Learn How to Say Hello and Other Phrases in Greek

Street Sign In Greek And Roman Alphabet, Downtown Athens, Greece
Street sign in Greek and Roman alphabet in downtown Athens. Getty Images/Federica Grassi

You've probably heard that in Europe, almost everyone in the tourist industry speaks at least a little English. That is certainly true for Greece and many other countries. But in most cases, Greeks will speak English more warmly—and sometimes, even more fluently—if you try greeting them in their native tongue first. Learning a few simple Greek phrases can enhance your trip in many ways. By showing an interest in the local language it could save you some money, time, and frustration in interactions during your trip. Here's some basic Greek phrases every traveler should learn.

How to Pronounce Greek Phrases

These are a few basic phrases all travelers to Greece should master, written phonetically. Accent the syllable in CAPITAL letters:

  • Kalimera (Ka-lee-ME-ra): Good morning
  • Kalispera (Ka-lee-SPER-a): Good evening
  • Yassou (Yah-SU): Hello
  • Efcharisto (Ef-caree-STO): Thank you
  • Parakalo (Par-aka-LOH): Please (also heard as "you're welcome")
  • Kathika (KA-thi-ka): I am lost

To pad your vocabulary even more, you can also learn to count to ten in Greek, which comes in handy if you are given your hotel room number in Greek.

Yassou means hello; it is a very casual greeting and is more commonly used among friends. You'll likely hear the more formal version, yassas, during your travels. Most workers in the service industry will greet guests with yassas.

Learning and Reading the Greek Alphabet

You can also find it useful to quickly learn the Greek alphabet. For many Americans, it's not too hard because the Latin alphabet gradually evolved to its current form from the Greek alphabet and most people have encountered a few Greek letters in a math or science class or by getting involved with fraternities and sororities.

The Greek alphabet has 24 letters, many of which look very different depending on if it is capitalized or lowercase. There are also 13 letter combinations that make more complex sounds such as γγ (a pair of gammas) which is pronounced like "ng"

Unlike in English, vowels and consonants have a consistent pronunciation, so once you learn the alphabet, you'll be able to read words phonetically.

 Letter  Name  Latin Letter Equivalent
 A/α alpha  a (as in star)
 B/β beta b
 Γ/γ gamma g
 Δ/δ delta d
 E/ε epsilon e (as in bet)
 Z/ζ zeta z (as in zoo)
 H/η eta  e (as in hey)
 Θ/θ theta  th
 Ι/ι iota i (as in tin)
 K/κ kappa k (in common words)/c (in proper nouns)
 Λ/λ lambda l
 M/μ mu m
 N/ν nu n
Ξ/ξ xi x
 O/o omicron o (as in cough)
 Π/π pi p
 R/ρ rho r
 Σ/σ* sigma s
 T/τ tau t
 Υ/υ upsilon u (as in put)
 Φ/ϕ phi f
 X/χ chi k
 Ψ/ψ psi ps
 Ω/ω omega o (as in show)

*when at the end of a sentence, sigma is written as "ç"

Remembering How to Say Yes and No

Answering a question in Greece can be tougher than you think if you're a native English speaker. In Greek, the word for "No" can sound similar to "Okay"—Oxi, pronounced OH-kee (as in "okey-dokey"). You may also hear it pronounced it Oh-shee or Oh-hee. Remember, if it sounds at all like "okay" it means "no way!"

On the flip side, the word for "Yes"—Neh, sounds like "no." It may help to think it sounds like "now," as in "Let's do it right now."

While these Greek phrases are fun to use, it's not recommended to try to make travel arrangements in Greek unless you are truly comfortable in the language and good at pronunciation, or there is no other alternative available, which, for the casual tourist, almost never happens in Greece.

Otherwise, you may end up with a situation like this: "Yes, honey, the taxi driver just said it's okay, he'll drive us all the way to Mount Olympus from Athens. But when I asked him to drive us over to the Acropolis, he said "Nah. Funny guy." Even if you know Oxi means "No" in Greek, and Neh means "Yes," your brain may still tell you the opposite.

More Language Resources

Practice The Greek Alphabet with Greek Road Signs

If you already know the Greek alphabet, test your reading speed by looking at road signs. If you are driving by yourself in Greece, this skill is essential. While most major road signs are repeated in English, the first ones you'll see will be in Greek. Knowing your letters can give you a few precious moments to make that necessary lane change safely.