Greek alphabet

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Greek alphabet
Languages Greek
Time period
c. 800 BC – present[1]
Parent systems
Child systems
Direction Left-to-right
ISO 15924 Grek, 200
Unicode alias

The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the 8th century BC.[2] It was derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet,[3] and was the first alphabetic script to have distinct letters for vowels as well as consonants. It is the ancestor of the Latin and Cyrillic scripts.[4] Apart from its use in writing the Greek language, in both its ancient and its modern forms, the Greek alphabet today also serves as a source of technical symbols and labels in many domains of mathematics, science and other fields.

In its classical and modern forms, the alphabet has 24 letters, ordered from alpha to omega. Like Latin and Cyrillic, Greek originally had only a single form of each letter; it developed the letter case distinction between upper-case and lower-case forms in parallel with Latin during the modern era.

Sound values and conventional transcriptions for some of the letters differ between Ancient Greek and Modern Greek usage, because the pronunciation of Greek has changed significantly between the 5th century BC and today. Modern and Ancient Greek use different diacritics. Polytonic orthography, which is used for Ancient Greek and sometimes for Modern Greek, has many diacritics, such as accent marks for pitch accent, the breathing marks for the presence and absence of the /h/ sound, and the iota subscript for the historical /i/ sound. In standard Modern Greek spelling, orthography has been simplified to the monotonic system, which uses only two diacritics: the acute accent and diaeresis.


Letter Name Sound
Ancient[5] Modern[6]
Α α alpha, άλφα [a] [] [a]
Β β beta, βήτα [b] [v]
Γ γ gamma, γάμμα [ɡ] [ɣ] ~ [ʝ]
Δ δ delta, δέλτα [d] [ð]
Ε ε epsilon, έψιλον [e] [e]
Ζ ζ zeta, ζήτα [zd]A [z]
Η η eta, ήτα [ɛː] [i]
Θ θ theta, θήτα [] [θ]
Ι ι iota, ιώτα [i] [] [i]
Κ κ kappa, κάππα [k] [k] ~ [c]
Λ λ lambda, λάμδα [l] [l]
Μ μ mu, μυ [m] [m]
 A Or [dz].[7]
Letter Name Sound
Ancient[5] Modern[6]
Ν ν nu, νυ [n] [n]
Ξ ξ xi, ξι [ks] [ks]
Ο ο omicron, όμικρον [o] [o]
Π π pi, πι [p] [p]
Ρ ρ rho, ρώ [r] [r]
Σ σ/ς[8] sigma, σίγμα [s] [s]
Τ τ tau, ταυ [t] [t]
Υ υ upsilon, ύψιλον [y] [] [i]
Φ φ phi, φι [] [f]
Χ χ chi, χι [] [x] ~ [ç]
Ψ ψ psi, ψι [ps] [ps]
Ω ω omega, ωμέγα [ɔː] [o]

Sound values

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In both Ancient and Modern Greek, the letters of the Greek alphabet have fairly stable and consistent symbol-to-sound mappings, making pronunciation of words largely predictable. Ancient Greek spelling was generally near-phonemic. For a number of letters, sound values differ considerably between Ancient and Modern Greek, because their pronunciation has followed a set of systematic phonological shifts that affected the language in its post-classical stages.[9]

Among consonant letters, all letters that denoted voiced plosive consonants (/b, d, g/) and aspirated plosives (/pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/) in Ancient Greek stand for corresponding fricative sounds in Modern Greek. The correspondences are as follows:

  Former voiced plosives Former aspirates
Letter Ancient Modern Letter Ancient Modern
Labial Β β /b/ /v/ Φ φ // /f/
Dental Δ δ /d/ /ð/ Θ θ // /θ/
Dorsal Γ γ /ɡ/ [ɣ] ~ [ʝ] Χ χ // [x] ~ [ç]

Among the vowel symbols, Modern Greek sound values reflect the radical simplification of the vowel system of post-classical Greek, merging multiple formerly distinct vowel phonemes into a much smaller number. This leads to several groups of vowel letters denoting identical sounds today. Modern Greek orthography remains true to the historical spellings in most of these cases. As a consequence, the spellings of words in Modern Greek are often not predictable from the pronunciation alone, while the reverse mapping, from spelling to pronunciation, is usually regular and predictable.

The following vowel letters and digraphs are involved in the mergers:

Letter Ancient Modern Letter Ancient Modern
Η η ɛː > i Ω ω ɔː > o
Ι ι i(ː) Ο ο o
ΕΙ ει ei Ε ε e > e
Υ υ u(ː) > y AΙ αι ai
ΟΙ οι oi > y  

Modern Greek speakers typically use the same, modern, sound-symbol mappings in reading Greek of all historical stages. In other countries, students of Ancient Greek may use a variety of conventional approximations of the historical sound system in pronouncing Ancient Greek.

Digraphs and letter combinations

Several letter combinations have special conventional sound values different from those of their single components. Among them are several digraphs of vowel letters that formerly represented diphthongs but are now monophthongized. In addition to the three mentioned above (⟨ει, αι, οι⟩) (and in some cases the ancient Greek υι for example υιός) there is also ⟨ου⟩ = /u/. The Ancient Greek diphthongs ⟨ευ⟩ and ⟨αυ⟩ are pronounced [ev] and [av] respectively in Modern Greek ([ef, af] in devoicing environments). The Modern Greek consonant combinations ⟨μπ⟩ and ⟨ντ⟩ stand for [b] and [d] (or [mb] and [nd]) respectively; ⟨τζ⟩ stands for [dz] and ⟨τσ⟩ stands for [t͡s]. In addition, both in Ancient and Modern Greek, the letter ⟨γ⟩, before another velar consonant, stands for the velar nasal [ŋ]; thus ⟨γγ⟩ and ⟨γκ⟩ are pronounced like English ⟨ng⟩. There are also the combinations ⟨γχ⟩ and ⟨γξ⟩.


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In the polytonic orthography traditionally used for ancient Greek, the stressed vowel of each word carries one of three accent marks: either the acute accent (ά), the grave accent (), or the circumflex accent (α̃ or α̑). These signs were originally designed to mark different forms of the phonological pitch accent in Ancient Greek. By the time their use became conventional and obligatory in Greek writing, in late antiquity, pitch accent was evolving into a single stress accent, and thus the three signs have not corresponded to a phonological distinction in actual speech ever since. In addition to the accent marks, every word-initial vowel must carry either of two so-called "breathing marks": the rough breathing (), marking an /h/ sound at the beginning of a word, or the smooth breathing (), marking its absence. The letter rho (ρ), although not a vowel, also carries a rough breathing in word-initial position. If a rho was geminated within a word, the first ρ always had the smooth breathing and the second the rough breathing (ῤῥ) leading to the transiliteration rrh.

The vowel letters ⟨α, η, ω⟩ carry an additional diacritic in certain words, the so-called iota subscript, which has the shape of a small vertical stroke or a miniature ⟨ι⟩ below the letter. This iota represents the former offglide of what were originally long diphthongs, ⟨ᾱι, ηι, ωι⟩ (i.e. /aːi, ɛːi, ɔːi/), which became monophthongized during antiquity.

Another diacritic used in Greek is the diaeresis (¨), indicating a hiatus.

In 1982, a new, simplified orthography, known as "monotonic", was adopted for official use in Modern Greek by the Greek state. It uses only a single accent mark, the acute (also known in this context as tonos, i.e. simply "accent"), marking the stressed syllable of polysyllabic words, and occasionally the diaeresis to distinguish diphthongal from digraph readings in pairs of vowel letters. The polytonic system is still conventionally used for writing Ancient Greek, while in some book printing and generally in the usage of conservative writers it can still also be found in use for Modern Greek.


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There are many different methods of rendering Greek text or Greek names in the Latin script. The form in which classical Greek names are conventionally rendered in English goes back to the way Greek loanwords were incorporated into Latin in antiquity. In this system, ⟨κ⟩ is replaced with ⟨c⟩, the diphthongs ⟨αι⟩ and ⟨οι⟩ are rendered as ⟨ae⟩ and ⟨oe⟩ (or ⟨æ,œ⟩) respectively; and ⟨ει⟩ and ⟨ου⟩ are simplified to ⟨i⟩ and ⟨u⟩ respectively. In modern scholarly transliteration of Ancient Greek, ⟨κ⟩ will usually be rendered as ⟨k⟩, and the vowel combinations ⟨αι, οι, ει, ου⟩ as ⟨ai, oi, ei, ou⟩ respectively. The letters ⟨θ⟩ and ⟨φ⟩ are generally rendered as ⟨th⟩ and ⟨ph⟩; ⟨χ⟩ as either ⟨ch⟩ or ⟨kh⟩; and word-initial ⟨ρ⟩ as ⟨rh⟩.

For Modern Greek, there are multiple different transcription conventions. They differ widely, depending on their purpose, on how close they stay to the conventional letter correspondences of Ancient Greek-based transcription systems, and to what degree they attempt either an exact letter-by-letter transliteration or rather a phonetically based transcription. Standardized formal transcription systems have been defined by the International Organization for Standardization (as ISO 843),[10] by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names,[11] by the Library of Congress,[12] and others.


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Dipylon inscription, one of the oldest known samples of the use of the Greek alphabet, c. 740 BC

During the Mycenaean period, from around the 16th century to the 12th century BC, Linear B was used to write the earliest attested form of the Greek language, known as Mycenaean Greek. This writing system, unrelated to the Greek alphabet, last appeared in the 13th century BC. In the late 9th century BC or early 8th century BC, the Greek alphabet emerged.[13] The period between the times of the two writing systems, from which no Greek texts are attested, is called the Greek Dark Ages. The Greeks adopted the alphabet from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, one of the closely related scripts used for the West Semitic languages. When the Phoenician alphabet was adopted for writing Greek, certain Phoenician consonant letters were adopted to write vowels. This feature makes Greek the first alphabet in the narrow sense,[4] as distinguished from the abjads used for the Semitic languages, which only have letters for consonants.[14]

Greek initially took over all of the 22 letters of Phoenician. Five of them were reassigned to denote vowel sounds: the glide consonants /j/ (yodh) and /w/ (waw) were used for [i] (Ι, iota) and [u] (Υ, upsilon) respectively; the glottal stop consonant /ʔ/ ('aleph) was used for [a] (Α, alpha); the pharyngeal /ʕ/ (ʿayin) was turned into [o] (Ο, omicron); and the letter for /h/ (he) was turned into [e] (Ε, epsilon). A doublet of waw was also borrowed as a consonant for [w] (Ϝ, digamma). In addition, the Phoenician letter for the emphatic glottal /ħ/ (heth) was borrowed in two different functions by different dialects of Greek: as a letter for /h/ (Η, heta) by those dialects that had such a sound, and as an additional vowel letter for the long /ɛː/ (Η, eta) by those dialects that lacked the consonant. Eventually, a seventh vowel letter for the long /ɔː/ (Ω, omega) was introduced.

Greek also introduced three new consonant letters for its aspirated plosive sounds and consonant clusters: Φ (phi) for /pʰ/, Χ (chi) for /kʰ/ and Ψ (psi) for /ps/. In western Greek variants, Χ was instead used for /ks/ and Ψ for /kʰ/ The origin of these letters is a matter of some debate.

Phoenician Greek
Phoenician aleph.svg aleph /ʔ/ Greek Alpha 03.svg Α alpha /a/, //
Phoenician beth.svg beth /b/ Greek Beta 16.svg Β beta /b/
Phoenician gimel.svg gimel /ɡ/ Greek Gamma archaic 1.svg Γ gamma /ɡ/
Phoenician daleth.svg daleth /d/ Greek Delta 04.svg Δ delta /d/
Phoenician he.svg he /h/ Greek Epsilon archaic.svg Ε epsilon /e/, //[15]
Phoenician waw.svg waw /w/ Greek Digamma oblique.svg Ϝ (digamma) /w/
Phoenician zayin.svg zayin /z/ Greek Zeta archaic.svg Ζ zeta [zd](?)
Phoenician heth.svg heth /ħ/ Greek Eta archaic.svg Η eta /h/, /ɛː/
Phoenician teth.svg teth // Greek Theta archaic.svg Θ theta //
Phoenician yodh.svg yodh /j/ Greek Iota normal.svg Ι iota /i/, //
Phoenician kaph.svg kaph /k/ Greek Kappa normal.svg Κ kappa /k/
Phoenician lamedh.svg lamedh /l/ Greek Lambda 09.svg Λ lambda /l/
Phoenician mem.svg mem /m/ Greek Mu 04.svg Μ mu /m/
Phoenician nun.svg nun /n/ Greek Nu 01.svg Ν nu /n/
Phoenician Greek
Phoenician samekh.svg samekh /s/ Greek Xi archaic.svg Ξ xi /ks/
Phoenician ayin.svg ʿayin /ʕ/ Greek Omicron 04.svg Ο omicron /o/, //[15]
Phoenician pe.svg pe /p/ Greek Pi archaic.svg Π pi /p/
Phoenician sade.svg ṣade // Greek San 02.svg Ϻ (san) /s/
Phoenician qoph.svg qoph /q/ Greek Koppa normal.svg Ϙ (koppa) /k/
Phoenician res.svg reš /r/ Greek Rho pointed.svg Ρ rho /r/
Phoenician sin.svg šin /ʃ/ Greek Sigma normal.svg Σ sigma /s/
Phoenician taw.svg taw /t/ Greek Tau normal.svg Τ tau /t/
Phoenician waw.svg (waw) /w/ Greek Upsilon normal.svg Υ upsilon /u/, //
Greek Phi archaic.svg Φ phi //
Greek Chi normal.svg Χ chi //
Greek Psi straight.svg Ψ psi /ps/
Greek Omega normal.svg Ω omega /ɔː/

Early Greek alphabet on pottery in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Three of the original Phoenician letters dropped out of use before the alphabet took its classical shape: the letter Ϻ (san), which had been in competition with Σ (sigma) denoting the same phoneme /s/; the letter Ϙ (qoppa), which was redundant with Κ (kappa) for /k/, and Ϝ (digamma), whose sound value /w/ dropped out of the spoken language before or during the classical period.

Greek was originally written predominantly from right to left, just like Phoenician, but scribes could freely alternate between directions. For a time, a writing style with alternating right-to-left and left-to-right lines (called boustrophedon, literally "ox-turning", after the manner of an ox ploughing a field) was common, until in the classical period the left-to-right writing direction became the norm. Individual letter shapes were mirrored depending on the writing direction of the current line.

Archaic variants

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There were initially numerous local variants of the Greek alphabet, which differed in the use and non-use of the additional vowel and consonant symbols and several other features. A form of western Greek native to Euboea, which among other things had Χ for /ks/, was transplanted to Italy by early Greek colonists, and became the ancestor of the Old Italic alphabets and ultimately, through Etruscan, of the Latin alphabet. Athens used a local form of the alphabet until the 5th century BC; it lacked the letters Ξ and Ψ as well as the vowel symbols Η and Ω. The classical 24-letter alphabet that became the norm later was originally the local alphabet of Ionia; this was adopted by Athens in 403 BC under archon Eucleides and in most other parts of the Greek-speaking world during the 4th century BC.

Letter names

When the Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet, they took over not only the letter shapes and sound values, but also the names by which the sequence of the alphabet could be recited and memorized. In Phoenician, each letter name was a word that began with the sound represented by that letter; thus ʾaleph, the word for "ox", was used as the name for the glottal stop /ʔ/, bet, or "house", for the /b/ sound, and so on. When the letters were adopted by the Greeks, most of the Phoenician names were maintained or modified slightly to fit Greek phonology; thus, ʾaleph, bet, gimel became alpha, beta, gamma.

The Greek names of the following letters are more or less straightforward continuations of their Phoenician antecedents. Between Ancient and Modern Greek they have remained largely unchanged, except that their pronunciation has followed regular sound changes along with other words (for instance, in the name of beta, ancient /b/ regularly changed to modern /v/, and ancient /ɛː/ to modern /i/, resulting in the modern pronunciation vita). The name of lambda is attested in early sources as λάβδα besides λάμβδα;[16] in Modern Greek the spelling is often λάμδα, reflecting pronunciation. Similarly, iota is sometimes spelled γιώτα in Modern Greek ([ʝ] is conventionally transcribed ⟨γ{ι,η,υ,ει,οι}⟩ word-initially and intervocalically before back vowels and /a/). In the tables below, the Greek names of all letters are given in their traditional polytonic spelling; in modern practice, like with all other words, they are usually spelled in the simplified monotonic system.

Letter Name Pronunciation
Greek Phoenician original English Greek (Ancient) Greek (Modern) English
Α ἄλφα aleph alpha [alpʰa] [ˈalfa] Listeni/ˈælfə/
Β βῆτα beth beta [bɛːta] [ˈvita] /ˈbtə/, US /ˈbtə/
Γ γάμμα gimel gamma [ɡamma] [ˈɣama] /ˈɡæmə/
Δ δέλτα daleth delta [delta] [ˈðelta] /ˈdɛltə/
Η ἦτα heth eta [hɛːta], [ɛːta] [ˈita] /ˈtə/, US /ˈtə/
Θ θῆτα teth theta [tʰɛːta] [ˈθita] /ˈθtə/, US Listeni/ˈθtə/
Ι ἰῶτα yodh iota [iɔːta] [ˈʝota] Listeni/ˈtə/
Κ κάππα kaph kappa [kappa] [ˈkapa] Listeni/ˈkæpə/
Λ λάμβδα lamedh lambda [lambda] [ˈlamða] Listeni/ˈlæmdə/
Μ μῦ mem mu [myː] [mi] Listeni/ˈmjuː/; occasionally US /ˈm/
Ν νῦ nun nu [nyː] [ni] /ˈnj/ (US /ˈn/)
Ρ ῥῶ reš rho [rɔː] [ro] Listeni/ˈr/
Τ ταῦ taw tau [tau] [taf] /ˈt/ or /ˈtɔː/

In the cases of the three historical sibilant letters below, the correspondence between Phoenician and Ancient Greek is less clear, with apparent mismatches both in letter names and sound values. The early history of these letters (and the fourth sibilant letter, obsolete san) has been a matter of some debate. Here too, the changes in the pronunciation of the letter names between Ancient and Modern Greek are regular.

Letter Name Pronunciation
Greek Phoenician original English Greek (Ancient) Greek (Modern) English
Ζ ζῆτα zayin zeta [dzɛːta] [ˈzita] /ˈztə/, US /ˈztə/
Ξ ξεῖ, ξῖ samekh xi [kseː] [ksi] /ˈz/, /ˈks/
Σ σίγμα šin siɡma [siɡma] [ˈsiɣma] /ˈsɪɡmə/

In the following group of consonant letters, the older forms of the names in Ancient Greek were spelled with -εῖ, indicating an original pronunciation with . In Modern Greek these names are spelled with .

Letter Name Pronunciation
Greek English Greek (Ancient) Greek (Modern) English
Ξ ξεῖ, ξῖ xi [kseː] [ksi] /ˈz/, /ˈks/
Π πεῖ, πῖ pi [peː] [pi] /ˈp/
Φ φεῖ, φῖ phi [pʰeː] [fi] /ˈf/
Χ χεῖ, χῖ chi [kʰeː] [çi] Listeni/ˈk/
Ψ ψεῖ, ψῖ psi [pseː] [psi] /ˈs/, Listeni/ˈps/

The following group of vowel letters were originally called simply by their sound values as long vowels: ē, ō, ū, and ɔ. Their modern names contain adjectival qualifiers that were added during the Byzantine period, to distinguish between letters that had become confusable. Thus, the letters ⟨ο⟩ and ⟨ω⟩, pronounced identically by this time, were called o mikron ("small o") and o mega ("big o") respectively. The letter ⟨ε⟩ was called e psilon ("plain e") to distinguish it from the identically pronounced digraph ⟨αι⟩, while, similarly, ⟨υ⟩, which at this time was pronounced [y], was called y psilon ("plain y") to distinguish it from the identically pronounced digraph ⟨οι⟩.

Letter Name Pronunciation
Greek (Ancient) Greek (Medieval) Greek (Modern) English Greek (Ancient) Greek (Modern) English
Ε εἶ ἐ ψιλόν ἔψιλον epsilon [eː] [ˈepsilon] /ˈɛpslɒn/, some UK /ɛpˈslən/
Ο οὖ ὀ μικρόν ὄμικρον omicron [oː] [ˈomikron] Listeni/ˈɒmkrɒn/, traditional UK /ˈmkrɒn/
Υ ὐ ψιλόν ὔψιλον upsilon [uː], [yː] [ˈipsilon] /juːpˈslən/, /ˈʊpslɒn/, also UK /ʌpˈslən/, US /ˈʌpslɒn/
Ω ὠ μέγα ὠμέγα omega [ɔː] [oˈmeɣa] US /ˈmɡə/, traditional UK /ˈmɡə/

Some dialects of the Aegean and Cypriot have retained long consonants and pronounce [ˈɣamːa] and [ˈkapʰa]; also, ήτα has come to be pronounced [ˈitʰa] in Cypriot.[17]

Letter shapes

A 16th-century edition of the New Testament, printed in a renaissance typeface by Claude Garamond

Like Latin and other alphabetic scripts, Greek originally had only a single form of each letter, without a distinction between uppercase and lowercase. This distinction is an innovation of the modern era, drawing on different lines of development of the letter shapes in earlier handwriting.

The oldest forms of the letters in antiquity are majuscule forms. Besides the upright, straight inscriptional forms (capitals) found in stone carvings or incised pottery, more fluent writing styles adapted for handwriting on soft materials were also developed during antiquity. Such handwriting has been preserved especially from papyrus manuscripts in Egypt since the Hellenistic period. Ancient handwriting developed two distinct styles: uncial writing, with carefully drawn, rounded block letters of about equal size, used as a book hand for carefully produced literary and religious manuscripts, and cursive writing, used for everyday purposes.[18] The cursive forms approached the style of lowercase letter forms, with ascenders and descenders, as well as many connecting lines and ligatures between letters.

In the 9th and 10th century, uncial book hands were replaced with a new, more compact writing style, with letter forms partly adapted from the earlier cursive.[18] This minuscule style remained the dominant form of handwritten Greek into the modern era. During the Renaissance, western printers adopted the minuscule letter forms as lowercase printed typefaces, while modelling uppercase letters on the ancient inscriptional forms. The orthographic practice of using the letter case distinction for marking proper names, titles etc. developed in parallel to the practice in Latin and other western languages.

Inscription Manuscript Modern print
Archaic Classical Uncial Minuscule Lowercase Uppercase
Greek Alpha 03.svg Greek Alpha classical.svg Greek uncial Alpha.svg Greek minuscule Alpha.svg α Α
Greek Beta 16.svg Greek Beta classical.svg Greek uncial Beta.svg Greek minuscule Beta.svg β Β
Greek Gamma archaic 1.svg Greek Gamma classical.svg Greek uncial Gamma.svg Greek minuscule Gamma.svg γ Γ
Greek Delta 04.svg Greek Delta classical.svg Greek uncial Delta.svg Greek minuscule Delta.svg δ Δ
Greek Epsilon archaic.svg Greek Epsilon classical.svg Greek uncial Epsilon.svg Greek minuscule Epsilon.svg ε Ε
Greek Zeta archaic.svg Greek Zeta classical.svg Greek uncial Zeta.svg Greek minuscule Zeta.svg ζ Ζ
Greek Eta archaic.svg Greek Eta classical.svg Greek uncial Eta.svg Greek minuscule Eta.svg η Η
Greek Theta archaic.svg Greek Theta classical.svg Greek uncial Theta.svg Greek minuscule Theta.svg θ Θ
Greek Iota normal.svg Greek Iota classical.svg Greek uncial Iota.svg Greek minuscule Iota.svg ι Ι
Greek Kappa normal.svg Greek Kappa classical.svg Greek uncial Kappa.svg Greek minuscule Kappa.svg κ Κ
Greek Lambda 09.svg Greek Lambda classical.svg Greek uncial Lambda.svg Greek minuscule Lambda.svg λ Λ
Greek Mu 04.svg Greek Mu classical.svg Greek uncial Mu.svg Greek minuscule Mu.svg μ Μ
Greek Nu 01.svg Greek Nu classical.svg Greek uncial Nu.svg Greek minuscule Nu.svg ν Ν
Greek Xi archaic.svg Greek Xi classical.svg Greek uncial Xi.svg Greek minuscule Xi.svg ξ Ξ
Greek Omicron 04.svg Greek Omicron classical.svg Greek uncial Omicron.svg Greek minuscule Omicron.svg ο Ο
Greek Pi archaic.svg Greek Pi classical.svg Greek uncial Pi.svg Greek minuscule Pi.svg π Π
Greek Rho pointed.svg Greek Rho classical.svg Greek uncial Rho.svg Greek minuscule Rho.svg ρ Ρ
Greek Sigma normal.svg Greek Sigma classical.svg Greek uncial Sigma.svg Greek minuscule Sigma.svg σς Σ
Greek Tau normal.svg Greek Tau classical.svg Greek uncial Tau.svg Greek minuscule Tau.svg τ Τ
Greek Upsilon normal.svg Greek Upsilon classical.svg Greek uncial Upsilon.svg Greek minuscule Upsilon.svg υ Υ
Greek Phi 03.svg Greek Phi archaic.svg Greek uncial Phi.svg Greek minuscule Phi.svg φ Φ
Greek Chi normal.svg Greek Chi classical.svg Greek uncial Chi.svg Greek minuscule Chi.svg χ Χ
Greek Psi straight.svg Greek Psi classical.svg Greek uncial Psi.svg Greek minuscule Psi.svg ψ Ψ
Greek Omega normal.svg Greek Omega classical.svg Greek uncial Omega.svg Greek minuscule Omega.svg ω Ω

Derived alphabets

The earliest Etruscan abecedarium, from Marsiliana d'Albegna, still almost identical with contemporaneous archaic Greek alphabets
A page from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century bible manuscript in Gothic

The Greek alphabet was the model for various others:[4]

It is also considered a possible ancestor of the Armenian alphabet, which in turn influenced the development of the Georgian alphabet.[20]

Other uses

Use for other languages

Apart from the daughter alphabets listed above, which were adapted from Greek but developed into separate writing systems, the Greek alphabet has also been adopted at various times and in various places to write other languages.[21] For some of them, additional letters were introduced.


Middle Ages

Early modern

18th century title page of a book printed in Karamanli Turkish

In mathematics and science

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Greek symbols are traditionally used as names in mathematics, physics and other sciences. Many symbols have traditional uses, such as lower case epsilon (ε) for an arbitrarily small positive number, lower case pi (π) for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, capital sigma (Σ) for summation, and lower case sigma (σ) for standard deviation.


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Greek letters are used to denote the brighter stars within each of the eighty-eight constellations. In most constellations the brightest star is designated Alpha and the next brightest Beta etc. For example, the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus is known as Alpha Centauri. However, for historical reasons, the Greek designations of some constellations begin with a lower ranked letter.

International Phonetic Alphabet

Several Greek letters are used as phonetic symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).[28] Several of them denote fricative consonants; the rest stand for variants of vowel sounds. The glyph shapes used for these letters in specialized phonetic fonts is sometimes slightly different from the conventional shapes in Greek typography proper, with glyphs typically being more upright and using serifs, to make them conform more with the typographical character of other, Latin-based letters in the phonetic alphabet. Nevertheless, in the Unicode encoding standard, the following three phonetic symbols are considered the same characters as the corresponding Greek letters proper:

β beta U+03B2 voiced bilabial fricative
θ theta U+03B8 voiceless dental fricative
χ chi U+03C7 voiceless uvular fricative

On the other hand, the following phonetic letters have Unicode representations separate from their Greek alphabetic use, either because their conventional typographic shape is too different from the original, or because they also have secondary uses as regular alphabetic characters in some Latin-based alphabets, including separate Latin uppercase letters distinct from the Greek ones.

Greek letter Phonetic letter Uppercase
φ phi ɸ U+0278 Latin small letter phi Voiceless bilabial fricative
γ gamma ɣ U+0263 Latin small letter gamma Voiced velar fricative Ɣ U+0194
ε epsilon ɛ U+025B Latin small letter open e
(alias: epsilon)
Open-mid front unrounded vowel Ɛ U+0190
α alpha ɑ U+0251 Latin small letter alpha Open back unrounded vowel Ɑ U+2C6D
υ upsilon ʊ U+028A Latin small letter upsilon Near-close near-back vowel Ʊ U+01B1
ι iota ɩ U+0269 Latin small letter iota Obsolete for near-close near-front unrounded vowel now ɪ Ɩ U+0196

The symbol in Americanist phonetic notation for the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative is the Greek letter lambda ⟨λ⟩, but ⟨ɬ⟩ in the IPA. The IPA symbol for the palatal lateral approximant is ⟨ʎ⟩, which looks similar to lambda, but is actually an inverted lowercase y.

Additionally, Unicode contains that is not used in IPA. Unicode 8.0 will add , , , , and for use in German and African languages.

Use as numerals

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Greek letters were also used to write numbers. In the classical Ionian system, the first nine letters of the alphabet stood for the numbers from 1 to 9, the next nine letters stood for the multiples of 10, from 10 to 90, and the next nine letters stood for the multiples of 100, from 100 to 900. For this purpose, in addition to the 24 letters which by that time made up the standard alphabet, three otherwise obsolete letters were retained or revived: digamma ⟨Ϝ⟩ for 6, koppa ⟨Ϙ⟩ for 90, and a rare Ionian letter for [ss], today called sampi ⟨Ͳ⟩, for 900. This system has remained in use in Greek up to the present day, although today it is only employed for limited purposes such as enumerating chapters in a book, similar to the way Roman numerals are used in English. The three extra symbols are today written as ⟨ϛ⟩, ⟨ϟ⟩ and ⟨ϡ⟩ respectively. To mark a letter as a numeral sign, a small stroke called keraia is added to the right of it.

Αʹ αʹ alpha 1
Βʹ βʹ beta 2
Γʹ γʹ gamma 3
Δʹ δʹ delta 4
Εʹ εʹ epsilon 5
ϛʹ digamma (stigma) 6
Ζʹ ζʹ zeta 7
Ηʹ ηʹ eta 8
Θʹ θʹ theta 9
Ιʹ ιʹ iota 10
Κʹ κʹ kappa 20
Λʹ λʹ lambda 30
Μʹ μʹ mu 40
Νʹ νʹ nu 50
Ξʹ ξʹ xi 60
Οʹ οʹ omicron 70
Πʹ πʹ pi 80
ϟʹ koppa 90
Ρʹ ρʹ rho 100
Σʹ σʹ sigma 200
Τʹ τʹ tau 300
Υʹ υʹ upsilon 400
Φʹ φʹ phi 500
Χʹ χʹ chi 600
Ψʹ ψʹ psi 700
Ωʹ ωʹ omega 800
ϡʹ sampi 900

Use in naming student fraternities and sororities

In North America, many college fraternities and sororities are named with combinations of Greek letters, and are hence also known as "Greek letter organizations". This naming tradition was initiated by the foundation of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, in 1776.[29]

Glyph variants

Some letters can occur in variant shapes, mostly inherited from medieval minuscule handwriting. While their use in normal typography of Greek is purely a matter of font styles, some such variants have been given separate encodings in Unicode.

  • The symbol ϐ ("curled beta") is a cursive variant form of beta (β). In the French tradition of Ancient Greek typography, β is used word-initially, and ϐ is used word-internally.
  • The letter epsilon can occur in two equally frequent stylistic variants, either shaped \epsilon\,\! ('lunate epsilon', like a semicircle with a stroke) or \varepsilon\,\! (similar to a reversed number 3). The symbol ϵ (U+03F5) is designated specifically for the lunate form, used as a technical symbol.
  • The symbol ϑ ("script theta") is a cursive form of theta (θ), frequent in handwriting, and used with a specialized meaning as a technical symbol.
  • The symbol ϰ ("kappa symbol") is a cursive form of kappa (κ), used as a technical symbol.
  • The symbol ϖ ("variant pi") is an archaic script form of pi (π), also used as a technical symbol.
  • The letter rho (ρ) can occur in different stylistic variants, with the descending tail either going straight down or curled to the right. The symbol ϱ (U+03F1) is designated specifically for the curled form, used as a technical symbol.
  • The letter sigma, in standard orthography, has two variants: ς, used only at the ends of words, and σ, used elsewhere. The form ϲ ("lunate sigma", resembling a Latin c) is a medieval stylistic variant that can be used in both environments without the final/non-final distinction.
  • The capital letter upsilon (Υ) can occur in different stylistic variants, with the upper strokes either straight like a Latin Y, or slightly curled. The symbol ϒ (U+03D2) is designated specifically for the curled form, used as a technical symbol.
  • The letter phi can occur in two equally frequent stylistic variants, either shaped as \textstyle\phi\,\! (a circle with a vertical stroke through it) or as \textstyle\varphi\,\! (a curled shape open at the top). The symbol ϕ (U+03D5) is designated specifically for the closed form, used as a technical symbol.

Computer encodings

For the usage in computers, a variety of encodings have been used for Greek online, many of them documented in RFC 1947.

The two principal ones still used today are ISO/IEC 8859-7 and Unicode. ISO 8859-7 supports only the monotonic orthography; Unicode supports both the monotonic and polytonic orthographies.

ISO/IEC 8859-7

For the range A0–FF (hex) it follows the Unicode range 370–3CF (see below) except that some symbols, like ©, ½, § etc. are used where Unicode has unused locations. Like all ISO-8859 encodings it is equal to ASCII for 00–7F (hex).

Greek in Unicode

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Unicode supports polytonic orthography well enough for ordinary continuous text in modern and ancient Greek, and even many archaic forms for epigraphy. With the use of combining characters, Unicode also supports Greek philology and dialectology and various other specialized requirements. Most current text rendering engines do not render diacritics well, so, though alpha with macron and acute can be represented as U+03B1 U+0304 U+0301, this rarely renders well: ᾱ́.[citation needed]

There are two main blocks of Greek characters in Unicode. The first is "Greek and Coptic" (U+0370 to U+03FF). This block is based on ISO 8859-7 and is sufficient to write Modern Greek. There are also some archaic letters and Greek-based technical symbols.

This block also supports the Coptic alphabet. Formerly most Coptic letters shared codepoints with similar-looking Greek letters; but in many scholarly works, both scripts occur, with quite different letter shapes, so as of Unicode 4.1, Coptic and Greek were disunified. Those Coptic letters with no Greek equivalents still remain in this block (U+03E2 to U+03EF).

To write polytonic Greek, one may use combining diacritical marks or the precomposed characters in the "Greek Extended" block (U+1F00 to U+1FFF).

Greek and Coptic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+037x Ͱ ͱ Ͳ ͳ ʹ ͵ Ͷ ͷ ͺ ͻ ͼ ͽ ; Ϳ
U+038x ΄ ΅ Ά · Έ Ή Ί Ό Ύ Ώ
U+039x ΐ Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο
U+03Ax Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω Ϊ Ϋ ά έ ή ί
U+03Bx ΰ α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο
U+03Cx π ρ ς σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω ϊ ϋ ό ύ ώ Ϗ
U+03Dx ϐ ϑ ϒ ϓ ϔ ϕ ϖ ϗ Ϙ ϙ Ϛ ϛ Ϝ ϝ Ϟ ϟ
U+03Ex Ϡ ϡ Ϣ ϣ Ϥ ϥ Ϧ ϧ Ϩ ϩ Ϫ ϫ Ϭ ϭ Ϯ ϯ
U+03Fx ϰ ϱ ϲ ϳ ϴ ϵ ϶ Ϸ ϸ Ϲ Ϻ ϻ ϼ Ͻ Ͼ Ͽ
1.^ As of Unicode version 8.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Greek Extended[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1F3x Ἷ
U+1FBx ᾿
1.^ As of Unicode version 8.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Combining and letter-free diacritics

Combining and spacing (letter-free) diacritical marks pertaining to Greek language:

combining spacing sample description
U+0300 U+0060 (  ̀) "varia / grave accent"
U+0301 U+00B4, U+0384 (  ́) "oxia / tonos / acute accent"
U+0304 U+00AF (  ̄) "macron"
U+0306 U+02D8 (  ̆) "vrachy / breve"
U+0308 U+00A8 (  ̈) "dialytika / diaeresis"
U+0313 U+02BC (  ̓) "psili / comma above" (spiritus lenis)
U+0314 U+02BD (  ̔) "dasia / reversed comma above" (spiritus asper)
U+0342 (  ͂) "perispomeni" (circumflex)
U+0343 (  ̓) "koronis" (= U+0313)
U+0344 U+0385 (  ̈́) "dialytika tonos" (deprecated, = U+0308 U+0301)
U+0345 U+037A (  ͅ) "ypogegrammeni / iota subscript".

Encodings with a subset of the Greek alphabet

IBM code pages 437, 860, 861, 862, 863, and 865 contain the letters ΓΘΣΦΩαδεπστφ (plus β as an alternate interpretation for ß).

See also


  1. Swiggers 1996.
  2. Cook 1987, p. 9.
  3. The Development of the Greek Alphabet within the Chronology of the ANE (2009), Quote: "Naveh gives four major reasons why it is universally agreed that the Greek alphabet was developed from an early Phoenician alphabet.
    1 According to Herodutous “the Phoenicians who came with Cadmus... brought into Hellas the alphabet, which had hitherto been unknown, as I think, to the Greeks.”
    2 The Greek Letters, alpha, beta, gimmel have no meaning in Greek but the meaning of most of their Semitic equivalents is known. For example, ‘aleph’ means ‘ox’, ‘bet’ means ‘house’ and ‘gimmel’ means ‘throw stick’.
    3 Early Greek letters are very similar and sometimes identical to the West Semitic letters.
    4 The letter sequence between the Semitic and Greek alphabets is identical. (Naveh 1982)"
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Coulmas 1996.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Woodard 2008, pp. 15–17
  6. 6.0 6.1 Holton, Mackridge & Philippaki-Warburton 1998, p. 31
  7. Hinge 2001, pp. 212–234
  8. The letter sigma ⟨Σ⟩ has two different lowercase forms, ⟨σ⟩ and ⟨ς⟩, with ⟨ς⟩ being used in word-final position and ⟨σ⟩ elsewhere. (In some 19th-century typesetting, ⟨ς⟩ was also used word-medially at the end of a compound morpheme, e.g. "δυςκατανοήτων", marking the morpheme boundary between "δυς-κατανοήτων" ("difficult to understand"); modern standard practice is to spell "δυσκατανοήτων" with a non-final sigma.) Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  9. Horrocks 2008, pp. 231–250
  10. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  13. Johnston 2003.
  14. Daniels & Bright 1996, p. 4.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Epsilon ⟨ε⟩ and omicron ⟨ο⟩ originally could denote both short and long vowels in pre-classical archaic Greek spelling, just like other vowel letters. They were restricted to the function of short vowel signs in classical Greek, as the long vowels // and // came to be spelled instead with the digraphs ⟨ει⟩ and ⟨ου⟩, having phonologically merged with a corresponding pair of former diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/ respectively.
  16. Liddell & Scott 1940, s.v. "λάβδα"
  17. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Thompson 1912, pp. 102–103
  19. Murdoch & 2004 156
  20. Stevenson 2007, p. 1158
  21. Macrakis 1996.
  22. Sims-Williams 1997.
  23. Miletich 1920.
  24. Mazon & Vaillant 1938.
  25. Kristophson 1974, p. 11.
  26. Peyfuss 1989.
  27. Elsie 1991.
  28. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  29. Vincent, Fran.The history of college, 1996, p. 1.


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  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. [Greek translation of Greek: a history of the language and its speakers, London 1997]
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  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. – selections from the Gospels in Macedonian.
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External links