How To Learn Greek Through English Roots

avatarMille Larsen
3 mins read

In my last post I pointed out a number of false friends that make life more difficult for the new learner of Modern Greek. But everything isn't bleak... there are also some not-so-false friends that can be used to your advantage. Today, I'll look at some of the ways that Greek words can be found in the roots of English words.

Note: I have not done any investigation to prove actual etymology, and I am not asserting that these words are directly historically related, though it seems almost obvious that most of them are. I apologize, but I have to say that in order to prevent the unnecessary comments from self-appointed "language police", who will almost certainly litter the comment section with arguments about actual linguistic history.

Anyway, I present these word connections in this way because such mnemonic (μνημονικό) devices do help the learner. They've definitely helped me!

So then, let's take a look at some vocabulary that is immediately meaningful to the beginning learner of Modern Greek. Many of the English words to which I correlate the Greek will have scientific or medical meanings, which is a good indication that they are, in fact, using Greek roots.

άνθρωπος - pronounced "anthropos", which sounds like the beginning of "anthropology", the study of man, which makes sense because the word means "man"!

γυναίκα - pronounced "gineca", it obviously reminds me of the word "gynecology" which deals with women's health. The Greek word means "woman".

παιδί - pronounced "pedi", it's the start of "pediatrician" which is a medical field dealing with children. The word means "child".

θεός - pronounced "theos", it reminds me of the word "theology", the study of gods. And as you probably guessed, the word means "god".

χρώμα - pronounced "chroma", it calls to mind the term "chromatic", which deals with colors. The word means "color".

αριθμός - pronounced "arithmos", it reminds me of the word "arithmetic", the theory of numbers. Not surprisingly, this word means "number".

λέξη - pronounced "lexi", you can probably already see that in any lexicon, this word means "word".

κρέας - pronounced "kreas", it reminds me of the beginning of the word "creatine", a chemical that helps to build muscle. Muscle is meat, and that's what this word means: "meat".

πατέρας - pronounced "pateras", it's a fairly obvious cognate for "father", but it also helps to remember that it sounds like the beginning of the word "paternal".

μητέρα - pronounced "mitera", like the previous example it's an easy cognate for "mother, but it also sounds like the beginning of the word "maternal", which adds a little more meaning and perhaps makes it easier to remember.