I wanted

goonhilly

Member
English
Occasionally I get one of those days having learnt my limited Greek by rote from limited language books and considered that it was strange that when it comes to the use of "I wanted" it is always translated as the "imperfect" or past continuous and I can understand the concept of "open continuous "context but is it that I have missed this somehow and you would only use ήθελα and the only time you would use ΄θέλησα' is when you would say I did want ? It is almost impossible to find the use of the simple past of the verb θέλω, in any of the books I have. It may well be that in English or my own limited use of correct grammar in my own language that it is the incorrect assumption that in the UK most people accept the use of I wanted as a simple past or perhaps either. And may be it is the same in the Greek language ?
 
  • Konstantinos

    Senior Member
    Greek - Athens
    ήθελα: Ι was wanting
    θέλησα: I wanted

    But θέλησα is restricted strictly in instantaneous - momentary desire. I will tell you two examples:

    1) Όλο το βράδυ ήμουν έξω από το σπίτι της. Χτύπαγα το κουδούνι συνέχεια, ήθελα να της μιλήσω, αλλά αυτή με απέφευγε. Την άλλη μέρα συναντηθήκαμε τυχαία στο δρόμο και κοιταζόμασταν για 5 δευτερόλεπτα. Εγώ θέλησα να την πιάσω να την φιλήσω, αλλά τελικά δεν το έκανα.

    2) Εχθές παρακολουθούσα μια επιστημονική παρουσίαση σε ένα συνέδριο. Ήθελα να μάθω κάποια πράγματα, ήθελα να μιλήσω με συναδέλφους... Σε κάποια στιγμή, θέλησα να σηκώσω το χέρι μου να κάνω μια απορία.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    It is almost impossible to find the use of the simple past of the verb θέλω, in any of the books I have. It may well be that in English or my own limited use of correct grammar in my own language that it is the incorrect assumption that in the UK most people accept the use of I wanted as a simple past or perhaps either. And may be it is the same in the Greek language ?
    "Ήθελα" is imperfect and "θέλησα" is aorist but the truth is that "ήθελα" is used to express both the past tense and the past continuous. In general it is by far the most commonly used between those two forms. On the other hand the use of "θέλησα" is rare enough.
    This is why you find out that...
    when it comes to the use of "I wanted" it is always translated as the "imperfect" or past continuous
     

    goonhilly

    Member
    English
    Having read back today on some of my older comments it is noticeable that I see above that I said
    'when it comes to the use of "I wanted" it is always translated as the "imperfect" or past continuous'- isn't that the same thing?
    Anyway, I have started to endeavor to relearn Greek again realizing that I had put so much effort into self-study (a lot of time spent on written exercises ) and then deciding that until I spent some time in Greece talking more- I would not (so I thought) improve. Giving it a second "go" I was surprised that I had not forgotten too much to get a bit of a kick start.
    I will see how we get on as I definitely think I have taken a lot more on board in a few weeks and have started some more work online trying to verbally practice.
    It was pleasing for me to see that some of the mainstays of this Greek Forum are still giving out FREELY their time and effort since 2018ish when I believe in 2019 I stopped altogether.
    I have today used this site and also "CoolJugator" for reviewing this concern over the use of Θα ήθελα and this time I note that the explanation was in plain site as I was getting the two verb tenses "Θα ήθελα" and "ήθελα" mixed up then, i.e. I unwittingly had dropped the θα in my mind.
    Advising that many use or prefer to use "ήθελα" instead of "θέλησα" also through me but today I was listening to some old Pimsleur taps/recordings where the instructor never mentioned once that "θέλησα" is the past or to use the correct term aorist.

    She just simply said that ήθελα translated as I wanted but I think it might have been better sometimes if she had said that one was past continuous i.e used in a more "open" or continuous context ie I was wanting-"ήθελα" and the other was I wanted as "θέλησα" in a sort of closed context or use. Albeit it seems that as above much more knowledgeable in everyday use it seems that "ήθελα" is used more often regardless of the issue of closed or continuous. I hope that I have grasped it a little better.
     

    Konstantinos

    Senior Member
    Greek - Athens
    Don't have in your mind the difference between ήθελα and θέλησα as 50-50. It is more like 99-1. I am talking about the frequency. It is like comparing the precaution and prophylaxis. 99% they mean the same, but which one is used more frequently?

    I'd suppose that more than 80% of Greeks have never used the word θέλησα in their lives.

    Θέλησα reminds me something about either a momentary desire or a polite / political / ecclesiastical way of desiring.

    So, you should always use ήθελα and about θέλησα you just have to know its meaning and that's all. I think it will be enough for the C1 and C2 Greek levels.

    Learning to use θέλησα makes sense only for lawyers.
     

    goonhilly

    Member
    English
    Don't have in your mind the difference between ήθελα and θέλησα as 50-50. It is more like 99-1. I am talking about the frequency. It is like comparing the precaution and prophylaxis. 99% they mean the same, but which one is used more frequently?

    I'd suppose that more than 80% of Greeks have never used the word θέλησα in their lives.

    Θέλησα reminds me something about either a momentary desire or a polite / political / ecclesiastical way of desiring.

    So, you should always use ήθελα and about θέλησα you just have to know its meaning and that's all. I think it will be enough for the C1 and C2 Greek levels.

    Learning to use θέλησα makes sense only for lawyers.
    Konstantinos:

    Thanks for the response and this certainly helps. Just one little thing and it may well be because of the way I have expressed myself and that is if I am using, therefore "ήθελα" as the past I drop the "Θα῾ I assume? Only reemploying it as "Θα ήθελα " when I would like to say "I would like"?

    Hence if I wanted to say ῾they wanted῾ I would use "ήθελαν" and "they would like"="Θα ήθελαν" I know a little pendantic but my textbook has now been found and I hope I now see where to go on this verb. Therefore if I was trying to say I was wanting to go I assume I would say "ήθελαν...να" and use context for " I used to want" OR am falling into the Greek abyss here??

    “θέλω ‘I want’ has imperfect ήθελα, but in the forms with a two-syllable ending there is no ή-: θέλαμε ‘we wanted’;
    • ξέρω ‘I know’ has imperfect ήξερα, but, like θέλω, no extra vowel in ξέραμε ‘we knew’, etc.;
    • πίνω ‘I drink’ has simple past ήπια, with ή- in all persons and numbers, but imperfect έπινα.”

    Excerpt From ( is what I looked up)
    Greek: An Essential Grammar of the Modern Language
    David Holton, Peter Mackridge & Irene Philippaki-Warburton
    This material is protected by copyright.
     

    Konstantinos

    Senior Member
    Greek - Athens
    Yes, in Greek when you want to say "I would verb", you say "I will verbed".

    For example

    Yesterday I would go to hike if it was not raining.

    Yesterday I "will went" to hike if it was not raining.

    Εχθές θα πήγαινα για περπάτημα στο βουνό αν δεν έβρεχε.

    I used to want is translated as: Συνήθιζα να θέλω.

    About the ήπια, bear in mind that it is the only word in Greek (or just one of the few) that has different polytonic pronunciations like Chinese.

    When it is the past of πίνω, it is pronounced with two syllables: ή πια. When it is the feminine of ήπιος, π.χ. ήπια συμπεριφορά, ήπια μετάβαση κτλ (or the adverb of ήπιος, as ήπια) it is pronounced with three syllables: ή πι α.

    But if you say: "Εχθές το βράδυ ή πι α κρασί" or "η αποδοχή της κατάστασης από την πλευρά του έγινε πολύ ή πια", again you will be understood.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Phrases are not much use without context.

    "I used to want" is not Συνηθιζα να θελω.

    I used to want expensive things.
    (Παλιά) ήθελα ακριβά πράγματα.

    I used to want to be an actress.
    (Παλιά) ηθελα να γίνω ηθοποιός.

    Ηθελα... can be "I wanted", "I used to want", "I have wanted" or "I've been wanting". (I don't think we often use "I was wanting" in English.)

    Why did you take my pen? Sorry, I just wanted to write a number.
    Συγγνώμη, ήθελα απλώς να γράψω εναν αριθμό.

    How long had you been wanting/had you wanted to go to Greece?
    Πόσο καιρό ήθελες να πας στην Ελλάδα;

    I've always wanted to go to Greece.
    Παντα ήθελα να παω στην Ελλαδα.


    I've been wanting to go for a long time.
    Ήθελα να παω για πολύ καιρό.
     

    Konstantinos

    Senior Member
    Greek - Athens
    "I used to want" is not Συνηθιζα να θελω.

    The wordreference dictionary disagrees with you.

    I used to want expensive things.
    (Παλιά) ήθελα ακριβά πράγματα.

    I used to want to be an actress.
    (Παλιά) ηθελα να γίνω ηθοποιός.

    Ok, translate the following sentences into English:

    Παλιά συνήθιζα να θέλω ακριβά πράγματα.
    Παλιά συνήθιζα να θέλω να γίνω ηθοποιός.

    Why not symmetrical translation:

    Ήθελα: I wanted, I was wanting

    Συνήθιζα να θέλω: I used to want
     

    ioanell

    Senior Member
    Greek
    The wordreference dictionary disagrees with you.
    Wordreference is not the Pope with his Infallible. Very many times mistakes have taken place and been corrected accordingly. Besides, to an extent it's compiled and corrected by users like us. When Wordreference writes: used to (always in past (in the past)=συνηθίζω it refers to cases such as, e.g.: In the summers I used to go to my grandpa's village / Τα καλοκαίρια πήγαινα (ή συνήθιζα να πηγαίνω :tick:) στο χωριό του παππού μου (accepted as it refers to actions). It isn't expected and accepted in the Greek translation as συνήθιζα if it refers to volition and emotions such as, e.g. I used to want = (παλιά) ήθελα (συνήθιζα να θέλω :cross:) or I used to be happy = (παλιά) χαιρόμουν / (συνήθιζα να χαίρομαι :cross:) or I used to be sad = (παλιά) λυπόμουν (συνήθιζα να λυπάμαι :cross:).

    Yes, in Greek when you want to say "I would verb", you say "I will verbed". 🤔o_O
     
    Last edited:

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    My two bits on ήθελα / θα ήθελα / θέλησα:
    Verbs expressing a state are usually used in their imperfective forms (present, imperfect, durative future).
    Some, notably είμαι, έχω, ξέρω, περιμένω, and πρέπει, lack perfective forms (aorist and those derived from its stem) altogether.
    Most do have perfective forms, but those usually express a momentary event, or else the beginning of a state. Thus, κοιμάμαι means 'I sleep', but the aorist κοιμήθηκα usually means 'I fell asleep'. (It can also mean 'I slept and then woke up', as in κοιμήθηκα ως τις δέκα το πρωί σήμερα.) Likewise, φοβάμαι means 'I am afraid', but φοβήθηκα usually means 'I was seized by fear' (at a definite moment): άκουσα θόρυβο και φοβήθηκα = I heard a noise and was scared. But if you just want to say that you were afraid of something during an extended time period, you must use the imperfect: Δεν πολυέβγαινα έξω, γιατί φοβόμουν μην αρρωστήσω = I didn't go out much, as I was afraid I might fall ill.
    Similarly, as wanting = desiring is a state of mind, θέλω is mostly used in its imperfective forms θέλω and ήθελα. The aorist θέλησα mostly means 'I was seized by the urge to': Θέλησα να σηκωθώ, αλλά ζαλίστηκα κι έπεσα = I tried to get up, but was seized by dizziness and fell (compare ήθελα να σηκωθώ, αλλά ζαλιζόμουν = I wanted to get up, but felt dizzy, i.e. while I was lying in bed, I did have the desire to get up, but I felt dizzy all the time and thus didn't try or manage to get up.)
    This distinction doesn't really exist in English. One says 'I was sick', using the same verbal form, to mean both 'I was ill (during a certain length of time)' and 'I threw up (at a certain moment)'. In Greek we must say ήμουν άρρωστος (imperfect tense) but έκανα εμετό (aorist; this is actually a bad example, because κάνω is one of the few verbs that don't distinguish their present from their aorist stem; the vulgar synonym ξέρασα = 'I puked' is a better illustration, since its present is ξερνώ and its imperfect ξερνούσα.)

    Θα ήθελα is yet another story. The conditional mode is expressed by a combination of θα + imperfect (or θα + pluperfect) in modern Greek: αν είχα λεφτά, θα παντρευόμουν = if I had money, I would get married; αν το ήξερα, δεν θα είχα έρθει = if I had known, I wouldn't have come. Similarly, θα ήθελα simply means 'I would like'; it is simply a polite way of asking for something (θα ήθελα έναν καφέ = I would like a cup of coffee.) The aorist can't be used in that sense.
    (Θα can be used with the present or the aorist in a different sense, namely to express a guess. Θα λείπει or θα έφυγε mean 'I guess he is away', 'I suppose he has left' -- in speaking e.g. of somebody who won't answer his home phone. Likewise, if a sick person is found lying on the floor, you can say θα θέλησε να σηκωθεί και θα ζαλίστηκε = he probably tried to get up and had a dizzy spell. This is perfectly standard usage, but is understandably much less frequent than θα ήθελα in the sense of 'I would like'.)

    To sum up: Greek makes an obligatory distinction between an ongoing or repeated action and an action performed until its completion in the past (έγραφα = I was writing or I used to write, έγραψα = I wrote (e.g. a letter) and was done writing) and in the future and subjunctive (θα γράφω = I will write regularly, θα γράψω = I will write once; να μας γράφεις = write to us regularly, να μας γράψεις άμα φτάσεις = write to us when you get there), but not in the conditional, which is only θα έγραφα (θα έγραψε can only mean 'I suppose he wrote'). With verbs like θέλω that express a state, the perfective (aoristic) forms, if they exist at all, usually express the beginning of that state, or else the total duration of a state that came to an end (as in έζησε ως το 1995 = he lived until 1995, implying that he died in 1995.)
     

    Helleno File

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    That's an excellent exposition of the difference between the continuous and non-continuous tenses, Άγγελε! Unfortunately for us learners it is, as you say an obligatory distinction. We just don't think that way in English so when speaking Greek we have to consciously be aware of all the traps coming up.

    I was already beginning to think κοιμήθηκα often meant "fall asleep" as well as a completed period of sleep so am glad of that! On your θα λείπει example of an explanatory guess I think Scots dialect has "he'll be away [then]" but this would be unusual south of the border.
     

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    On your θα λείπει example of an explanatory guess I think Scots dialect has "he'll be away [then]" but this would be unusual south of the border.
    Interesting. I didn't know that. Curiously, Spanish and Italian also have a similar construction: they use the future to express that something is probably true now.
     

    Helleno File

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    So what is probably the most famous line in modern Greek poetry: ἤδη θὰ τὸ κατάλαβες οἱ Ἰθάκες τὶ σηµαίνουν is an example of the explanatory guess!! In English it would be "must have" or "will have". I presume there is a formal term for this kind of construction.
     

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    It is c
    So what is probably the most famous line in modern Greek poetry: ἤδη θὰ τὸ κατάλαβες οἱ Ἰθάκες τὶ σηµαίνουν is an example of the explanatory guess!! In English it would be "must have" or "will have". I presume there is a formal term for this kind of construction.
    It is called πιθανολογική (έγκλιση), but few people know that term. I don't think it is taught in school. Here is the relevant passage from the 1941 official grammar:
    1663927471768.png

    Note that in the above passage, Tριανταφυλλίδης spells "θα διαβάζη" with a final H even in the 'surmising mode', no doubt so as not to introduce a further complication; other philologists, like Τζάρτζανος, recommended spelling it with an EI, to distinguish it from the true future. Luckily, this purely orthographic distinction was done away with in the 1976 reform!
     
    Last edited:

    ioanell

    Senior Member
    Greek
    In the Grammar currently tought in school, this matter with "θα" is not delt with in the section of the "Grammatical Moods", but in the section of the "Particles", as shown in the relevant table.

    Χρήση και είδη μορίων

    11.1
    Ορισμός - Λειτουργία - Χρήση - Είδη
    Τα μόρια είναι μονοσύλλαβες λέξεις που χρησιμοποιούνται στη νέα ελληνική με διάφορες σημασίες. Τα μόρια αυτά είναι τα εξής: ας, για, θα, μα, να. Ο παρακάτω πίνακας δείχνει τα μόρια της νέας ελληνικής και τις σημασίες που εκφράζουν στον λόγο.

    Μόριο
    Φανερώνει
    Ονομάζεται
    Παραδείγματα
    ας
    προτροπή
    συγκατάθεση
    προτρεπτικό
    Ας φάμε τώρα.
    Ας γίνει όπως λες.
    για
    προτροπή
    προτρεπτικό
    Για πάμε μέχρι εκεί.
    θα
    κάτι που θα γίνει

    κάτι που θα μπορούσε
    να γίνει
    κάτι που είναι πιθανόν
    να έχει συμβεί
    μελλοντικό



    δυνητικό


    πιθανολογικό
    Θα σου πω.

    Δε σου άρεσε. Αλλιώς,
    θα έτρωγες.

    Μάλλον θα τελείωσε.
    μα
    επιβεβαίωση, όρκο
    ορκωτικό
    Μα την αλήθεια.
    Μα τον Θεό.
    να
    δείξη
    δεικτικό
    Να το χωριό μου.

    Σύμφωνα με ορισμένες περιγραφές της νέας ελληνικής μόρια είναι και τα παρακάτω: ναι, όχι, δε(ν), μη(ν).
     

    Helleno File

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Thanks Άγγελε and Ioanell for taking the time to locate and post the detailed grammatical background. In the second, μάλλον makes it crystal clear and would work with a present tense verb as well.

    PS surmise is a lovely English word IMHO. ;)
     

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Unfortunately for us learners it is, as you say an obligatory distinction. We just don't think that way in English so when speaking Greek we have to consciously be aware of all the traps coming up.

    That's a very good point. What comes naturally to a native speaker can often become a puzzle (or booby trap) to those who are new to the language.

    "Θέλησα" is not unheard of but seems to be more frequent in the media or maybe in more formal contexts. E.g.:

    πρόεδρος της Τουρκίας θέλησε να οξύνει για ακόμα μια φορά την ένταση στις σχέσεις με την Ελλάδα, κάνοντας αναφορά στη «σφαγή της Τριπολιτσάς», μόνο που ανάρτησε λάθος πίνακα στο Twitter…"

    (The Turkish President wanted to sharpen once again the tension in the relations with Greece, referring to the "Massacre of Tripolitsa", only that he posted the wrong picture on Twitter...)

    Ρετζέπ Ταγίπ Ερντογάν: Προκάλεσε για την Τριπολίτσα με γκάφα μεγατόνων - Ανέβασε τον λάθος πίνακα - Newsbomb - Ειδησεις - News

    "ΣΥΡΙΖΑ: «Ο Μητσοτάκης θέλησε να το παίξει Θάτσερ»"

    ("Mitsotakis wanted to play Thatcher")

    ΣΥΡΙΖΑ: «Ο Μητσοτάκης θέλησε να το παίξει Θάτσερ» (politic.gr)

    "Θέλησα να ταξιδέψω" (I wanted to travel) – Folk song

    "Ό,τι θέλησα στη ζωή μου, το έζησα" (I lived everything I wanted in my life) - Άννα Ανδριανού (Actress)

    From a Greek learner’s perspective, the confusion seems to arise from ήθελα being used for θέλησα.

    In other words, θέλησα (“I wanted”) is simple or perfective past (called “aorist” or “aorist indicative” in some older books) and should, strictly speaking, be used when a momentary action (of finite duration) is meant. And ήθελα is imperfect or imperfective past and should be used for a continuous or repeated/habitual action.

    However, ήθελα (“I used to want”) is normally used to express both tenses – as well as to form subjunctive sentences, e.g., “θα ήθελα να …” (“I would like to …”).

    So, it looks like (for an English speaker at least) the best bet would be to use "ήθελα" in the same way as English "I wanted" and avoid "θέλησα" - in the beginning.
     

    Konstantinos

    Senior Member
    Greek - Athens
    Wordreference is not the Pope with his Infallible. Very many times mistakes have taken place and been corrected accordingly. Besides, to an extent it's compiled and corrected by users like us. When Wordreference writes: used to (always in past (in the past)=συνηθίζω it refers to cases such as, e.g.: In the summers I used to go to my grandpa's village / Τα καλοκαίρια πήγαινα (ή συνήθιζα να πηγαίνω :tick:) στο χωριό του παππού μου (accepted as it refers to actions). It isn't expected and accepted in the Greek translation as συνήθιζα if it refers to volition and emotions such as, e.g. I used to want = (παλιά) ήθελα (συνήθιζα να θέλω :cross:) or I used to be happy = (παλιά) χαιρόμουν / (συνήθιζα να χαίρομαι :cross:) or I used to be sad = (παλιά) λυπόμουν (συνήθιζα να λυπάμαι :cross:).

    Yes, in Greek when you want to say "I would verb", you say "I will verbed". 🤔o_O
    Yes, apologies, you are right. Or at least you are more right than me, maybe I am "a little right", if it may make any sense.
    Just, I have to say that in many aspects my Greek has been anglicized: Studying English I tried to synchronize it with my Greek, so when I learned the "used to", the "συνήθιζα" was a very direct and easy tool for synchronization. That's all.
     

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    My feeling, too, is that συνήθιζα να... can only be used of habitual, repeated actions, such as in your example τα καλοκαίρια συνήθιζα να πηγαίνω στο χωριό του παππού μου; but it cannot be used of states of mind that last for a long time. Συνήθιζα να θέλω, συνήθιζα να χαίρομαι or συνήθιζα να λυπάμαι are simply not idiomatic Greek; συνήθιζα να ζητώ (λεφτά από τη γιαγιά μου), συνήθιζα να εκφράζω θορυβωδώς τη χαρά μου, or συνήθιζα να κλαίω are idiomatic sentences, because they refer to repeated acts.
    And in any case, συνήθιζα να... explicitly insists on the fact that we are talking about a habit; 'used to' in English discretely alludes to habitual or repeated action, and is only used in such cases (if at all) because the simple past could also refer to a once-and-for-all event. 'I was sick' can express both a state (=I was ill) and a momentary event (=I threw up); ήμουν άρρωστος can only mean the former. The existence of the imperfect/aorist distinction in Greek means that we seldom need to add an extra verb (like συνήθιζα) to express the nuance of habitual or repeated action expressed by the English phrase 'used to' -- unless we really want to say that one made a habit of something.
     

    Helleno File

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    ... The existence of the imperfect/aorist distinction in Greek means that we seldom need to add an extra verb (like συνήθιζα) to express the nuance of habitual or repeated action expressed by the English phrase 'used to' -- unless we really want to say that one made a habit of something.
    Very interesting and makes complete sense.
     
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