Saying hello to people and asking how they are is probably the most important first step in learning Greek.
I’ve already gone over Greek greetings in another piece, so in this one I’ll go over the different ways to ask people how they’re doing.
As in any language, there are several ways to ask people this, ranging from the extremely formal to the completely laid back.
In this piece I’ll share some examples of both extremes and a few in between.
I’ll also touch on the most common replies to these questions, so you can sound proficient on both sides of the dialogue.
Let’s get started.
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How to ask “how are you?” in Greek
The easiest place to begin are the more formal greetings.
The most common is τι κάνετε;, which literally means “what are you doing?” but is used as “how are you?“.
(Don’t forget that the Greek question mark looks like a semicolon, so ”;” instead of ”?“)
If you know how Greek verbs work, you’ll notice that it’s the formal version because it ends in -ετε, the more informal version is τι κάνεις;
Τι κάνετε/κάνεις is the old faithful of asking people how they are in Greek: it works in practically all situations and with everybody.
All you need to worry about is switching between -εις and -ετε and you’re golden.
If you feel like switching things up a bit, there’s a second formal way of asking how people are, namely πώς είστε; which literally means “how are you?”
Again, there’s a pretty common and popular informal version, πώς είσαι;
Between τι κάνεις and πώς είστε — as well as their more informal versions — you pretty much have asking people how they are covered.
Of course, having all your conversation starters be the same two things over and over does get boring, so let’s look at some alternatives.
Informal ways to ask people how they are
Before we get into all the other ways to ask “how are you?” in Greek, we should mention that all of the ones below are informal.
You should make sure you know people, at least a little, before using them.
Though Greeks don’t stand too much on protocol — a bit like the informal Dutch — you don’t want to get too chummy either.
I mean, when you visit your granddad, you don’t ask him “‘sup, bro?” either — unless you have a particularly cool grandpa.
Besides the everyday τι κάνεις; and πώς είσαι; another common one is είσαι καλά; which literally means “are you well?”
You’ll hear this one a lot, particularly among friends and acquaintances.
You could also use the formal version of this, so είστε καλά;, but that really just means “are you alright?” or “are you okay?”
It’s more an expression of concern when used in the formal.
Another expression that can be both asking people how they are as well as making sure they’re okay is όλα καλά; which means “all good?”
That one has as benefit that it can be either formal as well as informal, but as you can guess it feels a lot more on the chummy side.
If the above options all seem a bit too stuffy, you can be even more more laid back and ask somebody πώς πας;, or “how are you going?”
A variant of this is πώς πάει;, which is more like “how is it going?” but that one is usually more used for asking people how work is, or how a certain activity is coming along.
It’s a lot like English, really, so that’s probably the best way to remember the difference.
In the same relaxed vein we find τι νέα (“what’s new?”) and τι γίνεται (“what’s happening?”).
Again, these are pretty informal, but very common to use, especially with people you know well.
Before we move on to the most common ways to respond to all the above, let’s take a short regional detour to Cyprus.
Though all the above greetings are understood on the island, there are several ways to ask how people are in the Cypriot dialect.
The most common on is ‘ινναμπου κάμνεις; or just νάμπου κάμνεις.
Using either version will get you a smile in Cyprus — very few people know this dialect outside of the island — though most likely just a confused expression when used anywhere in Greece.
It’s pretty much the same as saying τι κάνεις, just in a dialect that hasn’t changed as much since medieval times as standard Greek has.
We have another article where we talk more about comparing koine to modern Greek if you’d like to learn more.
How to respond to being asked how you are
Just as with the questions, there are several ways to respond to “how are you?” in Greek.
Again, we’ll just go over the basics here and skip the very regional ones, or the ones that use very specific slang.
Your most trustworthy answer when asked how you are is “well,” or καλά.
You can use it in most situations and with most people; in fact, like in most languages, it would be considered rude to say you’re doing badly with anybody that with friends.
With most people it’s best to just be upbeat and say καλά or even just add a “very” into the mix and say πολύ καλά.
If you want to tie a little ribbon around your answer, you could also thank the person for asking by saying ευχαριστώ at the end.
Returning the favor (asking ‘how are you’ back as a response)
Of course, it’s also quite rude to not ask how people are in return. The simplest way to do so is by adding “you” to your reply, making the dialogue look a little like this.
Γεια σου, τι κάνεις;
Καλά, ευχαριστώ, εσύ;
Note that we’re using the informal “you,” use εσείς in formal situations.
Some people think saying just εσύ is a little abrupt and will say και εσύ (“and you”), instead, but it’s the same difference.
Other ways to respond
Of course, when with people you know — or even if you just want to change things up a bit — you can say things other than “well.”
We’ll start with the best and move down to the worst.
The absolute pinnacle of wholesomeness in Greek is θαύμα, which means “miracle.”
If you’re θαύμα, nothing could possible be better: you’re healthy, you’ve just won the lottery and the love of your life just agreed to marry you.
Below that is τέλεια (“perfect”), which oddly enough is below “miracle,” but there you go.
You’re still doing well, but you stubbed your toe and the lottery prize was a little less than you’d hoped.
Next in the hierarchy are πολύ καλά and regular καλά, which we already discussed. Things are going fine, no problems.
About on par with καλά is μια χαρά, which literally means “a delight” or “a pleasure” but is used to say “good” or “fine.”
If you’re not doing great, but not badly either, there are two ways to say “so-so” in Greek. ‘Ετσι-και-ετσι, pronounced as “etsiketsi,” is when things are on the good end of mediocre, while you use καλούτσικα when they’re on the way down.
If you’ve lost your filter completely because of all the woes in your life, you can say you’re χάλια, but that means that things are disastrous or terrible.
You use this when things are just the pits: you lost your job, your spouse left you and your dog died. Obviously, you wouldn’t use this one with people you don’t know too well.
For some reason you don’t usually say things are just “bad” in Greek, you jump from “meh” straight to “awful.”
Summary: How are you in Greek
Hopefully this guide is enough to get you started with simple conversations, as well as adding some spice to everyday interactions.
As a next step, check out my guide on how to introduce yourself in Greek.