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Greek Letters, Symbols, English Alphabet Equivalents and Pronunciation

This article identifies and summarises the many Greek letters that have entered the English language.

Just like Ancient Greek culture, science and philosophy have all influenced the modern world, the Greek language has as played a substantial role in contemporary languages. In fact, the Greek alphabet is thousands of years old. The image below gives an indication of where it lies in the context of an Indo-European language evolution phylogeny:


Language Tree

There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet. The below table gives an overview of these in addition to how they are pronounced. When examining this table it becomes evident that many words in the English language have a Greek origin, e.g. the word 'alphabet' derives from the first two letters, alpha and beta. Further, Greek symbols are frequently used in mathematics, such as the pi sign (for the mathematical value 3.142) or mu, the micro symbol (µ). 

Whilst some of the symbols and letters that stem from classical Greek origin still play a significant role today, others have now become redundant due to their identical sound, e.g. the three ‘i’ letters  - eta, iota and upsilon which sound like “ee” or the two 'o' sounding letters omicron and omega.


Table of the Greek Alphabet


Greek name of letter


Upper Case Symbol

Lower Case Symbol

English equivalent

Pronunciation

Alpha

Α

α

A

A as in smart

Beta

Β

β

B

V as in very

Gamma

Γ

γ

G

Between Y as in yes and G as in go, but with no hard 'G' sound - more of a soft 'H' followed by the 'Y' sound in yes

Delta

Δ

δ

D

Th as in the 

Epsilon

Ε

ε

E

E as in very

Zeta

Ζ

ζ

Z

Z as in zoo

Eta

Η

η

E

Ee as in bee

Theta

Θ

θ

Th

Th as in think

Iota

Ι

ι

I

Ee as in bee or I as in bitter or sit

Kappa

Κ

κ

K

K as in look

Lambda

Λ

λ

L

L as in log

Mu

Μ

μ

M

M as in man

Nu

Ν

ν

N

N as in not

Xi

Ξ

ξ

X

X as in box

Omicron

Ο

ο

O

O as in box

Pi

Π

π

P

P as in top, but softer and close to 'B'

Rho

Ρ

ρ

R, Rh

a rolled R

Sigma

Σ

σ

S

S as in sap with a hint of Sh as in sugar

Tau

Τ

τ

T

T as in lot, but softer and close to 'D'

Upsilon

Υ

υ

U

Same as eta - Ee as in bee

Phi

Φ

φ

Ph

Ph as in photo

Chi

Χ

χ

Kh

Ch as in the scottish 'loch' but softer - not a hard sound

Psi

Ψ

ψ

Ps

Ps as in upside

Omega

Ω

ω

M

like omicron - O as in box - or longer 'O' sound like the vowel sound in oar


Importantly, as with most languages, pronunciation varies according to regional dialect and many of these sounds can only be reliably produced by natural and fluent Greek-speaking people. Lastly, it is also important to consider that there is a variation between the ancient Greek pronunciation and modern Greek language. 



See also