A Guide to Greek: The Greek alphabet

What's the Greek alphabet like?

  • The Greek alphabet was developed from the Phoenician alphabet and has been in use since the late 9th or early 8th century BC. The word alphabet itself comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: άλφα [alpha] and βήτα [beta]
  • The Greek alphabet gave rise to the Latin, Cyrillic, Gothic and various other alphabets. The Greek alphabet has 24 letters

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What's significant about the Greek alphabet?

  • Pronunciation and use of accents

    In 1982, the Greek language was greatly simplified with the introduction of the monotonic system. Since then, only the acute accent and the double dots are used instead of the many other little marks that could surround a letter

    As a general rule, all Greek words of more than one syllable, with a few exceptions, are written with an accent which indicates where you should put the emphasis, eg:

    μονός [monos], single
    τόνος [tonos], accent

  • The same but different

    Some letters of the Greek alphabet are identical to Latin ones though some of them sound different:
    B [v], Η [ee], Ι [ee], Ρ [r], Υ [ee], Χ [ch]

    Others are completely different from the Latin ones though they might sound familiar:
    Γ [g], Δ [th as in this], Θ [th as in think], Λ [l], Ξ [x or ks], Π [p], Φ [f or ph], Ψ [ps], Ω [o as in olive]

    Here are a few challenging letters to pronounce:
    γ [soft g or y as in yes] and χ [ch as in loch]

    Some sounds are produced by the combination of two letters: These are the [b], [d], [g]

    μπ/μπ [b as in baby]
    ντ/ντ [d as in day/daddy]
    γκ/γκ or γγ [g as in go]

    Other frequent combinations are:
    τσ /τσ [ts as in chain]
    τζ / τζ [dz as in beads]

    Some letters and letter combinations sound the same when spoken but have a completely different meaning when written. For example the words λείπει [leίpei], he/she/it is missing , λίπη [lίpei], the fats and λύπη [lypei] sorrow are all pronounced lipi. Similarily, ψιλή [psilei], fine/thin, and ψηλή [pseilei], tall are both pronounced psilei. It would be difficult to come up with a sentence that would combine these words, but still worth keeping it in mind.

    Confusion can result from the fact that the question mark [?] in Greek is written as a semicolon [;]

  • Email and website conventions

      @ παπάκι [papaki], duckling
      . τελεία [teleia], dot
      / κάθετος [kathetos], forward slash
      - παύλα [pavla], hyphen
      _ κάτω παύλα [kato pavla] , underscore

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