Greek alphabet

Greek alphabet

Official script in:

Time period
c. 800 BC – present[1][2]
Parent systems
Child systems
ISO 15924Grek, 200
Unicode alias
U+1F00–U+1FFF Greek Extended

The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late ninth or early eighth century BC.[3][4] It is derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet,[5] and was the first alphabetic script in history to have distinct letters for vowels as well as consonants. In Archaic and early Classical times, the Greek alphabet existed in many different local variants, but, by the end of the fourth century BC, the Eucleidean alphabet, with twenty-four letters, ordered from alpha to omega, had become standard and it is this version that is still used to write Greek today. These twenty-four letters are: Α α, Β β, Γ γ, Δ δ, Ε ε, Ζ ζ, Η η, Θ θ, Ι ι, Κ κ, Λ λ, Μ μ, Ν ν, Ξ ξ, Ο ο, Π π, Ρ ρ, Σ σ/ς, Τ τ, Υ υ, Φ φ, Χ χ, Ψ ψ, and Ω ω.

The Greek alphabet is the ancestor of the Latin and Cyrillic scripts.[6] Like Latin and Cyrillic, Greek originally had only a single form of each letter; it developed the letter case distinction between uppercase and lowercase forms in parallel with Latin during the modern era. Sound values and conventional transcriptions for some of the letters differ between Ancient and Modern Greek usage, because the pronunciation of Greek has changed significantly between the fifth century BC and today. Modern and Ancient Greek also use different diacritics. Apart from its use in writing the Greek language, in both its ancient and its modern forms, the Greek alphabet today also serves as a source of technical symbols and labels in many domains of mathematics, science and other fields.


Sound values

In both Ancient and Modern Greek, the letters of the Greek alphabet have fairly stable and consistent symbol-to-sound mappings, making pronunciation of words largely predictable. Ancient Greek spelling was generally near-phonemic. For a number of letters, sound values differ considerably between Ancient and Modern Greek, because their pronunciation has followed a set of systematic phonological shifts that affected the language in its post-classical stages.[7]

Letter Name Ancient pronunciation Modern pronunciation
IPA[8] Approximate western European equivalent IPA[9] Approximate western European equivalent[10]
Α α alpha, άλφα Short: [a]
Long: []
Short: first a as in English await[11]
Long: a as English father[11]
[a] a as English father
Β β beta, βήτα [b][12][11] b as in English better[13][12][11] [v] v as in English vote
Γ γ gamma, γάμμα [ɡ]
[ŋ] when used before γ, κ, ξ, χ, and possibly μ
g as in English get[12][11]
ng as in English sing when used before γ, κ, ξ, χ, and possibly μ[12][11][ex 1]
[ɣ] ~ [ʝ],
[ŋ][ex 2] ~ [ɲ][ex 3]
g as in Spanish lago or y as in English yellow
Δ δ delta, δέλτα [d] d as in English delete[13][12][11] [ð] th as in English then
Ε ε epsilon, έψιλον [e] e as in English pet[11] [e] e as in English pet
Ζ ζ zeta, ζήτα [zd], or possibly [dz] sd as in English wisdom,
or possibly dz as in English adze[14][15][note 1]
[z] z as in English zoo
Η η eta, ήτα [ɛː] ê as in French tête[16] [i] i as in English machine
Θ θ theta, θήτα [] t as in English top[16][11][note 2] [θ] th as in English thin
Ι ι iota, ιώτα Short: [i]
Long: []
Short: i as in French vite,[16]
Long: i as in English machine[10]
[i], [ç],[ex 4] [ʝ],[ex 5] [ɲ][ex 6] i as in English machine
Κ κ kappa, κάππα [k] k as in English,[16][11] but completely unaspirated[16] [k] ~ [c] k as in English make
Λ λ la(m)bda, λά(μ)βδα[note 3] [l] l as in English lantern[13][18][11] [l] l as in English lantern
Μ μ mu, μυ [m] m as in English music[13][18][11] [m] m as in English music
Ν ν nu, νυ [n] n in English net[18] [n] n in English net
Ξ ξ xi, ξι [ks] x as in English fox[18] [ks] x as in English fox
Ο ο omicron, όμικρον [o] o as in German Gott[18] [o] o as in German Gott, similar to English soft
Π π pi, πι [p] p as in English top[18][11] [p] p as in English top
Ρ ρ rho, ρώ [r] trilled r as in Italian or Spanish[18][11][13] [r] trilled r as in Italian or Spanish
Σ σ/ς, Ϲ ϲ[note 4] sigma, σίγμα [s]
[z] before β, γ, or μ
s as in English soft[11]
s as in English muse when used before β, γ, or μ[18]
[s] ~ [z] s as in English soft or s as in English muse
Τ τ tau, ταυ [t] t as in English coat[18][11] [t] t as in English coat
Υ υ upsilon, ύψιλον Short: [y]
Long: []
Short: u as in French lune
Long: u as in French ruse[18]
[i] i as in English machine
Φ φ phi, φι [] p as in English pot[22][note 2] [f] f as in English five
Χ χ chi, χι [] c as in English cat[11][note 2] [x] ~ [ç] ch as in Scottish loch ~ ch as in German ich
Ψ ψ psi, ψι [ps] ps as in English lapse[22][11] [ps] ps as in English lapse
Ω ω omega, ωμέγα [ɔː] aw as in English saw[11][note 5] [o] o as in German Gott, similar to English soft
  1. ^ For example, ἀγκών.
  2. ^ For example, εγγραφή.
  3. ^ For example, εγγεγραμμένος.
  4. ^ For example, πάπια.
  5. ^ For example, βια.
  6. ^ For example, μια.
  1. ^ By around 350 BC, zeta in the Attic dialect had shifted to become a single fricative, [z], as in modern Greek.[16]
  2. ^ a b c The letters thetaθ⟩, phiφ⟩, and chiχ⟩ are normally taught to English speakers with their modern Greek pronunciations of [θ], [f], and [x] ~ [ç] respectively, because these sounds are easier for English speakers to distinguish from the sounds made by the letters tau ([t]), pi ([p]), and kappa ([k]) respectively.[17][15] These are not the sounds they made in classical Attic Greek.[17][15] In classical Attic Greek, these three letters were always aspirated consonants, pronounced exactly like tau, pi, and kappa respectively, only with a blast of air following the actual consonant sound.[17][15]
  3. ^ Although the letter Λ is almost universally known today as lambda (λάμβδα), the most common name for it during the Greek Classical Period (510–323 BC) appears to have been labda (λάβδα), without the μ.[11]
  4. ^ The letter sigmaΣ⟩ has two different lowercase forms in its standard variant, ⟨σ⟩ and ⟨ς⟩, with ⟨ς⟩ being used in word-final position and ⟨σ⟩ elsewhere.[15][18][19] In some 19th-century typesetting, ⟨ς⟩ was also used word-medially at the end of a compound morpheme, e.g. "δυςκατανοήτων", marking the morpheme boundary between "δυς-κατανοήτων" ("difficult to understand"); modern standard practice is to spell "δυσκατανοήτων" with a non-final sigma.[19] The letter sigma also has an alternative variant, the lunate sigma (uppercase Ϲ, lowercase ϲ), which is used in all positions.[15][18][20] This form of the letter developed during the Hellenistic period (323–31 BC) as a simplification of the older Σ σ/ς variant.[20] Thus, the word stasis can either be written στάσις or ϲτάϲιϲ.[21] In modern, edited Greek texts, the lunate sigma typically appears primarily in older typesetting.[18]
  5. ^ The letter omegaω⟩ is normally taught to English speakers as [oʊ], the long o as in English go, in order to more clearly distinguish it from omicron ⟨ο⟩.[22][15] This is not the sound it actually made in classical Attic Greek.[22][15]

Among consonant letters, all letters that denoted voiced plosive consonants (/b, d, g/) and aspirated plosives (/pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/) in Ancient Greek stand for corresponding fricative sounds in Modern Greek. The correspondences are as follows:

  Former voiced plosives Former aspirates
Letter Ancient Modern Letter Ancient Modern
Labial Β β /b/ /v/ Φ φ // /f/
Dental Δ δ /d/ /ð/ Θ θ // /θ/
Dorsal Γ γ /ɡ/ [ɣ] ~ [ʝ] Χ χ // [x] ~ [ç]

Among the vowel symbols, Modern Greek sound values reflect the radical simplification of the vowel system of post-classical Greek, merging multiple formerly distinct vowel phonemes into a much smaller number. This leads to several groups of vowel letters denoting identical sounds today. Modern Greek orthography remains true to the historical spellings in most of these cases. As a consequence, the spellings of words in Modern Greek are often not predictable from the pronunciation alone, while the reverse mapping, from spelling to pronunciation, is usually regular and predictable.

The following vowel letters and digraphs are involved in the mergers:

Letter Ancient Modern Letter Ancient Modern
Η η ɛː > i Ω ω ɔː > o
Ι ι i(ː) Ο ο o
ΕΙ ει Ε ε e > e
Υ υ u(ː) > y ΑΙ αι ai
ΟΙ οι oi > y  
ΥΙ υι > y  

Modern Greek speakers typically use the same, modern symbol–sound mappings in reading Greek of all historical stages. In other countries, students of Ancient Greek may use a variety of conventional approximations of the historical sound system in pronouncing Ancient Greek.

Digraphs and letter combinations

Several letter combinations have special conventional sound values different from those of their single components. Among them are several digraphs of vowel letters that formerly represented diphthongs but are now monophthongized. In addition to the four mentioned above (⟨ει, αι, οι, υι,⟩), there is also ⟨ηι, ωι⟩, and ⟨ου⟩, pronounced /u/. The Ancient Greek diphthongs ⟨αυ⟩, ⟨ευ⟩ and ⟨ηυ⟩ are pronounced [av], [ev] and [iv] in Modern Greek. In some environments, they are devoiced to [af], [ef] and [if] respectively.[23] The Modern Greek consonant combinations ⟨μπ⟩ and ⟨ντ⟩ stand for [b] and [d] (or [mb] and [nd]) respectively; ⟨τζ⟩ stands for [dz] and ⟨τσ⟩ stands for [t͡s]. In addition, both in Ancient and Modern Greek, the letter ⟨γ⟩, before another velar consonant, stands for the velar nasal [ŋ]; thus ⟨γγ⟩ and ⟨γκ⟩ are pronounced like English ⟨ng⟩. In analogy to ⟨μπ⟩ and ⟨ντ⟩, ⟨γκ⟩ is also used to stand for [g]. There are also the combinations ⟨γχ⟩ and ⟨γξ⟩.

Combination Pronunciation Devoiced pronunciation
αυ [av] [af]
ευ [ev] [ef]
ηυ [iv] [if]
μπ [b]
ντ [d]
τζ [dz]
τσ [t͡s]


In the polytonic orthography traditionally used for ancient Greek, the stressed vowel of each word carries one of three accent marks: either the acute accent (ά), the grave accent (), or the circumflex accent (α̃ or α̑). These signs were originally designed to mark different forms of the phonological pitch accent in Ancient Greek. By the time their use became conventional and obligatory in Greek writing, in late antiquity, pitch accent was evolving into a single stress accent, and thus the three signs have not corresponded to a phonological distinction in actual speech ever since. In addition to the accent marks, every word-initial vowel must carry either of two so-called "breathing marks": the rough breathing (), marking an /h/ sound at the beginning of a word, or the smooth breathing (), marking its absence. The letter rho (ρ), although not a vowel, also carries a rough breathing in word-initial position. If a rho was geminated within a word, the first ρ always had the smooth breathing and the second the rough breathing (ῤῥ) leading to the transliteration rrh.

The vowel letters ⟨α, η, ω⟩ carry an additional diacritic in certain words, the so-called iota subscript, which has the shape of a small vertical stroke or a miniature ⟨ι⟩ below the letter. This iota represents the former offglide of what were originally long diphthongs, ⟨ᾱι, ηι, ωι⟩ (i.e. /aːi, ɛːi, ɔːi/), which became monophthongized during antiquity.

Another diacritic used in Greek is the diaeresis (¨), indicating a hiatus.

This system of diacritics was first developed by the scholar Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257 – c. 185/180 BC), who worked at the Musaeum in Alexandria during the third century BC.[24] Aristophanes of Byzantium also was the first to divide poems into lines, rather than writing them like prose, and also introduced a series of signs for textual criticism.[25] In 1982, a new, simplified orthography, known as "monotonic", was adopted for official use in Modern Greek by the Greek state. It uses only a single accent mark, the acute (also known in this context as tonos, i.e. simply "accent"), marking the stressed syllable of polysyllabic words, and occasionally the diaeresis to distinguish diphthongal from digraph readings in pairs of vowel letters, making this monotonic system very similar to the accent mark system used in Spanish. The polytonic system is still conventionally used for writing Ancient Greek, while in some book printing and generally in the usage of conservative writers it can still also be found in use for Modern Greek.

Although it is not a diacritic, the comma has a similar function as a silent letter in a handful of Greek words, principally distinguishing ό,τι (ó,ti, "whatever") from ότι (óti, "that").[26]


There are many different methods of rendering Greek text or Greek names in the Latin script.[27] The form in which classical Greek names are conventionally rendered in English goes back to the way Greek loanwords were incorporated into Latin in antiquity.[28] In this system, ⟨κ⟩ is replaced with ⟨c⟩, the diphthongs ⟨αι⟩ and ⟨οι⟩ are rendered as ⟨ae⟩ and ⟨oe⟩ (or ⟨æ,œ⟩) respectively; and ⟨ει⟩ and ⟨ου⟩ are simplified to ⟨i⟩ and ⟨u⟩ respectively.[29] Smooth breathing marks are usually ignored and rough breathing marks are usually rendered as the letter ⟨h⟩.[30] In modern scholarly transliteration of Ancient Greek, ⟨κ⟩ will usually be rendered as ⟨k⟩, and the vowel combinations ⟨αι, οι, ει, ου⟩ as ⟨ai, oi, ei, ou⟩ respectively.[27] The letters ⟨θ⟩ and ⟨φ⟩ are generally rendered as ⟨th⟩ and ⟨ph⟩; ⟨χ⟩ as either ⟨ch⟩ or ⟨kh⟩; and word-initial ⟨ρ⟩ as ⟨rh⟩.[31]

Multiple different transcription conventions exist for Modern Greek.[32] These differ widely, depending on their purpose, on how close they stay to the conventional letter correspondences of Ancient Greek-based transcription systems, and to what degree they attempt either an exact letter-by-letter transliteration or rather a phonetically-based transcription.[32] Standardized formal transcription systems have been defined by the International Organization for Standardization (as ISO 843),[32][33] by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names,[34] by the Library of Congress,[35] and others.

Letter Traditional Latin transliteration
Α α A a[36]
Β β B b[36]
Γ γ G g[36]
Δ δ D d[36]
Ε ε E e[36]
Ζ ζ Z z[36]
Η η Ē ē[36]
Θ θ Th th[37]
Ι ι I i[37]
Κ κ C c, K k[37]
Λ λ L l[37]
Μ μ M m[37]
Ν ν N n[37]
Ξ ξ X x[37]
Ο ο O o[37]
Π π P p[37]
Ρ ρ R r, Rh rh[37]
Σ σ S s[37]
Τ τ T t[37]
Υ υ Y y, U u[37]
Φ φ Ph ph[37]
Χ χ Ch ch, Kh kh[37]
Ψ ψ Ps ps[37]
Ω ω Ō ō[37]
Other Languages
Afrikaans: Griekse alfabet
aragonés: Alfabeto griego
asturianu: Alfabetu griegu
azərbaycanca: Yunan əlifbası
Bân-lâm-gú: Hi-lia̍p-jī
башҡортса: Грек алфавиты
беларуская: Грэчаскі алфавіт
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Грэцкі альфабэт
български: Гръцка азбука
bosanski: Grčko pismo
català: Alfabet grec
čeština: Řecké písmo
davvisámegiella: Greikkalaš alfabehta
español: Alfabeto griego
Esperanto: Greka alfabeto
Fiji Hindi: Greek Akchhar
français: Alphabet grec
한국어: 그리스 문자
hrvatski: Grčki alfabet
Bahasa Indonesia: Alfabet Yunani
interlingua: Alphabeto grec
íslenska: Grískt stafróf
italiano: Alfabeto greco
къарачай-малкъар: Грек алфавит
қазақша: Грек әліпбиі
Kreyòl ayisyen: Alfabè grèk
Кыргызча: Грек алфавити
Lëtzebuergesch: Griichescht Alphabet
lietuvių: Graikų raštas
Lingua Franca Nova: Alfabeta elinica
македонски: Грчка азбука
Malagasy: Abidy grika
Bahasa Melayu: Huruf Yunani
Minangkabau: Abjad Yunani
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Hĭ-lé-nà̤ cê-mō̤
Nederlands: Grieks alfabet
Nedersaksies: Griekse alfabet
нохчийн: Грекийн абат
Nordfriisk: Griichisk alfabeet
norsk nynorsk: Det greske alfabetet
occitan: Alfabet grèc
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Yunon yozuvi
پنجابی: یونانی لپی
ភាសាខ្មែរ: អក្សរក្រិច
Picard: Alfabet grec
Piemontèis: Alfabet grech
português: Alfabeto grego
română: Alfabetul grec
русиньскый: Ґрецькый алфавіт
ᱥᱟᱱᱛᱟᱲᱤ: ᱜᱨᱤᱠ ᱦᱚᱨᱚᱯ
Simple English: Greek alphabet
slovenčina: Grécke písmo
slovenščina: Grška abeceda
српски / srpski: Грчко писмо
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Grčki alfabet
Taqbaylit: Agemmay agrigi
татарча/tatarça: Грек әлифбасы
Türkçe: Yunan alfabesi
українська: Грецька абетка
vepsän kel’: Grekan kirjamišt
吴语: 希腊字母
粵語: 希臘字母
žemaitėška: Graiku rašts
中文: 希腊字母