The Ancient Greek Alphabet


The Ancient Greek Alphabet has twenty-four letters:

symbol                name    English  equivalent     pronunciation                  
α                         alpha                      a            short as in bat/long as in father
β                         beta                        b                                         b
γ                         gamma                   g                                         as in get*
δ                         delta                       d                                         d
ε                         epsilon                   e (short)                              as in get
ζ                         zeta                        z, sd                                    as in wisdom
η                         eta                          e (long)                              as in hair
θ                         theta                       th                                        as in third
ι                          iota                         i                               short as in bit, long as in police
κ                         kappa                    c, k                                        k
λ                         lamda                      l                                           l
μ                          mu                         m                                         m
ν                           nu                          n                                          n
ξ                           xi                           x                                         x, ks
o                     omicron                    o (short)                           as in got
π                         pi                           p                                         p
ρ                        rho                          r                                          r
σ/ς**                 sigma                      s                                           s
τ                       tau                            t                                            t
υ                       upsilon                   u,y          short as in French tu/ long as in sur
φ                       phi                         ph           as in uphold, or as in phrase
χ                       chi                          ch           as in packhorse, or as a loch***
ψ                      psi                           ps                                   as in lapse


ω                   omega                        o (long)   between the sounds in oar in raw

* gamma is pronounced as n rather than g when it comes before another gamma or before a k sound (kappa,xi or chi)


** σ normally, s at the end of the word: e.g. ἄνθρωπος

*** with the aspirated consonants theta, phi and chi, the first pronunciation given (like t, p,k with emphatic breathing) represents more accurately the sound in classic times.



Most of the letters can be made with one stroke of the pen. But each letter is written separately: they are not joined in a cursive script.


There are seven vowels (α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω) rather than English five, because Greek uses different symbols for short and long e (epsilon & eta) and for short and long o (omicron & omega). The other vowels too can be short or long but without separate symbols.


Any word starting with a vowel must have a breathing over the vowel: either a rough breathing to indicate an h sound before the vowel e.g.ὑπερ or a smooth breathing e.g. ἀκούω simply to indicate the absence of an h. The breathing is important and counts as part of the spelling.


Greek can combine vowel into diphthongs, pronounced as one sound. Common ones are:
αι         pronounced as in high
αυ                                    how
ει                                     weigh
ευ                                    feud
οι                                     boy
ου                                    pool
When a diphthong starts a word, the breathing is put over the second of the two vowels.


When iota comes after long alpha, eta or omega, it is written in miniature form underneath: ᾳ, ῃ. It is not certain how it was pronounced in classical times, but it is convenient to sound it slightly.



You can also read: The word order and the negative in Classical Greek

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