When I travel to Greece with my family, I’m usually the only one who speaks Greek regularly. My husband knows a few words here and there, but he tries. And it goes well 98 percent of the time. Sure, a drunk local made fun of the way he said “kala” once. But nearly every time he says a Greek word, he gets a smile or a “bravo” in return. We’ve even received free raki (alcohol) for the effort!
At least in my experience, most Greeks are thrilled when tourists insert a Greek word every so often — whether it’s in a greeting or a compliment about the meal. That said, I know Greek is intimidating! The alphabet is different, the pronunciation is often difficult, and it can feel like a lot of work if you’re just visiting for a few days.
So I pulled together just over a dozen of Greek words that are some of the easiest to pronounce (in my opinion) and generally practical for a short trip. I hope it enriches your vacation and gets you a free drink too!
Everyday Greek Words & Sayings
1. Opa “Oh-pah” – Oops/Wow
I had to start this list off with one of my favorite Greek words: Opa. You’ve probably heard people shout “Opa!” at a restaurant when a waiter broke a plate, but it also can be used to express shock and excitement.
My niece says it every time she trips and I’ll often use it instead of saying “wow” or along the lines of “when in Rome!” Another bira (beer)? Opa! Spilled red wine on your dress? Opa! Missed your ferry? Opa! It’s one of those words that says so much without saying much at all.
2. Yeia sas “YAH-sas” – Hello
This is the formal “hello” in Greek. The informal “hello” is “yah-soo.” I recommend going with the former when in doubt. It’s more respectful when communicating with waiters, hotel staff, clerks, passerby, shop owners and most people that you’re meeting for the first time.
If you speak French, Yeia sas is similar to “Bonjour” and Yeia soo is more like “Salut.”
3. Kalimera “Kah-lee-MEH-rah” – Good morning
You can say “Kalimera” which means “good morning” or “good day” until about 5 p.m. in Greek. It’s used much like “Yeia sas” as a way to say hello and it’s just a nice way to acknowledge people you come across on your travels.
4. Kalinikta “Kah-lee-NEE-ktah” – Good night
Very similar to Kalimera, “Kalinikta” is another helpful word to know for greetings. You’ll use it to say “goodbye” at night.
Another word for “bye” that you can use at any time of the day is “andio” which is pronounced how you’d think, but the “n” is very slight “ahn-dee-oh.” I think Kalinikta is a bit easier to pronounce, which is why it’s generally my go-to.
5. Yamas “YAH-mas” – Cheers
When clinking glasses, say “Yamas.” It’s the Greek version of Cheers. Just a heads up, Greeks say it’s bad luck to cheers with coffee.
6. Nai “Neh” – Yes
“Yes” in Greek sort of sounds like “nah” or “nay” in English.
7. Oxi “OH-hee” – No
When I visited Greece as a kid, my mom would always say “oh-hee” to anyone who made us feel uncomfortable, particularly when someone tried to get us to buy something or sit at their restaurant.
8. Poli Orea “Poh-LEE Oh-REY-ah” – Very Beautiful
This is my non-Greek husband’s favorite phrase to say. It kind of rolls off the tongue and is similar to “Ole!” If you want to comment on lovely views, good food, cute kids — Poli Orea is a good one.
9. Xairo Poli “HEH-roh Poh-LEE” – Nice to meet you
This is a little gem of a phrase. While “Yeia-sas” and “Kalimera” are pretty well known, Xairo Poli is less common, so I love sharing it with my friends before their trips. (Whenever my husband says it, the person he’s interacting with always looks impressed.)
Much like “nice to meet you” or “pleased to meet you” in English, it’s a phrase to tack on at the end of an exchange…. or you can use it when first meeting someone. Either way!
It’s pretty easy to say once you get the hang of it. First part is like “hero” but with an “eh” sound instead of an “ee” and “Poh-lee” is like “Poh” as in “poke” and “lee” as in “goalie” with a “p” in front).
10. Kala “Kah-LAH” – Good
This one is easy but can be mispronounced (read: intro). I’ll break it down:
- The Kah sounds like the “kaw” sound in “call” (not like the Kah in “capital”).
- The “lah” is like the “lah” in “lollipop” or “lala” (not like the “lah” in “lap”).
12. Nostimo “NO-stee-moh” – Delicious
This is another one of my favorites. It sounds a bit Italian, no?
As you’d probably expect, you can use it to compliment your dishes or drinks. And Greek food is so amazing, so you’ll never run out of excuses to say it 🙂
13. Kali Orexi “Kah-LEE OH-rex-ee”
This is the Greek version of “bon appetite.” You can use it at the start of a meal or you may hear a waiter say it.
I love this phrase so much I have it on a sign in my kitchen, as a reminder to appreciate my Greek culture.
14. Signomi “See-GNOH-mee” – Excuse Me/Sorry
Signomi is a perfect word to keep in your back pocket when getting around. You can use it in the way we say “excuse me” or “sorry” here, but it’s not appropriate if you’re expressing condolences or apologizing for something serious, which hopefully you won’t need! Rather, it’s more useful if you bump into someone.
Other Greek words that are helpful to know, but a little more challenging to say:
Euxaristo “Ehf-khah-ree-stoh” – Thank you
This is a great word to know that will constantly come in handy. But it is kind of hard to say. My biggest advice is to say it with the “r” as a rolling sound, so it’s almost like a “dee” rather than the “ree” in “reason.” Here’s a breakdown:
- Ehf: Like the “eff” in effort
- Khah: Like the “kah” in costume
- Ree/Dee: Similar to the “dee” in deep – but don’t emphasis the “dee” TOO much. Remember, it’s kind of a rolling sound.
- Stoh: Like “Stoh” in stoic
Parakalo “Pah-rah-kah-loh” – Please/You’re Welcome
Similar to the “r” sound in “euxaristo”, it’s a rolling sound that’s reminiscent of a slight “d” or “dah” sound. So it’s not “rah” as in “rabbit” more like “rah” in “Robert.”
- Pah: Sound like “pah” in “pasta”
- Rah: Almost like “dah” — but subtle on the “d”
- Kah: Sounds like “kah” in “copy”
- Lo: Just like “low”
Tha Ithela “Tha EE-theh-lah” – I would like ______.
This one is easier than the other two! But it’s common to get the sounds interchanged. You can use this when ordering a dish or drink at a restaurant or asking to use a phone, etc.