Introductory Ancient Greek Language/Lesson 1

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Learning a different alphabet may seem daunting at first, but Greek characters are very similar to the Latin ones English speakers are used to. Greek evolved from the Phoenicians who were the first recorded civilization to create an alphabet, and Latin similarly developed from Greek and other languages. The name alphabet itself comes from the words Alpha and Beta.

It's a lot to take in at one go so don't feel bad if you fail to remember all of these immediately. You will have plenty of time to get these characters under your belt. When you feel ready, try to convert some Greek into English and some English into Greek below.

The Letters, Greek orthography[edit]

Greek Name English equivalent Pronunciation Notes
Α α alpha a like 'a' in 'father'
Β β beta b like 'b' in 'book', later like 'v' in 'vase'
Γ γ gamma g like 'g' in 'graph', later like 'y' in 'yes'
Δ δ delta d like 'd' in 'demography'
Ε ε epsilon e like 'e' in 'epic'
Ζ ζ zeta z like 'dz' a/o 'zd', later 'z' in 'zoo'
Η η eta ē like a long 'e' in 'help'
Θ θ theta th like aspirated 't' in 'too', later 'th' in 'thick' never pronounced like 'th' in 'this'
Ι ι iota i like 'e' in 'email'
Κ κ kappa k like 'k' in 'kick'
Λ λ lambda l like 'l' in 'look'
Μ μ mu m like 'm' in 'meter'
Ν ν nu n like 'n' in 'noon'
Ξ ξ xi x like 'x' in 'axe'
Ο ο omicron o like 'o' in 'optic'
Π π pi p like 'p' in 'port'
Ρ ρ rho r like 'r' in 'road' sometimes trilled
Σ σ, ς sigma s like 's' in 'seed' ' σ ' is used in the middle or beginning of a word, and ' ς ' is used at the end of a word
Τ τ tau t like 't' in 'touch'
Υ υ upsilon u like 'u' in 'tunisia'
Φ φ phi f like 'ph' in 'uphold' later 'f' in 'fit'
Χ χ chi ch like 'k' in 'kidding' later 'ch' in 'loch'
Ψ ψ psi ps like 'ps' in 'lapse'
Ω ω omega o like 'aw' in 'saw'

Two-Letter Combination Sounds[edit]

Proper Diphthongs (Two-Vowel Combinations)[edit]

αυ - like 'au' in 'aural'

ευ - like 'eu' in 'feud'

ηυ - like 'ew' in 'tewan'

ωυ - like 'aw' in 'jaw'

υι - like 'we' in 'ween'

ει - like 'ai' in 'wait'

ου - like 'oo' in 'food' or like 'ou' in 'thought'

οι - like 'oi' in 'oil'

αι - like 'ay' in 'day'

Other Combinations[edit]

γγ - like 'ng' in 'ding'

μπ - like 'mp' in 'emperor' or like 'mb' in 'womb'

ντ - like 'nt' in 'enter' or 'nd' in 'end'

γκ - like 'ng' in 'ding'

Typography[edit]

After 1981 in modern Greek, there is mostly only one accent used in publications or privately. It is a ' ΄ ' or ' ' ' and represents the stressed syllable of a word. It may occur on one of the three ending syllables (on a vowel), but there are cases where there are two accents; one on the ending and one on the third from the word's end.

Before 1981 but also today, though not so often for practical reasons, the other accents have been/are used and may be seen in reading ancient, medieval and most printed modern texts.

These are the ὀξεῖα ' ´ ' (acute), βαρεῖα ' ` ' (grave) and περισπωμένη ' ῀ ' (circumflex). There are also two 'breathing' symbols, the δασεῖα (thick) and the ψιλή (thin). The first marks the sound corresponding to the English letter ' h ' and the second its absence.

Sometimes you also see the symbol ' ι ' under a (long) vowel, like ' ᾳ, ῃ, ῳ ' which shows a later silenced ' i ' sound (glide).

In Greek, the question mark is ' ; ', the semi-colon in English. Quotations are represented with ' « ' and ' » '.