Seriously, how do I learn the verbs?

I’ve been learning Greek on LingQ on and off for years now, with a Greek girlfriend and trips every year to Greece. I can read novels and newspapers, I can listen to the radio to varying degrees of success, and I can even hold basic conversations with Greeks without too much trouble (“Wow, you speak so well”, after I make a mistake conjugating the most basic of verb forms for the third time).

My question: when it comes down to brass tacks, how do you personally hammer through grammar issues? I’m frustrated by my inability to correctly use the Greek verbal system in a productive manner. I’ve done years of comprehensive input, but I still make mistake after mistake, especially with the verbs, primarily because (I think), I’ve never actually sat down and worked on the verbs as a grammatical category.

I love LingQ for learning by listening and reading, but I think it’s made me lazy: I stopped “studying” the language because it’s much easier just to read another newspaper article or a chapter from a book on LingQ.

Perhaps I’m just venting frustration, but I feel as though I should be much further along than I am, and that my current method of mindlessly lingquing is holding me back. Any suggestions?


Haha, having the same problem! What I found is helping me improve some of the common mistakes (genitive for example) is after identifying the types of mistakes I make the most frequently, to create example sentences that focus on the issue I am trying to improve. I get a recording of someone reading out those sentences which I listen to every so often while walking the dogs, etc. For me at least, I find that it is great to know all the grammar rules (to some degree), but by re-hearing the example sentences that serve as exemplars, helps it to become second nature, so when you are speaking, instead of trying to think of the rule, one of those sentences with a similar pattern verb pops into your mind (that is the theory at least, it is a work in progress!)

I totally agree that grammar drills and active output correction is necessary as a complement to massive input

One possibility is to do some “sentence mining”. That is, as you read select interesting sentences that use different verbal forms in context, then review them in some spaced repetition system. You can tag those sentences on Lingq, e.g, then review them on Lingq itself or export them for use in Anki. Or you can write them directly in your favorite software.
If you want to challenge yourself, use the translation as a the front part of the flashcards (by editing the exprted sentences) and try to come up with the correct Greek sentence. Don’t forget to think a bit why that particular form appears in each sentence. This combination of searching for sentences, reviewing in meaningful contexts and paying attention may prove helpful.

Not learning Greek yet myself (and I’m a beginner in general), but in my experience I find that there’s a very specific pattern in which I usually learn grammar.

  1. Look for more comprehensible input at my level.
  2. Watch/read it till there are one or two patterns I recognise but don’t fully know/understand. (I can usually tell because I get the nagging feeling that I’ve seen them before and just need to look them up.)
  3. Look up the grammar I think they may be. Learn about it till I feel comfortable, maybe take a look at some similar or related patterns.
  4. Review whatever I’ve been reading/watching. This time I usually understand these patterns fine and grasp more of what’s being said . Sometimes I get a few more patterns that are similar or related.
  5. Repeat from step 1 or step 2: I’ll usually start recognizing some other new pattern now.

There are a couple points worth noting:

  • A pattern isn’t necessarily a whole conjugation/declension or the same case across many declensions/conjugations, it’s often just one thing such as a single case in a single declension/conjugation (or all the ones where that case has the same form). Little steps at a time. Which sounds slow but I’ve learned better and faster this way than anything else I’ve tried so far.
  • This seems to work especially well when I do not plan what I’m going to try to learn, but let it happen spontaneously. It’s very systematic as a process, but not at all systematic in what I try to pick up next. I think that’s because what my brain is ready to “get” next isn’t necessarily what I would think is logical; I’ve seen things that looked complicated or unfamiliar in the grammar, chosen to ignore them at that time, and then learned them unexpectedly and usually realized only afterwards that it’s the thing I had thought would be hard and had decided not to worry about. A lot of things turned out to be more straightforward than I expected, in practice.
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For some months now, I like to use the tags to manually write the “infinitive”* version of the verbs as a short exercise. I have quite a tag database now, and for the most part I do autofill the forms, but it still gives me more information when encountering a verb, plus it forces me to think about how to conjugate it. It gets better with time.
As an extra bonus, if you export your LingQs to Anki etc. the tags are preserved, so you will see those “infinitive” forms in your cards.

*(First person singular present, in the active voice, unless the verb has only medio passive, in which case I write the medio passive first person singular. This has also the advantage of helping with my dictionary, “Mate Translate” which usually only gives results if you search for the “infinitive” form of a verb.)

Now, it really depends on what you think your issue is.
Do you make mistakes because you don’t know conjugation patterns?
Do you not know the stems in order to build past tenses?
Do you have trouble with medio passive voice verbs?
Do you strongly hate verbs that use the genitive?
Do you have trouble choosing between perfective and imperfect tenses after να?
Many of those issues may be “easily” solved, others may take some time. I am very far away from mastering the verbs in Greek, but of those points, only to the last one I pay attention constantly. Not that I do not make mistakes elsewhere, but way less comparatively I would say.

NB: I don’t know if you use Neurolingo, if that is the case, you could try to use up those 10 free look ups per day (30 with a free account), with verbs that may give you some trouble. That could be a possible daily task for verb learning.


Could you go into a little more detail about your tagging system? If I understand correctly, when you encounter, say, the word “αγαπήθηκα”, you would tag it with “αγαπάω”? Do you add any grammatical tags, such as 1p, singular, passive, past? Also, how exactly does identifying the infinitive form help you learn the verb paradigms?

I used to tag aAncient Greek verbs with a lot of parsing info (number, mood, tense, etc. ) but I found it to be a slog and I didn’t find myself using the tagged info that much to make it that useful as a tool. Perhaps I just need to stick with it more…

Otherwise, yes, I used to use Neurolingo a lot (I believe I was the one who suggested it be added to LingQ in the first place). I even bought their app, which gives you unlimited lookups on their website. If I remember correctly it was very cheap, 3 dollars or something. Very worth it!

I’ll check out Mate, I use a popup dictionary called Goldendict with a good many dictionaries I’ve downloaded over the years.

Do you use discord? It would take less time if I could stream the process instead of writing a long and probably confusing explanation. If you don’t please tell me and I’ll do it nonetheless.

I do, actually! My username is: gregdefleur#3242

I’ve been using Glossika (30-60 minutes daily) to hammer in vocabulary and grammar. It’s brutal but it really helps you notice. I’ve realised that unless you’re exposed to the language 6-7 hours plus, it is more efficient add in some form of structure to your learning. In my experience Greek learning textbooks are mostly hopeless, full of crosswords and circle where the article should go instead of drilling patterns. I feel with 4 or 5 more months of Glossika or something like it, I’ll be ready to confidently output.

I would recommend “studying” again. Obviously the input hypothesis still holds but I believe you can greatly improve the rate of absorption with some study… Maybe 30% of your time.

I tried Anki, but I was loosing too much time making cards and wasn’t overly convinced it was working. I think Greek verges on the “unknown” for English language learners, you can’t get away as easily with just input - unless your time horizon is much longer. I noticed that in language learners of Asian languages that their studying takes up a significantly greater proportion of their time - I think we need to adjust accordingly.

I have more trouble with certain conjugations: we and they and the formal you (which is also the plural you, y’all, in Polish). That’s because I don’t encounter them much. I know “I” very well in all the tenses because I always need to talk about myself. I know “you” a little less well since I don’t spend a lot of time asking my tutor questions about herself (since my listening skills are pretty weak!). But I still know it reasonably well because it gets covered in sample dialogues or TV shows where people are talking to each other. I know he/she/it probably the second best because almost all stories are written in the 3rd person and my tutor and I are working on a story together and it’s all in the 3rd person so I get practice writing it.

But stories aren’t written from the plural 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person POVs, and as I live alone, I don’t often talk about “we” or “they,” so my practice with them is very limited. As a result, I am much more likely to make conjugation mistakes with them, especially outside the present tense.

You may be in a similar situation where you are reading a lot, but you’re just not encountering some conjugations often enough for them to stick. You can practice them with flashcards, or maybe write something where you will use them. For instance, if you are weak in the same conjugations as me, try writing a journal about what you and your girlfriend did the last time you were together. (That will use a lot of “we.”) Or tell a story about what your parents (they) did on their last trip. For a formal or plural “you,” write instructions for someone (or some group of people) to follow in order to do your job while you are on vacation. You can even re-write everything in a different tense if you need practice in them. Let your girlfriend correct it for you, then you can load it into LingQ to read and re-read and make flashcards.