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Hellenistic Greek © 2008, 2015
Lesson 2: The Alphabet (Upper Case Letters)

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The Lesson at a Glance

Recongnition

You will learn to recognize the upper case letters

Punctuation

You will learn the most common punctuation marks.

Writing

You will learn to write the upper case letters of the Greek alphabet.

Pronunciation and Recognition

In the table below, the upper case (capital) Greek letters are paired with the lower case letters that you learned in lesson one. Take a few minutes now to compare the upper and lower case forms of each letter and review the pronunciation of each letter.

The Upper Case Greek Letters, Their Names and Pronunciation

Letter

Name

Modern Pronunciation

Erasmian Pronunciation

Α α

ἄλφα alpha

/a:/ as in “father”

/a:/ as in “father” or sometimes /æ/ as cat

Β β

βῆτα Beta

/v/ as in “vat”

/b/ as in “bat”

Γ γ

γάμμα gamma

/g/ as in “go” but /y/ as in “yet” before /i/ or /e/ sounds

/g/ as in “go”

Δ δ

δέλτα Delta

/ð/ (th) as in “then” but not /θ/ as in “thin” (Contrast Θ θ below.)

/d/ as in “dog”

Ε ε

ἒψιλόν E-psilon

/e/ as in “set”

/e/ as in “set”

Ζ ζ

ζῆτα Zeta

/z/ as in “daze”

/z/ as in “daze”

Η η

ῆτα Eta

/i/ as in “machine” and "seen"

// as in “daze” and "weight"

Θ θ

θέτα Theta

/θ/ as in “thin” but not /ð/ as in “then” (Contrast δ above.)

/θ/ as in “thin” but not /ð/ as in “then”

Ι ι

ἰῶτα Iota

/i/ as in “machine” and "seen"

/i/ as in “machine” (long) or /ɪ/ as in “fit” (short)

Κ κ

κάππα Kappa

/k/ as in “kitchen”

/k/ as in “kitchen”

Λ λ

λάμβδα Lambda

/l/ as in “little”

/l/ as in “little”

Μ μ

μῦ Mu

/m/ as in “me”

/m/ as in “me”

Ν ν

νῦ Nu

/n/ as in “knee”

/n/ as in “knee”

Ξ ξ ξεῖ Xi /ks/ as in kicks or x as in ax /ks/ as in kicks or x as in ax

Ο ο

ὂμικρόν O-micron

/o/ as in tote or boat

/ɒ/ as in not or cot

Π π

πεῖ Pi

/p/ as in pan

/p/ as in pan

Ρ ρ

ῥῶ Rho

/R/ more like the Spanish trilled r than English r.

/r/ as in read.

Σ σ, ς

σῖγμα Sigma

/s/ as in sister

/s/ as in sister

Τ τ

ταῦ Tau

unaspirated /t/ as in stop (but unlike top)

/t/ as in stop or top

Υ υ

ὒψιλόν U-psilon

/y/ like German ü

/y/ like German ü, or sometimes /u/ as in rule or even /ʊ/ as in hook

Φ φ

φεῖ Phi

/f/ as in fan or phone

/f/ as in fan or phone

Χ χ

χεῖ Chi

/χ/ Not found in English. Much like Spanish "j"

/χ/ Not found in English. Much like Spanish "j"

Ψ ψ

ψεῖ Psi

/ps/ as in lips

/ps/ as in lips

Ω ω

ὦμέγα O-mega

/o/ as in tote

/o/ as in tote

Recognizing the Upper Case Letters

Several of the upper case letters resemble their English equivalents: Α, Β, Ε, Ζ, Ι, Κ, Μ, Ν, Ο, Τ. Others resemble their lower case Greek equivalents: Θ, Π, Ρ, Φ, Χ, Ψ. Two of these (Ρ, and Χ) should be carefully distinguished from the English letters that look like them. Ρ is the upper case of ρ, not p. Χ is the upper case of χ, not x.

You should concentrate on the following upper case letters: Γ, Δ, Η, Λ, Ξ, Σ, Υ, and Ω. Be careful to distinguish Η and Υ from the English letters that resemble them. Η is the upper case form of η. Υ is the upper case of υ, not γ.

Usage of the Upper Case in Printed Greek Texts

In printed editions of texts from the Hellenistic period, upper case letters are used for proper names and at the beginning of a paragraph, not at the beginning of every sentence.

"Long" and "Short" Vowels

For purposes of accentuation (the placement of accent marks) the Greek vowels are divided into three groups. ε and ο are designated as short vowels. η and ω are designated long vowels. The other three vowels (α, ι, υ) may be considered either short or long, depending upon the context in which they occur.

In the Classical period (before 350 BCE), long vowels were actually pronounced for a longer time than short vowels, about twice as long. By the middle of the Hellenistic period, though, this distinction was not consistently made. The terms long and short do not indicate anything about the pronunciation of the Greek vowels in this course. They only designate the way the vowels function with regard to the placement of accent marks, which we will learn in the lesson on diacritics.

Long

Short

Variable

η, ω

ε, ο

α, ι, υ

Diphthongs

All diphthongs except αι and οι are considered long in all contexts. The diphthongs αι and οι are long except when they occur as the last two letters of a word.

Iota Subscript

Three Greek vowels frequently occur with a small iota (ι) written beneath them: ᾳ, ῃ, ῳ. These digraphs have traditionally been called “improper diphthongs” and are in fact descended from diphthongs that have lost their second element. The iota subscript (iota written underneath) does not affect pronunciation in any way, but does have an important role to play grammatically. You will learn about that when you study the forms of Greek nouns.

Exercise 1: Proper Names

Punctuation Marks

The Greek comma and period look the same as in English and are used in very similar ways to their English counterparts.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. (John 1:1)

A raised dot (·) indicates a break where we might expect a colon (:) or semicolon (;) in English.

ἐπροφήτευσεν λέγων· Εὐλογητός κύριος ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ. He prophesied saying: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. (Luke 1:67-68)

The Greek question mark poses the greatest potential for confusion and should be learned with care. It looks like an English semi-colon (;).

τί λέγει; What does it say? (Romans 10:8)

Writing the Greek Upper Case Letters

Notice that all of the upper case letters sit neatly on the line. None of them extend below it.

Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω

Take a piece of paper and practice writing these letters.

If you are learning Greek in a classroom setting, your instructor may ask to see your work. Write as neatly as you can.

Greek Word Order

The order of the words in a Greek sentence often does not match the order of the words in a good English translation of that sentence. As this course proceeds, you will learn how to understand Greek word order and choose the best order for your English translation. Some examples appear in the exercise that follows.

Reading and Translation

Read the Greek, and attempt your own translation. After attempting your own translation, look at the English translation provided. Sometimes more than one translation is provided. Write down for review any words or phrases that you translate incorrectly.

The Greek texts in this exercise include several words that you have not seen before. Try to guess at what they might mean before you look at the English translation.

1. Ἐν ἀρχῇ

In [the] beginning

2. [ἦν = was, existed] Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος.

In the beginning was the word. / The word existed in the beginning.

3. ὁ λόγος ἦν θεός.

The word was God.

4. θεὸς ὁ λόγος ἦν.

The word was God.

While the Greek word order is different in examples 3 and 4, the English translation is the same. Here's why: The small word ὁ (often translated as "the"), marks the subject of the sentence. It indicates that the word that follows it (λόγος "word") is the subject, not the complement, of the verb ἦν. In English, the subject of a simple sentence comes first, so the translation must be "The word was God," not "God was the word."

5. θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

The word was God.

Once again, ὁ marks λόγος as the subject of the sentence, so it must come first in English. The word order used here is the one that appears in John 1:1 of the Greek New Testament.

The difference between sentences 4 and 5 is one of subtle thematic prominance. You will learn more about this later.

6. ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν. (Guess what πρὸς means.)

The word was with God.

In the lessons that follow, you will learn why the Greek word for God is spelled θεόν here in stead of θεός.

7. [καί = and] Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν.

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God (John 1:1).

8. Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God (John 1:1).

Pronunciation Practice

Practice pronouncing the following words. If you are studying in a classroom setting, listen to your instructor's pronunciation, and attempt to imitate it. Your instructor may ask you to pronounce these words in class.

9. θεός The little slanted line above the ο indicates that this vowel should be pronounced slightly louder than the one before it. The pronunciation should be theh-Os, not thEh-os.

10. πέμπω Be careful with the combination μπ. This combination is pronounced /mb/, not /mp/.

11. λόγος Because the γ is followed by ο, it is pronounced like the g in "get," not the y in "yet."

12. ἀρχή Once again, pay attention to the accent mark above the letter η. This word should be pronounced arkhEE, not ARKHee.

13. Δαυίδ Be careful with the combination αυ. It should be pronounce as /av/, not /au/. The name is pronouned Daveed, not Daweed.

14. Λευί Be careful with the combination ευ. It should be pronounce as /ev/, not /eu/. The name is pronouned Lehvee, not Lehwee.

Vocabulary Self-Quiz

Now that you have read the entire lesson, take the following quiz to see how you are doing. Do not look back at the lesson until after you have completed the entire quiz. On a sheet of paper, copy each of the following names, and add an English translation for each one in the blank space to its right.

15. Δαυίδ _______________ 16. Ἀβραάμ _______________ 17. Ἰακώβ _______________ 18. Ἰσαάκ _______________ 19. Μαρία _______________

Copy each of the following words onto a sheet of paper, and give an English translation for each one.

20. ἀπόστολος _______________ 21. λόγος _______________ 22. μέγα _______________ 23. μικρός _______________ 24. θεός _______________

To check your answers, compare the tables below.

Check Your Self-Quiz

Δαυίδ

David

Ἀβραάμ

Abraham

Ἰακώβ

Jacob

Ἰσαάκ

Isaac

Μαρία

Mary (or Maria)

ἀπόστολος

apostle

λόγος

word

μέγα

big, large, great

μικρός

little, small

θεός

God

If you understood at least seven of these ten correctly, congratulate yourself. You are ready to proceed to lesson three. If you understood less than seven correctly, you should review lesson two before proceeding to lesson three.