how to speak better Greek

Πώς τα πας; Τα έμαθες; How to use these everyday Greek phrases?

Imagine you’re strolling along the street in Athens, a lovely sunny day of Spring…

A lady is standing on the sidewalk. She chats with her friend who’s sitting at her little geranium-filled balcony.

You can't help but overhear their chat:

- Τα έμαθες; Η ανιψιά μου πήγε στην Αμερική. Στο καλύτερο πανεπιστήμιο!

Did you hear? My niece went to the States. At the best University!

- Μα δε στα ‘λεγα εγώ; Αυτή είναι πανέξυπνη!

Didn’t I tell you? She’s a genius!

- Τι τα θες όμως, τα παιδιά μας φεύγουν όλα στο εξωτερικό…

But what can you do, all our children are going abroad.

- Μαρία μου, τα έχουμε πει: θα τα καταφέρει, θα τελειώσει τις σπουδές και μετά θα γυρίσει.

(My) Maria, we talked about it: she’ll make it, she’ll finish her studies and she’ll come back.

- Μακάρι. Πώς τα πας εσύ; Τι κάνεις;

Let’s hope. How about you? How are you?

- Τα ίδια Κατερίνα μου…

Same, (my) Katerina…

What’s this “τα” they repeat all the time? How does it connect to the meaning?

Let’s zoom in on these phrases for a bit:

  • τα πάω/πηγαίνω

  • τα καταφέρνω

  • τα λέμε

  • τα έμαθα

  • τα θέλω

  • τα βρίσκω

  • τα ξέρω

a grammar snippet

Τα here is the personal pronoun. The short (or “weak”) form, to be precise.

It can confuse you, because it’s like the plural neuter article τα: τα παιδιά, τα σπίτια, τα μαθήματα, τα όμορφα, τα καλά.

Here’s how to distinguish it - and why this is important to do:

The article τα is always with a noun or adjective, as in the examples above.

The pronoun τα, however, replaces a noun (this is why it’s called pronoun, after all) and fits well with a verb: τα βλέπω, τα καταφέρνω etc.

The pronoun τα in all the above sentences usually replaces the word “the things”. More on this in a moment.

This distinction is important to help you understand the meaning of the sentence. By realizing τα is not an article, you don’t expect a noun to be right after it.

But let’s go back to the τα when it replaces the word “the things” (τα πράγματα)?

It’s a word we use in Greek to generally talk about a situation. A bit like in English: How are things going? > Πώς πάνε τα πράγματα;

back to our phrases

The phrases we saw above frequently appear in chats and everyday conversations or in other everyday or idiomatic expressions.

For example, you can see:

1.Τα πάω/πηγαίνω

  • Πώς τα πας; (How are things going?)

  • Δεν τα πηγαίνω καλά στη δουλειά. (Things don’t go well for me at work)

  • Τα πηγαίνουμε πολύ καλά μαζί. (We get along well together)

Τα means here: τα πράγματα, η καθημερινότητα, η κάτασταση

2.Τα καταφέρνω

  • Δεν τα κατάφερα στο τεστ χτες. (The test didn’t go well yesterday)

  • Τα καταφέρνεις θαυμάσια, μπράβο! (You can do it great, well done!)

  • Κοίτα, μαμά, τα κατάφερα! (Look, mom, I did it!)

Τα means here: τα πράγματα, αυτά που κάνω

3.Τα λέμε

  • Τα’ λεγα εγώ! (I told you!)

  • Τα λέμε! (Talk to you later)

Τα means here: τα νέα, τα πράγματα που έλεγα

4.Τα έμαθα

  • Τα έμαθες; (did you hear the news?) This is usually used in past tense.

Τα means here: τα νέα

5.Τα θέλω

  • Τι τα θες; και Τι τα θες, τι τα γυρεύεις; (Oh well, what can you do?)

  • Τα ‘θελες και τα’ παθες. (You got what you deserved)

Τα means here: αυτά που συμβαίνουν

6.Τα βρίσκω

  • Δεν τα βρήκαμε με τον Νίκο, χωρίσαμε τελικά. (We didn’t get along with Niko, we separated)

  • Τα βρήκες εύκολα στο σχολείο; (Were things easy for you at school?)

  • Θα τα βρει μπροστά του. (He’ll face the consequences)

Τα means here: αυτά που κάνω, τα πράγματα που γίνονται

7.Τα ξέρω

  • Τα ξέρεις, έφυγε για την Ινδία! (You 've heard the news, s/he left for India!)

  • Δεν τα ξέρεις, όλο τα ίδια και τα ίδια! (You heard the news, didn’t you, same old, same old)

Τα means here: τα νέα, αυτά που γίνονται

All the examples imply there’s something more to this “τα”. We might be talking about the things we do, everyday life, the things someone says or does, our news.

And because the very generic word “πράγματα” is a neuter noun in plural, this is the reason why you usually see its pronoun, τα in the sentences.

Next step: How to learn these phrases

Now that you’ve read about it (and hopefully this explanation made things somehow clearer to you) you’ll start observing more phrases with “τα + verb” in combinations & various tenses - the phrases are usually declined as normal.

Of course, since there are many idiomatic expressions with this structure, you do need to explore them a bit further whenever you meet them.

Don’t hesitate to “play” with the sentences above and add them in your speaking.

We do use them a lot in Greek so start using them too. This will help you sound more natural and add some everyday Greek in your speaking.

And if you’re ready to experiment and speak some more, check my Free Email Course here.

You learn new vocabulary with a short, supporting text and you practice your speaking with bite-sized tasks (voice recordings) and everyday phrases, like the ones above.

At the end you receive my feedback for free.

Are you in?

Happy Greek learning,

~Danae


How to spark up meaningful conversations with 17 easy to adapt questions

Imagine you meet your friend Marina for a coffee in downtown Athens.

You hug and cheerfully comment about how long it has been since you last met.

You sit down and order coffee at a small, busy coffee shop.

She asks you about your news and how is your family doing. You tell her a bit about your trip and your parents, your partner…

Marina eagerly goes ahead and asks you about the problem you had at work, the new hobby you had mentioned on Facebook, the book you had recommended … She can’t wait to catch up with you.

So far everything looks good, doesn’t it? But let’s zoom in a bit more to this dialogue.

Both Marina and you are interested in one another’s lives, you want to hear news, give your opinion about significant matters, talk about hobbies, suggest new books or movies.

However, if you look closer you’ll find that she’s the one asking questions and you’re the one giving answers.

Recall your last conversation in Greek. Is this what happened?

While Marina knows you and likes you, the communication between you and her seems imbalanced. You might be:

  • feeling interrogated, even with Marina’s best intentions

  • struggling to keep up with the pace of a native speaker

  • switching to English often in order to communicate better


Speaking is not necessarily communicating

You’ve probably heard and experienced that speaking in the language you learn is the hardest of all skills.

But is it speaking, or rather communicating that is hard?

Because when you speak, you have the task of forming a sentence.

But when you communicate, you have the tasks of:

  • listening

  • understanding

  • nodding, using body language

  • giving your opinion or comment

  • asking back

And it’s this last one action that determines whether the conversation keeps on going or not.

Imagine that “asking back” is like a hook: It gives both people the opportunity to connect their thoughts and eventually be connected with each other.

If your part in talking lacks the hook, then your Greek friend has nowhere to hang their thoughts.

In Greek, we use the very fitting word “συνομιλητής, συνομιλήτρια”, to describe the people who interact in a conversation (in this case, your Greek friend).

According to the Dictionary , συνομιλητής means the person who co-talks with another person (coming from συν-ομιλώ).

In English the word translates as interlocutor (although I’m not sure how common this word is to express anyone who takes part in any kind of conversing: from short, casual chats to deep, long conversations.)

In Practice

So, how are you going to bring a conversation back to life? How will you show you are curious and eager to find out more about your friend’s life and to show them you’re genuinely interested in them?

By simply asking them.

This is something we automatically do in our own language - and this is one of the reasons you or your friend switch to English/ the language you are both comfortable speaking - but we tend to avoid it in the language we learn.

This might happen for many reasons:

  • we freeze, expecting the native speaker to hold the conversation for both of us

  • we try to say as many things as we can, taking advantage of the fact that we can eventually speak the language with someone after months of lessons, therefore we get carried away

  • we have difficulty in forming questions, because they require a different structure in the sentence

  • we become so self-conscious, that we strive for perfection, which means putting more effort and time to form a proper reply, then we’re too exhausted to attempt a question

  • we can’t keep up with the pace of the conversation and eventually stick to replying only.

To save time and probably some headache as to how to form questions that will enliven your conversations with your Greek friends or relatives, here’s a list of the most common ones:

Questions about their opinion or advice:

  1. Πώς σου φαίνεται/φάνηκε ο/η/το …; How does it seem/looks like to you?

  2. Ποια είναι η γνώμη σου για ..; What’s your opinion about …?

  3. Τι θα με συμβούλευες να …; What would you advise me to …?

  4. Πού προτείνεις να πάμε για …; Where do you suggest we go to …?

  5. Εσύ, τι θα έκανες στη θέση μου; And you, what would you do if you were me …?

  6. Τι νομίζεις /τι λες /τι πιστεύεις για …; What do you think/say/believe about …?

    Questions about life events, current news:

  7. Κι εσύ τι …; And you what …(insert the same verb they just used to ask about you)?

  8. Πώς πήγε ο/η/το …; How did it go?

  9. Και τι τους είπες; Και τι έκανες; And what did you tell them? What did you do?

  10. Και μετά τι έγινε; And then, what happened?

  11. Μου έλεγες για …. Τι γίνεται τώρα; Πώς πάνε τα πράγματα; You were telling me about … What’s going on now? How do things go?

    Questions about personal stories, habits and hobbies:

  12. Πού γνωριστήκατε με τον/την …; Where did you meet …?

  13. Τι συνηθίζετε να κάνετε σ’αυτή τη γιορτή/ημέρα/περίσταση; What do you usually do on this celebration/(special) day/occasion?

  14. Εσένα, ποιος συγγραφέας / ηθοποιός κτλ σου αρέσει; And how about you, which writer/actor do you like?

  15. Εσένα ποιο βιβλίο / ποια ταινία σου άρεσε; And how about you, which book/movie did you like?

  16. Τι κάνει ο / η / το …; How is …?

    A question to offer help with something:

  17. Έχεις πολλή δουλειά; Χρειάζεσαι βοήθεια; Are you busy? Do you need any help?

Don’t skip the study part!

I love lists but only if they bring a meaning to your learning. Stacking one sentence after the next will not help you; using them meaningfully, it will.

Find here some bonus ideas about how to eventually add them to your conversations:

  • When you record yourself speaking, always remember to add a few questions in between. Need a little help to do that? Sign up to my Free Course to complete a speaking project with bite-sized tasks & recordings. At the end, you’ll receive my free feedback (and yes, my answer to your questions!)!

  • When you chat on social media or via any private chat with your friends: social media is less direct than actual conversation, but more direct than emails or cards for example, you can take advantage of the time you need to form sentences but also enjoy a chat at a live or almost live time. In fact, this is what we do in our small, chatty Facebook group which you can find here. Join us!

  • And if you’re ready to speak some more, book your spot to Greek Recorder: This is a short but mighty speaking & feedback service to help you talk about a topic you’re interested in. You use supporting vocabulary, your recordings and my feedback. Choose between 1-Week option or 3-Weeks option (with the option to renew). Check it out here.

Practice, practice, practice. To make meaningful discussions and connect with the other person (your “συνομιλητή”/ “συνομιλήτρια”), questions need to be part of your speaking.

Similarly to learning vocabulary and everyday phrases, you need to learn how to make questions in order to organically add them in any conversation.

Try it out - and let me know how it goes!


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