Introducing the Alphabet
- The Greek Alphabet consists of 24 letters.
- Many of these letters are equivalent to English (actually Latin) letters.
- For example beta is equivalent to our "b."
- Some Greek letters stand for two English letters, for example: phi is equivalent to our "ph" as in "photograph."
- The Greek alphabet is not in the same order as the English one.
- For instance, the third Greek letter is gamma (equivalent to "g") while ours is "c"; also "z" is the last letter of our alphabet, but zeta is the sixth letter.
- Their last letter is omega.
- Thus Jesus said, "I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end."
- In effect He was saying, "I am the first letter of the alphabet and the last letter of the alphabet."
- Four things are important about learning the alphabet:
- learn the names of the Greek letters
- learn how to say the sound that each letter makes
- learn how to say the sound of the letters when they appear beside another Greek letter
- learn how to write the Greek letters.
The Greek alphabet
|Α α||alpha (AHL-fuh) upper case: Α
lower case: α.
Pronounced "ah" as in "father," not "ay" as in "fate" or "a" as in "fat."
In some books, lower case alpha looks very much like our 'a'.
The letter is made in the lower half of the line.
The lower case letter may have accents above it.
The upper case letter may have accents to its left side.
|Β β||beta (BAY-tuh) upper case: Β
lower case: β.
Pronounced "b" as in "bible."
Notice in the lower case beta that the long stroke on the left side extends below the line and the top loop is in the upper half of the line.
|Γ γ||gamma (GAM-muh) upper case: Γ
lower case: γ.
Pronounced "g" as in "gag."
When two gammas appear side by side, the first one sounds like "n" thus making an "ng" sound as in the word "sing."
Likewise a gamma before a kappa makes a "nk" sound as in "ink."
Notice that the tail of the lower case gamma extends below the line.
Do not make a "y" shape with two strokes; just start in the upper left, go down, then back up to the right in one fluid stroke.
|Δ δ||delta (DELL-tuh) upper case: Δ
lower case: δ.
Pronounced "d" as in "dog."
Notice that in the lower case delta the stroke on the right side is not straight as it is in our letter "d."
Instead it is curved. Start with "circle" part in the middle of the letter and end with the "tail" at the top of the letter.
|Ε ε є||epsilon (EPP-suh-lawn) upper case: Ε
lower case: ε or є.
Pronounced "eh" as in "bed," not "ee" as in "seem."
Like lower case alpha, epsilon is only half height.
|Ζ ζ||zeta (ZAY-tuh) upper case: Ζ
lower case: ζ.
Pronounced "dz" as in "adze" or "ds" in "adds."
Notice that there is only one loop at the top and a curl below the line. Start with the stroke at the top of the letter and end with the loop at the bottom just below the line.
|Η η||eta (AY-tuh) upper case: Η
lower case: η.
Pronounced "ay" as the "e" in "obey."
Notice that the right hand stroke drops below the line.
|Θ θ ϑ||theta (THAY-tuh) upper case: Θ
lower case: θ or ϑ.
Pronounced "th" as in "think."
Notice that the lower case letter occupies the full height between the lines.
Sometimes the lower case letter is made like the second example.
|Ι ι||iota (ee-OH-tuh) upper case: Ι
lower case: ι.
It may be pronounced short as in the word "it" or long as the "ee" sound in the word "intrigue." It is never pronounced "eye."
Notice that there is no dot above this letter as we make in English.
When this letter is at the beginning of word it is often transliterated as "j"
|Κ κ||kappa (KAP-puh) upper case: Κ
lower case: κ.
Pronounced "k" as in "kit."
In some books this letter appears to be a smaller form of the letter "N" (ϰ) and may look unusual to you.
|Λ λ||lambda (LAMB-duh) upper case: Λ
lower case: λ .
Pronounced "l" as in "light."
You can make the long stroke before the short one or vice versa.
|Μ μ||mu (MOO) upper case: Μ
lower case: μ .
Pronounced "m" as in "mother."
Notice that this letter looks like the letter "u" except it has a long stroke on the left side which begins below the line. Start with the stroke below the line. In this way, it will feel like a M.
|Ν ν||nu (NOO) upper case: Ν
lower case: ν .
Pronounced "n" as in "not."
Notice that the lower case letter is made like a "v" in that it has a pointed bottom.
It also has a short vertical line on the left side.
Be sure that the letter has both the vertical line and the pointed bottom or else it could be confused with the letter upsilon.
|Ξ ξ||xi (KSEE) upper case: Ξ
lower case: ξ . Pronounced "ks" or "x" as in "socks" or "fox."
Notice that the upper case letter is made of three horizontal bars which are not connected to each other.
The lower case letter looks similar to zeta except there is one more loop in the middle of the character. Start at the top and end below the line.
|Ο ο||omicron (AH-muh-crawn) upper case: Ο
lower case: ο.
Pronounced "ah" as a short "o" as in "odd."
|Π π||pi (PEE) Upper case: Π
lower case: π .
If you are referring to the mathematical constant (3.141592654 etc.) then you can pronounce the name of this letter PIE, otherwise call it PEE.
Pronounced "p" as in "put."
|Ρ ρ||rho (ROE) Upper case: Ρ
lower case: ρ.
Actually the name of this letter is pronounced with initial aspiration: huh-roe.
Pronounced "r" as in "rat."
Some teachers suggest forming this letter by starting at the bottom of the stroke and ending with the loop.
Because this letter looks like a latin "p" but is really an "r," there is a good psychological reason for making the letter with the loop first and ending with the down stroke.
In this way, you won't think "p" but you will think "rho."
|Σ σ ς||sigma (SIG-muh) upper case: Σ
lower case: σ or ς.
Use ς when sigma appears at the end of a word (called terminal-sigma). Use σ at the beginning or somewhere in the middle of a word (called medial-sigma). Examples: σοφός — μισθός.
Pronounced "s" as in "sit," not the "z-sound." For the medial, start with the loop and end with the tail.
|Τ τ||tau (TOW rhymes with NOW) upper case: Τ
lower case: τ.
Pronounced "t" as in "test."
|Υ υ||upsilon (OOP-suh-lawn) upper case: Υ
lower case: υ.
Pronounced like the German ü as in tü, or as the French "u" as in tu.
English speaking people have difficulty pronouncing this letter.
Make your mouth in the form of a long "a" (such as in the word "tray").
While your mouth is contorted in this fashion, say "oo" instead. If you can pronounce this letter differently from a normal "oo" sound, you will find that the distinction between words is much easier.
If, however, you are unable to hear the difference, it probably won't make too much difference to you in the pronunciation of Greek words.
Notice that the lower case letter has a rounded bottom to distinguish it from a lower case nu.
|Φ φ||phi (FEE) upper case: Φ
lower case: φ.
Pronounced like the "f-sound" in "philosophy" or "telephone."
|Χ χ||chi (KEE) upper case: Χ
lower case: χ.
Pronounced like the "ch" in "character."
Actually the sound is a harsh "k" sound as in the Scottish "Loch," or the German "ach."
Notice that both lines of the lower case letter extend below the writing line.
|Ψ ψ||psi (Puh-see) upper case: Ψ
lower case: ψ.
Pronounced "ps" as in "tops." It is not silent as in the English pronunciation of "psychology."
Notice that the "u" part of the lower case letter sits on the line and the vertical stroke extends below the line.
|Ω ω||omega (oh-MAY-guh) upper case: Ω
lower case: ω.
Pronounced as a long "o" as in the word "hope."
Do not make the lower case form of this letter like the English "w" with its pointed bottoms.
They should be rounded.
- There are a few more letters which are used only rarely in older Greek writing and never in the New Testament. They are given here for your information, you do not need to learn them (upper case, followed by lower case):
- stigma Ϛ, ϛ
- digamma Ϝ, ϝ
- koppa Ϙ, ϙ
- sampi Ϡ, ϡ
- The English word "alphabet" (ἀλφα-βητα) is obviously borrowed from the Greek. The Romans adapted it into the forms (with a few exceptions) that we use today.
Greek characters can be divided into these groups: vowels, breathing marks, consonants, and accents.
- There are seven vowels: α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω.
- The vowels ε and ο are always short vowels
- The vowels η and ω are always long.
- The vowels α, ι, and υ may be long or short.
- Sometimes two vowels are joined together to form a different sound from either of the individual vowels.
- We call this combination of vowels a diphthong (δίφθογγος which means "double sounding").
- A diphthong is considered to be one syllable.
- The second vowel of a diphthong is always either ι or υ.
- All diphthongs are considered long except when αι or οι are the last two letters of a word.
- Thus οι is short in λόγοι; but long in λόγοις and οἶκος.
- Pronouncing diphthongs
- αι is pronounced "eye" as in "aisle" (e.g., φαινόμενον [fi-NOM-en-on] "phenomenon").
- ει is pronounced "eye" as in "height" or "ay" as in "pray" (e.g., ἔκλειψις [EK-lie-psis] "eclipse").
- οι is pronounced "oi" as in "oil" (e.g., Δελφοί [dell-FOY] "Delphoi").
- υι is pronounced "wee" (e.g., υἱός [huh-wee-OS] "son").
- αυ is pronounced "ow" as in "cow" (e.g., αὐτός [ow-TOSS] "this").
- ευ is pronounced "oo" as in "feud" (e.g., Εὐριπίδης [you-reh-PEE-days] "Euripides").
- ηυ is pronounced "ay-oo" (e.g., ηὕρηκα [hay-YOU-ray-kuh] "I have found (eurika)").
- ου is pronounced "oo" as in "group" (e.g., οὐρανός [oo-rah-NOSS] "heaven" from which the planet Uranus gets its name).
- If any diphthong which ends in upsilon is directly followed by another vowel, the upsilon is pronounced as the English "v" εὐαγγέλιον [ev-an-GELL-ee-on] "gospel (evangelical)."
- Improper diphthongs
- An improper diphthong may be created when one of the following three vowels (α, η, ω) is combined with iota.
- When iota is joined to these letters, the iota is placed below the lower case letter: ᾳ ῃ ῳ.
- Notice the iota is placed in the middle of α and ω, under the letter
- But for η it appears below the left stem
- This iota is called iota subscript: δόξᾷ, αρχῇ, λόγῳ.
- The iota subscript does not affect the pronunciation.
- For instance, alpha with iota subscript is pronounced "ah" — just like alpha alone.
- The omega in each of these two words is pronounced exactly the same: λόγῳ, λέγω.
- When an improper diphthong is put into upper case (capital letters), the iota subscript is turned into a full iota and is placed beside the vowel: δόξᾷ = ΔΟΞΑΙ, αρχῇ = ΑΡΧΗΙ, λόγῳ = ΛΟΓΩΙ.
- The Athenians originally used the letter H for an aspirated sound (h-sound).
- When they adopted the Ionic alphabet, however, the symbol H was already in use as eta.
- A new symbol was necessary to replace it, so they divided the letter H into ┣ and ┫.
- Later these developed into ‘ and ’ respectively.
- The symbol ‘ indicates a rough breathing equivalent to our "h" sound as in "house."
- It is not to be confused with the "h" that appears in the three Greek letters θ, φ, and χ (th, ph, ch).
- The symbol ’ indicates a smooth breathing which does not change the sound of the word.
- If it does not affect the pronunciation of the word, then why put it in?
- Simply to confirm that the vowel does not have a rough breathing mark.
- The breathing mark always precedes a capital letter: Ἔθνος, Ἦλθον.
- The breathing mark is placed above a lower case letter: ἔθνος, ἦλθον.
- When a word begins with a diphthong, the breathing mark is placed over the second letter: εἰκών, οἰκία, εὑρίσκω.
- Any word beginning with rho has the rough breathing mark: ῥῆμα.
- Similarly, words with a double rho sometimes receive both breathing marks: Πύῤῥος (Pyrrus) ἄῤῥητος (unspeakable).
- Although it must be noted that in a lot of texts a double rho doesn't have any breathing marks.
- Every initial vowel or diphthong has a breathing mark.
- There are several kinds of consonants: mute, liquid, and sibilant.
- Mute consonants are those letters which do not make a sound unless you add a vowel.
- Try to say "tom" without the "om" ending.
- You are stuck with your tongue positioned at the roof of your mouth waiting for a vowel.
- Okay, say the vowel so you don't pass out.
- There are nine mute consonants categorized according to aspiration and mouth formation.
- Mute consonants are those letters which do not make a sound unless you add a vowel.
|DENTALS or LINGUALS||τ||δ||θ|
|PALATALS or GUTTERALS||κ||γ||χ|
- What is the difference in pronunciation between the two English words "pat" and "bat"?
- Say them aloud.
- Some have suggested that one is softer than the other, but that is not the difference.
- Both are said with the lips, but "bat" is different from "pat" because you voice the initial letter "b."
- In other words, if you were to say these two words in slow motion, you would observe that you begin to hum the "b" before it reaches the lips.
- The same difference is seen between "t" and "d" or between "k" and "g."
- Thus we categorize these pairs into voiceless (or smooth) and voiced mutes.
- Aspirated mutes add the letter "h" to the sound.
- Originally phi was pronounced puh-hee.
- Now we just say that they are a little rougher than the voiceless or voiced mutes.
- The consonants π, β, and φ are called labials because they are made with the lips.
- The consonants τ, δ, and θ are called dentals because they are "tooth sounds."
- Admittedly τ and δ are made with the tongue just behind the teeth, but some people put the tongue right behind the upper front teeth while others place the tongue on the hard palate behind the teeth.
- Sometimes these letters are called linguals (articulated with the tongue) because of the position of the tongue.
- The consonants κ, γ, and χ are called palatals or gutterals because they are throat sounds made toward the back of the mouth, close to the throat.
- Here, "palatal" refers to the soft palate of the mouth.
- Gamma is always hard like the "g" in "goat" not like the "g" in "germ."
- Whenever a gamma comes before another gutteral, the first gamma is pronounced like an "n": γάγγλιον [GANG-lee-on] (ganglion), ἄγκυρα [ANK-oo-rah] (anchor), Ἀγχισης [ANCH-iss-ays] (Anchises), σφίγξ [SFINKS] (sphinx).
- There are four liquid consonants: λ, μ, ν, ρ.
- Liquid consonants are different from mute consonants because liquids make a sound when you say the letter.
- For instance, the letter μ makes the "mmm" sound even if there is no following vowel.
- There are four sibilant (hissing) consonants: σ (or ς at the end of a word), ξ, ψ, and ζ.
- The last three letters are really double consonants:
- a labial plus sigma produces ψ (πσ, βσ, φσ)
- a dental plus sigma produces ζ (τσ, δσ, θσ)
- a gutteral plus sigma produces ξ (κσ, γσ, χσ)
- Sigma is usually pronounced like "s" in "sit."
- Before the liquid consonants (λ, μ, ν, ρ), or voiced (middle) mutes (β, δ, γ), it is pronounced like our "z": Σμύρνα (ZMERR-nuh) Smyrna.
- The last three letters are really double consonants:
- The only consonants that can end Greek words are ν, ρ, ς.
- ξ, ψ, ζ should be included because they are double consonants ending in sigma.
- There are only three exceptions: ἐκ, οὐκ, οὐχ
- Proper names can end in any letter.
- In Greek, there are three accents that may appear above vowels:
- grave: ` (a short slanting line from upper left to lower right)
- acute: ´ (a short slanting line from upper right to lower left)
- cirmumflex: ~ or ˆ (a publisher may choose to use either one)
- At this point in studying Greek, it is not necessary to learn the rules for the placement of the Greek accent.
- Some teachers do not even mention accents when they teach Greek.
- In most instances accents are not necessary.
- In English, we do not mark the accented syllables and we get along without too much trouble.
- In modern Greek, accents are rarely used.
- There are some words which need the accent marked or else confusion results, but they will be discussed later. For instance
- κάλος means "rope," however καλός means "beautiful."
- μένω means "I remain," however μενῶ means "I shall remain."
- βασιλεία means "kingdom," but βασίλεια means "queen."
- Can you think of some English words which are verbs if you accent it one way and nouns if you accent it another way?
- How about: preSENT and PRESent?
- Accent rules
- Most words have only one accent.
- Some have no accent.
- Depending on the type used in a book, the circumflex will look like ~ or ˆ. You can use whichever one you like, just be consistent.
- If a word in the vocabulary has an acute on its last syllable, it may change to grave when there is a following word and no punctuation.
- Sometimes a word will capture the accent of the following word so that it now has two accents while the next word has no accent.
- There are rules to explain these phenomena, but they will be explained later.
- A diaeresis ¨ is written over an iota or upsilon to show that the vowel is not to be considered part of a diphthong:
- καρύϊνος (4 syllables: kah-ROO-ee-noss) almond.
- Μωϋσῆς (3 syllables: moh-oo-SAYS) Moses.
- ἀΐδιος (4 syllables: ah-EE-deh-oss) eternal. Notice that the accent fits between the two dots.
- The period indicates the end of a sentence.
- You will notice in the New Testament, that sentences do not always begin with an uppercase letter. Instead, Greeks considered that the paragraph, not the sentence, deserved an initial uppercase.
- The comma is like the English comma.
- Greek has a · that looks like a raised period and functions like our semi-colon and colon.
- The question mark is a character that looks like our semi-colon ";" — I bet the first time you encounter a sentence which ends with a ; you will forget it is a question.