Greek Language Blog

Mixing the old with the new Posted by on Jun 14, 2020 in Vocabulary

 We often talk about compound words or derivatives that have an ancient Greek root. It’s time to explore them more closely. What usually happens is that an item, idea or notion is expressed with one word in Modern Greek – usually completely different to the ancient word, sometimes even meaning something very different to our ancient ancestors – but then, when it comes to compound words and derivatives, we use the ancient word to form them. That’s why we need to keep in mind some of these basic ancient words, which we are never going to use alone, but we have to be able to recognize them in compounds and derivatives. I bet that a lot of you already know some, even if you haven’t realized it.

  1. νερό (= water) : it was ύδωρ to the ancient Greeks. So, every compound word related to water uses ύδωρ as the root, and not νερό. Thus, we have:

  • υδραυλικός = plumber

  • υδραγωγείο = aqueduct

  • ύδρευση = water supply

  • υδροφόρος = aquifer

  • υδροηλεκτρικός = hydroelectric

  • υδρορροή = gutter

  • ενυδρείο = aquarium, fish tank

  • υδρόγειος = the globe

  • αφυδάτωση = dehydration

  • λειψυδρία = water scarcity, drought

  1. ψωμί (= bread)  : άρτος in ancient Greek. So, we say:

  • αρτοποιός, αρτοπώλης = baker

  • αρτοσκευάσματα = pastries

  • αρτοποιείο = bakery

  • αρτοβιομηχανία = the bakery industry

  • αρτοζαχαροπλαστείο = bakery and pastry store

  • αρτοποιήματα = bakery products

  1. ψάρι (= fish)  : ancient Greeks used to call it ιχθύς. Nowadays, we still say:

  • ιχθυοπωλείο = fish shop

  • ιχθυαγορά = fish market

  • ιχθυόσκαλα = fish market near the port

  • ιχθυοκαλλιέργεια = fish farming

  • ιχθυέλαιο = fish oil

  • ιχθυολόγος = ichthyologist

  1. σπίτι (= house)  : it was οίκος to the ancient Greeks. Many derivatives and compounds come from this word!

  • οικογένεια = family

  • οικονομία = economy

  • νοικοκυρά = housewife

  • οικολογία = ecology

  • οικοδόμος = builder

  • οικοδεσπότης = host

  • κάτοικος = resident, habitant

  • νοικιάζω = to rent

  • ενοίκιο = the rent

  • οικόπεδο = site, court

  • οικουμενικός = universal

  • αποικία = colony

  1. πόρτα (= door)  : ancient Greeks called it θύρα. Words that come from this root include:

  • παράθυρο = window

  • θυρωρός = concierge

  • θυροτηλέφωνο = intercom device

  • θυρίδα = locker

  • αθυρόστομος = vulgar, impolite

  • θυροκολλώ = post on the wall

  • θυρεός = escutcheon, coat of arms

  1. φωτιά (= fire)  :in ancient Greek, it was πυρ. Nowadays, we can hear:

  • πυρκαγιά = fire, conflagration

  • πυροσβεστική = fire department

  • πυροσβέστης = fire fighter

  • πυρασφάλεια = fire safety

  • πυροπροστασία = fire protection

  • πυρετός = fever

  • πυρίμαχος = fire proof

  • πυροσβεστήρας = fire extinguisher

  1. πλοίο, καράβι (= ship, boat)  : it was ναύς in ancient Greece. Thus, today we can say:

  • ναύτης, ναυτικός = sailor, naval

  • ναυτιλία = shipping

  • ναυάρχος = admiral

  • ναυμαχία = naval battle

  • ναυάγιο = ship wreck

  • ναυτία = motion sickness

  • ναυσιπλοῒα = navigation

  • ναυπηγείο = shipyard

  1. άλογο (= horse)  : ίππος for the ancient Greeks. So, in Modern Greek we can say:

  • Φίλιππος = Philip (it means a person who likes horses)

  • ιπποδύναμη = horsepower

  • ιπποδρομία = horse race

  • ιπποπόταμος = hippopotamus

  • ιππόκαμπος = hippocampus

  • έφιππος = rider, horseback

  • ιππικό = cavalry

  • ιππότης = knight

  1. πόλη (= city)  : although this word was used in ancient Greece exactly as it is used today, and consequently, it has given us a variety of derivatives and compound words (such as, πολιτεία = state, πολιτικός = politician, πολίτευμα = political system, πολίτης = citizen), ancient Greeks used another word as well to refer to the actual city or city center: άστυ. From this root, we get a lot of new words, too:

  • αστικός = urban

  • αστυνομία = police

  • αστυνόμος, αστυφύλακας = policeman

  • αστυφιλία = urbanization

  • προάστιο = suburb

  • το κλεινόν άστυ = Athens, the glorious city!!!

  1. καλοκαίρι (= summer)  : ancient Greeks used to call it θέρος because it was the warm and harvesting season. So, from this word, we derive:

  • θερινός = summer-time

  • θερίζω = harvest

  • παραθερίζω = be on vacation

  • θερμός = warm

  • θερμοκρασία = temperature

  • θέρετρο = resort

  • παραθεριστής = tourist



Φωτογραφία από Arhnue Tan από το Pixabay

I hope that this entry has been informative and explicatory for many vocabulary difficulties that often arise. When struggling with vocabulary, I find it useful to cluster together meaning, roots and derivatives, so as making connections and example sentences is easier and this helps a lot to remember them more easily.

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About the Author: Ourania

Ourania lives in Athens. She holds a degree in French Literature and a Master’s degree in Special Education for Children. Since 2008, she has been teaching Greek to foreigners.


  1. Simon Ellis:

    Very useful – thanks. I wonder what is the source of the modern words. Perhaps loan words from other languages.

    • Ourania:

      @Simon Ellis I’m glad you find this topic useful. All the words mentioned (νερό, ψωμί, σπίτι, πλοίο, καράβι etc) except πόρτα, which comes from Latin, derive from ancient or medieval Greek.

  2. Alexandra:

    Great post, Rania!
    Αχ, one should study ancient Greek, as well! 🙂
    As to the words mentioned, can we assume that το καλοκαίρι, summer in Modern Greek, originated from καλός καιρός, good weather?

    • Ourania:

      @Alexandra Yes, that’s correct 🙂

  3. Albert A’Hara:

    I too found this very interesting. Not knowing French, I think a collection of French words taken over by modern greek would make a good blog.

  4. Jim Gemelas:

    This was very valuable! Thank you very much! If you have any more vocabulary which comes from Ancient Greek, please share it! Are there any web sites or other resources Ourania? Thanks!