Greek Alphabet & Writing: An Introduction
The Greek language has been written in some form of the Greek alphabet for over 2700 years, beginning with Homer's poetry and continuing to the present Demotic Greek, the language of modern Greece. A number of changes have found their way into the written language since classical times. The old, complex system of accents was officially abandoned in the 1970's, a major turning point for the simplified popular script. Still, the similarities between ancient and modern letters and words are striking.
Over the course of this short introductory lesson, you will learn how to write and pronounce the Modern Greek alphabet. I encourage you to practice writing and reading individual letters, words and phrases along with me. If you find this page helpful, you can learn and practice more written Greek with my thorough, step-by-step workbook - Learn to Write Modern Greek.
This website has videos, exercises and explanations about Greek writing. It is divided into the following sections:
The Modern Greek Alphabet: lowercase
|Greek Letters||Greek Letter Names||Pronunciation|
|α||άλφα||a in father|
|δ||δέλτα||th in this|
|ε||έψιλον||e in let|
|η||ήτα||i in sing|
|θ||θήτα||th in thing|
|ι||ιώτα||i in sing|
|ξ||ξι||x in fax|
|ο||όμικρον||o in sock|
|υ||ύψιλον||i in sing|
|χ||χι||hard h sound|
|ω||ωμέγα||o in sock|
Lowercase σίγμα ("sigma") is written ς at the end of a word and σ everywhere else
The letters η, ι and υ are now all pronounced like the "ee" in "meet" or the "i" in "sing", thanks to an old sound change known as iotacism.
Similarly, the letters ο and ω now have the same sound.
It's not hard to spell a few Greek words you already know by putting letters together from alphabet above. Try reading: βιολογία, σκεπτικισμός, θήσαυρος. (Ignore accent marks.)
Try writing the following words, then read them out loud:
εγώ, το, τη, επί, θρόνος, σπίτι, ψυχή, άξιος, αρχίζω, νερό, βίος
The Modern Greek Alphabet: UPPERCASE
Uppercase or majuscule letters are used less often than lowercase letters in Greek. They begin sentences or proper nouns (like people and place names), just as in English.
Let's go back more than 2000 years. Originally, the Greeks wrote in what we call UPPERCASE letters only. You will often find signs or statements in all-caps. This recalls the older Greek monumental script, which originally had no lowercase letters. In other words, capitalization is also used to give words and phrases a more classical, ancient or traditional look.
Refer to the video above to see both uppercase and lowercase letters written.
|Greek Letters||Greek Names|
Try writing the following words, then read them out loud:
ΞΥΝΩ, ΖΕΦΥΡΟΣ, ΣΩΚΡΑΤΗΣ, ΗΘΙΚΗ, ΘΕΩΡΩ, ΑΘΗΝΑ, Νίκος, Αθήνα, Ελλάδα
Where to Write the Accent Mark
A few decades ago, the Greek language underwent a spelling reform that simplified accents a lot. A written accent mark (a small ' or ´) sits atop the stressed vowel in words with more than one syllable. An accented vowel is emphasized, or spoken a bit louder than the other vowels in the same phrase: εγώ θέλω (e-GO THE-lo, not E-go the-LO).
Meaning-rich words like nouns, verbs and adjectives always have a written accent: (εγώ) θέλω I want. "Little words" like conjunctions, articles and prepositions often have only one syllable and no accent mark: κι and.
Capitalized words are a different story. If the stressed vowel is capitalized, you won't write a mark on top (like if you wrote ΓΙΟΡΓΟΣ George in all-caps). If the first letter is a stressed vowel (like Άννα Anna) write the accent to the left of the vowel.
Write out the following words, then speak them aloud:
η θάλασσα, η Αλγερία, από το Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο, η Αθήνα, Άννα, ο ίππος, των ίππων
Trickier Pronunciation Points
Pronouncing Modern, Demotic Greek is usually easy and straightforward once you know the alphabet. But there are a few tricks you need to be aware of as you learn the language:
The Diphthong (vowel + vowel)
Most diphthongs have been reduced to a single, simple vowel sound in Modern Greek.
αι sounds like "e" in "let"
ει and οι sound like "i" in "sing"
ου has the sound of "oo" in "moon"
αυ sounds like "av" before voiced sounds and "af" before voiceless ones
ευ sounds like "ev" before voiced sounds and "ef" before voiceless ones
Double consonants are pronounced like a single consonant: Ελλάδα Greece is pronounced as if written "ελάδα".
μπ (mp), ντ (nt) and γκ (gk) are unique.
μπ sounds like "mb" (or "b" at the beginning of a word), NOT "mp".
ντ sounds like "nd" (or "d" at the beginning of a word), NOT "nt".
γκ sounds like "ng" (or "g" at the beginning of a word), NOT "gk".
A γ has a rough g (actually voiced h-like) sound before α or ο. But it's pronounced like "y" in "yes" before ε and ι sounds (including αι, οι, υ, η, ει).
γγ sounds like the "ng" in "sing". γξ sounds like "ngs" in "sings". Similarly, γκ has the "unique", unexpected pronunciation described above.
Write the following words out, then read them out loud:
μπίρα, ντομάτα, σπόγγος, αύριο, ψεύτικοι, αυτοί, αινίγμα, εύκολου, γκαράζ, γάτα, γελώ, αύγουστος, είναι, γκρι, μπλέ, αντί για.
Handwritten Greek Script
There is no official Greek handwriting, although writers have used striking cursive scripts since the olden days, including ligatures and stunning, stylized forms. Many versions of script are taught and used throughout Greece, and you'll have to develop your own way of writing notes and letters in Greek.
Practice Exercise (EASY)
The paragraph in the image below is written in an easy-to-read Greek font.
1) Find the following words: αλήθεια, θεός, Μ' ΑΝ, ΎΠΝΟΣ, ΣΤΑ ΧΕΡΙΑ, γιατί, ΕΡΘΟΥΝ
2) Rewrite the entire paragraph at least once for practice.
Practice Exercise (HARD)
The letter below is a specimen of quick Greek handwriting. It's a vivid example of the Modern Greek script in action.
1) Find the following words in the letter: τις, τον, την, ωραία, Σάρτρ, και, ΓΙΑ, ΕΙΧΑ...
2) Rewrite those words, mimicking the way they're written in the letter.
FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about Greek Writing
Check out our Ancient Greek Writing FAQs for my answers to common questions about the Greek alphabet. I take time to address the history and development of the various Greek scripts on that page.