Travelling to Greece is an experience, guaranteed to give you unique, beautiful memories of places that have no business existing outside of an artbook or a landscape artist gallery.
You will also interact with very a friendly people, the Greeks, whose whole culture revolves around hospitality and treating guests to the best they can offer. When speaking to tourists, all Greeks feel like they are a kind of ambassador for their culture and ethnic identity, and so they will do their best to make you feel welcome and happy.
Despite the Greek language being substantially different to Latin languages, complete with a different alphabet, you are likely to have no problem interacting and navigating Greece no matter where you go because Greeks tend to English language users. Several may even speak more than English. So don’t feel safe that people won’t understand you if they overhear you speaking English, or even German or French, because they most likely will!
That said, you can only stand to gain if you learn a few Greek phrases before you visit. Not only because, especially if you like to roam and explore remote parts of the countries you visit, it will pay off to know what to say to the occasional elderly person that doesn’t speak your language, but because you will cause enthusiasm and earn high praise from the Greeks.
It won’t matter how well you pronounce things, or how correctly you say them, it’s the effort that will gain you the praise and the enthusiasm. It may even be the beginning of several friendships.
So what phrases and words should you know?
How do you say in Greek? Basic Greek Phrases
- Yes = Ne (Ναι) à pronunciation is nae
That’s right, the Greek ‘yes’ sounds very much like the English ‘no’. Keep that in mind!
- No = Ohi (Όχι) à pronunciation is OHchee (the ‘ch’ makes a sound like the ‘wh’ in ‘who’)
- Excuse Me = Sygnomi (Συγγνώμη) à pronunciation is seegNOHmee
You can attract attention by saying this phrase. You can use it basically the same way we use ‘sorry’ in English, and you can also use it to apologize.
- I Don’t Understand = Den katalaveno (δεν καταλαβαίνω) à pronunciation is den (as in ‘then’) katalaVAEnoh
It’s always good practice to know how to say you don’t understand when faced with rapid, enthusiastic Greek, or any other language for that matter!
- I Don’t Speak Greek = Den milao Ellinika (δεν μιλάω Ελληνικά) à pronunciation is den (as in ‘then’) meeLAHoh elleeneeKA
Again, it’s good practice to let people know you don’t actually speak the language, in their own language! It’s going to be a great ice breaker and they will be inclined to accommodate you, even though pantomime!
- Do You Speak…? = Milate …? (μιλάτε…;) à pronunciation is meeLAHte…?
Use this phrase and add the word for the language you want.
- Can You Help Me? = Boreite na me voithisete? (μπορείτε να με βοηθήσετε;) à pronunciation is boREEte na me voeeTHEEsete?
Use this phrase to ask for assistance or help that isn’t necessarily urgent or a call for a rescue.
Greetings in Greek
- Hi – Bye = Geia Sas (Γειά σας) à pronunciation is yeeA sas
First off, you need a generic “hi / bye” which you can use for all occasions. Use “Geia Sas” when attracting someone’s attention or when entering or leaving a room. It works for everything!
- Good morning = Kalimera (Καλημέρα) à pronunciation is kaliMEra
Good morning is another word you should know. It brings smiles on the faces of everyone you tell it to! You can say “good morning” until noon (i.e. 12:00). After that, and for the next few hours, just stick to “Geia Sas” (the ‘hi/bye’ default).
- Good evening = Kalispera (Καλησπέρα) à pronunciation is kaliSPEra
Good evening is the greeting to use from about 4 in the afternoon. If you want to be super strict with its use, you can use it right after noon (i.e. 12:00).
- Good night = Kalinihta (Καληνύχτα) à pronunciation is kaliNIHta
We say good night only when we are leaving and it is at least around 9 o clock in the evening. When you say kalinihta you are signaling that you are either going to bed, returning home for the night, or assume that the other person will.
Asking Directions in Greek
- How Do I Go To … = Pos pao sto… (πώς πάω στο…) à pronunciation is as you read it
The best way to ask how to go to any place. Just add the name of the place at the end of the phrase.
- Can You Write It Down For Me? = Mou to grafete? (μου το γράφετε) à pronunciation is moo toh GRAfete?
It is good practice to ask for a local to write down the destination you wish to go to, so that you can just show it to a Greek and get directions without getting entangled in tough pronunciations. Works really well with taxi drivers, too.
- I Am Looking For … = Psahno ton … (ψάχνω τον) à pronunciation is psAHnoh ton (the ‘h’ makes a sound as in ‘here’)
Use this phrase, adding the place or person you are looking for right after. Know that you will probably make a mistake with the pronoun, as the pronouns are gendered for every noun, but it doesn’t matter. People will understand you. Bonus points if you start with ‘excuse me, I am looking for…’
Food and Drink in Greek
- Could I have…? = Boro na eho … (μπορώ να έχω) à pronunciation is bohROH na EHhoh
This is the most efficient way to ask for any food or beverage in a polite manner. In truth, you can use it to ask for anything you want. If you don’t know the word of the thing you want, just point!
- Cheers! = Geia mas! (γειά μας) à pronunciation is yeeAH mas!
This is the phrase to use when you’re raising your glasses to toast when with company at your table!
Some Essential Greek Vocabulary
Here are some Greek words to know for use with the basic phrases.
- Airport = Aerodromio (αεροδρόμιο) à pronunciation is aerohDROmeeo (the ‘d’ makes a sound as in ‘the’)
- Train Station = Stathmos Trenou (σταθμός τραίνου) à pronunciation is stahthMOSS TRAEnou
- Bus = Leoforeio (λεωφορείο) à pronunciation is leofohREEoh
- Taxi = Taxi (ταξί) à pronunciation is taXI
- Bathroom/ toilets = Toualeta (τουαλέτα) à pronunciation is tooahLETta
- Hotel = Xenodohio (ξενοδοχείο) à pronunciation is ksenohDOHheeoh (the ‘d’ makes a sound as in ‘the’)
- Water = Nero (νερό) à pronunciation is nehROH
- Food = Fagito (φαγητό) à pronunciation is fahyeeTOH
- Bill = Logariasmos (λογαριασμός) à pronunciation is logahreeasMOSS
- Drugstore/ Pharmacy = Farmakio (φαρμακείο) à pronunciation is pharmahKEEoh
- English = Agglika (Αγγλικά) à pronunciation is aggleeKAH
General Greek Phrases
- Thank you = Efharisto (ευχαριστώ) à pronunciation is efhariSTOH
Thank you is ubiquitous in every culture, and it always helps give a flair of politeness.
- You’re welcome = Parakalo (παρακαλώ) à pronunciation is parakaLOH
If anyone tells you “thank you”, this is the word to say back to them!
- How much does it cost? =Poso kanei (πόσο κάνει) à pronunciation is POHso KAnee
For any occasion where you need to know the price for something, this is the phrase to use!
- Help! = Voitheia! (βοήθεια) à pronunciation is vohEEtheea
Use this word when you need assistance in an emergency. Don’t use it if you need non-alarming help. Instead use the other phrase mentioned here, ‘can you help me?’