning Greeting Use
με'ρα day (see above) καλη' με'ρα, καλημε'ρα Meeting someone, starting a ’phone converstation, entering a shop, as long as it’s not too late in the day
εσπε'ρα evening (‘vespers’ are in the evening) καλησπε'ρα Meeting someone, starting a ’phone converstation, entering a shop, in the evening
βρα'δυ evening καλο' βρα'δυ Parting company in the evening
νυ'χτα night καλη' νυ'χτα Parting company at night
βδομα'δα week (a ‘hebdomad’ is a group of seven) καλη' βδομα'δα Meeting someone on a Monday, especially in business
μη'νας month καλο' μη'να Meeting someone on the first of the month, especially in business
χρονια' year (a ‘chronicle’ logs events over years) καλη' χρονια' As ‘happy new year’
ο'ρεξη appetite (see above) καλη' ο'ρεξη To someone starting a meal
ταξι'δι journey (see above) καλο' ταξι'δι To anyone starting a journey
δρο'μος road (see above) καλο' δρο'μο To anyone starting a journey by road, especially the driver

As you can imagine, if the first of the month falls on a Monday, business tends to slow down slightly as every ’phone call starts with the string of greetings καλημε'ρα, καλη' βδομα'δα, καλο' μη'να.

Why the accusative? Presumably because these greetings are short for ‘I wish to you a nice day’ etc., making ‘day’ the object of ‘wish’.

Health greetings

The Greek for ‘health’ is υγει'α (as seen in ‘hygeine’), which gets shortened to γεια. This word forms the basis of:

Greeting Meaning Use
γεια σου health to you As general hello or goodbye to someone young or a good friend
γεια σας health to you As general hello or goodbye to someone older or a stranger, or to a group
στη γεια σου to your health As ‘cheers’ (when drinking) to someone young or a good friend
στη γεια σας to your health As ‘cheers’ to someone older or a stranger, or to a group
στη γεια μας to our health As ‘cheers’ among a group

In Lesson 4, we’ll see how easy it is to learn some vocabulary.


This page most recently updated Mon 16 Jan 11:10:10 GMT 2017
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