Greek Language Blog

Passing through the Symplegades: Avoiding Some of the Most Common Mistakes in Greek Posted by on Jul 17, 2013 in Grammar, Vocabulary

In Greek mythology, the Symplegades were two rocks that crashed together every time a ship was passing between them. In spite of the different techniques used in the process of learning a foreign language, we all pass through the slamming rocks. We all make mistakes and we all get discouraged.



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Some of the most common errors in the use of Greek are the following:

§  μήπως (mipos) vs. ίσως (isos):

They both mean “perhaps”. The difference between them is that μήπως is used only in questions, and ίσως is used in responses:

§  Μήπως είδες την Ειρήνη  (mipos ides τin Irini?) – Have you seen Irini (perhaps)?

§  «Θα πάμε σινεμά;» «Ίσως.» (“Tha pame cinema?” “Isos.”) – “Will we go to movies?” “Maybe”


§  Incorrect  use of τρία (tria, three) and τέσσερα (tessera, four):  When τρία and τέσσερα are followed by a noun they must be in the same case and gender as the noun:

§  Έχω τρεις αδελφές. (Eho tris adelfes. I have three sisters).

Έχω τρεις αδελφούς. (Eho treis adelfous. I have three brothers.)

Τρεις, refers to a masculine or a feminine noun.

Έχουν τρία αυτοκίνητα. (Ehoun tria aftokinita. They have three cars.)

Τρία refers to a neuter noun.

§   Θέλω τέσσερις καφέδες. (Thelo tesseris kafedes. I want four coffees)

Έχω τέσσερις γάτες. (Eho tesseris gates. I have four cats.)

Τέσσερις, refers to a masculine or a feminine noun.

Έφαγα τέσσερα μήλα. (Efaga tessera mila. I ate four apples.)

Τέσσερα, refers to a neuter noun.


§  Accusative and vocative of the masculine nouns:

§  Πάω σινεμά με τον Πέτρο. (Pao cinema me ton Petro. I’m going to the movies with Petro) and not Πάω σινεμά με τον Πέτρος.

After the preposition με (me, with), we must use the accusative: τον Πέτρο (ton Petro) and drop the final –ς of the nominative.

§  Καλημέρα Βασίλη, τι κάνεις; (Kalimera Vassili, ti kanis? Goodmorning Vassili, how are you?) not Καλημέρα Βασίλης. The final –ς  must be omitted because we talk directly to Vassili, so we must use the vocative : Βασίλη(Vassili).


·         SubjunctiveMode:

§  ΥποτακτικήΕνεστώτα (Ipotaktiki Enestota, Present Subjunctive):

Θέλω να φάω ένα πορτοκάλι. (Thelo na fao ena portokali. I want to eat an orange): we are talking about something that we would like to do at the moment of speaking, so we use the Present Subjunctive.

§   ΥποτακτικήΑορίστου (Ipotaktiki Aoristou, Simple Past Subjunctive):

Θέλω να τρώω πορτοκάλια κάθε μέρα. (Thelo na troo portokalia In this case, the action indicated by the verb (νατρώω, na troo, to eat) is permanent. Therefore, we use the Simple Past Subjunctive. In English, the infinitive is used (to eat) instead of the Subjunctive, so the structure of the sentence is simpler.


·         Που and πως:

§  Που (pou), with no accent , is a relative pronoun and can be translated as “who, “that” or “which”:

Το κορίτσι που μένει στον τρίτο όροφο είναι φίλη μου. (To koritsi pou menei ston trito orofo ine fili mou. The girl who lives on the third floor is a friend of mine.)

§   Πως (pos) with no accent is a conjunction and it means “that”: Μου είπε πως τον λένε Νίκο. (Mou ipe pos ton lene Niko. He told me (that) his name is Niko.)

Most learners use a variety of tools such as books, audio files, videos, games and applications. Some of them give priority to mastering Greek grammar and not to the practical use of Greek.  It’s very important to use the language from the very beginning and to produce sentences even if the only thing one has been taught is «Με λένε Χ» (Me lene X, My name is X). Language is like cars, one cannot learn how to use them unless they practice. Start talking with your tutor, a Greek friend, your Greek alter ego, or your Greek grand-mother. If you are too shy to talk, start writing short sentences and ask for a feedback. If you are not interested in spelling, no problem, write in “Greeklish” (i.e. Greek in Latin characters).  

The only way to “digest” all the grammar rules you have been taught is through practice. Start producing short sentences and soon you will reach a point when you use the language automatically.

Ιn this process, one might be discouraged by the mistakes they make or by an inappropriate tutor/partner. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t lose courage and confidence. Most native Greek speakers make mistakes and some of them are not even aware of them.  Remember: Language is a treasure that belongs to everyone and not only to native speakers.



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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. Athina:

    Hello Ourania

    I love what you wrote today on your blog!! Your discussion on μήπως (mipos) vs. ίσως (isos}and Subjunctive Mode was very helpful to my review of the Modern Greek Language.

    Currently, I am working on my Modern Greek language of Attainment Certificate and I am review my Greek grammar and I am practicing my writing skills. This blog is just what I need.

    I am looking forward to many more blogs from you.


  2. Marika:

    I keep on passing through the slamming rocks of the Greek language but I don’t give up. Maybe one day I will it… Qho knows?! Thank you Ourania for the encouragement.

  3. Marika:

    I keep on passing through the slamming rocks of the Greek language but I don’t give up. Maybe one day I will master it… Who knows?! Thank you Ourania for the encouragement.
    (I had misspelled a few words…)

  4. Sion Rowley:

    Thank you, that was very useful. I have been confused about when to use τρωω and when to use φαω. That makes more sense now. ευχαριστω πολυ!

    • Ourania:

      @Sion Rowley Παρακαλώ, I’m glad the post helped 🙂