Greek Alphabet

Course: Greek Tools for Bible Study

Lecture: Greek Alphabet

Greek Alphabet and Pronunciation

Greek Alphabet through Words

[slide 1]

Let’s get going with the Greek alphabet. We are going to learn five or six words, and then you will know almost all the alphabet when we are done.  This way is a lot more fun than straigt memorizing it.

[slide 2]


This first word is logos.  This is the Greek word that means “word”.

λ This is called a lambda. This is the “l” sound.

ο This is an omicron.  It’s a short “o” sound. 

In modern Greek, this would be pronounced “lōgōs”.  Modern Greek has lost the short “o” sound.  Most teachers pronounce this as “logos”.  Well, whatever it is, you have to be consistent.  It can’t be “logōs” or “lōgos”.

γ This is the “g” in Greek, called gamma.  It’s a hard “g” sound.

ο Another omicron. 

ς This is the “s” in Greek, called a sigma.  In your text book, these things are all laid out in a chart.  So you may want to keep that opened to follow along.

So the word is pronounced “lo·gos”. 

These first four words are called cognates.  They are words that came into English directly.  It is an easy way to learn the alphabet.  This is a Greek word that is often used in combination with other words, like “theo·logy”.  “Theo” is from the Greek word Theos, meaning “God”.  So “theology” is a “word about God”, or the “study of God”.  “Hamartiology”,  hamartia is “sin”, so “hamartiology” is the “study of sin”. 

ό Do you notice the little mark?  That is one of three Greek accents, and there are three different shapes that you will see.  For the most part it just shows you what syllable to place the accent on.  In other words, this word is pronounced “lo·gos”, not “lo·gos”.  


λ (lambda) – ο (omicron) – γ (gamma) – ο (omicron)  – ς (sigma).

[slide 3]


Here is the second word: amēn, which comes in English as “amen”. This is probably the most universal word there is.  I’ve heard people in oriental languages speaking.  I don’t understand a word except at the end, “amēn”.

α The alpha.  The “a” sound.

μ And then the mu.  The “m” sound. 

η This is a letter that we don’t really have any equivalent for.  It’s called an “eta”.  It’s a long sound… a·mēn. 
[transcriber’s note:  η (eta) is transliterated as “ē”.] 

ν What looks like a “v” in English is really the Greek nu. 

All right, at this point, don’t worry if you don’t remember all the names of the letters.  I want you to get the pronunciation down.  The names come later. 

So, this word is pronounced “a·mēn”.

Vowels are very, very similar.  In fact, there’re some vowels that are virtually identical.  And, nobody knows what Greek really sounded like.  Not really.  We have some good guesses.  Other people say we’ve guessed completely wrong, and it’s something totally different. 

The long vowels are often very, very close to each other.  I’m teaching pronunciation the way my teacher taught me, and she taught me the way that she was taught by her teacher.  This is just the way Greek has been pronounced since Erasmus.  For baby-Greek it is not critical, but for full-Greek, if you’re going to communicate with someone, you need to be able to say them correctly.  It's fun, too. 

I primarily want you to get comfortable with the script.  If you’re not comfortable with the script, then the good commentaries will just be an anathema to you, because it’ll just look like scribbling. 

ἀ Notice this over here, over the alpha?  Any Greek word that starts with a vowel has what’s called a “breathing mark”.  It’s the old “h” sound that dropped out of use in the Greek.  When it opens up to the left, it’s silent.  “Well, why then,” you say, “do they even put it?”   The answer is, “I don’t have the foggiest idea!”  But it is there. In pronunciation you just completely ignore it.  amēn.

[slide 4]


Here is the next word.  Notice that the breathing--  the breathing on amēn is called a “smooth breathing”.   Remember, all this stuff is in the text book. 

When it opens to the right, it’s called a “rough breathing”.  When you see that, you put the “h” sound in front of it. 

And so that is hydor.  [hoo-door]
[transcriber’s note:  υ (upsilon) is transliterated as “u” if it occurs with another vowel, and “y” if it occurs as a single vowel.] 

υ The upsilon is a “u” sound. 

δ That’s the Greek delta, or the “d” sound. 

ω This is the omega.  Jesus says, “I am the alpha and the omega.”  What is He saying?  He is saying that he is the first and the last, first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  It’s always a long “o” sound, always. 

ρ And then this final thing is the “r” sound.


Sometimes with these rough breathings you have to take a breath before you say the word to have enough air to get the “h” sound out.

It means “water”, from which we get words like “hydraulic”.

[slide 5]


This is the last word: δόξα.

δ There’s your delta, the “d” sound.

ο The omicron, the short “o”. 

ξ And this funny thing is called the “xi”.  It’s like the “x” in the English word “axiom”, where there’s an “x” and an “s” sound together.  You need to kind of swallow your spit before you say that.  [k-sss   k-sss]   So this is δόξα, which means, “glory”.

So let’s say the words together:  logos, amēn, hydor, doxa.
Say it again:  logos, amēn, hydor, doxa. 

ἐγω εἰμι ὁ διδάσκαλος  [slide 6]
Let me teach you two short sentences, and then we will look at the alphabet. 

ejgw;  egō, egō  Just think of English, Freud and his  “ego”.  egō means “I”.

eijmi;  In this next word we have a “diphthong”.  A diphthong is when you have two vowels together that make one sound.  There’s a chart of them in the book, and they just have to be memorized. 

This word is pronounced “ei·mi”  [ay·mee].  Now, think of the English word “intrigue”.  How do you pronounce the first “i”?  It is a short “i” sound.  How do you pronounce the second one? It is an “ee” sound.   In other words, an “i” in English can be short or long.  [“i" or “ee”]  It is the same thing with an iota in Greek.  It can be an “i" or an “ee” sound.  How do you know when it is?  Just listen to me.  Just like I listened to my teacher, who listened to her teacher! 

So, this is egō eimi.  eimi means “am”. 

oJ Now how would you say that word? Watch your breathing. ho [short o sound]  ho

didavskaloV   And anyone want to take a stab at this last one? di·das·ka·los.  delta – iota – delta – alpha –- 

Now, what’s different about this?  The Greek “s”, the sigma, has two different shapes.  When it occurs at the end of a word it looks like the final sigma in didaskalos.  When it occurs anywhere else, it’s written like that.  So it’s the same letter.   So that’s di·das·k-- That’s the kappa.   di·das·ka·los   

Which means “I am the teacher.”  Cute, huh? 

su ei\ oJ maqhthvV   [slide 7]

Okay, let’s look at the second sentence. 

su  The first word is pronounced “sy”  [soo]  

ei\  And the next word?  It’s that diphthong.  ei   [ay] 

su means “you”, ei means “are”, or more specifically “you are”. 

You notice the black mark at the top, above the breathing.  That is one of the three accent marks.  You notice in the previous sentence you had  eijmi; (eimi) and the line goes down.  Here you have ei\ (ei) and the line goes up and down.  Don’t worry about them; they’re just accent marks.  If you were learning full-Greek, you would have to learn a lot more about accent marks.  But you do not have to for what we’re doing.

oJ  Okay, what’s the next word? ho. An omicron with a rough breathing, so there’s an “h” sound in front of it.

maqhthvV  And then this last word is ma·thē·tēs.   

It means “you are the disciple”, “you are the learner”. 

Okay, let’s read through both these sentences again:
ejgw; eijmi; oJ didavskaloV  (egō  eimi  ho  didaskalos)
su ei\ oJ maqhthvV   (su  ei  ho  mathētēs)

Believe it or not, that is almost the entire Greek alphabet.  I guarantee it, it is a lot more fun than memorizing it.

The Complete Greek Alphabet

a b g d e z h q i k l m n x o p r s V t u f c y w   [slide 8]

Let’s look at the whole alphabet so you can see where you are.  The Greek alphabet is very similar to English.  It has a few letters that English does not have and it does not have a few letters that English does have.  It appears to parallel English for a while, and then veers off for a bit, and then comes back.  Of course, Greek is not paralleling English, but we can think like that for teaching purposes.  If you can keep the English alphabet in your mind, it’s pretty easy. 

a Alpha, it’s the “a” sound. 

b This you don’t know.  This is the “b” sound.  It’s called a beta.

g This is the “g” sound, gamma.

d The delta, the “d” sound.

e epsilon, the “e” sound.  Okay, there is no “c”.  So, it’s like the gamma has replaced the “c”.  It hasn’t, but you can think that if it helps you memorize it.

a – b – g – d – e (alpha – beta – gamma – delta – epsilon)

Okay, then we have three letters that English doesn’t have: 

z This is called the zeta.  It’s the “dz” sound.  Just make a “d” and when you let the pressure out of your mouth in saying the “d”, turn it into a “z”.  [dzz, dzz]  

h This is the eta.  It’s a long “e”.  [ay-ta]   Pronounced like an “a”!

q And a theta, which is a “th” sound.

So let’s just say the alphabet together:  a – b – g – d – e – z – h – q   (alpha – beta – gamma – delta – epsilon – zeta – eta – theta)

We come back and start paralleling English again: 

i You have the “i" sound, which can be long or short, and it’s called the iota. 

k Then, the “k” sound is a kappa.

l The “l” sound, lambda.

m The “m” sound, mu.  See?  We are just going right along English now, aren’t we?

n The “n” sound, nu.  Don’t get tricked with that.  Looks like an English “v”, doesn’t it?  It’s the Greek nu.

x Then the xi  [ksee], like “a·xi·om”.

So,   i – k – l – m – n – x (iota – kappa – lambda – mu – nu – xi)  All right?  So let’s say down to that line again, together, starting with the alpha: a – b – g – d – e – z – h – q – i – k – l – m – n – x   
Very good.  A half hour into Greek and you’re all pros. 

o We obviously don’t have anything like xi, but we have already had this letter, so we’re back following the English again, as it were, with the omicron, a short “o”.

p Now you have not seen this letter yet, but you know what it is.  pi [pie].  In Greek it’s called

pi [pee].  For some reason, the mathematicians messed it up.

r This is the rho, the “r” sound.

s V   And then here is your two forms of sigma. 

t You have not had this one yet, but you can figure out what sound it is.  It’s a “t” sound.  It’s called a tau.

u And the “u” sound, called an upsilon.

Then we end up with four letters that are mostly double consonants in English.

f This is the “p-h” sound.  It’s called phi.  Just like the Jolly Green Giant, fee-fi-fo-fum.  You didn’t know he’s learning Greek, did you?

c This is a rather strange letter.  Again, you need to swallow spit before you say it.  It’s a chi [khee].  If you have Scottish ancestry, you refer to a lake as a loch.  My mom was a McCavish; I can say that.  That’s a [khh]  sound, like a cat [khh].  

y This is a “p-s” sound, a psi [psee],  psi.

w The last letter of the alphabet is omega.

f – c – y – w  (phi – chi – psi – omega).  Okay, let’s say the whole alphabet together:

a – b – g – d – e – z – h – q – i – k – l – m – n – x – o – p – r – s – t – u – f – c – y – w   Piece of cake!

A lot of people, especially in full-Greek, get psyched out.  They think that Greek is so hard.  Part of it’s Shakespeare and his stupid line, “It’s all Greek to me.”  People get scared of the script, but there is no reason to be scared of the script.  It’s kind of cool. 

ejgw  eijmi;  aj  nevrd

[slide 9]

I sometimes encourage people to write in Greek instead of English.  Okay, read this for me as I say it:  ejgw (egō)… eijmi (eimi)…  a… nerd!  ejgw eijmi (ego eimi), “I am” a nerd.  That is not Greek, don’t worry, but it is fun to goof around, if you’re just trying to get the alphabet down, to switch over and do it. 


[slide 10]

What is transliteration?  Along with actually knowing the alphabet, the transliteration is very important that you all understand.  Some publishers transliterate, especially in books that are written for the non-specialist. 

Instead of having an a (alpha) they will write “a”.  And they will usually put it in italics.  Instead of a b (beta) they will write a “b”.  Instead of a g (gamma) they will write a “g”.   This is called a transliteration. They are in the textbook, and you really need to know those as well.  Most of the books that you will end up reading will probably transliterate.  So, if there were such a Greek word as “Bill”, it would come across as B-i-l-l. 

The Alphabet Song (Steve Yoell)

[slide 11]

We have a song to help us get the alphabet down.  It is a pretty common song that’s sung in Greek classes.  The sheet music, for those of you who are listening to this on the computer, is in the handouts directory on the CD-ROM.  [Note:  The handouts (pdf) and audio (mp3) are available on the website]

[singing of the alphabet song]


[slide 12]

Syllabification breaks Greek into their words and their syllables.  We naturally do it in English, so you do not really have to learn it.  English rules and Greek rules are almost identical.  There are rules and they are in the book if you really like to learn rules, but it’s a little easier just to read a little bit together.  You will just kind of get the hang of it after awhile. 

Let’s just read through this.  I am doing this so that the syllables are all broken down for you, so that you can kind of get the feel and the rhythm of the language.  It is real straight forward.  I will read it, and join in as you can. 

oJ (ho)  =I-h-sou:V (I-ē-sous)   me (me)   aj-ga-pa:/ (a-ga-pa)  

Notice that little symbol underneath the alpha?  Sometimes the iota gets really small and ducks under the preceding vowel.  It does not really mean a whole lot right now, but it will mean something later on. 

It means “the Jesus me He loves.”  Proper names in Greek usually have the word “the” in front of them.

o{-ti (ho-ti)   See the rough breathing?   gra-fh; (gra-phē)   kh-ruvs-sei (kē-rys-sei) 

“because Scripture proclaims”   You don’t have to have direct objects in Greek.  It didn’t fit the rhythm, so I left it out.  Let’s read that together:

oJ (ho)  =I-h-sou:V (I-ē-sous)   me (me)   aj-ga-pa:/ (a-ga-pa)
o{-ti (ho-ti)   gra-fh; (gra-phē)   kh-ruvs-sei (kē-rys-sei) 

The next line:
pai- (pai-)   There’s your diphthong ai (alpha-iota) together are the “ai” sound. 

pai-div-a (pai-di-a)   eij-sin (ei-sin)   auj-tw:/ (au-tō)  
aj-sqevn-ou-si (a-sthen-ou-si)   duv-na-tai (dy-na-tai)  

You notice the last word, on duvnatai (dynatai), the n (nu) and the a (alpha)?  If you have a single consonant, it goes with the following vowel.  That’s a nice rule, if you have to know rules.

little child--  paidiva (paidia),  means “little children”.   
eijsin (eisin)  is “they are”.  
aujtw:/ (autō)  This is typical Greek.  It can mean a lot of things, but “to him”, “belonging to him”.  
ajsqevnousi (asthenousi), “they are weak”
duvnatai (dynatai), “he is able”, “he is strong”

Say it with me, okay?  pai-div-a   eij-sin   auj-tw:/   aj-sqevn-ou-si   duv-na-tai

And then the refrain is:
naiv (nai)  That’s Greek for “yes”.  Sounds like “no” to English, doesn’t it?  But it’s “yes” in Greek. 

naiv (nai)   =I-h-sou:V (I-ē-sous)   aj-ga-pa:/ (a-ga-pa)  

Then you repeat it:
naiv,  =I-h-sou:V  aj-ga-pa:/ 
naiv,  =I-h-sou:V  aj-ga-pa:/ 

Then you conclude with:
hJ (hē)   gra-fh; (gra-phē)   kh-ruvs-sei (kē-rys-sei)  

Okay, say that with me. 
naiv,  =I-h-sou:V  aj-ga-pa:/ 
naiv,  =I-h-sou:V  aj-ga-pa:/ 
naiv,  =I-h-sou:V  aj-ga-pa:/ 
hJ  gra-fh;  kh-ruvs-sei

Alphabet Conclusion

Forty-five minutes, and you have the alphabet down cold. Obviously we can’t do anything without it.  Learn how the letters sound, what their names are, and what their transliterated values are.  Just get a little comfortable with it, sing to yourself in the car if you want.  It will come very fast, if you are not already comfortable with it. 

[slide 13]


Let me put one thing up and then we will get into translations.  Everybody wants to know this in Greek! 

The top word is =Ihsou:V (Iēsous)  which is “Jesus”. 

Second word is pronounced  CristovV  (Christos).  You have the st (sigma-tau) go with the o (omicron) so it syllabifies right there.   Cri-stovV  (Chri-stos), obviously, “Christ”

qeou: (theou)  meaning “of God”

This is hard because it is one sound with a rough breathing, so it is  uiJoV (hui-os).  ui (upsilon-iota) is kind of a “wee” sound.  uiJoV  (huios), it means “son”.  “Son of God”, that’s not normal Greek order, but it fits the acrostic if you haven’t noticed it. 

And the last word is swthvr  (sō-tēr), means “savior”.

So  =Ihsou:V CristovV qeou: uiJoV swthvr  “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” and it became the early sign of the church, which is icquV  (ich-thus), the Greek word for “fish”.  That was the earliest of the Christian acrostics, as far as we know.  
=Ihsou:V CristovV  “Jesus Christ”
qeou: uiJoV  “Son of God”

The acrostic icquV meaning “fish”.  Cool, huh?