Verb Grammar

Or to put it another way, "Everything you really never wanted to know about verbs, but unfortunately will have to grasp to stop the Greeks sniggering up their sleeves when you speak". Sadly we learn our native language over a long period of time in a continuous lesson by having to communicate with the outside world, whereas Greek we are trying to learn in short hour long hops once a week. The net result is that, unless we can afford to jack it all in and go and live in a remote Greek village for a few years where English is not spoken, then we have to start to understand some of the grammar that we may never have got arround to understanding in our own language. I though "subjunctive" was a medical condition until I started learning another language. Thankfully it's not the complex grammar words that are needed (past-participle and perfect continuous or some such), although at times it's convienient to use the terms. Instead it's the concepts which are instinctive in our native language, but need relearning for Greek. On to it then.

Conjugation - Or "How by changing an ending you know who you're talking about"

As we hopfully already know, verbs in Greek change their ending based on the gender and number of the person or thing the verb is refering to. This is called "conjugation" and the same effect happens in english (consider "I want" compared to "he wants") but the two differences are that, firstly, in greek the conjugation is a tad more complicated, and secondly the conjugation of the verb replaces the need for a pronoun. So instead of saying "I want" in greek we just say θέλω/ΘΕΛΩ where the "I" is completely inplied by the Omega on the end of the verb. This concept should be old hat by now.

Although the conjugation in Greek is more complex than English, it does follow a few rules (well I say rules, they are more guidelines really as there are so many exceptions) and the table below shows three of the main groups of verb ending as per their associated pronoun.

Person Group 1 Group 2 Group 3
I -μαι -ΜΑΙ
You (singular/informal) -εις -ΕΙΣ -ας -ΑΣ -σαι -ΣΑΙ
He/She/It -ει -ΕΙ -αει -ΑΕΙ -ναι -ΝΑΙ
We -ουμε -ΟΥΜΕ -αμε -ΑΜΕ -μαστε -ΜΑΣΤΕ
You (plural/formal) -ετε -ΕΤΕ -ατε -ΑΤΕ -ετε -ΕΤΕ
They -ουν -ΟΥΝ -ουν -ΟΥΝ -ναι -ΝΑΙ

With these three groups of endings understood, then probably 90% of Greek verbs are accessable to you. Learn the base verb and the group it belows to and then apply the endings as you need. Below are a few good examples of verbs we have already used in their groups together with a couple thrown in that represent some of those pesky exceptions mentioned earlier (see the notes at the bottom).

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3
Want Θέλω Speak Μιλάω Be Είμαι
Live Μένω Sell Πουλάω Need Χρειάζομαι
Do or Make Κάνω Love Αγαπάω Be Pleased Χαίρομαι
Have Έχω Eat Φάω² Become³ γίνομαι
Be able to Μπορώ¹ Pass, go through Περνάω    
Know Ξέρω Be Hungry Πεινάω    
Take Παίρνω Be Thirsty Διψάω    
Work Δουλεύω Go Πάω¹    
See Βλέπω        

All this, of course, only covers the present tense and from here on, just like English, things get a little more brain stretching.

Tenses4 - Or "The Ghost of Christmas Pluperfect-Subjunctive"

Understandably, we think of verb tenses in terms of past, present and future, but these terms only really touch the surface of what verb tenses are really about. The tense of a verb is a description of the context the verb is used in, i.e. how it is used. For instance I will read a book and I will be reading a book are both describing reading happening in the future, but the verbs have different tenses; the simple furture "I will read" and the continuous future "I will be reading" or to put it another way, the first is a one time event and the verb is simply being used to describe what you are going to do, and the second is something that will be happening over a period of time and describes the circumstance you will be in, usually what you will be doing when something else happens. The is also true for events in the past and present: "I read/I was reading", "I read/I am reading"

Additionally the boundries of time and tense break down further if you consider "I will have read". Now we are describing an event that in the future will have been in the past, but hasn't happened yet! Or even, "I will have been reading" so whatever is going to happen will happen after the period of time that you were reading which isn't the time period you are currently in.....anyway, you get the idea?

Now extend this to cover events that either actually do happen, to ones that are possible or imagined: I read a book or If I were to read a book or Can I read a book.

Scrooge would have had a few more restless nights if there had been a ghost for each of the possible tenses we find in language. All these different circumstances are possibly different tenses for the verb and can mean in Greek different endings, beginnings, or even totally different spellings altogether.

Before I scare you off completely, lets settle for just trying to learn a few of the more commonly used tenses rather then the lot for now. For refrance however, lets just take a peek at the different tenses used in Greek with there English equivalents to get an idea of how things work. I've picked on 2 different verbs to show one that alters in a fairly regular way, and another that will make you want to give up straight away.

Tense To Run ΤΡΕΧΩ To See ΒΛΕΠΩ
Present I run, I am running τρέχω I see, I am seeing βλέπω
Present Subjunctive not used in english5 να τρέχω not used in english να βλέπω
Continuous Imperative keep running τρέχα keep seeing βλέπε
Present Participle running τρέχοντας seeing βλέποντας
Continuous Past I was running, I used to run έτρεχα I was seeing, I used to see έβλεπα
Continuous Future I will be running θα τρέχω I will be seeing θα βλέπω
Simple Future I will run θα τρέξω I will see θα δω
Simple Past I ran έτρεξα I saw είδα
Past Subjunctive not used in english5 να τρέξω not used in english να δω
Simple Imperative run τρέξε see δες
Simple Infinitive to run τρέξει to see δει
Present Perfect I have run έχω τρέξει I have seen έχω δει
Perfect Subjunctive not used in english5 να έχω τρέξει not used in english να έχω δει
Past Perfect I had run είχα τρέξει I had seen είχα δει
Future Perfect I will have run θα έχω τρέξει I will have seen θα έχω δει

NB The names for the tenses above are taken from the book "600 Modern Greek Verbs" by Carmen Capri-Karka and are not always used in other texts, so best to learn the usage rather than the terminolgy.

For our purposes lets concentrate on just the five highlighted tenses from the table for which conveniently the Simple Future and the Past Subjunctive can be grouped as the verb itself is the same in both, the difference being the use of either θα/ΘΑ or να/ΝΑ depending on usage.

These are the forms of the verbs given in the verb tables from last years notes (verbs and tenses) although there are a few exceptions such as έχω/ΕΧΩ which does not have "simple" versions but only continuous ones i.e. "I will be" is the future and is already indicating a continuous state; you don't have "I will be being". Similarly the Subjunctive in this case is the Present rather than the Past. However unless you really want to get into the full range of verb tenses, don't worry to much about these exceptions. Rather just know that for the most part those verb tables are talking about single instance verbs; I ran, I run, I will run rather than I was running, I am running, I will be running.

The use the the past, present and future should be fairly obvious, but the Subjuctive perhaps needs a few examples to illustrate.


The subjunctive is used in Greek to indicate the possiblility or the imagining of an action rather than has, is or will be happening. It can be used in conjunction with modal verbs such as "Can" "Be About To" and "Must" or on it's own to indicate "Shall" or "Let". This is by no means a strict definition and the particliple να/ΝΑ can be used in a whole host of ways that can fill whole chapters or a text book. But for now here's a few examples of the subjunctive (or something very likeit) in use:


Lowercase Uppercase
Shall we take a bottle of wine? να πάρουμε ένα μπουκάλι κρασί; ΝΑ ΠΑΡΟΥΜΕ ΕΝΑ ΜΠΟΥΚΑΛΙ ΚΡΑΣΙ;
Shall we drink some wine? να πιούμε λίγο κρασί; ΝΑ ΠΙΟΥΜΕ ΛΙΓΟ ΚΡΑΣΙ;
Shall we pay να πληρώσουμε ΝΑ ΠΛΗΡΩΣΟΥΜΕ
Can we pay μπορώ6 να πληρώσουμε ΜΠΟΡΩ6 ΝΑ ΠΛΗΡΩΣΟΥΜΕ
I must pay πρέπει6 να πληρώσουμε ΠΡΕΠΕΙ6 ΝΑ ΠΛΗΡΩΣΟΥΜΕ
Let's go?/shall we go? να πάμε ΝΑ ΠΑΜΕ
I am about to drink the wine πρόκειται6 να πιώ το κρασί ΠΡΟΚΕΙΤΑΙ ΝΑ ΠΙΩ ΤΟ ΚΡΑΣΙ
Could you tell me? μπορείτε να μου πείτε; ΜΠΟΡΕΙΤΕ ΝΑ ΜΟΥ ΠΕΙΤΕ;
  1. This verb is irregular in the 2nd person plural ending in -είτε/-ΕΙΤΕ rather than -ετε/-ΕΤΕ, so You Can becomes μπορείτε/ΜΠΟΡΕΙΤΕ
  2. These verbs are irregular in the 3rd person plural ending in -αν/-ΑΝ rather than -ουν/-ΟΥΝ, so They Eat becomes φαν/ΦΑΝ
  3. Some phrases that use this verb in greek that don't literally translate into English but are quite useful are:
    δεν γίνεται/ΔΕΝ ΓΙΝΕΤΑΙ - no chance! (it's not becoming, i.e. it's not going to happen)
    τι γίνεται;/ΤΙ ΓΙΝΕΤΑΙ; - how are you? (what's becoming? in the present tense) or
    τι έγινε;/ΤΙ Ε ΓΙΝΕ; - how are you? (what's become? in the past tense)
  4. I use the word Tense fairly loosely as in real "grammar speak" there are all sorts of words like tense, aspect, voice and mood that all effect the outcome of the final verb form used. However I do not think it is particularly useful at this stage to go into that much detail, especially there are a number of inconsistancies in the way Greek handles these concepts that could confuse more than help.
  5. Although the table lists these subjunctive tenses as "not used in english" that does not mean that the concepts spoken in the Greek cannot be translated. More that English doesn't used verb tense to construct these concepts. For example "Should I go?" is construction with the present tense (I go) with a prefix of a modal verb (Should) to form a query of your obligation to go or not. This concept of a possible action in greek is covered by a subjunctive tense, and in this particular case the past subjunctive (just to add to confusion, as even I can't work out what this has to do with the past), which produces simply να πάω;/ΝΑ ΠΑΩ;
  6. A perculiarity in Greek is that "Can" (μπορώ/ΜΠΟΡΩ) is conjugated in the same way as the verb it supports so "can I write" is μπορώ να γράψω/ΜΠΟΡΩ ΝΑ ΓΡΑΨΩ and "can you write" is μπορείς να γράψεις/ΜΠΟΡΕΙΣ ΝΑ ΓΡΑΨΕΙΣ, whereas "must" (πρέπει/ΠΡΕΠΕΙ) always takes the 3rd person singular, so "I must write" is πρέπει να γράψω/ΠΡΕΠΕΙ ΝΑ ΓΡΑΨΩ, and "you must write" is πρέπει να γράψεις/ΠΡΕΠΕΙ ΝΑ ΓΡΑΨΕΙΣ. The verb "to be about to", πρόκειται/ΠΡΟΚΕΙΤΑΙ is another example of an impersonal verb.