Greek Alphabet

The Greek alphabet has twenty-four letters. (There were several more, but they dropped out of use before the classical period. In some cases their influence can still be felt, especially in verbs.) At first it is only important to learn the English name, small letters, and pronunciation. The transliterations will help. (A transliteration is the equivalent of a letter in another language. For example, the Greek "beta" [β] is transliterated with the English "b." This does not mean that a similar combination of letters in one language has the same meaning as the same combination in another. κατ does not mean "cat." But the Greek "β" and the English "b" have the same sounds and often similar functions, and therefore it is said that the English "b" is the transliteration of the Greek "beta."

In our texts today, capitals are used only for proper names, the first word in a quotation, and the first word in the paragraph. [Originally the Bible was written in all capital letters with no punctuation, accent marks, or spaces between the words. For example, John 1:1 began, ΕΝΑΡΧΗΗΝΟΛΟΓΟΣ. Capital letters, or "majuscules," were used until the later centuries A.D. when cursive script was adopted. Cursive script is like our handwriting where the letters are joined together. In Greek texts today, John 1:1 begins, ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος] There is some disagreement as to the correct pronunciation of a few of the letters; these are given at the bottom of the chart. We have chosen the standard pronunciations that will help you learn the language the easiest.

Notice the many similarities among the Greek and English letters, not only in shape and sound but also in their respective order in the alphabet. The Greek alphabet can be broken down into sections. It will parallel the English for a while, differ, and then begin to parallel again. Try to find these natural divisions.

You can download an alphabet worksheet to help you learn,

name transliteration capital lower case pronunciation
Alpha ἄλφα a Α a a as in father
Beta βῆτα b Β β b as in Bible
Gamma γάμμα g Γ γ g as in gone
Delta δέλτα d Δ δ d as in dog
Epsilon ἒ χιλόν e Ε ε e as in met
Zeta ζήτα z Ζ ζ z as in daze
Eta ἦτα ē Η η e as in obey
Theta θῆτα th Θ θ th as in thing
Iota ἰότα i Ι ι i as i intrigue
Kappa κάππα k Κ κ k as in kitchen
Lambda λάμβδα l Λ λ l as in law
Mu μῦ m Μ μ m as in mother
Nu νῦ n Ν ν n as in new
Xi ξῖ x Ξ ξ x as in axiom
Omicron ὂ μικρόν o Ο ο o as in not
Pi πῖ p Π π p as in peach
Rho ῥῶ r Ρ ρ r as in rod
Sigma σίγμα s Σ σ or ς s as in study
Tau ταῦ t Τ τ t as in talk
Upsilon ὖ χιλόν u or y Υ υ u as the German u with umlaut
Phi φῖ ph Φ φ ph as in phone
Chi χῖ ch Χ χ ch as in loch
Psi ψῖ ps Ψ ψ ps as iin lips
Omega ὦ μέγα ō Ω ω o as in tone

Notes

Zeta. Some pronounce the zeta as the "dz" combination. This helps to differentiate it from the sigma. Wenham (19) says that it is pronounced "dz" unless it is the first letter in the word, in which case it is pronounced "z."

Iota. The iota can be either long ("intr_i_gue") or short ("_i_ntrigue"). Listen to how your teacher pronounces the words and you will pick up the differences.

Upsilon. Other suggestions are the u in "universe" and the oo in "book."

Chi. Loch, pronounced with a decided Scottish accent.

Writing the Letters

1. Notice how α β δ ε ι κ ο ς τ and υ look like their English counterparts.

2. In Greek there are five letters that are transliterated by two letters. θ is th; ξ is xs; φ is ph; χ is ch; ψ is ps. These are called double consonants.

3. It is important that you do not confuse the η (eta) with the English "n," the ν (nu) with the "v," the ρ (rho) with the "p," the χ (chi) with the "x," or the ω (omega) with the "w."

4. There are two sigmas in Greek. ς occurs only at the end of the word and σ occurs elsewhere:ἀπόστολος.

5. The vowels in Greek are α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω.

Pronouncing the Letters

1. You will learn the alphabet best by pronouncing the letters out loud as you write them, over and over.

2. The name of a consonant is formed with the help of a vowel, but the sound of the consonant does not include that vowel. For example, m is the letter "mu," but when mu appears in the word, there is no "u" sound.

3. The following letters sound just like their English counterparts: α β γ δ ε ι κ λ μ ν ο π ρ σ ς τ.

4. Gamma (γ) usually has a hard "g" sound, as in "get." However, when it is immediately followed by γ, κ, χ, or ξ, it is pronounced as a "n."

For example, the word ἄγγελος is pronounced "angelos," from which we get our word "angel." The gamma pronounced like a "n" is called a gamma nasal. [Most are formed from the γγ combination.]

5. Alpha and iota can be either long or short. Iota may have changed its sound (cf. "intr_i_gue", "_i_ntrigue"); alpha may not have. [There is much discussion on this type of issue among scholars. The long alpha (e.g., "father") would have taken longer to say than the short alpha. (e.g., "cat").] Epsilon and omicron are always short while eta and omega are always long.

"Long" and "short" refer to the relative length of time it requires to pronounce the vowel (e.g., "father" and "cat").

6. Greek also has two breathing marks. Every word beginning with a vowel and all words beginning with a rho have a breathing mark.

The rough breathing is a placed over the first vowel and adds an "h" sound to the word. ὑπέρ is pronounced "huper." Every word that begins with a rho or upsilon takes a rough breathing.

The smooth breathing is a placed over the first vowel and is not pronounced. ὐπέρ (which is not a real Greek word) would be pronounced "uper." ἀπόστολος is pronounced "α πό στο λος."