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Grammarpedia UCL-English Grammar
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Irene Droppert
English - Modern Greek
Vlaardingen-The Netherlands

There is no element in the Greek language more important than the grammatical time. It is the most complicated and difficult part of the grammar. In English and in most other languages, the grammatical time relates to an operation or activity of the verb in the present, past or future. In Greek, however, it is paramount that the grammatical tense of a verb is not the real time, but the nature of the action or event that represents the verb. The time which is denoted by a phrase or text is secondary.

The main issues of the nature of the action is described by the next three categories:

  • The uninterrupted operation, indicating that the activity or event is still ongoing.
  • A concise event in the past, of which the operation is completed.
  • A closed operation in the past, which represents a result in the present.
Examples:
ελληνικά αγγλικά
1. Η Ελένη γράφει ένα γράμμα στη μητέρα της. Helen writes a letter to her mother.
2. Η Ελένη έγραψε ένα γράμμα στη μητέρα της. Helen wrote a letter to her mother.
3. Η Ελένη έχει γράψει * το γράμμα και αναμένει μια απάντηση σύντομα. Helen has written the letter and expect an answer soon.

* The basic idea behind the perfect tense is that the operation is completed but the result continues. In other words, the progress of the operation has reached the top and the end result is expected. Unlike in English, in which the past tense is used when an operation is completed, Modern Greek just represents the progress of a completed action in the past.

It is important to understand that only when the verb is represented in the indicative mood, the real time directly relates to the grammatical tense of a verb. Thus the time aspect of the grammatical tense of a verb only occurs in this mood.

The following scheme denotes the relation between the grammatical tense and the element time, in the indicative mood:
Grammatical tense Nature of the activity Times
Present Uninterrupted (continuous) progress Today
Perfect Completed, with result Past, with a result today
Imperfect Uninterrupted (continuous) progress Past
Aorist Short completed activity * Past
Pluperfect Completed, with result Past
Continuous future Continuous event ** Future
Simple future Short completed activity *** Future
Future Perfect Completed, with result Future

* When the aorist is considered to be a past tense, many existing texts will be experienced as very confusing and even totally absurd. Only in the indicative mood the aorist indicates the past tense. The term aorist means unspecified and likewise it took place. The aorist also occurs in the subjunctive mood and the imperative mood and those activities, in many cases, take place in the future, instead of in the past.

** The continuous future tense, in which an activity in the future is described as a continuous long-lasting action or repetition. The endings of the verb are formed with the stem of the imperfect.

*** The future tense, moulded with the stem of the aorist forms, which describes a short completed activity.

Examples of the tenses in the above scheme:
ελληνικά αγγλικά
Η Ελένη κι εγώ μαθαίνουμε αγγλικά μαζί. Helen and I are learning English together.

An uninterrupted continuous activity.

Έχει ήδη δηλώσει για τα μαθήματα. She has already signed up for the lessons.

A completed activity in the present with result
(She is going to have lessons).

Γελούσα, αλλά τις περισσότερες φορές δεν μου αρέσουν τα αστεία του. I laughed, but mostly I do not like his jokes.

An activity in the past, which is going on today.

Ο κόσμος ήπιε ούζο στην πλατεία χτες. Yesterday the people drank ouzo in the square.

A completed situation in the past.

Κάποτε είχα δει τους πίνακες του βαν Γκογκ και είχα εντυπωσιαστεί. Once I saw the paintings of van Gogh and was impressed.

A completed activity in the past, with a result.

Αύριο τέτοια ώρα θα μαζεύουμε τα βιβλία. Tomorrow at this time we will collect the books.

An uninterrupted long-lasting activity in future.

Θα τον το στείλω. I will send it to him.

A short completed activity in future.

Θα έχουν περάσει πάνω από τριάντα χρόνια από τότε που συναντούσαμε. It must be more than thirty years ago since we met.

An event which relates to the past, but its completed character represents more a timeline somewhere in the future than in the past.

  • When a verb does not occur in the above schedule, the tense-aspect of the operation is usually emphasized and the correct grammatical tense can be considered. For these cases, the subjunctive mood and the imperative mood can be applied, each with its characteristic:
Some examples of the subjunctive:
Ας πάμε. Let's go.
Άρχισε να λέει ιστορίες. He/she started to tell stories.
Some examples of the imperative:
Πρόσεξε! Είναι επικίνδυνο! Watch out! It's dangerous!
Σηκώσου! Είναι ώρα για το σχολείο. Hurry up! It's time for school.
  • Other special ways to show the content and hence the grammatical tense of a sentence are e.g.:
  • in a conditional way
  • by clearly expressing a wish
  • by an obligation
  • by a possibility
  • Modern Greek uses the tenses to represent activities or events, on a certain moment today, in the past, or in the future, in relation untill the moment of speaking. These tenses have each separately different forms.
  • As said this time-reference occurs especially in the indicative mood, i.e. these forms are not preceded by the particles «να» and «ας» of the subjunctive mood.
  • The different tenses in Modern Greek have both in the active- and in the passive mood their own personal endings.
  • There is a connection with the tense in which the activity of the verb is represented. But above all there is a connection with the way in which that activity is interpreted. That is called the aspect. The aspect and the tenses in MG are linked with each other in a complex way. The nature of the operation or action is the most important element of how we render the tense of a verb.
  • In contrast to the aspect, the tense in MG is characterized by different groups of endings of the verb.
  • The Greek verb tenses don't tell us so much about an absolute time, such as in our language.

The continuous nature of an activity in the past does not apply if the verb to be - «είμαι» is used in the imperfect. In that case, it is considered as a short activity in the past.

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The present tense is used as follows:
  • to represent a single continuous uninterrupted activity or event.
  • to represent a habit.
  • to express that the activity or event is generally true.
  • to describe a repetitive activity.
  • to describe a lively activity.
  • to define a activity from the past, which is still going on at the moment of speaking.
  • to represent an activity or event, which almost certainly happens.
  • to report live sporting events.
  • to clarify an directness in the future.

Some examples:

Ο Πέτρος δουλεύει αυτή τη στιγμή. Pete is working at this moment. (continuous)
Τώρα τελευταία ο Πέτρος δουλεύει πολύ. Now Peter works a lot lately. (uninterrupted)
Ο Πέτρος δουλεύει πολλές ώρες κάθε μέρα. Peter works many hours every day. (habit)
Όμως αυτή δεν είναι η πρώτη φορά που δουλεύει τόσο σκληρά. However it's not the first time that he works that hard. (truth)
Η Ελένη ποτίζει τα τριαντάφυλλα κάθε πρωί. Helen waters the roses each moorning. (repetitive)
Χθες πρωί πρωί χτυπάει η πόρτα ξαφνικά. Yesterday there was a sudden knock on the door, early in the morning. (lively situation)
Πότε ο Πέτρος καθόταν στο γραφείο αυτή μπαίνει μέσα ξαφνικά. When Peter sat behind his desk, she sudddenly walked in. (lively told)
Σήμερα, για παράδειγμα, ο Πέτρος δουλεύει από το πρωί χωρίς διάλειμμα. Today, for example, Peter works from this morning without a break. (an event, which is still going on)
Παίρνω αυτό το φάρμακο από δέκα χρόνια. I swallow this medicin for ten years. (a continuous activity from the past)
Αύριο όμως ο Πέτρος φεύγει για διακοπές. However tomorrow Peter is going on holidays. (almost certain)
Ο Μπέκαμ τρέχει, βρίσκει την μπάλα και βάζει γκολ. Beckham runs, gets the ball and scores. (sport-comment)
Συγνώμη, το ξέχασα, αλλά του το δίνω εγώ απόψε. Sorry, I forgot, but I'll give it to him tonight. (directness)
The imperfect is used as follows:
  • to represent a single continuous activity, event or process in the past.
  • to represent a habit in the past.
  • to represent an ongoing activity from the past, while something else happens too.

Some examples:

Όλο το απόγευμα χτες ο Πέτρος και ο Γιάννης έπαιζαν μπάσκετ. Yesterday Peter and John played basketball all afternoon. (single operation in the past)
Πηγαίναμε μια βόλτα όταν μας είδες. We were going to walk when you saw us. (continuous)
Πέρυσι κάναμε κάθε μέρα μια ώρα γυμναστική. Last year we did gymnastics every day for an hour. (habit)
Ο Πέτρος έπαιζε κάθε απόγευμα έξω όταν ήταν μικρός. Peter played outside every afternoon when he was little. (habit)
Την ώρα που έπαιζαν μπάσκετ άρχισε να βρέχει. At the time that they were playing it began to rain. (activity and event take place in the past)
The aorist is used:
  • to represent a complete or repeated activity or event at a certain time in the past:

Some examples:

Χτες το απόγευμα ο Πέτρος έπαιξε μπάσκετ με τον φίλο του. Yesterday Peter played basketball with his friend in the afternoon.
Ο Πέτρος έπαιξε τρεις φορές μπάσκετ με τους φίλους του. Peter played three times basketball with his friends.
The two future tenses are used as follows::
  • The first one is used to show that the activity or event customary, uninterrupted or repeatedly take place in the future, This tense is formed with the particle «θα» plus the verb in the present tense. (the first two sentences)
  • The second one is used to show that the activity or event is completed on a certain moment in the future, likewise with the particle «θα», but followed by the verb derived from the aorist stem with endings of the present tense. (the two latter sentences).

Some examples:

Κάθε Κυριακή θα τρώμε στου Μήτσου την ταβέρνα. Every Sunday we eat in Mitsos'tavern.
Όταν δουλέψει η μητέρα μου, θα μαθαίνω. Whenm my mother works, I will learn.
θα γράψω το γράμμα απόψε. I will write the letter this evening.
Oλοί μας θα πάμε αύριο. We all will go tomorrow.
The perfect is used:
  • To represent a completed operation or activity in the past, which has a connection with the present, and for which also the aorist is often used
  • To describe an event from the past with a result related to the present.
  • To discussed experiences, which we had whether or not in the past.

Some examples:

Έχω μάθει (of: έμαθα) τα μαθήματά μου από το πρωί. I learned my lessons since this morning. (completed)
Έχουμε βαρεθεί (of: βαρεθήκαμε) να περιμένουμε. We are tired of waiting. (completed with a connection)
Ο Πέτρος έχει δουλέψει τόσο πολύ σήμερα ώστε τώρα θέλει να πάει κατευθείαν για ύπνο Peter has worked so much today that he now wants to go to sleep right away. (activity in the past with an effect today)
Ο Πέτρος έχει ταξιδέψει σε όλο τον κόσμο για τις υποθέσεις του, αλλά δεν έχει πάει ποτέ διακοπές με την φίλη του. Peter has traveled all over the world for business, but he has never been on holydays with his girlfriend. (experiences in the past)
The Pluperfect is used:
  • To represent a complete activety or event in the past, wixch has effect on another situation in the past, unless that is determined or understood emphatically.
  • The completed event had been finished in a distant past:

Some examples:

Το είχα ήδη γνωρίσει, τότε με τηλεφώνησες. It was already known, when you called me.
Στις οχτώ το πρωί είχαμε κιόλας μάθει. At 8 o'clock in the morning we were already learning.
Πέρυσι είχε γράψει αυτό το ιστορία. Last year he had written that story.

Both the perfect tense as well as the pluperfect are formed with the auxiliary verb «έχω»

The difference between the use of the perfect tense and the aorist:
  • Unlike in English the perfect tense can not be used for a very recent event in the past, which is indicated by the following adverbs: «μόλις», «πριν λίγο» and «πριν δέκα λεπτά»:

An example:

Ο Πέτρος έφυγε από το γραφείο πριν δυο λεπτά. Peter left the office a few minutes ago.
  • So «έχει φύγει» can not be here and in that case the aorist is used.
  • The perfect can not be used always in relation to a certain time:
Ο Πέτρος κοιμήθηκε νωρίς χθες το βράδυ Peter went to bed early last night.
  • Here the aorist is used again, instead of «έχει κοιμηθεί» (the perfect tense)

If a certain time that starts in the past lasts till the moment of speaking, adverbs surely can be used, combined with the perfect tense: «Ο Πέτρος έχει πέσει για ύπνο από τις 9.30» - Peter has fallen asleep at 9.30 h..

So there are cases where it is not appropriate to use these tenses mixed up and where we have to use one of the two, with their aforementioned aspect guidelines.

Examples of the perfect tense comparing with the aorist:
ελληνικά αγγλικά
1Βελτιώθηκε πολύ σήμερα ο καιρός. The weather had gotten better today.
2Έχει βελτιωθεί πολύ σήμερα ο καιρός. The weather has been improved today.
3Διάβασα ογδόντα σελίδες μέχρι τώρα. I read eighty pages up to now
4Έχω διαβάσει ογδόντα σελίδες μέχρι τώρα. I have read eighty pages up to now.
5Έφαγα κιόλας δυο μήλα. I ate two appels already.
6Έχω φάει κιόλας δυο μήλα. I have already eaten two apples.

The perfect tense can be exchanged in many situations with the aorist, such as in sentence 1 and 2. In particular, in cases where the aorist possibly can be interpreted as a complete operation with a result in the present and even in cases where the operation is repeated with the adverbs «μέχρι τώρα» (sentence 3) and the adverb «κιόλας» (sentence 5).

The future perfect is used:
  • When one speaks about an activity that will be completed before another activity is completed in future.

Some examples:

Μέχρι τη μέρα των εξετάσεων θα έχω διαβάσει πολύ. Until the day of the exams, I will have read a lot.
Η κυβέρνηση ελπίζει ότι μέχρι το τέλος του χρόνου θα έχει λυθεί το πρόβλημα. The Government hopes that they have solved the problem by the end of the year.

Another use of the particle «θα»:

It is a fact that statements or questions in a future tense with non-affirmative expressions, expressing assumptions or conclusions about the past, present or future are represented with the particle «θα».

Thus also by using this particle, assumptions or contradictory facts are expressed. These may be habits or continuous activities, but also assertions and intentions representing in conditional sentences. This linguistic phenomenon is called the conditionel.

Some examples:

Αν είχα αυτοκίνητο, θα πήγαινα να τον δω. If I had a car, I would go to meet him.
Αν τον το ζητάς φιλικά, θα το κάνει. If you ask him kindly, he will do it.
  • αν, έαν, αμα
  • έτσι και
  • είτε...είτε...
  • σε περίπτωση που
  • εφόσον
  • εκτός αν
  • ακόμη κι αν
  • έστω κι αν
  • if, whether, unless, when
  • as long as
  • in any case, at any rate
  • in case that, in the event that
  • since, as long as
  • unless
  • even if
  • even if

Some examples:

Άμα σ'ενοχλεί ο καπνός, άνοιξε το παράθηρο When the smoke bothers you, open the window.
Έτσι και με πειράξεις, δεν θα σ'επισκέπτομαι As long as you annoy me, I will not visit you.
Ακόμη κι αν το ζητάς φιλικά, δεν θα το κάνω. Even if you ask it nicely, I will not do it.

The negative particle in conditionel sentences, in which the abovementiond words are used, is «δεν». Should a negative sentence unexpectedly starts «αν», then «μην» is used. Conditionel constructions can be divided into facts and opposite facts.

Conditionel constructions with «θα» followed by the future perfect describe an action or a situation that could have happened, but did not take place. This is used in the main clause of an opposite fact.

Some examples:

Αν είχα αρκετά λεφτά, θα την είχα στειλεί στην Ελλάδα. If I only had enough money, I had sent her to Greece.
Αν την είχες γνωρίσει καλύτερα, θα την είχες συμπαθήσει περισσότερο. If you had known her better, you had liked her more.
The mood in which abovementioned constructions are used is the indicative mood. Look here moods
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