One of the first topics Greek students have to learn is the use of the polite form. It is a relatively “new” element, as it did not exist in ancient Greek, and has its origins in French. It is formed by the second plural person. E.g. «Τι κάνετε κύριε Δήμου;» (Tee kanete keerie Demou?) How are you Mr. Demou?
When do we use it?
Native speakers use formal language when addressing older people or people they don’t know well. Some people also use it when they want to keep a distance with their interlocutor.
How to ask to be addressed by our first name?
Sometimes, we are not sure whether we should use the polite form the first time we are introduced to someone. If our interlocutor uses the polite form, we use it too. However, if we want to be on first-name terms with them we can say:
«Να μιλάμε καλύτερα στον ενικό;» (Na milame kaleetera ston eneeko) which means “shall we better talk on a first-name basis?” (Στον ενικό means in singular).
We can also ask them directly to address us by our first name:
- Πού μένετε κυρία Δημητρίου; (Pou menete keeria Demetriou?) Where do you live Mrs. Demetriou?
– Λέγε με Έλλη…(Lege me Ellie). Call me Ellie.
How do we form it?
The polite form is formed by a verb on the second plural person. Honorifics must be put in the vocative case (κλητική, kleeteekee). If we address a person that we know well, our teacher or an elderly neighbor for instance, we can address them with an honorific followed by their first name:
«Καλημέρα κύριε Πέτρο!» (Kaleemera keerie Petro). Good morning Mr. Petro!
«Καλό σαββατοκύριακο κυρία Αθηνά!» (Kalo savatokeerieeko keeria Atheena). Have a nice weekend Mrs. Athena!
Some extra tips
- We never address people by their last name without using an honorific, unless we know them very well.
«Καλησπέρα κύριε Αντωνόπουλε, τι κάνετε;» (Kaleespera keerie Antonopoule ti kanete?) Good evening Mr. Antonopoule, how are you? NOT:
«Καλησπέρα Αντώνόπουλε, τι κάνετε;» Good evening Antonopoule, how are you?
«Έλα ρε Αντωνόπουλε, τι έγινες;» (Ela re Antonopoule, ti egines?) “Hey Antonopoule, where have you been?”( Note that this language is informal).
- Words like doctor(γιατρέ, giatre) or professor (καθηγητά, katheegeeta) are not followed by a surname:
«Καλό βράδυ, γιατρέ!» (Kalo vradee giatre). Have a nice evening doctor or «Καλό βράδυ, κύριε Γεωργίου!» (Kalo vradee keerie Georgiou) and NOT
«Καλό βράδυ, γιατρέ Γεωργίου!» Have a nice evening doctor Georgiou.
When is it ok not to use it?
If you visit a remote village with few elderly residents it’s acceptable to talk to them using informal language. In fact, the use of the polite form will make them feel rather uncomfortable.
The Greeks are not so strict about the use of the polite form. During conversation they can easily switch to a more casual way of speaking, as it is a way of breaking the ice and of making the communication easier.