The World’s alphabets:
The Greek script

In this article we would like to introduce an interesting script: the Greek alphabet.

The Greek alphabet originates from the Phoenician alphabet and today has 24 letters and is written from left to right.
The Phoenician alphabet in contrast had 22 consonants and was written from right to left.
The Phoenician script is the oldest letter based written language in Europe and was used from the 11th century before Christ.
It is the predecessor for not only the Greek alphabet, but also the Aramaic Hebrew and Arabic alphabets.
It is therefore the origin of almost all modern alphabet based scripts.

The Greek alphabet has an important difference to the Phoenician alphabet, in that it also has vowels and not just consonants like Phoenician.
This also distinguishes Greek from Hebrew and Arabic.
To this day Hebrew and Arabic are so called consonant languages, by which vowels are not always present in the script.

Orthography and Pronunciation of the Greek alphabet

The Greek alphabet remains to this day almost unchanged.
Modern Greek is written with the same alphabet as Classical Greek of antiquity.
Only a few diacritic signs have changed or disappeared from Modern Greek.
Here is a brief overview of the Greek Alphabet.

The Greek Alphabet
Letter Name
(Classical Greek)
(Modern Greek)
(Classical Greek)
(Modern Greek)
A, α Alpha (ἄλφα) álfa (άλφα) a a, αι=e
B, β Beta (βῆτα) víta (βήτα) b v
Γ, γ Gamma (γάμμα) gáma (γάμμα) g g, γγ=ng, γκ=ng, γχ=nch, γξ=nx
Δ, δ Delta (δέλτα) délta (δέλτα) d d
Ε, ε Epsilon (ἔψιλον) épsilon (έψιλον) e e, omitted before ι
Ζ, ζ Zeta (ζῆτα) zíta (ζήτα) z z
Η, η Eta (ἦτα) íta (ήτα) ē i
Θ, θ Theta (θῆτα) thíta (θήτα) th th
Ι, ι Iota (ἰῶτα) ióta (ιώτα) i i
Κ, κ Kappa (κάππα) kápa (κάππα) k k
Λ, λ Lambda (λάμβδα) lámda (λάμδα) l l
Μ, μ My (μῦ) mi (μι) m m
Ν, ν Ny (νῦ) ni (νι) n n
Ξ, ξ Xi (ξῖ) xi (ξι) x x
Ο, ο Omikron (ὄμικρον) ómikron (όμικρον) o o, omitted before ι
Π, π Pi (πῖ) pi (πι) p p, μπ=mb
Ρ, ρ Rho (ῥῶ) ro (ρω) r(h) r
Σ, σ or ς* Sigma (σίγμα) sígma (σίγμα) s s
Τ, τ Tau (ταῦ) taf (ταυ) t t, ντ=nd
Υ, υ Ypsilon (ὔψιλον) ýpsilon (ύψιλον) y y, after vowels v or f
Φ, φ Phi (φῖ) fi (φι) ph f
Χ, χ Chi (χῖ) chi (χι) ch ch
Ψ, ψ Psi (ψῖ) psi (ψι) ps ps
Ω, ω Omega (ὠμέγα) oméga (ωμέγα) ō o

* (at the end of a word)

As mentioned the Greek alphabet has hardly changed.
As a result Modern and Classical Greek are sometimes identically written, but are strongly differentiated by pronunciation.
This is because changes in the pronunciation of Greek from Antiquity to today have not been reflected in the written language.

Learning the Greek alphabet

Would you like to learn the Greek alphabet?
We can help you.

We have prepared a worksheet for the Greek alphabet so that you can practice writing.
This worksheet can be downloaded for free as a PDF document.
Have fun learning the Greek script!

Classical Greek

The classical Greek alphabet was the first alphabet to have vowel letters.
It had relatively clear rules for pronunciation and writing.
The use of diphthongs (two vowels to represent a sound) it was possible in Classical Greek to represent the twelve different vowel sounds despite only seven letters for vowels.
Initially Classical Greek was spread by the power of Athens and throughout the Mediterranean by the Attican League.
Later Alexander the Great and afterwards the Romans spread Classical Greek as the language of science throughout the ancient world.

Modern Greek

Modern Greek has only five vowels in contrast to the seven of Classical Greek.
In contrast to many languages the meaning of a word is dependent upon which syllable is stressed, which is denoted by the use of accents on a vowel.
If a word is pronounced with the incorrect syllable emphasized then the word will often be misunderstood by a native speaker.
The word „nómos“ (νόμος = law) is only distinguishable from the word „nomós“ (νομός = district) by the syllable emphasis.

Modern Greek contains many words from other languages, like Turkish, Italian and French.
In contrast to Classical Greek, forming new words from combinations of other words is easy.

Transcribing from the Greek alphabet to the Roman alphabet

Modern Greek has only five vowels as opposed to the seven of Classical Greek.
In Modern Greek the emphasis of syllables is important to the meaning of a word.
The emphasized vowel is denoted by an accent.
By the transcription of Classical Greek into the Roman Alphabet there are well established rules, with only a few exceptions for example the letter "ω" Omega and "ο" Omicron.
For Modern Greek there is no one universally accepted standard for transcription into the Roman alphabet.

Further Reading

We are delighted about your interest in the Greek script.
We have prepared a few weblinks for you:

Here is the Wikipedia entry about the Greek script.
Are you interested in learning Modern Greek?
Here you find more information about Modern Greek.