It happens to me. Does it happen to you?
You have the right word in your head. Suddenly, another comes out. And now it’s too late to correct what you said because the conversation keeps going.
Or, you speak to someone who suddenly gives you a perplexed look. Then you become perplexed not really knowing what kind of error you made. Again.
Annoying, isn’t it? (Sigh)
Yet, be brave! You’re one more step closer to fluency.
See it this way: Realizing you just made an error means you‘re starting to self-correct.
This is an important first step to internalize the aspects of the language you’re learning.
And let’s face it. No errors, no learning.
In the last post, we talked about errors in language and why we make them.
Today, I’m going to show you 10 common errors learners make in the Beginner and Intermediate level.
You’ll also find ideas about how to deal with them in different ways.
These ideas include fixing or avoiding them with some learning techniques or tips.
#1 Ο Κώστας vs τον Κώστα: How to use the accusative for the masculine in Greek?
Or ο φίλος vs τον φίλο, ο διευθυντής vs τον διευθυντή ο υπολογιστής vs τον υπολογιστή and so on.
In short, this happens when the sentence has a verb that requires the accusative case of a masculine word or after most prepositions, such as με (with).
Είδα τον Γιάννη. (I saw Yanni)
Πήγα με τον φίλο μου για καφέ. (I went with my friend for coffee)
#2 Έλληνας, Ελληνίδα, ελληνικός, ελληνικά: How to use “Greek” in ...Greek?
In some languages (English for sure!) there is only one word to describe the “Greek everything”.
But in Greek, which is which?
α) ο Έλληνας - η Ελληνίδα: are the words to describe the male and female Greek.
Ο Κώστας είναι Έλληνας. Η Αθηνά είναι Ελληνίδα. (Kostas is Greek. Athena is Greek)
β) ο ελληνικός, η ελληνική, το ελληνικό: are the adjectives, which include the masculine, feminine, neuter plus their grammar numbers and cases:
ο ελληνικός καφές, η ελληνική σημαία, το ελληνικό νησί (Greek coffee, Greek flag, Greek island)
γ) τα ελληνικά: is the language.
Μαθαίνω ελληνικά. Μου αρέσουν τα ελληνικά. (I learn Greek. I like Greek)
You can use η ελληνική γλώσσα (the Greek language) as well, but always as two words together.
Note: If you want to say “I’m having a Greek lesson” you need to say “κάνω μάθημα ελληνικών” (I’m doing a lesson of Greek), because you need to use it in genitive.
#3 Πότε vs Όταν: When do we use πότε? And when do we use όταν?
Use “Πότε” when you’re asking a question about time. This is the adverb of time, used only in questions.
Πότε μίλησες με την Ελένη; (When did you speak with Helen? - direct question)
This works also for what we call in Greek grammar "indirect questions".
Με ρώτησε πότε μίλησα με την Ελένη. (She/he asked me when I spoke with Helen. - indirect question)
However, when there is a statement about time, connecting two sentences, we only use “όταν”:
Μίλησα με την Ελένη, όταν την είδα χτες στον δρόμο. (I spoke with Helen when I saw her yesterday on the street.)⠀
Το κινητό μου δεν βγάζει φωτογραφίες, όταν δεν έχει πολλή μπαταρία. (My phone doesn't take photos when the battery is low.)
Όταν έρθει το καλοκαίρι, θα πάω φυσικά στην Ελλάδα! (When summer comes, I'll go to Greece of course!)
Note for grammar geeks (I know you’re out there!): “Όταν” is a temporal conjunction, this is why it’s used for connecting sentences.
#4 Simple Past vs Past Continuous in Greek (Αόριστος vs Παρατατικός)
So here’s the story with these two tenses:
α) Past Continuous keeps the “stem” from the Present tense.
β) Simple past has a “stem”, a part of its own.
Let’s take the verb τρώω (to eat), for example.
It usually comes naturally to use the Present tense stem “τρώ-” in the past tense. And this is correct, it is a Past tense.
Just probably not the one you wanted to use.
“Τρώ-” gives us “έτρωγα” (I was eating). This is the Past Continuous. In short, we use it for narrations, habits, to state a specific duration of time and with words or phrases such as όλη τη μέρα (all day), κάθε εβδομάδα (every week) etc.
The Simple Past stem is “φαγ-”, which gives us “έφαγα”. This is what we use to talk about past, completed actions.
Έτρωγα πρωινό, όταν με πήρες τηλέφωνο: this emphasizes how I was eating yesterday when I received your phone call.
Σήμερα έφαγα πρωινό στο γραφείο: this means that today I ate my breakfast at the office.
#5 Simple Future vs Future Continuous (Απλός Μέλλοντας vs Μέλλοντας Συνεχείας ή Εξακολουθητικός)
This is in the same spirit as the last one.
In a way, we can see both #4 and #5 as similar concepts. Which means that the same logic is applied: we use Simple Future for the actions done, completed some time in the future.
On the other hand, Future Continuous is used for narrations, again to state a specific duration of time and with words or phrases such as όλη τη μέρα (all day), κάθε εβδομάδα (every week) etc.
Θα τρώω πρωινό κάθε πρωί στις 8.: this states how I will be eating breakfast every morning at 8.
Αύριο θα φάω με την Μαρία.: and here it states how I will eat tomorrow with Maria.
Note: The translations in English emphasize how and why we use these tenses in Greek. They're not always accurate in English.
#6 Σαν vs Όπως: Like vs Such As/As in Greek
In comparison, both can be used, with some differences in syntax:
Παίζει σαν παιδί. Παίζει όπως τα παιδιά. (Plays like/as a child)
Τρώει σαν λύκος. Τρώει όπως οι λύκοι (ή ο λύκος) (Eats like/as a wolf)
Ο Νίκος θέλει να τρέχει σαν την Άννα. Ο Νίκος θέλει να τρέχει όπως η Άννα. (Nikos wants to run like/as Anna does)
Note: Short comparison sentences with σαν are usually used as expressions. You’ll hear them more often than the sentences with όπως.
πονηρή σαν αλεπού (sneaky like a fox - more common than είναι πονηρή όπως η αλεπού)
γρήγορος σαν λαγός (fast like a rabbit - more common than είναι γρήγορος όπως ο λαγός)
κρύο σαν χιόνι (cold like snow - more common than είναι κρύο όπως το χιόνι)
It’s worth noting that σαν can be confusing because sometimes is also used to state the time, like όταν (when, once, as soon as):
Σαν νύχτωσε, πήγαν όλοι σπίτια τους. (Once it was dark, everyone went home.)
#7 Mου αρέσει (plus noun):
How to use “I like” in Greek?
Μου αρέσει ο or τον, η or την;
After learning this tip you’ll never get confused again! (I always wanted to say that about Greek Grammar.)
Μου αρέσει is always, always used with nominative. It’s very straightforward.
I can hear you saying: “Hey! Greek has 3 grammar genders X 2 grammar numbers = 6 things to choose from and you’re calling this straightforward?.”
Ehem...how about straightforward-ish?
I ‘ll rephrase. If you know what to use (masculine or feminine, plural or singular) then yes, it’s only the nominative case you have to worry about. Oh, and “μου αρέσει” for singular vs “μου αρέσουν” for plural. (Sorry! But I know you got this.)
Μου αρέσει ο καφές. (I like coffee)
Μου αρέσει η ζεστή σοκολάτα. (I like hot chocolate)
Μου αρέσουν τα πορτοκάλια. ( I like oranges)
Μου αρέσουν οι λουκουμάδες. ( I like doughnuts - loukoumades)
#8 Stress/ accent: τόνος
Note: I’ll simply use the word “stress” here, to avoid confusion with the Greek accent.
Not knowing which syllable to stress, is a common problem. Especially if you’re used to stress only one syllable in your language, as in French for example, where the stress is on the last syllable. It’s true, it can take time to train your ear.
There are two golden rules however:
α) one-syllable words are never stressed, except for: ή (as a disjunctive) πού and πώς in a direct or indirect question
β) there’s never a stress beyond the 3rd syllable, counting from the last one, except from some words in dialects
Πού πας; (Where are you going?)
Θέλεις καφέ ή τσάι; (Do you want coffee or tea?)
Με ρώτησε πώς να πάει στην Αθήνα. (S/he asked me how to go to Athens)
Listening activities will greatly help you so don’t hesitate to add more if you feel that you ‘re stressing out too much. (I love puns. You can’t tell!)
#9 Confusion with the endings of nouns
This could make an article on its own, so I’m just noting one of the most common confusion about endings here.
Is it το πράγμα or η πράγμα ? And how is it in plural?
Words ending in -α are feminine and you know that already.
But sneaky neuter words end in -μα.
το πρόβλημα (the problem)
το διάλειμμα (the break/pause)
το ζήτημα (the matter/issue)
το μάθημα (the lesson)
το παράδειγμα (the example)
In plural, they will be:
Pay attention, does it end in -μα or -α, next time you say or hear such a word?
#10 Translations word by word
This last one seems kind of obvious. But in reality, it’s not.
If we add the language transfer errors + our need to communicate, our attempt to translate word by word happens all too often.
There are 3 steps to make sure you avoid such errors:
α) Mimic language patterns the native speakers use
β) Be open and creative, as well as ready to challenge your mindset about expressing yourself in another language
γ) Avoid using Google Translate for whole sentences, idioms, expressions
Especially for the last one, Google might give you a word by word translation, which is often far from the actual structure, choice of words and meaning.
So there you have it!
Now let me know in the comments: Which of these 10 errors was the most difficult for you? And which one you never really had a problem with?
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