Pronunciation and Punctuation

Being that Greek has a whole different alphabet, it makes sense that it has different punctuation as well.  We covered the alphabet in the last section, but let’s revisit it here in a bit more detail (including consonant clusters and diphthongs), continue with syllabification, then breathing and accent marks, and finally, punctuation.

Vowels

We’ll cover diphthongs and smooth and rough breathing marks later, but the standard pronunciation of Greek vowels are as follows:

  • α” (alpha) – short “a” sound (“ah”) like the “a” in “father”
  • ε” (epsilon) – short “e” sound (“eh”) like the “e” in “pet”
  • η” (eta) – long “a” sound (“ay”) like the “e” in “obey”
  • ι” (iota) – short “i” sound (“ih”) like the “i” in “pit” when it follows a sigma (σι) or another iota (ιϊ) OR long “e” sound (“ee”) like the “i” in “think” for all other occurrences
  • ο” (omicron) – short “o” sound (“aw”) like the “o” in “not”
  • υ” (upsilon) – “ooh” sound (“oo”) like the “oo” in “oops”
  • ω” (omega) – long “o” sound (“oh”) like the “o” in “open”

Diphthongs and Diaereses

diphthong is when two vowels (αεηιουω) are pronounced as one sound.  In Greek, the second vowel must always be a close vowel, which is an iota (ι) or an upsilon (υ).

  • αι” – long “i” sound like the “ai” in “aisle” (e.g., “αἷμα”, pronounced “hai’-mah”, means “blood” <0129>)
  • ει” – “ay” sound like the “ei” in “weight” [though some scholars go with the German pronunciation of a long “i” sound like the “ei” in “height”] (e.g., “εἰμί”, pronounced “ay-mee’”, means “I am” <1510>)
  • οι”, – “oy” sound like the “oi” in “soil” (e.g., “οἰκία”, pronounced “oy-kee’-ah”, and means “house” <3614>)
  • υι” – “wee” sound like the “ui” in “suite” (e.g., “ὀργυιά”, pronounced “awr-gwee-ah’”, and means “a fathom” <3712>)
  • αυ” – “ow” sound like the “au” in “sauerkraut” (e.g., “ταύτα”, pronounced “tow’-tah”, means “these things” <5023>)
  • ου” – “ooh” sound like the “ou” in “soup” (e.g., “ἀκούω”, pronounced “ah-koo’-oh”, means “to hear” <0191>)
  • ευ” or “ηυ” – “yoo” sound like the “eu” is in “feud” [though some scholars go with the German pronunciation of an “oy” sound like the “oi” in “oil”] (e.g., “πιστεύω”, pronounced “pee-styoo’-oh”, means “to believe” <4100>)

Some words which have two vowels together that would normally form a diphthong, but they should produce two distinct sounds instead have a diaeresis (in Greek it is called a “dialytika”) over the second vowel (e.g., “αϊ”), much like the English word “naïve.”

An iota subscriptimproper dipthong, or long dipthong (in Greek it’s called “ypogegrammeni” when on lower-case letters and “prosgegrammeni” when on upper-case letters) is when an iota (ι) is written under the letters (i.e., a subscript) alpha (), eta (), and omega ().   They usually are not pronounced or transliterated, but can affect the meaning of the word and otherwise serve more as an homage to the classical Greek era.

Consonants

The consonants in the Greek alphabet (in order) are pronounced as follows:

  • β” (beta) – same as “b” in “bet”
  • γ” (gamma) – same as “g” in “get” OR “ng” in “ring” when it forms a gamma nasal (see below)
  • δ” (delta) – same as “d” in “dog”
  • ζ” (zeta) – same as “z” in “maze” when starting the word OR a “dz” sound like the “ds” in “pads” when appearing anywhere else in the word
  • θ” (theta) – same as “th” in “think”
  • κ” (kappa) – same as “k” in “keep”
  • λ” (lambda) – same as “l” in “let”
  • μ” (mu) – same as “m” in “met”
  • ν” (nu) – same as “n” in “net”
  • ξ” (xi) – “ks” sound like the “x” in “next”
  • π” (pi) – same as “p” in “pet”
  • ρ” (rho) – same as “rh” in “rhomboid” when starting the word OR the “r” in “rest” when appearing anywhere else in the word
  • σ / ς” (sigma) – same as “s” as in “set”
  • τ” (tau) – same as “t” as in “talk”
  • φ” (phi) – “f” sound like the “ph” in “phone”
  • χ” (chi) – “kh” sound like the “ch” in “chorus” with a slightly more pronounced “h”
  • ψ” (psi) – same as “ps” in “oops”

Some of these consonants can be categorized as follows:

voiceless (i.e., without voice box) voice (i.e., using voice box) aspirated (i.e., blowing air)
palatals/gutturals (i.e., made in the throat/palate) κ γ χ
labials (i.e., made with the lips) π β φ
dentals (i.e., tip of the tongue by the teeth) τ δ θ

The rest can be categorized as follows:

  • sibilants (i.e., hissing sound) – ζξσψ
  • liquids (i.e., flowing or soft sound that rolls off the tongue) – λμνρ

Consonant Clusters

Not unlike diphthongs, a consonant cluster is two more more consonants that may or may not form one sound.

Most consonant clusters that form one sound are the same as the English equivalent:

  • βλ – “bl” as in “blood”
  • βρ – “br” as in “bread”
  • γλ – “gl” as in “glory”
  • γν – “gn” as in “gnostic”
  • γρ – “gr” as in “great”
  • δρ – “dr” as in “drop”
  • θρ – “thr” as in “throw”
  • κλ – “kl” as the “cl” in “class”
  • κρ – “kr” as the “cr” in “crow”
  • κτ – “kt” as the “ct” in “duct”
  • πλ – “pl” as in “plate”
  • πν – “pn” as in “pneumonia”
  • πρ – “pr” as in “pray”
  • σκ – “sk” as in “skate”
  • σμ – “sm” as in “smear”
  • σπ – “sp” as in “spell”
  • σπλ – “spl” as in “splash”
  • στ – “st” as in “start”
  • στρ – “str” as in “strong”
  • σφ – “sph” as in “sphere”
  • σχ – “sch” as in “school”
  • τρ – “tr” as in “train”
  • φθ – “phth” as the“fth” in “fifth”
  • φλ – “phl” as the “fl” as in “flood”
  • φρ – “phr” as the “fr” as in “fray”
  • χρ – “chr” as in “Christ”
  • χλ – “chl” as in “chlorine”

The general rule is that if a Greek word starts with it, then it also forms one sound, so here are some that aren’t common to English:

  • βδ – “bd” as in “bdellium”
  • θλ – “thl”
  • θν – “thn”
  • κν – “kn” as in “knife” with a slightly more pronounced “k”
  • μν – “mn” as in “mnemonic” with a slightly more pronounced “m”
  • πτ – “pt” as in “pterodactyl” with a slightly more pronounced “p”
  • σβ – “sb”
  • σθ – “sth” as in “sthenic”
  • σκλ – “skl”
  • σφρ – “sfr”
  • χθ – “chth” as in “chthonic”

Gamma Nasal

Gamma (γ) usually has a hard “g” sound as in “get”, but sometimes it has an “ng” sound, called a “gamma nasal.”  Gamma nasals occur when a gamma is immediately followed by one of the following letters:

  • another gamma (i.e., γγ), which has an “ng” sound (e.g., “ἄγγελος”, pronounced “ahng’-geh-laws”, and means “angel/messenger” <0846>)
  • a kappa (i.e., γκ), which has an “ngk” sound (e.g., “ἄγκυρα”, pronounced “ahng’-koo-rah”, and means “anchor” <0045>)
  • a chi (i.e., γχ), which has an “ngch” sound (e.g., “ἐλέγχω”, pronounced “eh-lehng’-khoh”, and means “to reprove or rebuke” <1651>)
  • a xi (γξ), which has an “ngx” sound (e.g., “λάρυγξ”, “lah’-roongks” (think “larynx”), and means “trumpet” <2995>)

Breathing Marks

The Greek language has two breathing marks.  These breathing marks appear on every word beginning with a vowel or rho (only rough breathing mark) and affect the pronunciation.

  • smooth breathing mark or in Greek it’s called a “psili” (/////, only lower-case /) signifies that the letter should have it’s normal pronunciation (e.g., “ἀπόστολος”, pronounced “ah-paw’-staw-laws”, and means “apostle or sent one” <0652>)
  • a rough breathing mark or in Greek it’s called a “dasia” (//////, //) signifies that the letter should begin with an “h” sound on vowels (e.g., “ἁγιασμός”, pronounced “hah-gee-ah-smaws’”, and means “holiness” <0038>) or a “rh” sound when beginning with rho (e.g., “ῥῶ”, pronounced “rhoh’”)

If  the word begins with a diphthong, the breathing mark goes over the second vowel of the diphthong instead of the first (e.g., “εἰκών”, pronounced “ay-kohn’”, and means “image/likeness/tatue” <1504>), though some texts put it over both vowels of the diphthong.

Syllabification

Just like in English, Greek words are broken into syllables.  Fortunately, the rules for breaking Greek words into syllables are quite similar to the rules in English:

  • There can be only one vowel or diphthong per syllable, therefore two consecutive vowels that do not form a diphthong are split into two syllables, and there are as many syllables as there are vowels/dipthongs (e.g., “Ἰησοῦς”, pronounced “ee-ay-soos’”, and is the Greek name for “Jesus” <2424>)
  • Single consonants and consonant clusters (i.e., two or more consonants in a row) that form a single sound go with the following vowel’s syllable, unless it is at the end of the word, then it stays with the vowel (e.g., “αὐτὸς”, pronounced “ow-taws’” not “owt–aws’”, and means “him/her/it” <0846>)
  • Double consonants and consonant clusters that don’t form a single sound are split so that the first consonant goes with the preceding vowel and the remaining consonant(s) go with the following vowel’s syllable (e.g., “ἄνθρωπος”, pronounced “ahn’-throh-paws”, and means “a person” <0444>)
  • Compound words (words made up of two or more distinct words) are split where they were joined (e.g., “ἀντίχριστος”, pronounced “ahn-tee’-khree-staws”, and means “antichrist” <0500>)

Accent Marks

Almost every single Greek word has at least one of the three accent marks and they only go over vowels on one of the last three syllables in a word: the “antepenult” (third from last syllable), “penult” (second from last syllable), and “ultima” (last/only syllable).  Originally, the type of accent mark determined how you should change the pitch of your voice on that syllable, where the direction of pitch was signified by the shape of the accent mark.  Later, however, (most likely by Koine Greek era) accent marks simply signified which syllable gets the emphasis.

  • an acute accent mark or in Greek it’s called an “oxia” (/, /, /, /, /, /, /) and can potentially occur on any of the last three syllables; it originally signified that the voice rose in pitch a bit on the accented syllable
  • a grave accent mark or in Greek it’s called a “varia” (/, /, /, /, /, /, /) can only occur on the last syllable in a word; it originally signified that the voice dropped in pitch a bit on the accented syllable
  • a circumflex or in Greek it’s called a “perispomeni”, can only occur on one of the last two syllables and will always be over a long vowel (, and sometimes , and ), originally signified that the voice rose and dropped in pitch on the accented syllable; in some texts it appears as a circumflex (ˆ), others an inverted breve ( ̑ ), and others still a tilde (~)

As far as the type and placement of the accent mark, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are a few guidelines:

  • nouns are retentive, meaning that the accent mark tries to stay on the same syllable (i.e., the antepenult, penult, or ultima syllable) as it’s lexical form, regardless of the noun’s form (basically, if it moves in the word, it will move to the right)
  • verbs are recessive, meaning that the accent mark tries to “recede” forward (to the left) as far as possible, regardless of the verb’s form (but remember, it still must be one of the last three in the word)
  • if the ultima is long (i.e., has a long vowel sound), the accent must be on the penult or ultima, if it’s on the penult then it must be acute, if on the ultima then it can be an acute or circumflex
  • if the ultima is short (i.e., has a short vowel sound),  and the penult is long and accented, the accent must be a circumflex
  • if an acute accent mark is on the ultima syllable, it becomes a grave accent mark when followed by another word instead of punctuation (i.e., Greeks dropped their voices at the end of words, but raised it at the end of a clause or statement)
  • If the accent mark is on a syllable that contains a diphthong, the accent mark goes over the second vowel in the diphthong (e.g., “εὐθέως”, pronounced “yoo-theh’-ohs”, means “immediately” <2112>), though some texts put it over both vowels of the diphthong

Punctuation

The Greek language has five basic punctuation marks.  While they may sometimes look different than their English counterparts, their function is identical:

  • a Greek comma (i.e., soft break or pause), looks like an English comma (e.g., “Θεός,”)
  • a period (i.e., hard break or end of a sentence), looks like an English period (e.g., “Θεός.”)
  • a colon or semi-colon (i.e., intermediate break, conjunction of sentences), looks like a period above the line or the top dot of a colon (e.g., “Θεός·”)
  • a question mark (i.e., a question is being asked), looks like an English semi-colon (e.g., “Θεός;”)
  • an apostrophe in Greek signifies dropped or “elided” letters (e.g., in English where “it’s” is a contraction of “it is”); in Greek this occurs if the final letter of a preposition is a vowel and the next words begins with a vowel (e.g., “δίαἀυτοῦ” becomes “δί’ ἀυτοῦ”)

You may have noticed that there are no quotation marks or exclamation points.  The lack of quotation marks has caused debate among scholars about where the quotation ends and the author’s narration begins (e.g., John 3); however, exclamation points are handled via the verb tense (which will be covered in later chapters). Also, Greek doesn’t use apostrophes to signify possession or ownership (i.e., “the boy’s dog”), but instead uses noun inflection (which will be covered in later chapters).

Homework

Click the links below each number to verify your answers.

  1. What are the two types of breathing marks and what is their impact on the pronunciation of the word?
  2. When is the diaeresis (or dialytika) used?
  3. What is a gamma nasal and how is it pronounced?
  4. What are the three types of accent marks?
  5. Determine the syllabification and pronunciation for the following Greek words:
    • ἀδελφός (brother)
    • Φαρισαῖος (Pharisee)
    • λέγω (I say)
    • Πέτρος (Peter)
    • ἀμήν (truly)
    • κόσμος (universe)
    • καί (and)
    • ἐγώ (I/me)
    • σάββατον (Sabbath)
    • γραφή (a writing/scripture)
    • Θεός (God)
    • ἄνθρωπος (person)
    • καρδία (heart)
    • λόγος (word/speech)
    • ἄγγελος (angel/messenger)
    • Χριστός (Christ/Anointed)
    • πνεῦμα (spirit/wind/breath)
    • ἀκούω (I hear/listen)
    • κύριος (lord/master)
    • προφήτης (prophet)
    • ἔχω (I hold/have)
  6. Read the Greek version of the following Scripture aloud, then transliterate it:

    John 1:1-5 (punctuated Greek)

    1 Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. 2 οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. 3 πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἓν ὃ γέγονεν. 4 ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων· 5 καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.