Greek Verbs: an Introduction for the Learner

Note: This guide is primarily about verbs in Modern Greek, but it also gives information about verbs in Ancient Greek. It is a learner-oriented text, and constitutes part of the author's pages on the grammar of the Greek language.

Greek verbs change their "morphology" (i.e., mostly their endings) according to voice, tense, person, number, and mood, while retaining the stem of the verb unchanged. All the above notions exist also in English, except that English uses primarily syntax to express them, rather than morphology.

One more difference with English is that one does not need to prepend a personal pronoun to the verb (as in "you speak"), because the person is signified by the ending of the verb-form (as is the case in English for the 3rd person, only). If a pronoun is prepended, it signifies emphasis on the person (as in "you speak now!").

Naturally, there are both regular and irregular Greek verbs (see more below).

A Nontraditional Introduction

It is possible you have already seen one of those traditional introductions to Modern Greek verbs, presenting the two voices (active and passive), several tenses within each voice (present, imperfect, past, etc.), and a couple of moods per voice and per tense (indicative and imperative).

All right, so what is this important characteristic that traditional expositions of Greek verbs do not present explicitly?

It is that each Greek verb comes in two flavors. Say, vanilla and strawberry.
With the vanilla flavor of the verb you can form certain tenses: present, imperfect, etc.;
while with the strawberry flavor you can form the rest of the tenses: past, future, etc.

And why I call these "flavors" and use such colorful and delicious names for them, like vanilla and strawberry? (No, not because I hate chocolate! Besides, it is probably worth calling "chocolate" the "passive strawberry" flavor, as explained below in the section on passive voice.)

Because calling them the way they are usually called (when they are called anything at all) by grammarians is bound to perplex the learner. Grammarians often use the terms: "imperfective", or "progressive stem" for what I call vanilla, and "perfective", or "aorist stem" for my strawberry. But this is because those grammarians are serious people, and they need serious terms! My purpose is to educate the learner, not confuse them. Isn't "vanilla" and "strawberry" so much more tasteful and informative? (I guess you would agree they are as informative as the terms "imperfective", "aorist", etc.)

With that in mind, let us see which tenses and forms of verbs are possible with each flavor. I'll use active voice for the moment (passive will be given a little later), and our prototypical verb will be λύνω (I loosen/solve), always in the 1st person (except in the imperative, where only the 2nd person exists):

Vanilla flavor: stem -λυν- Strawberry flavor: stem -λυσ-
Present λύνω I loosen / am loosening      
Imperfect έλυνα I was loosening / used to loosen Past έλυσα I loosened
Future Progressive θα λύνω I will be loosening Future θα λύσω I will loosen
Subjunctive Progressive να λύνω to be loosening Subjunctive να λύσω to loosen
Conditional Progressive θα έλυνα I would loosen / be loosening Judgment [μάλλον] θα έλυσα I [possibly] loosened
Wish / Hope (Optative) [ήθελα] να έλυνα [I wish] I could loosen Assumption [πρέπει] να έλυσα I [must] have loosened
Imperative Progressive λύνε! get loosening! Imperative λύσε! loosen!
      Present Perfect έχω λύσει I have loosened
      Pluperfect είχα λύσει I had loosened
      Future Perfect θα έχω λύσει I will have loosened
      Conditional Perfect θα είχα λύσει I would have loosened
Present Participle λύνοντας loosening      

Wow! Are there really so many forms for a single verb in Modern Greek?!

No, not all the above forms are common. In traditional grammar books you usually see the present, imperfect, past, future, and perfect tenses. What I did above is that I showed what nuances in meaning we get if we prepend θα or να in front of each form, in a systematic way. And then I categorized each possibility under one of the two flavors, to show that there really are exactly two of them: one with stem -λυν-, and another with stem -λυσ-. And this is true for all Greek verbs! (Even the ancient ones!for those, see more at the end of this text.)


  1. There is no distinction between simple and progressive present in Greek (Modern or Ancient). Whether an action is performed habitually (every once in a while I loosen my tie) or progressively (I am loosening my tie right now), the form in Greek is one: λύνω. But note that this non-distinction concerns only the present tense. In other tenses, the progressive aspect goes under the vanilla flavor. The instantaneous and perfect aspects go under strawberry.
  2. Did you notice this: if you prepend a stressed έ- to the vanilla stem (-λυν-) and append an -α, you get the imperfect; while if you do the same thing to the strawberry stem (-λυσ-), you get the past tense (often called "aorist" in some books, due to classicist reverence I supposethat's how ancient Greeks were calling this tense: αόριστος, meaning "indefinite"). Okay, this transformation, which comes from the ancient language, is fine for λύνω and several more modern verbs, but is not as universal in the modern language as it used to be in the ancient one.
  3. There is no infinitive in Modern Greek! (There was in Ancient Greek, and it even appeared in four tenses.) The form to loosen in English is person-less: we say I want to loosen, you want to loosen, etc. But in Greek, the subjunctive (4th row), which replaces the ancient infinitive, changes according to person, which must agree with that of the main verb. Thus, I want to loosen is: θέλω να λύσω, but you want to loosen is: θέλεις να λύσεις, and so on (the full conjugation of λύνω, in all persons in active voice, is given here; and if you want the passive voice of it now, here it isbut more on that, later). Note that the notion of subjunctive in Greek is different from what it is in English or Spanish, so don't take it to mean something it does not! In Ancient Greek the subjunctive was a complete "mood" (called υποτακτική), and major tenses (present, past, and present perfect) included their versions in the subjunctive mood. Fortunately things have been much simplified in Modern Greek, where the subjunctive form (not "mood" anymore) can play the role of the infinitive.
  4. Therefore (according to the previous observation), don't search for an infinitive form in Modern Greek dictionaries! What dictionaries show is the 1st person singular of present tense, active voice (λύνω, as above). Even Ancient Greek dictionaries (e.g., Liddell & Scott's Greek-English Lexicon) show this form of the verb (e.g., λύω), not the ancient infinitive (λύειν).
  5. The imperfect form of a verb plays a more important role in Greek than its corresponding "I was [verb]-ing", or "I used to [verb]", plays in English. Besides the imperfect tense itself, two more forms are based on it: the conditional and the optative (the latter was also a complete "mood" in Ancient Greek), expressing a wish, or hope.
  6. The perfect tenses (all under strawberry flavor) show a formation pattern of their own. As in English, they are formed by two words: the first word is the proper form of the auxiliary verb έχω (I have), where by "proper form" I mean it must have the correct person, number, and present or imperfect form (έχω or είχα), depending on whether we want to form the present/future perfect, or the pluperfect/conditional, respectively. The second word of this two-word structure is an easy thing: it is always the 3rd person singular of the subjunctive form, no matter what the number is, or which perfect tense we are trying to form. Thus, you (sing.) have loosened is έχεις λύσει, we have loosened is έχουμε λύσει, they would have loosened is θα είχανε λύσει, and so on.
  7. There are two entries in the strawberry column that I arbitrarily called "Judgment" and "Assumption". The reader might erroneously infer from their translations (possibly and must) that they correspond to different degrees of certainty. They do not! These two entries have more or less the same meaning, and whether we put θα or να in front of the verb depends on the previous word. For example, perhaps I loosened is: ίσως να έλυσα. Thus, ίσως goes with να. But ίσως expresses doubt, not near-certainty (like must: πρέπει).
  8. Why no past participle? Because the past participle is a passive-voice form in Greek (so it is given further in this page, under "passive voice"). If you think about it, the past participle in English is a kind of passive form, too (the loosened knot; the knot is loosened).

Other Regular Patterns

But just because we saw the regular λύνω, doesn't mean we've learned everything about regular verbs! The latter come in various patterns. Λύνω follows only one (very common) pattern. There are several main patterns, and even sub-patterns within the main ones, for regular verbs. By clicking here you'll see a page that describes such regular patterns and gives examples for the verbs that appear among the 1000 most common words in Greek. Each example is given showing the present and imperfect forms (vanilla), followed by their past and subjunctive/future forms (strawberry), as follows:

παίζω (I play); έπαιζα (I was playing) || παίξω (to/will play); έπαιξα (I played)

Here is a table of contents for the page that describes patterns of regular verbs in more detail:

1. Uncontracted Verbs: -ω, -α || -.ω, -.α
1.1 -ω, -α || -σω, -σα
1.2 -ω, -α || -ξω, -ξα
1.3 -ω, -α || -ψω, -ψα
2. Contracted Verbs: -ώ/-άω, -ούσα || -.σω, -.σα
2.1 -ώ/-άω, -ούσα || -άσω, -ασα
2.1.1 -ώ/-άω, -ούσα || -άξω, -αξα
2.2 -ώ/-άω, -ούσα || -έσω, -εσα
2.3 -ώ/-άω, -ούσα || -ήσω, -ησα
2.3.1 -ώ/-άω, -ούσα || -ήξω, -ηξα
3. Middle-voice-only Verbs: -.μαι, -.μουν || -.ώ, -.ηκα
3.1 -.μαι, -.μουν || -θώ, -θηκα
3.2 -ομαι, -όμουν || -τώ, -τηκα
3.3 -ομαι, -όμουν || irregular

Visit this page now for more information on modern regular verbs.

Irregular Verbs

Just like λύνω/λύσω, the vanilla/strawberry idea applies to every Greek verb. And I mean every one of them, even the irregulars. Take, for example, the irregular βλέπω (I see). This verb is also irregular in English: its irregularity consists of a special form for the past (saw) and another one for the past participle (seen). But there is at least a common element in all three forms: they start with the consonant s-. In Greek, "irregularity" may mean that the vanilla flavor has no relationship whatsoever with the strawberry, not even a common consonant. Thus, the past tense of βλέπω is είδα. But still, as you'll see below, the vanilla is formed consistently with the stem -βλεπ-, and the strawberry consistently with the stem -δ-. Let's see this irregular verb:

Vanilla flavor: stem -βλεπ- Strawberry flavor: stem -δ-
Present βλέπω I see / am seeing      
Imperfect έβλεπα I was seeing / used to see Past (or Aorist) είδα I saw
Future Progressive θα βλέπω I will be seeing Future θα δω I will see
Subjunctive Progressive να βλέπω to be seeing Subjunctive να δω to see
Conditional Progressive θα έβλεπα I would see / be seeing Judgment [μάλλον] θα είδα I [possibly] saw
Wish / Hope (Optative) [ελπίζω] να έβλεπα [I wish] I could see Assumption [πρέπει] να είδα I [must] have seen
Imperative Progressive βλέπε! [start] seeing! Imperative δες! see!
      Present Perfect έχω δει I have seen
      Pluperfect είχα δει I had seen
      Future Perfect θα έχω δει I will have seen
      Conditional Perfect θα είχα δει I would have seen
Present Participle βλέποντας seeing      

You probably noticed that even the past tense and imperative of this verb are irregular: for example, the past is not formed by prepending έ-, but εί-; and the imperative is not δέσε!, which means another thing (tie!), but δες!.

There are only two more Greek verbs that show a total unrelatedness between their vanilla and strawberry flavors: λέω, or λέγω (I say), which in the past is: είπα, and τρώω (I eat), the past of which is έφαγα. All other irregular verbs are irregular not because their vanilla and strawberry are like the day and the night, but because their strawberry doesn't fall under one of the regular patterns, given the vanilla form (for example: βρίσκω = I find; past: βρήκα = I found); or because they lack most of the forms above, such as the auxiliaries είμαι (I am) and έχω (I have); or because their vanilla is identical to their strawberry, such as κάνω (I do; I make); and so on. Don't worry, as in most languages, the irregular verbs are few in number. But alasalso as in most languages that have irregular verbsthey are the most common ones. (Naturally, because their everyday usage didn't allow them to be "eroded" and evolve, and so be regularized.) So they are very important, and one has to learn them if one wants to master the language. By clicking here you'll see a page that lists the irregular verbs that appear among the 1000 most common Greek words. Each irregular verb is given in a table that includes its vanilla and strawberry stems, just as above.

Visit this page now for more information on modern irregular verbs.

Passive Voice

The passive voice (e.g., I am loosened), too, comes in two flavors. Vanilla is always plain vanilla, identical with the active one, but the passive endings tell us that the form is passive. The second flavor, I'll call it chocolate instead of "passive strawberry", because occasionally it cannot be derived from the other two flavors, so it deserves a name of its own. Usually, however (esp. in regular verbs), the two stems can be derived easily from the corresponding active ones. For example, the active λύνω becomes λύνομαι in the passive voice. Thus, the vanilla stem -λυν- acquires a different ending (-ομαι) and thus signifies passive voice in the present tense. The ending -όμουν (i.e., λυνόμουν) forms the passive imperfect. The chocolate stem is -λυθ-. Thus, the passive subjunctive is λυθώ, and the passive past is λύθηκα. What this means is that knowing the two passive stems (which are usually derivable from the active ones) and the proper endings (which are standardized, and their patterns are very few compared to the active ones) one can figure out the passive forms of a regular verb. The conjugation of passive λύνομαι is given below.

Vanilla flavor: stem -λυν- Chocolate flavor: stem -λυθ-
Present λύνομαι I am [being] loosened      
Imperfect λυνόμουν I was being loosened Past λύθηκα I was loosened
Future Progressive θα λύνομαι I will be being loosened Future θα λυθώ I will be loosened
Subjunctive Progressive να λύνομαι to be being loosened Subjunctive να λυθώ to be loosened
Conditional Progressive θα λυνόμουν I would be loosened Judgment [μάλλον] θα λύθηκα I [possibly] am loosened
Wish / Hope (Optative) [ήθελα] να λυνόμουν [I wish] I could be loosened Assumption [πρέπει] να λύθηκα I [must] have been loosened
Imperative Progressive να λύνεσαι! [start] being loosened! Imperative να λυθείς! be loosened!
      Present Perfect έχω λυθεί I have been loosened
      Pluperfect είχα λυθεί I had been loosened
      Future Perfect θα έχω λυθεί I will have been loosened
      Conditional Perfect θα είχα λυθεί I would have been loosened
      Past Participle λυμένο, -νη, -νος loosened


  1. Once again, there is no distinction between simple and progressive passive present. Whether an action is performed habitually (I am loosened every morning) or progressively (I am being loosened right now), the form in Greek is one: λύνομαι.
  2. Did you notice the added past participle? It is at the end of the chocolate flavor (because it often has that flavor, although this verb is not good at revealing it). Notice that the past participle is an adjectival form (plays the role of an adjective, as in a loosened knot), and as such it has the properties of adjectives: it has three genders (neuter: λυμένο, feminine: λυμένη, masculine: λυμένος), four cases, two numbers, and it must agree in all these with the noun it qualifies.
    One more thing about the past participle: the phrase the knot is loosened in English is ambiguous. It may mean: the knot is loosened, it's not tight anymore, which is using the past participle as an adjective (a "predicate"), and in Greek this is: ο κόμπος είναι λυμένος. Or, it may mean: the knot is loosened every morning, which is passive simple present tense, and in Greek is translated as: ο κόμπος λύνεται. Thus, Greek disambiguates this phrase. Unfortunately, the latter sentence (ο κόμπος λύνεται) is itself ambiguous: besides the progressive and habitual meaning (just mentioned), it may also mean that the knot is "loosenable", i.e., that it is possible to loosen this knot. So much for one-to-one translation between English and Greek passive forms.
  3. "Will be being, to be being"what kind of English is that? (See vanilla flavor, future, subjunctive, and imperative progressive.)
    Sorry. Not my fault. The Greek language uses quite often some forms that are rare in English, and hard to render naturally. For example, consider this: you still have time to answer your message while I will be getting dressed up. This "will be getting [verb]-ed" is the passive progressive future in Greek. Here is the whole sentence translated: έχεις ώρα να απαντήσεις το μήνυμά σου όσο εγώ θα ντύνομαι. An example of the passive progressive subjunctive: I don't like to be getting caught up in trouble: δεν μου αρέσει να μπλέκομαι σε φασαρίες. An example of passive progressive imperative (a piece of advice, especially apt for Americans who want to live for awhile in Europe): when you go out dress up neatly: όταν βγαίνεις έξω, να ντύνεσαι καλάhere it is a habitual aspect which is conveyed, rather than a progressive one. Contrast this with the passive simple imperative: when you go to the interview dress up neatly: όταν πας για τη συνέντευξη, να ντυθείς καλά (you are supposed to go once to the interview, so you'll dress up once only).

Middle Voice

Oh, no! One more "voice"! Aren't two already enough?

Yes, I agree, they are enough, and that's why the so-called middle voice has been trivialized in Modern Greek, to the point that only a single form exists in it, the middle imperative. So you don't have much to learn here. (A couple of thousand years ago, though, you'd have to deal with a more complete "voice"see section on "traditional views", below). Here is our sample verb, λύνω, in its single middle-voice form.

Middle vanilla flavor: stem -λυν- Middle strawberry flavor: stem -λυσ-
Present λύνομαι I am [being] loosened Imperative Middle λύσου! get loosened!


  1. The middle stem -λυσ- is derived from (and is often identical to) the active strawberry stem.
  2. However, conceptually the middle voice is closer to the passive, hence I used λύνομαι, the passive form, as middle present. In the ancient language, the middle-voice forms were identical to the passive forms in all tenses, except in the past ("aorist") and future.

So, what is this "middle voice"? What is its meaning? On what occasions is it used?

Although the forms of this voice have been assimilated into the passive (save for the single one shown above), conceptually this voice is very alive in the mind of a native speaker of Greek. It occurs when a person does something upon themselves. In English we don't make this distinction. For example, suppose a toddler is dressed up by their mother. That's passive voice: the subject (the toddler) is [verb]-ed by another agent (the mother). But now, suppose I am dressed up, i.e., I dress up myself, as every adult usually does. That's middle voice. As you see, there is no change in form in English (it's "dressed", either way), nor would there be a different form in Greek; the difference is conceptual only.

Why is it important to know this, since there are no different middle forms, save for a single one?

For two good reasons:

First, you won't understand why some Greek verbs have only seemingly-passive forms (they should be construed as middle) and no active ones. Take, for example, the verb I think. In English, this is an active verb; it has its passive counterpart, of course (an idea can be thought of), but normally, when you do the thinking, you think in an active sense. In Greek, the conceptualization of what is going on in this case is slightly different. The person who thinks does something upon themselves (modifying their mental state, presumably). Thus, the verb for think is σκέφτομαι (notice the passivebut actually middleending -ομαι), and the imperative (think!) is σκέψου! (compare with λύσου! above). For similar reasons, three more verbs that concern mental states have middle-voice forms only: remember (θυμάμαι, imperative θυμήσου!), sleep (κοιμάμαι, imperative κοιμήσου!), and imagine (φαντάζομαι, imperative φαντάσου!). Last, but not least, the auxiliary verb to be (είμαι, I am) is such a middle-voice-only verb (with no pure imperative form, though; if we want to say be there! we have to say να είσαι εκεί!).

And second, occasionally the middle voice adds a totally new meaning to the verb. For example, take the verb βρίσκω, meaning I find. Hence, its passive & middle form, βρίσκομαι. Now, its passive meaning is: "I am found by someone else", as in: η λύση βρέθηκε από μια διάνοια ("the solution was found by a genius"). Its middle meaning, though, is quite different: it has the sense of "being at a place", as in: αυτή τη στιγμή βρίσκομαι στην πλατεία ("at this moment I am at the square"). Another example: ξεχνάω, or ξεχνώ (a contracted verb), meaning I forget, hence its passive & middle form, ξεχνιέμαι. In its passive sense it means the (expected) "I am forgotten by someone", i.e., forgotten in the memory of a person/some people. In its middle sense ξεχνιέμαι means a completely different thing: "I forget my current worries (e.g., by busying myself with smth. else)", and this sense is probably more common than the passive one. Such shades in meaning cannot be understood if the difference between passive and middle voice is not grasped.

What would be examples of situations in which the middle imperative ought to be used?

Suppose we deal with the verb lose (χάνω) instead of loosen (so that its middle imperative will make more sense). Then the meaning of get lost! is rendered accurately neither with να χάνεσαι! (progressive attitude), nor with να χαθείς! (passive imperative: be lost, but some time later). It is rendered through the middle imperative, χάσου! (If you want to know the exact idiom "get lost!", here it is: "άι χάσου!"; but make sure you use it prudently, if you ever utter it.) Here is another example: [the parent says to the child] you are full of dirt, go now and wash up yourself! γέμισες βρωμιές, πήγαινε αμέσως και πλύσου! (verb: πλένω.) The "do something to oneself" is the hallmark of middle voice.

Traditional Views

For the learner's benefit, it might be useful to compare the above (delicious) approach with some more traditional (tasteless) ones. What one usually finds in books on Greek grammar (whether Modern or Ancient) is the conjugation of a sample verb in each of the two voices (three in the ancient language), and all tenses, moods, and so on. Hence, that's what the linked pages show, below.

The following pages give the conjugation of the verb λύνω (ancient: λύω) in all voices (this verb is the all-time-favorite of Greek grammar books):

Also, the auxiliary verb είμαι (I am, Modern Greek), or ειμί (I am, Ancient Greek) is given in this page.

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Page last updated on 11/23/2006 by Harry Foundalis