Greek is one of the oldest attested Indo-European languages, known from 1400 BC in inscriptions in a syllabary of Minoan origin. The present alphabet was introduced by a Phoenician called Qadmu (Καδμος) about 800 BC, and has been in use, with a few letters added and removed, continuously since then. The 24-letter alphabet used in Classical Greek is the same one used today. Greek is the official language of both Greece and Cyprus, but is only spoken in the south of the latter.
Many Greek words have been borrowed into other languages, so you will find a lot of these words familiar, such as τραυμα (trauma, "injury") and σοφία (sofia "wisdom, knowledge"). Originally they were borrowed into Latin, which became the Romance languages. The changes Greek words underwent in Latin are different from those they underwent in Greek. For instance, in a rare case of someone actually returning a word he borrowed, κινημα (kinema, motion) was borrowed into Latin as cinema, which in French acquired the meaning "movie", and was returned to Greek as σινεμα (sinema).
Greek has changed less in the last two thousand years than English has in the last five hundred. It still has three genders, five cases, and movable ν. Although the dative dropped out of use in Greek before the dative merged with the accusative in English, one can still form the dative of μπαγλαμας (a stringed instrument smaller than the μπουζουκι), even though it belongs to a new declension. So if you know some Attic or Koine Greek and pronounce it as Modern Greek, though you will sound archaic, you will probably be understood.
Letters and Pronunciation
Following are the uppercase and lowercase versions of each letter, followed by its name in English (Latin) and Greek. (You can also see how the transliteration works)
Α/α alpha (άλφα)
as in pat
Ε/ε epsilon (έψιλον)
as in pet
Η/η eeta (ήτα)
as in reed
Ι/ι iota (ιώτα)
as in reed, though when followed by a vowel it can often be pronounced like y - example: its very name, it's either said as iota or yota.
Ο/ο omicron (όμικρον)
as in pot
Υ/υ eepsilon (ύψιλον)
as in reed
Ω/ω omega (ωμέγα)
as in pot
as in pet; If you want to pronounce AI as in British English "icon" use the ϊ; the same rule applies to all other dipthongs with the I letter.
as in wheat
as in wheat
as in wheat
as in pool
For the last two diphthongs: when followed by a voiceless consonant or a vowel or nothing (end of the word), the upsilon is pronounced as f resulting to 'af' and 'ef'; though, when followed by a voiced consonant the f is voiced as well making it a v.. so we have 'av' and 'ev'. (example: 'aura' and 'tau' in Greek are pronounced as 'avra' and 'taf'.
Consonants and such Clusters
Β/β veeta (βήτα)
Γ/γ gamma (γάμμα)
a voiced version of chi, as w in woman, but stronger. Before epsilon (γε) and iota (γι), as in yet and yiddish. Also see consonant clusters.
Δ/δ thelta (δέλτα)
as in those / Spanish soft d as in "nido" / Norse Ð/ð
Ζ/ζ zeeta (ζήτα)
as in zone
Θ/θ theeta (θήτα)
th as in thorn / Norse Þ/þ
Κ/κ kappa (κάππα)
as in kinetic
Λ/λ lamtha (λάμδα)
Μ/μ mee (μι)
Ν/ν nee (νι)
Ξ/ξ ksee (ξι)
X/x as in ax
Π/π pee (πι)
P/p as in ape
Ρ/ρ rho (ρο)
Σ/σ/ς sigma (σίγμα)
S/s as in some. Before voiced consonants it gets voiced to z
Τ/τ taf (ταυ)
Φ/φ fee (φι)
Χ/χ hee (χι)
Scottish ch [loch] / like an H/h but with the tongue touching the palate
Ψ/ψ psi (ψι)
as in lips
SPECIAL CONSONANT CLUSTERS:
as in gong
as in gong
n+hee / like ngh in Buckingham: Μπάκιγχαμ
as in bumble / B/b. At the beginning of the word is read just as b. Inside the word is pronounced like mb
as in dander / D/d. At the beginning of the word is read just as d. Inside the word is pronounced like nd
All the above 5 diphthongs can be nasalized more or less depending to the speaker.
Any other consonant combination is pronounced like their English counterparts.
Just remember which is the proper letter in English!
Notes on Sounds, Accents etc.
The accent (similar in usage as in Spanish), if written, is placed on the vowel of the tonic syllable, or onto the second vowel if there's a diphthong. If there's an accent at the first vowel of a diphthong, or a diaeresis on the second, then it isn't an actual diphthong and the two vowels are pronunced separately. The former occasion is the most common, but since words written in capital letters never get accents, the diaeresis is the only way to note the broken diphthong at all-caps phrases - English such example: naïve. (diairesis = two dots on top of iota or upsilon, Ϊ/ϊ - Ϋ/ϋ)
All vowels have the same short length. So yes, there are 2 ways to write 'e', 6 to write 'i' and 2 letters to write 'o'!
Diphthongs 'γγ' and 'γχ' are never found at the start of a word. Vowel diphthong 'υι' is very rare, virtually only in a couple words.
Greek language lacks a 'sh' sound. Consequently there are only simple unaspirated s, z, ts, j, x 's (no shame, pleasure, luxurious, chin etc.). Also, "ς" is the form of Sigma used only when it is the last letter of a word. Graphically it looks like English s.
The capital letters are more or less the same with the ones of the English alphabet. Although the small letters seem entirely different (and some of them are indeed) at people's handwriting they can be extremely close to English.
Note also that Greek punctuation differs a little: The Greek question mark (ερωτηματικό) is just like the Latin semi-colon ; . While the Greek semi-colon (άνω τελεία) is like the full stop "flying" just above the line •.
Greek people know they have a difficult language (for foreigners) and don't expect any tourist to know more than a couple words. And even while they think it's easy phonetically, they understand the problems foreigners have pronouncing it. You can say gamma as a hard 'g', chi as 'h', and rho as an unrolled English 'r', you can also say "au" or "eu" instead of "av" and "ev" and you'll be totally understood. People in no way expect you to be proficient in any aspect of Greek, so by studying a bit before visiting you can really impress people and win their hearts! Of course, it will require serious effort and dedication to learn to speak Greek fluently, as Greek grammar is admittedly more complex than it is in most other languages (much more demanding than German, for example, which is a language with relatively complex grammar). But still, you can master relatively easily the fundaments of communication and get your meaning across. And even if you don't, don't despair: almost all Greeks (but the oldest) can understand and speak English.
λιγότερος/πιο λίγος/λιγότερη/πιο λίγη/λιγότερο/πιο λίγο (lee-GHO-teh-rohs / lee-GHO-teh-ree / lee-GHO-teh-roh)
περισσότερος/πιο πολύς/περισσότερη/πιο πολλή/περισσότερο/πιο πολύ (peh-ree-SSOH-teh-rohs / peh-ree-SSOH-teh-ree / peh-ree-SSOH-teh-ro)
one o'clock AM
μία η ώρα το πρωί(...)
two o'clock AM
δύο η ώρα το πρωί(...)
το μεσημέρι (toh mess-ee-MEHR-ee)
one o'clock PM
μία η ώρα το απόγευμα(...)
two o'clock PM
δύο η ώρα το απόγευμα(...)
τα μεσάνυχτα (tah meh-SAH-neekh-tah)
μεσημέρι (12.00 : δώδεκα το μεσημέρι, δώδεκα το βράδυ/τα μεσάνυχτα)
_____ λεπτό/λεπτά (lep-TOH/TAH)
_____ ώρα/ώρες (OH-rah/res)
_____ μέρα/μέρες (MEH-rah/res)
_____ εβδομάδα/δες (ev-dhoh-MAH-dhah/dhes)
_____ μήνας/μήνες (MEEN / MEE-nes)
αυτή την εβδομάδα (...)
την προηγούμενη εβδομάδα (...)
την επόμενη εβδομάδα (...)
Writing Time and Date
The date in greek is written in the form of DD/MM/YY. For example Christmas Day of 2009 is written 25.12.09 or 25-12-09 or 25/12/09. Having said that, 9/11 in greek means the 9th day of November.
Time is written and said either in twelve hour clock form in everyday speech or in twenty-four hour clock especially in timetables. AM is πμ (π(ρο) μ(μεσημβρίας)) and PM is μμ (μ(ετά) μ(εσημβρίας))
Greeks prefer all-Greek words to mixed Greek-and-Latin words. "Meter", "liter", and "gram" being Greek, they don't use Latin prefixes like "milli" with them. Instead they use the following:
Μικρο (micro) and νανο (nano), being greek words, are used the same
The word λεπτο means both a euro cent and a minute of time. A second is δευτερολεπτο, δευτερο meaning second (the ordinal).
Greeks count with kilograms and rarely with liters (liters usually only for bottled water, oil and gasoline). They count distances on meters and kilometers (1 mile being 1,609 meters). Also they don't use inches but meters and centimeters (1 inche 2,54 centimeters)
or μέλαν/μέλασα/μέλαν [archaic] (MEH-lan)
or λευκός (leh-FKOS)
or φαιός [archaic] (feh-OHS)
ερυθρός/ά/ό [archaic] (eh-ree-thrOHs)
πυρρός (not used as an expression) (peer-ROHS)
μπλε or κυανός/ή/ούν [archaic] (bleh or kyah-NOHS)
or ιώδης/ης/ες [archaic] (yOH-thes)
Bus and Train
How much is a ticket to _____?
Πόσο κάνει ένα εισιτήριο για _____; (...)
One ticket to _____, please.
Ένα εισιτήριο για _____, παρακαλώ. (...)
Where does this train/bus go?
Που πάει αυτό το τραίνο/λεωφορείο; (...)
Where is the train/bus to _____?
Που είναι το τραίνο/λεωφορείο _____; (...)
Does this train/bus stop in _____?
Σταματάει το τραίνο στο _____; (...)
When does the train/bus for _____ leave?
Πότε φεύγει το τραίνο/λεωφορείο για _____; (...)
When will this train/bus arrive in _____?
Πότε θα φτάσει το τραίνο/λεωφορείο στο _____; (...)
How do I get to _____ ?
Πώς πηγαίνω στο/στην/στον(depending on gender) _____ ; (pos pi-GEH-no sto/stin/ston)