Greek Alphabet

The following chart shows the name of Greek letter in Greek and English, the upper-case and lower-case Greek letters, their transliteration (i.e., the English equivalent), and their basic pronunciation (more in the next chapter).

Greek Name / Transliteration Letter Pronunciation Greek Upper-case / Lower-case Letter Translit. Pronunciation
ἄλφα / alpha ahl’-fah Α / α a short “a” as in “father”
βῆτα / beta bay’-tah Β / β b “b” as in “bet”
γάμμα / gamma gahm’-mah Γ / γ g “g” as in “get” OR “ng” as in “ring” (gamma nasal)
δέλτα / delta dehl’-tah Δ / δ d “d” as in “dog”
ἒψιλόν / epsilon eh’-psee-lawn’ Ε / ε e short “e” as in “pet”
ζῆτα / zeta zay’-tah Ζ / Ζ z “z” as in “maze” (beginning of word) OR “dz” (everywhere else)
ἦτα / eta ay’-tah Η / η ē long “a” as the “e” in “obey”
θῆτα / theta thay’-tah Θ / θ th “th” as in “think”
ἰῶτα / iota ee-oh’-tah Ι / ι i short “i” OR long “e” as “i” in “intrigue”
κάππα / kappa kahp’-pah Κ / κ k “k” as in “keep”
λάμβδα / lambda lahm’-bdah Λ / λ l “l” in “let”
μῦ / mu moo’ Μ / μ m “m” as in “met”
νῦ / nu noo’ Ν / ν n “n” as in “net”
ξῖ / xi ksee’ Ξ / ξ x “x” as in “next”
ὂμικρόν / omicron aw’-mee-krawn’ Ο / ο o short “o” as in “not”
πῖ / pi pee’ Π / π p “p” as in “pet”
ῥῶ / rho rhoh’ Ρ / ρ r “r” as in “rest”
σίγμα / sigma sihg’-mah Σ / σ / ς (final form) s “s” as in “set”
ταῦ / tau tow’ Τ / τ t “t” as in “talk”
ὖψιλόν / upsilon oo’-psee-lawn’ Υ / υ u / y “u” as in “rude” OR “y” in “mysterious”
φῖ / phi fee’ Φ / φ ph “ph” as in “phone”
χῖ / chi khee’ Χ / χ ch “ch” as in “chorus” with more pronounced “h”
ψῖ / psi psee’ Ψ / ψ ps “ps” as in “oops”
ὦμέγα / omega oh’-meh’-gah Ω / ω ō long “o” as in “open”

Origin of Casing and Punctuation

Originally, the Septuagint and Greek New Testament were written in all capital letters with no punctuation…not even spaces!  Imagine reading that for an extended period of time!

John 1:1 (original Greek)

ΕΝΑΡΧΗΗΝΟΛΟΓΟΣΚΑΙΟΛΟΓΟΣΗΝΠΡΟΣΤΟΝΘΕΟΝΚΑΙΘΕΟΝΗΝΟΛΟΓΟΣ

Though it existed during Christ’s time, cursive Greek was popularized around the 9th century A.D., having spaces and and all lower-case (except for the capitalization of proper names, the first word in a quotation, and the first word in a paragraph).  They also added accent marks and breathing marks to help distinguish the pronunciation (and sometimes even the translation) of the words, plus they added other basic punctuation.

John 1:1 (punctuated Greek)

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

However, due to previous limitations of computers, many Greek resources today have everything in lower-case and often don’t include the various accents and punctuation marks.

Transliteration

As you saw above, Koine Greek has twenty-four letters in its alphabet.  Each of these letters can be converted or “transliterated” into English characters and often look similar to their English counterparts.  For example, the Greek word “Ἀδάμ” <0076> can be transliterated into English as “Adam”.  Most often, it is a letter for a letter, but sometimes the Greek letter transliterates into two English characters (e.g., “φ” to “ph”).

You may have noticed that sigma is the only letter that has a “final form.”  What this means is, when writing sigma in lower-case, most of the time it appears it’s normal form, “σ”, except when it appears as the end of a word, you use the “final form,” which is “ς”.  For example, in the Greek word for “apostle”, it has both forms of sigma: “ἀπόστολος” <0652> (apostolos).  Sigma, whether final form or not, is always transliterated as an “s”.

Some Greek resources will show words in their native Greek characters, while others will show them transliterated into English, while others still will show them in both.  To get the most out of learning Greek, you will want to learn it both ways, but learning the transliterated version is often sufficient for those not wanting to dive too deeply into Greek.

John 1:1 (transliterated Greek)

En arche en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton Theon, kai Theos en ho logos.

Helpful Similarities and Confusing Differences

As you might have noticed, the order of the Greek alphabet is similar to the English alphabet and some of the letters are quite similar, if not identical in looks and usage: αβδεικοτ.

That being said, be careful not to confuse the following letters: “η” (eta) with “n”, “ν” (nu) with “v”, “ξ” (xi) with “e”, “ρ” (rho) with “p”, “χ” (chi) with “x”, or “ω” (omega) with “w”.

Greek has consonants and vowels (αεηιουω).  These consonants and vowels work similarly to English, in that most words have at least one vowel and that there are usually only one to three consonants in a row before there’s a vowel.

Also, we’ll talk more about pronunciation in the next chapter, but it’s worthy to note here that alpha (α) and iota (ι) both have long and short forms.  In English, this refers more to the sound, where the long form sounds like the name of the letter (e.g., a long form of “a” sounds like the letter “a”, like in “ape”, while the short form sounds like “ahh”, like in “father” or “ah”, like in “cat”).  However, in Greek, the long form and short form of a vowel refers to the length of the sound.  For example, alpha can have the longer “ahh” or a shorter “ah” sound of the “a” in “father” and iota can have the shorter “ih” sound or longer “ee”  sound as the letter “i” does both in the word “intrigue”.

Anomalies, Discrepancies, and Dead Languages

Being that this is an over two thousand year old version of Greek, there are differing views on the pronunciation of words and even the letters themselves.  For example, some people always pronounce zeta (ζ) as a “z” sound.  Also, if you look at Strong’s pronunciation and syllabification, it’s often quite different.  So, which is “right”?  Well, answers to these and more will probably have to be answered on the other side of Glory.  Until then, pick a direction and swim.

Homework

Me talking about all this stuff doesn’t do you a whole lot of good unless you do what you can to retain it.  Here are some questions and exercises to help you remember what we covered today.  Now, no cheating…you’ve got to at least try before looking at the answers.

  1. Write out each letter of the lower-case Greek alphabet in on a piece of paper in alphabetical order, saying it aloud each time, repeat several times.
  2. Repeat #1 with the the upper-case Greek alphabet.
  3. What are the two forms of sigma, and when do you find them?
  4. What are the seven Greek vowels?
  5. What does “transliterate” mean?
  6. The following words are NOT Greek, but are English words written using Greek characters; what are the words?
    • δαδ
    • κιδ
    • δοτς
    • θινγ
    • βαλλ
    • σπαρκς
    • πετ
    • ραββιτ
    • καρροτ
    • χεμιστ
    • βωτ
    • ωβη
    • φων
    • υψ
    • αξις
    • ζιβρα
  7. The following are names written in Greek; what are they in English?
    • Ἀαρών
    • Ἅβελ
    • Ἅννα
    • Βαρναβᾶς
    • Ζεύς
    • Μεσοποταμία
    • Ῥαχήλ
    • Ῥεβέκκα
    • Σίλας
  8. The following are names written in Greek that have different pronunciations or endings than their English counterparts; what are they in English?
    • Ἀβραάμ
    • Ἰησοῦς
    • Ἰσαάκ
    • Μαρία
    • Μᾶρκος
    • Μεσσίας
    • Πέτρος
    • Σίμων
    • Σολομών
    • Φαραώ
    • Χριστός