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Greek Tenses Explained: A Complete Guide for Greek Learners

Grammar can be a very tricky part of learning the Greek language. As we have already discussed, the key to mastering Grammar is practice. One thing you must surely focus on are the Greek tenses.

But why are Greek tenses so crucial? The thing is, mastering how to refer to distinct events across the span of time is a critical component of achieving fluency. And just like the Mirror of Galadriel, you should be able to talk about “things that were, things that are, and some things that have not yet come to pass”.

It may sound intimidating, but there is no need to worry. This post will go over the formation and usage of each tense. Once you understand how they work, you’ll realize that the Greek verb tenses aren’t as difficult as they appear!

Introduction to Greek Tenses: The Basics

Before we get into each tense, it’s important to understand the Greek verb system and tenses in general.

What Are Verb Tenses?

The tense is a grammatical category used to express time reference. The verb’s tense typically indicates when the event or action denoted by the verb occurs in time, always in reference to the “now” as viewed in a linear sense of time.

How Many Tenses Are There in Greek?

The Greek tenses are fewer than the English ones. While English has 12 tenses, Greek only has 8. These are as follows:

Present Tense Ενεστώτας Present
Past Tenses Παρατατικός Past Continuous
Αόριστος Simple Past
Future Tenses Στιγμιαίος Μέλλοντας Future Simple
Εξακολουθητικός Μέλλοντας Future Continuous
Perfect Tenses Παρακείμενος Present Perfect
Υπερσυντέλικος Past Perfect
Συντελεσμένος Μέλλοντας Future Perfect

Most of the Greek tenses correspond to already known tenses from English and other languages as well. There are, however, some significant differences, such as the relationship between tenses and voices.

Note: even though the perfect tenses can be considered as present/past/future tenses respectively, we will treat them as a separate category due to their conjugation.

Greek Tenses and Voices

The Greek language differs from many other Indo-European languages in that the passive voice of verbs is not formed by using an auxiliary verb and the past participle form, as in English. On the contrary, Greek verbs are conjugated for both active and middle/passive voice, so you must memorize the Greek verb endings for both voices in each tense.

Fortunately, most suffixes are similar across tenses, and some are repeated throughout the verb paradigm.

The Greek Verb Groups

Modern Greek has two (2) conjugation groups (excluding irregular verbs). There is a fairly simple rule of thumb for categorizing verbs into these groups. We have a Group A verb if the last letter is not accentuated and a Group B verb if the last letter is accentuated.

That trick, however, only works with the active voice. Things in the passive voice are more complicated; we’ll review them later.

Let’s see the Groups:

Conjugation Group A

Active Voice Passive Voice
-εις -εσαι
-ει -εται
-ουμε -όμαστε
-ετε -εστε
-ουν(ε) -ονται

Conjugation Group B

Conjugation group B is further split into two classes:

First Class

Active Voice Passive Voice
-ώ / -άω -ιέμαι
-άς -ιέσαι
-ά(ει) -ιέται
-άμε / -ούμε -ιόμαστε
-άτε -ιέστε / -ιόσαστε
-ούν(ε) -ιούνται

Second Class

Active Voice Passive Voice 1 Passive Voice 2 Passive Voice 3
-ούμαι -άμαι -ώμαι
-είς -είσαι -άσαι -άσαι
-εί -είται -άται -άται
-ούμε -ούμαστε -όμαστε -όμαστε
-είτε -είστε -άστε -άστε
-ούν(ε) -ούνται -ούνται -τώνται

The 2nd and 3rd version of the passive voice in the second class contains some typical exceptions, such as verbs derived directly from Ancient Greek roots. Do not worry – you will learn them as you go along.

You can also use our guide to learn more about Greek verb conjugation in general.

Verbs Είμαι (to Βe) and Έχω (to Have)

Let’s start with the basics: the verbs to have and to be. The verb έχω (to have) also functions as an auxiliary verb, and it is particularly useful in the perfect tenses.

Είμαι” /’ime/ is one of the most common irregular verbs:

Είμαι (Present Tense) To Be (Present Tense)
Εγώ είμαι I am
Εσύ είσαι You are
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό είναι He/She/It is
Εμείς είμαστε We are
Εσείς είστε You are
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά είναι They are

Έχω” /’eχo/ is a regular verb, following the rules of Group A verbs:

Έχω (Present Tense) To Have (Present Tense)
Εγώ έχω I have
Εσύ έχεις You have
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό έχει He/She/It has
Εμείς έχουμε We have
Εσείς έχετε You have
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά έχουν(ε) They have

Greek Present Tense

The present tense in Greek (Ενεστώτας /ene’stotas/) is the simplest tense. It’s even easier than the respective English tense, because it lacks a simple and a progressive version. In Greek, whether you want to say I play or I am playing, you will use “εγώ παίζω”.

We use the present tense to talk about something happening at the moment.

Greek Present Tense Verb Endings

Group A Active Group A Passive Group B Active Group B Passive
Εγώ λύν-ω λύν-ομαι αγαπ-ώ αγαπ-ιέμαι
Εσύ λύν-εις λύν-εσαι αγαπ-άς αγαπ-ιέσαι
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό λύν-ει λύν-εται αγαπ-ά(ει) αγαπ-ιέται
Εμείς λύν-ουμε λυν-όμαστε αγαπ-άμε/ούμε αγαπ-ιόμαστε
Εσείς λύν-ετε λύν-εστε αγαπ-άτε αγαπ-ιέστε
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά λύν-ουν(ε) λύν-ονται αγαπ-ούν/άνε αγαπ-ιούνται

Greek Past Tense

There are two past tenses in Greek: the Past Continuous (Παρατατικός /paratati’cos/) and the Simple Past (Αόριστος /a’oristos/), also known as the Greek aorist tense. Both tenses are similar to their counterparts in English.

The Greek tenses of the past are also straightforward. They both refer to the past, they are commonly used, and they are easily distinguished due to their distinct Greek verb morphology.

Characteristics of Greek Tenses of the Past

Three things separate these two tenses from the present tense:

  1. The augment;
  2. The suffixes (endings);
  3. The perfective aspect stem.

I know it sounds all Greek to you, but bear with me as we go over the verb endings.

Greek Past Continuous Tense Verb Endings

Group A Active Group A Passive Group B Active Group B Passive
Εγώ έ-λυν-α λυν-όμουν αγαπ-ούσα αγαπ-ιόμουν
Εσύ έ-λυν-ες λυν-όσουν αγαπ-ούσες αγαπ-ιόσουν
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό έ-λυν-ε λυν-όταν αγαπ-ούσε αγαπ-ιόταν
Εμείς λύν-αμε λυν-όμασταν αγαπ-ούσαμε αγαπ-ιόμασταν
Εσείς λύν-ατε λυν-όσασταν αγαπ-ούσατε αγαπ-ιόσασταν
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά έ-λυν-αν / λύν-ανε λύν-ονταν / λυν-όντουσαν αγαπ-ούσαν(ε) αγαπ-ιόντουσαν

Greek Past Simple Tense Verb Endings

Group A Active Group A Passive Group B Active Group B Passive
Εγώ έ-λυσ-α λύθ-ηκα αγάπ-ησα αγαπήθ-ηκα
Εσύ έ-λυσ-ες λύθ-ηκες αγάπ-ησες αγαπήθ-ηκες
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό έ-λυσ-ε λύθ-ηκε αγάπ-ησε αγαπήθ-ηκε
Εμείς λύσ-αμε λυθ-ήκαμε αγαπ-ήσαμε αγαπηθ-ήκαμε
Εσείς λύσ-ατε λυθ-ήκατε αγαπ-ήσατε αγαπηθ-ήκατε
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά έ-λυσ-αν / λύσ-ανε λύθ-ηκαν(ε) αγάπ-ησαν(ε) αγαπήθ-ηκαν(ε)

Aside from the relatively simple suffixes, you may have noticed some differences in the verbs’ roots and prefixes. These are the augment and the perfective aspect.

The Augment

The augment is a small syllable added before some of the verb’s past forms. It is not only simple to use, but it also provides a quick way to determine the tense of the verb. Its most common form is the letter “ε-“ (e), added in front of the verb.

Perfective Aspect

In terms of the perfective, the role of the aspect in Greek tenses is undeniably important. What I previously referred to as “perfective aspect ” is simply a way of indicating that a verb is not describing a continuous situation, but rather something that occurred only once or for a short period of time. This includes the simple past and simple future tenses.

Note: It is also known as “past stem.” It is simpler, but it is incorrect. That is why we will continue to refer to it as the perfective aspect.

The first way to identify the perfective, is the letter “σ” (s) added between the stem and the suffix. For instance, the verb “ιδρύω” (to found, to establish) will become «ιδρύσω».

  • Sometimes, /s/ might push the previous consonant of the stem away. For instance, the verb “λύνω” (to untie, to solve) would become “λύνσω”, which would be hard to pronounce. Thus, /n/ is omitted, and we only keep the /s/, resulting in “λύσω”.
  • Some other times, /s/ is merged with the previous letter, resulting in a different one. For instance, γράφω > γράφσω > γράψω (to write).
  • At times, a vowel is inserted between the two consonants. For example, αγαπώ > αγαπσώ > αγαπήσω.

However, you may have noticed that the root changed completely in the mediopassive voice. This is due to the fact that the passive voice has its own perfective roots, which are usually formed with the letter θ (th; as in bath, think).

I know that the past tense was a lot. Just keep in mind your “e-“ and your “-s-“ and everything else will fall into place with practice. Let’s move on to something less difficult!

Greek Future Tense

The Greek tenses of the future follow the same logic as the past. There is a Future Simple (Στιγμιαίος Μέλλοντας /stiγmi’eos ‘melodas/) and a Future Continuous (Εξακολουθητικός Μέλλοντας /eksakoluθiti’cos ‘melodas/).

They, like their English counterparts, are referring to something that will happen in the future, either momentarily or continuously. They are also employing a future particle, similar to “will”!

The Greek future particle θα (/θa/, th as in bath) is used in conjunction with a conjugated verb. Here comes the easy part:

  • The Future Simple is formed by θα and the verb in its Present form.
  • The Future Continuous is formed by θα and the verb in its Perfective form, which we first saw when discussing the past.

Let’s see that in action:

Greek Future Continuous Tense Verb Endings

Group A Active Group A Passive Group B Active Group B Passive
Εγώ θα λύν-ω θα λύν-ομαι θα αγαπ-ώ θα αγαπ-ιέμαι
Εσύ θα λύν-εις θα λύν-εσαι θα αγαπ-άς θα αγαπ-ιέσαι
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό θα λύν-ει θα λύν-εται θα αγαπ-ά(ει) θα αγαπ-ιέται
Εμείς θα λύν-ουμε θα λυν-όμαστε θα αγαπ-άμε/ούμε θα αγαπ-ιόμαστε
Εσείς θα λύν-ετε θα λύν-εστε θα αγαπ-άτε θα αγαπ-ιέστε
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά θα λύν-ουν(ε) θα λύν-ονται θα αγαπ-ούν/άνε θα αγαπ-ιούνται

See that? It’s exactly the same as in the present tense, you just add the “θα”.

Greek Future Simple Tense Verb Endings

Group A Active Group A Passive Group B Active Group B Passive
Εγώ θα λύσ-ω θα λυθ-ώ θα αγαπήσ-ω θα αγαπηθ-ώ
Εσύ θα λύσ-εις θα λυθ-είς θα αγαπήσ-εις θα αγαπηθ-είς
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό θα λύσ-ει θα λυθ-εί θα αγαπήσ-ει θα αγαπηθ-εί
Εμείς θα λύσ-ουμε θα λυθ-ούμε θα αγαπήσ-ουμε θα αγαπηθ-ούμε
Εσείς θα λύσ-ετε θα λυθ-είτε θα αγαπήσ-ετε θα αγαπηθ-είτε
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά θα λύσ-ουν(ε) θα λυθ-ούν(ε) θα αγαπήσ-ουν(ε) θα αγαπηθ-ούν(ε)

It’s a little more complicated than the Future Continuous, but here’s how it works:

  1. Group A Active Voice – it employs θα, the perfective stem, and the suffixes from the present tense.
  2. Group A Passive Voice – it employs θα, the perfective stem of the passive, as well as accentuated suffixes from the present tense.
  3. Group B Active Voice – it employs θα, the perfective stem, and the suffixes from Group A’s present tense.
  4. Group B Passive Voice – it employs θα, the perfective stem of the passive, as well as accentuated suffixes from the present tense.

Now that we have mastered the past, the future, and the present, let’s move on to the perfect tenses.

Greek Perfect Tense

The modern Greek language has three perfect tenses: the Present Perfect (Παρακείμενος /para’cimenos/), the Past Perfect (Υπερσυντέλικος /ipersi’delicos/), and the Future Perfect (Συντελεσμένος Μέλλοντας /sidele’zmenos ‘melodas/). One for each of the preceding categories– simple to remember!

The thing about perfect tenses is that they are formed using the auxiliary verb “έχω” (to have) that we mentioned above and the infinitive of the verb’s past tense, which is the same for both verb groups. Let’s check out how they are formed on the Group A verb:

Greek Present Perfect / Past Perfect / Future Perfect Tense Verb Endings

Active Voice

Present Perfect Past Perfect Future Perfect
Εγώ έχω λύσει είχα λύσει θα έχω λύσει
Εσύ έχεις λύσει είχες λύσει θα έχεις λύσει
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό έχει λύσει είχε λύσει θα έχει λύσει
Εμείς έχουμε λύσει είχαμε λύσει θα έχουμε λύσει
Εσείς έχετε λύσει είχαμε λύσει θα έχετε λύσει
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά έχουν λύσει είχαν λύσει θα έχουν λύσει

Passive Voice

Present Perfect Past Perfect Future Perfect
Εγώ έχω λυθεί είχα λυθεί θα έχω λυθεί
Εσύ έχεις λυθεί είχες λυθεί θα έχεις λυθεί
Αυτός/Αυτή/Αυτό έχει λυθεί είχε λυθεί θα έχει λυθεί
Εμείς έχουμε λυθεί είχαμε λυθεί θα έχουμε λυθεί
Εσείς έχετε λυθεί είχαμε λυθεί θα έχετε λυθεί
Αυτοί/Αυτές/Αυτά έχουν λυθεί είχαν λυθεί θα έχουν λυθεί

We see that in both cases the verb “έχω” is used in its present, past and future form, while the active and passive infinitives remain unchanged.

How to Use the Perfect Tenses

While the perfect tenses are simple to learn, mastering their use may be more challenging.

Present Perfect (Παρακείμενος)

The verb In Present Perfect expresses an action that occurred sometime in the past, but its consequences affect the present.

For example:

  • Έχω καθαρίσει το δωμάτιό μου (I have cleaned my room)

It means that I cleaned my room sometime in the past, and my room is clean right now.

Past Perfect (Υπερσυντέλικος)

The verb In Past Perfect expresses an action that occurred sometime in the past, either before another action or event, or before a specific point in time.

For example:

  • Είχα καθαρίσει το δωμάτιό μου πριν έρθεις σπίτι (I had cleaned my room before you came home)

It means that I cleaned my room at some point in the past, prior to the time you arrived home.

Future Perfect (Συντελεσμένος Μέλλοντας)

The verb In Future Perfect expresses an action that will occur sometime in the future before another action or event, or before a specific point in future time.

For example:

  • Θα έχω καθαρίσει το δωμάτιό μου πριν έρθεις σπίτι (I will have cleaned my room before you came home)

It means that I will clean my room sometime in the future, prior to your arrival home.

Some Final Notes on the Greek Tenses

Hoping that the information was not overwhelming, there are some things left to be pointed out.

#1. The irregular verbs follow their own patterns.

The Greek language contains many irregular verbs. Each one is conjugated differently, and you’ll have to memorize them all. It will take some time, but it will become easier as you use these verbs in your everyday conversations.

You can find a comprehensive list of Greek irregular verbs here, or see how to conjugate them using the Cooljugator.

#2. The word order is (somewhat) free.

Even though it is impossible to separate all of the auxiliary verbs, marks, and particles mentioned above from the verb form, their placement in the sentence can vary greatly. In Greek, the verb or verb phrase can be placed almost anywhere in the sentence and still make sense. There are no strict rules regarding word order, as there are in other languages.

#3. Other moods are conjugated differently.

There are three moods in the Greek language, other than the participle and the infinitive. These are:

  1. Indicative (Οριστική Έγκλιση)
  2. Subjunctive (Υποτακτική Έγκλιση)
  3. Imperative (Προστακτική Έγκλιση)

For the time being, we’ve only covered the Indicative, but keep in mind that the verbs in the Subjunctive and Imperative are conjugated differently.

Greek Tenses – Conclusion

Learning how to master the Greek tenses is the key to mastering Greek grammar. However, practice makes perfect, so be sure to keep practicing using our comprehensive list of Greek resources. And don’t forget to practice with Clozemaster, our fill-in-the-blanks app for advanced beginners and intermediate learners.

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