June 30, 2010 | Greek

Funny Things About Greek

Some very small Greek words cause me trouble way out of proportion to their size.

In each language I’ve studied as part of this project, there have been certain words or expressions that just don’t sound to me as though they mean what they mean. As a result, I find them difficult to remember.

Me Studying Greek at Café Margot; I Need a Haircut, and Maybe Less Coffee

Me Studying Greek at Café Margot; I Need a Haircut, and Maybe Less Coffee

For example, in Greek the word for “or” is ή, pronounced ee, just like the Spanish word for “and”: y. Saying “or” when you really mean “and” makes a rather significant difference, as illustrated by the gap in meaning between “Would you like to marry me and live happily ever after?” and “Would you like to marry me or live happily ever after?”

The Greek word for “and” is και, which is pronounced like the Spanish word for “that”: que. I usually get this right in my translation exercises, but it just feels so wrong.

And the Greek word for “yes” is ναί, pronounced nay, which means that “yes” in Greek sounds just like “no” in English, while simultaneously and confusingly looking as though it should be pronounced vay.

After nearly a month, I still often misunderstand ναί (yes) as “no.” This mistake turns sentences into the opposite of what they’re supposed to mean and causes great confusion for everyone involved, namely me.

Also: articles show up in funny (from my point of view) places in Greek. For example, in a Pimsleur lesson today, I was working on the sentence “Peter lives in Patras.” Except in Greek, you put articles in front of both the person’s name and the place name.

So the sentence becomes: “The Peter lives in the Patras.”

It sounds funny, but I admit I kind of like it. The articles make things sound official.

Comments (1)

Katherine • Posted on Wed, July 07, 2010 - 1:47 pm EST

Nai becomes even more confusing if you know languages such as Dutch or Urdu, where Nai is actually the word for no!  I always thought that the simplest words that confuse you the most, since they are so easy to remember you think about them less. It’s easy to let out a oui or da when you should say si. 

As for articles in Greek, i found that understanding articles in Arabic really helped.  The rules are similar for when you need to make a noun definite, expect you never need definite adjectives in Greek like you do in Arabic, so it’s slightly less complicated.

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