The ABCs of Greek - Learn the Greek Alphabet

  • 01 of 09

    Alpha, Beta, and Gamma

    Time after time, being able to read the Greek alphabet saves travelers detours, wrong turns, and much time and frustration. It's quick to learn enough letters to tell Athens from Piraeus, to tell "New Epidaurus" from "Ancient Epidaurus" from the "Port of Epidaurus". You may never need to if you're on an organized tour, but if you're the independent type, you owe it to yourself to "pack" this knowledge in your braincase.

    It's handy to be able to at least read the letters of the Greek alphabet. Even if you don't learn Greek, some words are similar to English and once you have the alphabet down, it can help you get around more smoothly.

    These are given in the order of the letters of the Greek alphabet...which starts with alpha and beta, giving us the word alphabet! Pronunciations are approximate as this is designed to help you sound out signs rather than speak the language. The first two are easy—"alpha" for "A" and...MORE "beta" for "B"—though in Greek, it is much softer and sounds like a "v." But "gamma," while defined as "g," is often pronounced much more softly as well, as a "y" sound in front of "i" and "e." So Gianni really is Yanni.

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  • 02 of 09

    Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta

    In this group, the letter "delta" looks like a triangle—the delta formed by rivers and familiar from geography class. If you need help in remembering it, try mentally turning it on its side. Presto! It looks like a "D" but pronounce it as more of a hard "th" sound.

    "Epsilon" is a simple one. One might even say that it's too EE-zy. But some similar letters later one may fool you, so enjoy this one that looks the same, sounds the same, and really IS the same. It is pronounced "eh" as in "pet."

    "Zeta" is a surprise so early in the list of letters, since we're used to seeing "Z" at the end of our alphabet.

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  • 03 of 09

    Eta, Theta, and Iota

    Eta, theta, iota
    ••• Eta, theta, iota.

    Now things get a little more challenging. That "H" is not an "H" at all. You'll use it mainly as a short "i" sound, or "ih."

    "Theta" looks like an "O" with a line through it, and it's pronounced "Th." It's one of the unusual ones that need to be memorized, but at least it doesn't look like what it isn't!

    "Iota" gives us the phrase "Not one iota!" referring to something very tiny. It also is pronounced as "i."

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  • 04 of 09

    Kappa, Lambda, and Mu

    The Greek letters Kappa, lambda, and mu
    ••• Kappa, lambda, and mu.

    Of these three Greek letters, two are exactly what they appear to be. The "Kappa" is a "k" and the "Mu" is "m."

    But in the middle, we have a bottomless "delta" or inverted "v." It's "lambda" for "l." Again, mentally turning the v on its side may bring it a little close to an "L" shape.

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  • 05 of 09

    Nu, Xi, and Omicron

    The Greek letters Nu, Ksi, Omicron
    ••• Nu, Ksi or Xi, Omicron.

    "Nu" is "n" but watch out for its lower-case form, which resembles another letter we will encounter later, the "upsilon." The "n" looks like a "v."

    Xi, pronounced "ksee," is a tough one in both its forms. But try these tricks. The three lines can be thought of as "Three for ksee!" The lower case form looks something like a cursive "E." Think of "Kursive "E" for ksee!"

    "Omicron" is literally "O Micron"—the "little" O as opposed to the big "O," " O Mega," that we'll encounter soon. In ancient times, they were pronounced differently, but now they're both just "o."

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  • 06 of 09

    Pi, Rho, and Sigma

    The greek letters Pi, Rho, and Sigma
    ••• Pi, rho, and sigma.

    If you stayed awake in math class, you'll recognize the letter "Pi." If not, it's going to take some training to reliably see it as "p" especially since the letter that looks like "P" isn't. For architecture buffs, it looks like a small pylon gateway which may help give you the "p" sound.

    What is a "P" doing pretending to be an "R?" Generations of English-speaking students of Greek have wondered the same thing.

    Now comes to one of the biggest problems—the letter "Sigma" which looks like a backward "E" but is pronounced "s." To make matters worse, its lowercase form has two variants, one of which looks like an "o" and the other which looks like a "c," though that may at least give you a hint as to the sound.

    Confused? It gets worse. Many graphic artists have seen the apparent resemblance to the letter "E" and routinely plop it in as if it were an "E" to give a "Greek"...MORE feel to lettering. Movie titles are particular abusers of this letter. Even My Big Fat Greek Wedding whose creators should have known better.

    Try this to help you remember this letter: "I See an E but I Say an Ess." Hang on, we're almost through here.

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  • 07 of 09

    Tau, Upsilon, and Phi

    The Greek letters Tau or taf, upsilon, and phi
    ••• Tau or taf, upsilon, and phi.

    Whew! After the previous three letters, it's a relief to have a letter that looks like its equivalent in English ------- the Tau or Taf. Look, you've already learned it. Good for you!

    Now, what's up with "upsilon?" The big form looks like a "Y" and the lowercase form looks like a "u." But they're both pronounced like an "i." (Don't get the wrong impression. There may be multiple letters for "i" in Greek, but you can't just go around saying "i - i - i - i." You have to use the other letters too. Otherwise, people will stare.)

    Phinally, we reach Phi. This circle with a line through it is the "f" sound.

    Here's one hint for Phi that might work for you. Try the visual association of a wooden peg popping through a plastic beach ball making the sound "phi" or in English "ffffff f f f."

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  • 08 of 09

    Chi, Psi, and Omega

    The Greek letters Khi, psi, omega
    ••• Khi, psi, omega.

    Good job for sticking it out! This is the last three letters of the Greek alphabet. What, you say, that makes just 24? Yes, as a special bonus, you only have to learn 24 letters, not 26. There are only 24 letters in the modern Greek alphabet.

    The "chi" is "X" all right and is pronounced as a vigorous "h" sound. This is like the "ch" in Loch Ness Monster.

    Now onto the trident shape that is "psi". This really is 'puh-sigh', though the "p" is gentle and quick. Pronounce the "p" sound before the "s" sound. Try saying "tips."

    Finally, we come to "omega," the last letter of the Greek alphabet, often used as a word meaning "the end." This is a long "o" sound, the "big" sibling to "omicron," the little "o." These used to be pronounced differently, but in modern times, they're both just "Oh."

    Oh, look, we're done with the letters of the Greek alphabet. Wasn't that fun? I hope this starts you on your way and at least makes the roadsigns a bit more understandable on your travels to Greece.

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  • 09 of 09

    The 24 Letters of the Greek Alphabet

    Greek alphabet chart showing all 24 letters of the Greek alphabet
    ••• Letters of the Greek Alphabet Chart - from Alpha to Omega. Greek alphabet letters chart copyright deTraci Regula; licensed to About.com

    Take a look at all 24 of the letters of the Greek alphabet in this handy chart. For beta, remember it is pronounced "vayta." and for Psi, actually say the "puh" sound—p-sy, unlike in English where we say "ps" as just "s" as in the word "psychology." And that "D" for Delta?" It's a softer "th" sound.

    The phrase "From Alpha to Omega" or "beginning to end" comes from the Greek alphabet which starts with the letter alpha and ends with omega. These two are probably the best-known of all the Greek letters.

    The different shapes of the Greek lower-case letter Sigma are not really alternate forms. They are both used in modern Greek, depending on where the letter occurs in a word. The more "o" shaped variant starts a word, while the more "c" shaped version usually ends a word.

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