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The Greek alphabet has been used to write the
Greek language Greek ( el, label= Modern Greek, Ελληνικά, Elliniká, ; grc, Ἑλληνική, Hellēnikḗ) is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus, southern Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), offi ...
since the late 9th or early 8th century BCE. It is derived from the earlier
Phoenician alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written graphemes (called letter (alphabet), letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. Not all writing systems represent language ...
, and was the earliest known
alphabetic script An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written graphemes (called letter (alphabet), letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. Not all writing systems represent language in this way; in a syllabary, each character ...
to have distinct letters for
vowels A vowel is a syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels are one of the two principal classes of speech sounds, the other being the consonant In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound ...
as well as
consonants In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are and pronounced with the lips; and pronounced with the front of the tongue; and prono ...
. In Archaic and early Classical times, the Greek alphabet existed in many local variants, but, by the end of the 4th century BCE, the Euclidean alphabet, with 24 letters, ordered from
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ', or ell, άλφα, álfa) is the first Letter (alphabet), letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of one. Alpha is derived from the Phoenician alphabet, P ...
to
omega Omega (; capital letter, capital: Ω, lower case, lowercase: ω; Ancient Greek ὦ, later ὦ μέγα, Modern Greek ωμέγα) is the twenty-fourth and final letter in the Greek alphabet. In the Greek numerals, Greek numeric system/isopsephy ...
, had become standard and it is this version that is still used for Greek writing today. The uppercase and lowercase forms of the 24 letters are: : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /ς, , , , , , . The Greek alphabet is the ancestor of the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
and
Cyrillic script The Cyrillic script ( ), Slavonic script or the Slavic script, is a writing system used for various languages across Eurasia. It is the designated national script in various Slavic languages, Slavic, Turkic languages, Turkic, Mongolic languages, ...
s. Like Latin and Cyrillic, Greek originally had only a single form of each letter; it developed the
letter case Letter case is the distinction between the Letter (alphabet), letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller lowercase (or more formally ''minuscule'') in the written representation of certain lang ...
distinction between uppercase and lowercase in parallel with Latin during the
modern era The term modern period or modern era (sometimes also called modern history or modern times) is the period of history that succeeds the Middle Ages (which ended approximately 1500 AD). This terminology is a historical periodization that is applie ...
. Sound values and conventional transcriptions for some of the letters differ between
Ancient Ancient history is a time period from the History of writing, beginning of writing and recorded human history to as far as late antiquity. The span of recorded history is roughly 5,000 years, beginning with the Sumerian language, Sumerian c ...
and
Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek (, ), refers collectively to the dialects of the Greek language spoken in the modern era, including the official standardized form of the ...
usage because the pronunciation of Greek has changed significantly between the 5th century BCE and today. Modern and Ancient Greek also use different
diacritics A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph added to a letter (alphabet), letter or to a basic glyph. The term derives from the Ancient Greek (, "distinguishing"), from (, "to distinguish"). T ...
, with modern Greek keeping only the stress accent ( acute) and the diaeresis. 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.


Letters


Sound values

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 In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West M ...
. 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. ;Examples ;Notes Among consonant letters, all letters that denoted voiced plosive consonants () and aspirated plosives () in Ancient Greek stand for corresponding fricative sounds in Modern Greek. The correspondences are as follows: 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: Modern Greek speakers typically use the same, modern symbol–sound 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
diphthong A diphthong ( ; , ), also known as a gliding vowel, is a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: that is, the tongue (and/or other parts of the speech o ...
s but are now monophthongized. In addition to the four mentioned above (), there is also , and , pronounced . The Ancient Greek diphthongs , and are pronounced , and in Modern Greek. In some environments, they are devoiced to , and respectively. The Modern Greek consonant combinations and stand for and (or and ) respectively; stands for and stands for . In addition, both in Ancient and Modern Greek, the letter , before another
velar consonant Velars are consonants place of articulation, articulated with the back part of the tongue (the dorsum) against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth (known also as the Soft palate, velum). Since the velar region of the roof of ...
, stands for the
velar nasal The voiced velar nasal, also known as agma, from the Greek word for 'fragment', is a type of consonantal sound used in some Speech communication, spoken languages. It is the sound of ''ng'' in English ''sing'' as well as ''n'' before velar cons ...
; thus and are pronounced like English . In analogy to and , is also used to stand for . There are also the combinations and .


Diacritics

In the
polytonic orthography Greek orthography The orthography of the Greek language ultimately has its roots in the adoption of the Greek alphabet in the 9th century BC. Some time prior to that, one early form of Greek, Mycenaean language, Mycenaean, was written in Line ...
traditionally used for ancient Greek, the stressed vowel of each word carries one of three accent marks: either the
acute accent The acute accent (), , is a diacritic used in many modern written languages with alphabets based on the Latin alphabet, Latin, Cyrillic script, Cyrillic, and Greek alphabet, Greek scripts. For the most commonly encountered uses of the accent ...
(), the
grave accent The grave accent () ( or ) is a diacritical mark used to varying degrees in French, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian and many other western European languages, as well as for a few unusual uses in English. It is also used in other languages us ...
(), or the
circumflex accent The circumflex () is a diacritic in the Latin script, Latin and Greek alphabet, Greek scripts that is also used in the written forms of many languages and in various romanization and Transcription (linguistics), transcription schemes. It recei ...
( or ). These signs were originally designed to mark different forms of the phonological
pitch accent A pitch-accent language, when spoken, has word Accentuation, accents in which one syllable in a word or morpheme is more prominent than the others, but the accentuated syllable is indicated by a contrasting pitch (music), pitch (tone (linguisti ...
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 In the Greek diacritics, polytonic orthography of Ancient Greek, the rough breathing ( grc, δασὺ πνεῦμα, dasỳ pneûma or ''daseîa''; la, spīritus asper) character is a diacritic, diacritical mark used to indicate the presence o ...
(), marking an sound at the beginning of a word, or the
smooth breathing The smooth breathing ( grc, ψιλὸν πνεῦμα, psilòn pneûma; ell, ψιλή ''psilí''; la, spīritus lēnis) is a diacritical mark A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph ad ...
(), marking its absence. The letter rho (ρ), although not a vowel, also carries rough breathing in a word-initial position. If a rho was geminated within a word, the first always had the smooth breathing and the second the rough breathing (ῤῥ) leading to the transliteration rrh. The vowel letters carry an additional diacritic in certain words, the so-called
iota subscript The iota subscript is a diacritic mark in the Greek alphabet shaped like a small vertical stroke or miniature iota placed below the letter. It can occur with the vowel letters eta , omega , and alpha . It represents the former presence of an S ...
, which has the shape of a small vertical stroke or a miniature below the letter. This iota represents the former offglide of what were originally long diphthongs, (i.e. ), which became monophthongized during antiquity. Another diacritic used in Greek is the diaeresis (), indicating a hiatus. This system of diacritics was first developed by the scholar
Aristophanes of Byzantium __NOTOC__ Aristophanes of Byzantium ( grc-gre, Ἀριστοφάνης ὁ Βυζάντιος ; BC) was a Hellenistic period, Hellenistic Greek scholar, critic and Philologist, grammarian, particularly renowned for his work in Homeric scholars ...
( 257 –  185/180 BC), who worked at the
Musaeum The Musaeum or Mouseion of Alexandria ( grc, Μουσεῖον τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας; ), which arguably included the Library of Alexandria, Great Library of Alexandria, was an institution said to have been founded by Ptolemy I Soter an ...
in Alexandria during the third century BC. Aristophanes of Byzantium also was the first to divide poems into lines, rather than writing them like prose, and also introduced a series of signs for
textual criticism Textual criticism is a branch of textual scholarship, philology Philology () is the study of language in oral and writing, written historical sources; it is the intersection of textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics ...
. 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, making this monotonic system very similar to the accent mark system used in
Spanish Spanish might refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards are a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language, spoken in Spain and many Latin American countries **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Cana ...
. 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. Although it is not a diacritic, the
comma The comma is a punctuation mark that appears in several variants in different languages. It has the same shape as an apostrophe or single closing quotation mark () in many typefaces, but it differs from them in being placed on the baseline (t ...
has a similar function as a
silent letter In an alphabet, alphabetic writing system, a silent letter is a Letter (alphabet), letter that, in a particular word, does not correspond to any Phone (phonetics), sound in the word's pronunciation. In linguistics, a silent letter is often symb ...
in a handful of Greek words, principally distinguishing (''ó,ti'', "whatever") from (''óti'', "that").Nicolas, Nick.
Greek Unicode Issues: Punctuation
". 2005. Accessed 7 Oct 2014.


Romanization

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, is replaced with , the diphthongs and are rendered as and (or ) respectively; and and are simplified to and respectively. Smooth breathing marks are usually ignored and rough breathing marks are usually rendered as the letter . In modern scholarly transliteration of Ancient Greek, will usually be rendered as , and the vowel combinations as respectively. The letters and are generally rendered as and ; as either or ; and word-initial as . Transcription conventions for Modern Greek 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 Transliteration is a type of conversion of a text from one writing system, script to another that involves swapping Letter (alphabet), letters (thus ''wikt:trans-#Prefix, trans-'' + ''wikt:littera#Latin, liter-'') in predictable ways, such as ...
or rather a phonetically-based transcription. Standardized formal transcription systems have been defined by the
International Organization for Standardization The International Organization for Standardization (ISO ) is an international standard development organization composed of representatives from the national standards organizations of member countries. Membership requirements are given in Art ...
(as
ISO 843 ISO 843 is a system for the transliteration Transliteration is a type of conversion of a text from one writing system, script to another that involves swapping Letter (alphabet), letters (thus ''wikt:trans-#Prefix, trans-'' + ''wikt:littera# ...
), by the
United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) is one of the nine expert groups of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and deals with the national and international standardization Standardization or s ...
, by the
Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LOC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are accessible for use and not just for display purposes. A library provides physical (hard copies) or digital access (so ...
, and others.


History


Origins

During the
Mycenaean period Mycenaean Greece (or the Mycenaean civilization) was the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece, spanning the period from approximately 1750 to 1050 BC.. It represents the first advanced and distinctively Greek civilization in mainland ...
, from around the sixteenth century to the twelfth century BC,
Linear B Linear B was a syllabary, syllabic script used for writing in Mycenaean Greek, the earliest Attested language, attested form of Greek language, Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries. The oldest Mycenaean writing ...
was used to write the earliest attested form of the Greek language, known as
Mycenaean Greek Mycenaean Greek is the most ancient attested form of the Greek language, on the Greek mainland and Crete in Mycenaean Greece (16th to 12th centuries BC), before the hypothesised Dorian invasion, often cited as the ''terminus post quem, terminus ...
. This writing system, unrelated to the Greek alphabet, last appeared in the thirteenth century BC. In the late ninth century BC or early eighth century BC, the Greek alphabet emerged. The period between the use of the two writing systems, during which no Greek texts are attested, is known as the
Greek Dark Ages The term Greek Dark Ages refers to the period of History of Greece, Greek history from the end of the Mycenaean civilization, Mycenaean palatial civilization, around 1100 BC, to the beginning of the Archaic Greece, Archaic age, around 750 ...
. The Greeks adopted the alphabet from the earlier
Phoenician alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written graphemes (called letter (alphabet), letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. Not all writing systems represent language ...
, one of the closely related scripts used for the
West Semitic languages The West Semitic languages are a proposed major sub-grouping of ancient Semitic languages. The term was first coined in 1883 by Fritz Hommel.alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written graphemes (called letter (alphabet), letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. Not all writing systems represent language in this way; in a syllabary, each character ...
in the narrow sense, as distinguished from the
abjad An abjad (, ar, أبجد; also abgad) is a writing system in which only consonants are represented, leaving vowel sounds to be inferred by the reader. This contrasts with other alphabets, which provide graphemes for both consonants and vowels ...
s used in
Semitic languages The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. They are spoken by more than 330 million people across much of West Asia, the Horn of Africa, and latterly North Africa, Malta, West Africa, Chad, and in large immigrant and ...
, which have letters only for consonants. Greek initially took over all of the 22 letters of Phoenician. Five were reassigned to denote vowel sounds: the glide consonants (''
yodh Yodh (also spelled jodh, yod, or jod) is the tenth Letter (alphabet), letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician alphabet, Phoenician Yōd /𐤉, Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew Yōd , Aramaic alphabet, Aramaic Yod , Syriac alphabet, Syriac Yō ...
'') and ('' waw'') were used for (Ι, ''
iota Iota (; uppercase: Ι, lowercase: ι; ) is the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet. It was derived from the Phoenician letter Yodh. Letters that arose from this letter include the Latin alphabet, Latin I and J, the Cyrillic І (І, і), Yi (Cy ...
'') and (Υ, ''
upsilon Upsilon (, ; uppercase Υ, lowercase υ; el, ''ýpsilon'' ) or ypsilon is the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, grc, Υʹ, label=none has a value of 400. It is derived from the phoenician alphabet, Phoe ...
'') respectively; the
glottal stop The glottal plosive or stop is a type of consonantal sound used in many Speech communication, spoken languages, produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract or, more precisely, the glottis. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabe ...
consonant (''
aleph Aleph (or alef or alif, transliterated ʾ) is the first letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician , Hebrew Hebrew (; ; ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic ...
'') was used for (Α, ''
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ', or ell, άλφα, álfa) is the first Letter (alphabet), letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of one. Alpha is derived from the Phoenician alphabet, P ...
''); the pharyngeal ('' ʿayin'') was turned into (Ο, ''
omicron Omicron (; uppercase Ο, lowercase ο, ell, όμικρον) is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late 9th or early 8th century BCE. It is derived from the earlier P ...
''); and the letter for ('' he'') was turned into (Ε, ''
epsilon Epsilon (, ; uppercase , lowercase or #Glyph variants, lunate ; el, έψιλον) is the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, corresponding phonetically to a mid front unrounded vowel or . In the system of Greek numerals it also has the value ...
''). A doublet of waw was also borrowed as a consonant for (Ϝ,
digamma Digamma or wau (uppercase: Ϝ, lowercase: ϝ, numeral: ϛ) is an Archaic Greek alphabets, archaic letter of the Greek alphabet. It originally stood for the sound but it has remained in use principally as a Greek numeral for 6 (number), 6. Wher ...
). In addition, the Phoenician letter for the emphatic glottal (''
heth Heth, sometimes written Chet, but more accurately Ḥet, is the eighth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Ḥēt 𐤇 , Hebrew Hebrew (; ; ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasia ...
'') was borrowed in two different functions by different dialects of Greek: as a letter for /h/ (Η,
heta Heta is a conventional name for the historical Greek alphabet letter Eta (Η) and several of its variants, when used in their original function of denoting the consonant . Overview The letter Η had been adopted by Greek from the Phoenician alpha ...
) by those dialects that had such a sound, and as an additional vowel letter for the long (Η,
eta Eta (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἦτα ''ē̂ta'' or ell, ήτα ''ita'' ) is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late 9th or early 8th century BCE. It is de ...
) by those dialects that lacked the consonant. Eventually, a seventh vowel letter for the long (Ω,
omega Omega (; capital letter, capital: Ω, lower case, lowercase: ω; Ancient Greek ὦ, later ὦ μέγα, Modern Greek ωμέγα) is the twenty-fourth and final letter in the Greek alphabet. In the Greek numerals, Greek numeric system/isopsephy ...
) was introduced. Greek also introduced three new consonant letters for its aspirated plosive sounds and consonant clusters: Φ ('' phi'') for , Χ ('' chi'') for and Ψ ('' psi'') for . In western Greek variants, Χ was instead used for and Ψ for . The origin of these letters is a matter of some debate.
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 Sigma (; uppercase Σ, lowercase Letter case is the distinction between the Letter (alphabet), letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller lowercase (or more formally ''minuscule'') in the wr ...
'') denoting the same phoneme /s/; the letter Ϙ (''
qoppa Koppa or qoppa (; as a modern numeral sign: ) is a letter that was used in early forms of the Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late 9th or early 8th century BCE. It is derived from the ea ...
''), which was redundant with Κ (''
kappa Kappa (uppercase Κ, lowercase κ or Cursive Greek, cursive ; el, κάππα, ''káppa'') is the 10th letter of the Greek alphabet, representing the voiceless velar plosive sound in Ancient Greek, Ancient and Modern Greek. In the system of ...
'') for /k/, and Ϝ (''
digamma Digamma or wau (uppercase: Ϝ, lowercase: ϝ, numeral: ϛ) is an Archaic Greek alphabets, archaic letter of the Greek alphabet. It originally stood for the sound but it has remained in use principally as a Greek numeral for 6 (number), 6. Wher ...
''), 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 Boustrophedon is a style of writing in which alternate lines of writing are reversed, with letters also written in reverse, mirror-style. This is in contrast to modern European languages, where lines always begin on the same side, usually the le ...
'', 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

There were initially numerous local (epichoric) variants of the Greek alphabet, which differed in the use and non-use of the additional vowel and consonant symbols and several other features. Epichoric alphabets are commonly divided into four major types according to their different treatments of additional consonant letters for the aspirated consonants (/pʰ, kʰ/) and consonant clusters (/ks, ps/) of Greek. These four types are often conventionally labelled as "green", "red", "light blue" and "dark blue" types, based on a colour-coded map in a seminal 19th-century work on the topic, ''Studien zur Geschichte des griechischen Alphabets'' by Adolf Kirchhoff (1867). The "green" (or southern) type is the most archaic and closest to the Phoenician. The "red" (or western) type is the one that was later transmitted to the West and became the ancestor of the
Latin alphabet The Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet is the collection of letters originally used by the Ancient Rome, ancient Romans to write the Latin language. Largely unaltered with the exception of extensions (such as diacritics), it used to write Eng ...
, and bears some crucial features characteristic of that later development. The "blue" (or eastern) type is the one from which the later standard Greek alphabet emerged.
Athens Athens ( ; el, Αθήνα, Athína ; grc, Ἀθῆναι, Athênai (pl.) ) is a coastal city in the Mediterranean and is both the capital and largest city of Greece. With a population close to four million, it is also the seventh largest c ...
used a local form of the "light blue" alphabet type until the end of the fifth century BC, which lacked the letters Ξ and Ψ as well as the vowel symbols Η and Ω. In the Old Attic alphabet, stood for and for . was used for all three sounds (correspondinɡ to classical respectively), and was used for all of (corresponding to classical respectively). The letter (heta) was used for the consonant . Some variant local letter forms were also characteristic of Athenian writing, some of which were shared with the neighboring (but otherwise "red") alphabet of Euboia: a form of that resembled a Latin ''L'' () and a form of that resembled a Latin ''S'' (). *Upsilon is also derived from waw (). The classical twenty-four-letter alphabet that is now used to represent the Greek language was originally the local alphabet of
Ionia Ionia () was an ancient region on the western coast of Anatolia, to the south of present-day Izmir. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greeks, Greek settlements. Never a unified state, it was named after the I ...
. By the late fifth century BC, it was commonly used by many Athenians. In 403 BC, at the suggestion of the
archon ''Archon'' ( gr, ἄρχων, árchōn, plural: ἄρχοντες, ''árchontes'') is a Greek word that means "ruler", frequently used as the title of a specific public office. It is the masculine present participle of the verb stem αρχ-, mean ...
Eucleides Eucleides ( grc-gre, Εὐκλείδης) was archon of Athens towards the end of the fifth century BC. He contributed towards the re-establishment of democracy during his years in office (403–402 BC). He is also believed to have contributed to ...
, the Athenian Assembly formally abandoned the Old Attic alphabet and adopted the Ionian alphabet as part of the democratic reforms after the overthrow of the
Thirty Tyrants The Thirty Tyrants ( grc, οἱ τριάκοντα τύραννοι, ''hoi triákonta týrannoi'') were a pro-Spartan oligarchy installed in Athens Athens ( ; el, Αθήνα, Athína ; grc, Ἀθῆναι, Athênai (pl.) ) is a coastal ci ...
. Because of Eucleides's role in suggesting the idea to adopt the Ionian alphabet, the standard twenty-four-letter Greek alphabet is sometimes known as the "Eucleidean alphabet". Roughly thirty years later, the Eucleidean alphabet was adopted in Boeotia and it may have been adopted a few years previously in Macedonia. By the end of the fourth century BC, it had displaced local alphabets across the Greek-speaking world to become the standard form of the Greek alphabet.


Letter names

When the Greeks adopted 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 , ''
bet Black Entertainment Television (acronym BET) is an American basic cable channel targeting African-American audiences. It is owned by the CBS Entertainment Group unit of Paramount Global via BET Networks and has offices in New York City ...
'', or "house", for the 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 besides ; in Modern Greek the spelling is often , reflecting pronunciation. Similarly, iota is sometimes spelled in Modern Greek ( is conventionally transcribed word-initially and
intervocalic In phonetics Phonetics is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of ...
ally before
back vowel A back vowel is any in a class of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the highest point of the tongue is positioned relatively back in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be ...
s and ). 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. 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. In the following group of consonant letters, the older forms of the names in Ancient Greek were spelled with , indicating an original pronunciation with ''-ē''. In Modern Greek these names are spelled with . The following group of vowel letters were originally called simply by their sound values as long vowels: ē, ō, ū, and . Their modern names contain adjectival qualifiers that were added during the Byzantine period, to distinguish between letters that had become confusable. Thus, the letters and , pronounced identically by this time, were called ''o mikron'' ("small o") and ''o mega'' ("big o") respectively. The letter was called ''e psilon'' ("plain e") to distinguish it from the identically pronounced digraph , while, similarly, , which at this time was pronounced , was called ''y psilon'' ("plain y") to distinguish it from the identically pronounced digraph . Some dialects of the Aegean and Cypriot have retained long consonants and pronounce and ; also, has come to be pronounced in Cypriot.


Letter shapes

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 Letter case is the distinction between the Letter (alphabet), letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller lowercase (or more formally ''minuscule'') in the written representation of certain lang ...
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 Papyrus ( ) is a material similar to thick paper that was used in ancient times as a writing surface. It was made from the pith of the papyrus plant, ''Cyperus papyrus'', a wetland sedge. ''Papyrus'' (plural: ''papyri'') can also refer to a do ...
manuscripts in
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مصر , ), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a List of transcontinental countries, transcontinental country spanning the North Africa, northeast corner of Africa and Western Asia, southwest corner of Asia via a land bridg ...
since the
Hellenistic period In Classical antiquity, the Hellenistic period covers the time in History of the Mediterranean region, Mediterranean history after Classical Greece, between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire, as sig ...
. Ancient handwriting developed two distinct styles:
uncial Uncial is a majusculeGeoffrey Glaister, Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. (1996) ''Encyclopedia of the Book''. 2nd edn. New Castle, DE, and London: Oak Knoll Press & The British Library, p. 494. script (styles of handwriting), script (written entirely ...
writing, with carefully drawn, rounded block letters of about equal size, used as a
book hand A book hand was any of several stylized handwriting Handwriting is the writing Writing is a medium of human communication which involves the representation of a language through a system of physically Epigraphy, inscribed, Printing p ...
for carefully produced literary and religious manuscripts, and
cursive Cursive (also known as script, among other names) is any style of penmanship in which characters are written joined in a flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster, in contrast to block letters. It varies in functionalit ...
writing, used for everyday purposes. 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 ninth and tenth century, uncial book hands were replaced with a new, more compact writing style, with letter forms partly adapted from the earlier cursive. This minuscule style remained the dominant form of handwritten Greek into the modern era. During the
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a Periodization, period in History of Europe, European history marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity and covering the 15th and 16th centuries, characterized by an e ...
, western printers adopted the minuscule letter forms as lowercase printed typefaces, while modeling 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.


Derived alphabets

The Greek alphabet was the model for various others: * The
Etruscan alphabet The Etruscan alphabet was the alphabet used by the Etruscans, an ancient civilization of central and northern Italy, to write Etruscan language, their language, from about 700 BC to sometime around 100 AD. The Etruscan alphabet derives from the E ...
; * The
Latin alphabet The Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet is the collection of letters originally used by the Ancient Rome, ancient Romans to write the Latin language. Largely unaltered with the exception of extensions (such as diacritics), it used to write Eng ...
, together with various other ancient scripts in Italy, adopted from an archaic form of the Greek alphabet brought to Italy by Greek colonists in the late 8th century BC, via Etruscan; * The
Gothic alphabet The Gothic alphabet is an alphabet used for writing the Gothic language. Ulfilas (or Wulfila) developed it in the 4th century AD for the purpose of Bible translations, translating the Bible. The alphabet essentially uses uncial script, uncia ...
, devised in the 4th century AD to write the
Gothic language Gothic is an extinct East Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the '' Codex Argenteus'', a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizeable te ...
, based on a combination of Greek and Latin uncial models; * The
Glagolitic alphabet The Glagolitic script (, , ''glagolitsa'') is the oldest known Slavic alphabet. It is generally agreed to have been created in the 9th century by Saints Cyril and Methodius, Saint Cyril, a monk from Thessaloniki, Thessalonica. He and his brothe ...
, devised in the 9th century AD for writing
Old Church Slavonic Old Church Slavonic or Old Slavonic () was the first Slavic languages, Slavic literary language. Historians credit the 9th-century Byzantine Empire, Byzantine missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius with Standard language, standardizing the lan ...
; * The
Cyrillic script The Cyrillic script ( ), Slavonic script or the Slavic script, is a writing system used for various languages across Eurasia. It is the designated national script in various Slavic languages, Slavic, Turkic languages, Turkic, Mongolic languages, ...
, which replaced the Glagolitic alphabet shortly afterwards. * The
Coptic Alphabet The Coptic alphabet is the script used for writing the Coptic language. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the Greek alphabet augmented by letters borrowed from the Egyptian Demotic (Egyptian), Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used ...
used for writing the
Coptic language Coptic (Bohairic Coptic: , ) is a language family of closely related dialects, representing the most recent developments of the Ancient Egyptian language, Egyptian language, and historically spoken by the Copts, starting from the third-century ...
. The Armenian and Georgian alphabets are almost certainly modeled on the Greek alphabet, but their graphic forms are quite different.


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. For some of them, additional letters were introduced.


Antiquity

* Most of the
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory and protohistory of humanity. It was preceded by the Stone Age (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic) and the Bronze Age (Chalcolithic). The concept has been mostly appl ...
alphabets of Asia Minor were also adopted around the same time, as the early Greek alphabet was adopted from the
Phoenician Alphabet The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written graphemes (called letter (alphabet), letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. Not all writing systems represent language ...
. The Lydian and Carian alphabets are generally believed to derive from the Greek alphabet, although it is not clear which variant is the direct ancestor. While some of these alphabets such as Phrygian had slight differences from the Greek counterpart, some like Carian alphabet had mostly different values and several other characters inherited from pre-Greek local scripts. They were in use c. 800–300 BC until all the
Anatolian languages The Anatolian languages are an Extinct language, extinct branch of Indo-European languages that were spoken in Anatolia, part of present-day Turkey. The best known Anatolian language is Hittite language, Hittite, which is considered the earlies ...
were extinct due to
Hellenization Hellenization (other British spelling Hellenisation) or Hellenism is the adoption of Greek Greek culture, culture, Religion in Greece, religion, Greek language, language and Ethnic identity, identity by non-Greeks. In the Ancient Greece, ancient ...
. * The original
Old Italic alphabets The Old Italic scripts are a family of similar ancient writing systems used in the Italy, Italian Peninsula between about 700 and 100 BC, for various languages spoken in that time and place. The most notable member is the Etruscan alphabet, ...
was the early Greek alphabet with only slight modifications. * It was used in some
Paleo-Balkan languages The Paleo-Balkan languages or Palaeo-Balkan languages is a grouping of various extinct Indo-European languages that were spoken in the Balkans and surrounding areas in ancient times. Paleo-Balkan studies are obscured by the scarce attestation of ...
, including
Thracian The Thracians (; grc, Θρᾷκες ''Thrāikes''; la, Thraci) were an Indo-European languages, Indo-European speaking people who inhabited large parts of Eastern Europe, Eastern and Southeast Europe, Southeastern Europe in ancient history.. ...
. For other neighboring languages or dialects, such as Ancient Macedonian, isolated words are preserved in Greek texts, but no continuous texts are preserved. * The Greco-Iberian alphabet was used for writing the ancient
Iberian language The Iberian language was the language of an indigenous western European people identified by Ancient Greece, Greek and ancient Rome, Roman sources who lived in the eastern and southeastern regions of the Iberian Peninsula in the pre-Migration Er ...
in parts of modern Spain. *
Gaulish Gaulish was an ancient Celtic language spoken in parts of Continental Europe before and during the period of the Roman Empire. In the narrow sense, Gaulish was the language of the Celts of Gaul (now France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switze ...
inscriptions (in modern France) used the Greek alphabet until the Roman conquest * The
Hebrew Hebrew (; ; ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-surviving descendants, ...
and
Aramaic Aramaic ( syc, ܐܪܡܝܐ, Arāmāyā; oar, 𐤀𐤓𐤌𐤉𐤀; arc, 𐡀𐡓𐡌𐡉𐡀; tmr, אֲרָמִית) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic languages, Semitic language that originated in the ancient Syria (regio ...
text of the
Bible The Bible (from Koine Greek , , 'the books') is a collection of religious texts or scriptures that are held to be sacredness, sacred in Christianity, Judaism, Samaritanism, and many other religions. The Bible is an anthologya compilation of ...
was written in Greek letters in
Origen Origen of Alexandria, ''Ōrigénēs''; Origen's Greek name ''Ōrigénēs'' () probably means "child of Horus" (from , "Horus", and , "born"). ( 185 – 253), also known as Origen Adamantius, was an Early Christianity, early Christian scholar, ...
's
Hexapla ''Hexapla'' ( grc, Ἑξαπλᾶ, "sixfold") is the term for a Textual criticism, critical edition of the Hebrew Bible in six versions, four of them translated into Ancient Greek, Greek, preserved only in fragments. It was an immense and comple ...
. * The
Bactrian language Bactrian (, , Help:IPA, ) is an extinct Eastern Iranian language formerly spoken in the Central Asian region of Bactria (in present-day Afghanistan) and used as the official language of the Kushan Empire, Kushan, and the Hephthalite Empire, Hephth ...
, an
Iranian language The Iranian languages or Iranic languages are a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages The Indo-Iranian languages (also Indo-Iranic languages or Aryan languages) constitute the largest and southeasternmost extant branch of the Indo-European ...
spoken in what is now
Afghanistan Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,; prs, امارت اسلامی افغانستان is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia. Referred to as the Heart of Asia, it is bordere ...
, was written in the Greek alphabet during the
Kushan Empire The Kushan Empire ( grc, Βασιλεία Κοσσανῶν; xbc, Κυϸανο, ; sa, कुषाण वंश; Brahmi: , '; Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, BHS: ; xpr, 𐭊𐭅𐭔𐭍 𐭇𐭔𐭕𐭓, ; zh, wikt:貴霜, 貴霜 ) was a Sync ...
(65–250 AD). It adds an extra letter for the ''sh'' sound . * The
Coptic alphabet The Coptic alphabet is the script used for writing the Coptic language. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the Greek alphabet augmented by letters borrowed from the Egyptian Demotic (Egyptian), Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used ...
adds eight letters derived from
Demotic Demotic may refer to: * Demotic Greek, the modern vernacular form of the Greek language * Demotic (Egyptian), an ancient Egyptian script and version of the language * Chữ Nôm, the demotic script for writing Vietnamese See also

* * Demos ( ...
. It is still used today, mostly in Egypt, to write Coptic, the liturgical language of Egyptian Christians. Letters usually retain an uncial form different from the forms used for Greek today. The alphabet of
Old Nubian Old Nubian (also called Middle Nubian or Old Nobiin) is an extinct Nubian languages, Nubian language, attested in writing from the 8th to the 15th century AD. It is ancestral to modern-day Nobiin language, Nobiin and closely related to Dongolawi ...
is an adaptation of Coptic.


Middle Ages

* An 8th-century
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C ...
fragment preserves a text in the Greek alphabet, as does a 9th or 10th century psalm translation fragment. * An Old Ossetic inscription of the 10th–12th centuries found in Arxyz, the oldest known attestation of an Ossetic language. * The
Old Nubian language Old Nubian (also called Middle Nubian or Old Nobiin) is an extinct Nubian languages, Nubian language, attested in writing from the 8th to the 15th century AD. It is ancestral to modern-day Nobiin language, Nobiin and closely related to Dongolawi ...
of
Makuria Makuria (Old Nubian: , ''Dotawo''; gr, Μακουρία, Makouria; ar, المقرة, al-Muqurra) was a Nubians, Nubian monarchy, kingdom located in what is today Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt. Makuria originally covered the area along the N ...
(modern Sudan) adds three Coptic letters, two letters derived from
Meroitic script The Meroitic script consists of two Abugida, alphasyllabic scripts developed to write the Meroitic language at the beginning of the Meroë, Meroitic Period (3rd century BC) of the Kingdom of Kush. The two scripts are Meroitic Cursive, derived fr ...
, and a digraph of two Greek gammas used for the
velar nasal The voiced velar nasal, also known as agma, from the Greek word for 'fragment', is a type of consonantal sound used in some Speech communication, spoken languages. It is the sound of ''ng'' in English ''sing'' as well as ''n'' before velar cons ...
sound. * Various South Slavic dialects, similar to the modern Bulgarian and
Macedonian language Macedonian (; , , ) is an Eastern South Slavic language. It is part of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European language family, and is one of the Slavic languages, which are part of a larger Balto-Slavic languages, Balto-Slavic branch. Spo ...
s, have been written in Greek script. The modern South Slavic languages now use modified
Cyrillic alphabets Numerous Cyrillic alphabets are based on the Cyrillic script. The early Cyrillic alphabet was developed in the 9th century AD and replaced the earlier Glagolitic script developed by the Byzantine theologians Saints Cyril and Methodius, Cyril ...
.


Early modern

* Turkish spoken by Orthodox Christians (''
Karamanlides The Karamanlides ( el, Καραμανλήδες; tr, Karamanlılar), also known as Karamanli Greeks or simply Karamanlis, are a traditionally Turkish language, Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox people native to the Karaman ...
'') was often written in Greek script, and called '' Karamanlidika''. *
Tosk Tosk ( sq-definite, toskërishtja) is the southern group of dialects of the Albanian language, spoken by the ethnographic group known as Tosks. The line of demarcation between Tosk and Gheg Albanian, Gheg (the northern variety) is the Shkumbin, ...
Albanian was often written using the Greek alphabet, starting in about 1500. The printing press at Moschopolis published several Albanian texts in Greek script during the 18th century. It was only in 1908 that the Monastir conference standardized a Latin orthography for both Tosk and Gheg. Greek spelling is still occasionally used for the local Albanian dialects (
Arvanitika Arvanitika (; Arvanitika: , ; Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek l ...
) in Greece. * Gagauz, a
Turkic language The Turkic languages are a language family of over 35 documented languages, spoken by the Turkic peoples The Turkic peoples are a collection of diverse ethnic group An ethnic group or an ethnicity is a grouping of people who identi ...
of the northeast Balkans spoken by Orthodox Christians, was apparently written in Greek characters in the late 19th century. In 1957, it was standardized on Cyrillic, and in 1996, a Gagauz alphabet based on Latin characters was adopted (derived from the
Turkish alphabet The Turkish alphabet ( tr, ) is a Latin-script alphabet used for writing the Turkish language, consisting of 29 letters, seven of which (Ç, Ğ, Dotless I, I, İ, Ö, Ş and Ü) have been modified from their Latin originals for the phonetic requ ...
). * Surguch, a
Turkic language The Turkic languages are a language family of over 35 documented languages, spoken by the Turkic peoples The Turkic peoples are a collection of diverse ethnic group An ethnic group or an ethnicity is a grouping of people who identi ...
, was spoken by a small group of Orthodox Christians in northern Greece. It is now written in Latin or Cyrillic characters. * Urum or Greek Tatar, spoken by Orthodox Christians, used the Greek alphabet. *
Judaeo-Spanish Judaeo-Spanish or Judeo-Spanish (autonym , Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew script: , Cyrillic script, Cyrillic: ), also known as Ladino, is a Romance languages, Romance language derived from Old Spanish language, Old Spanish. Originally spoken in Spain ...
or Ladino, a Jewish dialect of Spanish, has occasionally been published in Greek characters in Greece. * The Italian humanist Giovan Giorgio Trissino tried to add some Greek letters (Ɛ ε, Ꞷ ω) to
Italian orthography Italian orthography (writing) uses a variant of the Latin alphabet consisting of 21 letters to write the Italian language. This article focuses on the writing of Standard Italian, based historically on the Florentine dialect. Italian orthography ...
in 1524.


In mathematics and science

Greek symbols are used as symbols in
mathematics Mathematics is an area of knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, formulas and related structures, shapes and the spaces in which they are contained, and quantities and their changes. These topics are represented in modern mathematics ...
,
physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical science is that depar ...
and other
science Science is a systematic endeavor that Scientific method, builds and organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Science may be as old as the human species, and some of the earli ...
s. 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 In mathematics, summation is the addition of a sequence of any kind of numbers, called ''addends'' or ''summands''; the result is their ''sum'' or ''total''. Beside numbers, other types of values can be summed as well: function (mathematics), fu ...
, and lower case sigma (σ) for
standard deviation In statistics, the standard Deviation (statistics), deviation is a measure of the amount of variation or statistical dispersion, dispersion of a set of values. A low standard deviation indicates that the values tend to be close to the mean (al ...
. Formerly, the Greek letters were used for naming North Atlantic hurricanes if the normal list ran out. This happened only in the
2005 File:2005 Events Collage V2.png, From top left, clockwise: Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico; the Funeral of Pope John Paul II is held in Vatican City; "Me at the zoo", the first video ever to be uploaded to YouTube; Eris (dwarf planet), Er ...
and
2020 2020 was heavily defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to global Social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, social and Economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic disruption, mass cancellations and postponements of events, COVID- ...
hurricane seasons for a total of 15 storms, the last one being Hurricane Iota. In May 2021 the World Health Organisations announced that the
variants of SARS-CoV-2 There are many Variant (biology), variants of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Some are believed, or have been stated, to be of particular impo ...
of the virus would be named using letters of the Greek alphabet to avoid stigma and simplify communications for non-scientific audiences.


Astronomy

Greek letters are used to denote the brighter stars within each of the eighty-eight
constellation A constellation is an area on the celestial sphere in which a group of visible stars forms a perceived pattern or outline, typically representing an animal, mythological subject, or inanimate object. The origins of the earliest constellati ...
s. 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 Centaurus is a bright constellation in the southern sky The southern celestial hemisphere, also called the Southern Sky, is the Southern Hemisphere, southern half of the celestial sphere; that is, it lies south of the celestial equator. T ...
is known as
Alpha Centauri Alpha Centauri (α Centauri, Alpha Cen, or α Cen) is a triple star system in the constellation of Centaurus (constellation), Centaurus. It consists of 3 stars: Rigil Kentaurus (Alpha Centauri A), Toliman (B) and Proxima Centauri ( ...
. 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 The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written graphemes (called letter (alphabet), letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. Not all writing syste ...
(IPA). 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 In typography, a serif () is a small line or stroke regularly attached to the end of a larger stroke in a letter or symbol within a particular font or family of fonts. A typeface or "font family" making use of serifs is called a serif typeface ( ...
, 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:For chi and beta, separate codepoints for use in a Latin-script environment were added in Unicode versions 7.0 (2014) and 8.0 (2015) respectively: U+AB53 "Latin small letter chi" (ꭓ) and U+A7B5 "Latin small letter beta" (ꞵ). As of 2017, the International Phonetic Association still lists the original Greek codepoints as the standard representations of the IPA symbols in questio

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. The symbol in
Americanist phonetic notation Americanist phonetic notation, also known as the North American Phonetic Alphabet (NAPA), the Americanist Phonetic Alphabet or the American Phonetic Alphabet (APA), is a system of phonetic notation originally developed by European and American an ...
for the
voiceless alveolar lateral fricative The voiceless alveolar lateral fricative is a type of consonantal sound, used in some Speech, spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents voiceless Dental consonant, dental, Alveolar consonant, alveolar, ...
is the Greek letter lambda , but in the IPA. The IPA symbol for the
palatal lateral approximant The voiced palatal lateral approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in some Speech, spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , a rotated lowercase letter (not to be confused with l ...
is , which looks similar to lambda, but is actually an inverted lowercase ''y''.


Use as numerals

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 Digamma or wau (uppercase: Ϝ, lowercase: ϝ, numeral: ϛ) is an Archaic Greek alphabets, archaic letter of the Greek alphabet. It originally stood for the sound but it has remained in use principally as a Greek numeral for 6 (number), 6. Wher ...
for 6, koppa for 90, and a rare Ionian letter for s today called
sampi Sampi (modern: ϡ; ancient shapes: , ) is an Archaic Greek alphabets, archaic letter of the Greek alphabet. It was used as an addition to the classical 24-letter alphabet in some eastern Ionic Greek, Ionic dialects of ancient Greek in the 6th an ...
, 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 , and respectively. To mark a letter as a numeral sign, a small stroke called '' keraia'' is added to the right of it.


Use by student fraternities and sororities

In North America, many college
fraternities and sororities Fraternities and sororities are Club (organization), social organizations at colleges and universities in North America. Generally, membership in a fraternity or sorority is obtained as an Undergraduate education, undergraduate student, but conti ...
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 The Phi Beta Kappa Society () is the oldest academic honor society in the United States, and the most prestigious, due in part to its long history and academic selectivity. Phi Beta Kappa aims to promote and advocate excellence in the liberal ar ...
at the
College of William and Mary The College of William & Mary (officially The College of William and Mary in Virginia, Abbreviation, abbreviated as William & Mary, W&M) is a public university, public research university in Williamsburg, Virginia. Founded in 1693 by letters pa ...
in 1776. The name of this fraternal organization is an acronym for the ancient Greek phrase Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης (''Philosophia Biou Kybernētēs''), which means "Love of wisdom, the guide of life" and serves as the organization's motto. Sometimes early fraternal organizations were known by their Greek letter names because the mottos that these names stood for were secret and revealed only to members of the fraternity. Different chapters within the same fraternity are almost always (with a handful of exceptions) designated using Greek letters as serial numbers. The founding chapter of each respective organization is its A chapter. As an organization expands, it establishes a B chapter, a Γ chapter, and so on and so forth. In an organization that expands to more than 24 chapters, the chapter after Ω chapter is AA chapter, followed by AB chapter, etc. Each of these is still a "chapter Letter", albeit a double-digit letter just as 10 through 99 are double-digit numbers. The
Roman alphabet The Latin alphabet or Roman alphabet is the collection of letters originally used by the Ancient Rome, ancient Romans to write the Latin language. Largely unaltered with the exception of extensions (such as diacritics), it used to write Eng ...
has a similar extended form with such double-digit letters when necessary, but it is used for columns in a table or chart rather than chapters of an organization.


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 Unicode, formally The Unicode Standard,The formal version reference is is an information technology standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard, ...
. * The symbol ("curled beta") is a cursive variant form of
beta Beta (, ; uppercase , lowercase , or cursive Greek, cursive ; grc, βῆτα, bē̂ta or ell, βήτα, víta) is the second letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 2. In Modern Greek, it represents th ...
(β). In the French tradition of Ancient Greek typography, β is used word-initially, and is used word-internally. * The letter delta has a form resembling a cursive capital letter D; while not encoded as its own form, this form is included as part of the symbol for the
drachma The drachma ( el, wikt:δραχμή, δραχμή , ; pl. ''drachmae'' or ''drachmas'') was the currency used in Greece during several periods in its history: # An Ancient Greece, ancient Greek currency unit issued by many Greek city states du ...
(a Δρ digraph) in the Currency Symbols block, at U+20AF (₯). * The letter
epsilon Epsilon (, ; uppercase , lowercase or #Glyph variants, lunate ; el, έψιλον) is the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, corresponding phonetically to a mid front unrounded vowel or . In the system of Greek numerals it also has the value ...
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 ("script theta") is a cursive form of
theta Theta (, ; uppercase: Θ or ; lowercase: θ or ; grc, ''thē̂ta'' ; Modern: ''thī́ta'' ) is the eighth letter of the Greek alphabet The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late 9th or early 8th ce ...
(θ), frequent in handwriting, and used with a specialized meaning as a technical symbol. * The symbol ("kappa symbol") is a cursive form of
kappa Kappa (uppercase Κ, lowercase κ or Cursive Greek, cursive ; el, κάππα, ''káppa'') is the 10th letter of the Greek alphabet, representing the voiceless velar plosive sound in Ancient Greek, Ancient and Modern Greek. In the system of ...
(κ), used as a technical symbol. * The symbol ("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 (U+03F1) is designated specifically for the curled form, used as a technical symbol. * The letter
sigma Sigma (; uppercase Σ, lowercase Letter case is the distinction between the Letter (alphabet), letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller lowercase (or more formally ''minuscule'') in the wr ...
, in standard orthography, has two variants: ς, used only at the ends of words, and σ, used elsewhere. The form ("
lunate sigma Sigma (; uppercase Σ, lowercase σ, lowercase in word-final position ς; grc-gre, σίγμα) is the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 200. In general mathematics, uppercase Σ is used as ...
", 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 Upsilon (, ; uppercase Υ, lowercase υ; el, ''ýpsilon'' ) or ypsilon is the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, grc, Υʹ, label=none has a value of 400. It is derived from the phoenician alphabet, Phoe ...
(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 (\Upsilon), used as a technical symbol, e.g. in physics. * 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 (U+03D5) is designated specifically for the closed form, used as a technical symbol. * The letter
omega Omega (; capital letter, capital: Ω, lower case, lowercase: ω; Ancient Greek ὦ, later ὦ μέγα, Modern Greek ωμέγα) is the twenty-fourth and final letter in the Greek alphabet. In the Greek numerals, Greek numeric system/isopsephy ...
has at least three stylistic variants of its capital form. The standard is the "open omega" (Ω), resembling an open partial circle with the opening downward and the ends curled outward. The two other stylistic variants are seen more often in modern typography, resembling a raised and underscored circle (roughly ), where the underscore may or may not be touching the circle on a tangent (in the former case it resembles a superscript omicron similar to that found in the
numero sign The numero sign or numero symbol, №, (also represented as Nº, No, No. or no.), is a typographic abbreviation of the word ''number''(''s'') indicating ordinal numeration, especially in names and titles. For example, using the numero sign, t ...
or masculine ordinal indicator; in the latter, it closely resembles some forms of the Latin letter Q). The open omega is always used in symbolic settings and is encoded in Letterlike Symbols (U+2126) as a separate code point for backward compatibility.


Computer encodings

For computer usage, a variety of encodings have been used for Greek online, many of them documented in . The two principal ones still used today are ISO/IEC 8859-7 and
Unicode Unicode, formally The Unicode Standard,The formal version reference is is an information technology standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard, ...
. 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

Unicode Unicode, formally The Unicode Standard,The formal version reference is is an information technology standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard, ...
supports
polytonic orthography Greek orthography The orthography of the Greek language ultimately has its roots in the adoption of the Greek alphabet in the 9th century BC. Some time prior to that, one early form of Greek, Mycenaean language, Mycenaean, was written in Line ...
well enough for ordinary continuous text in modern and ancient Greek, and even many archaic forms for
epigraphy Epigraphy () is the study of inscriptions, or epigraphs, as writing; it is the science of identifying graphemes, clarifying their meanings, classifying their uses according to dates and cultural contexts, and drawing conclusions about the wr ...
. With the use of
combining character In digital typography, combining characters are Character (computing), characters that are intended to modify other characters. The most common combining characters in the Latin script are the combining diacritic, diacritical marks (including c ...
s, Unicode also supports Greek
philology Philology () is the study of language in oral and writing, written historical sources; it is the intersection of textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics (with especially strong ties to etymology). Philology is also defin ...
and
dialectology Dialectology (from Greek , ''dialektos'', "talk, dialect"; and , '' -logia'') is the scientific study of linguistic dialect, a sub-field of sociolinguistics. It studies variations in language based primarily on geographic distribution and their ...
and various other specialized requirements. Most current text rendering engines do not render diacritics well, so, though alpha with
macron Macron may refer to: People * Emmanuel Macron (born 1977), president of France since 2017 ** Brigitte Macron (born 1953), French teacher, wife of Emmanuel Macron * Jean-Michel Macron (born 1950), French professor of neurology, father of Emmanuel ...
and acute can be ''represented'' as U+03B1 U+0304 U+0301, this rarely renders well: . There are two main blocks of Greek characters in
Unicode Unicode, formally The Unicode Standard,The formal version reference is is an information technology standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard, ...
. The first is "Greek and Coptic" (U+0370 to U+03FF). This block is based on
ISO 8859-7 ISO is the most common abbreviation for the International Organization for Standardization. ISO or Iso may also refer to: Business and finance * Iso (supermarket), a chain of Danish supermarkets incorporated into the SuperBest chain in 2007 * Iso ...
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 The Coptic alphabet is the script used for writing the Coptic language. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the Greek alphabet augmented by letters borrowed from the Egyptian Demotic (Egyptian), Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used ...
. 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 mark In digital typography, combining characters are characters that are intended to modify other characters. The most common combining characters in the Latin script are the combining diacritical marks (including combining accents). Unicode ...
s or the precomposed characters in the "Greek Extended" block (U+1F00 to U+1FFF).


Combining and letter-free diacritics

Combining and spacing (letter-free)
diacritical mark A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph added to a letter (alphabet), letter or to a basic glyph. The term derives from the Ancient Greek (, "distinguishing"), from (, "to distinguish"). T ...
s pertaining to
Greek language Greek ( el, label= Modern Greek, Ελληνικά, Elliniká, ; grc, Ἑλληνική, Hellēnikḗ) is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus, southern Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), offi ...
:


Encodings with a subset of the Greek alphabet

IBM code pages 437, 860,
861 __NOTOC__ Year 861 ( DCCCLXI) was a common year starting on Wednesday A common year starting on Wednesday is any non-leap year A leap year (also known as an intercalary year or bissextile year) is a calendar year that contains an additio ...
, 862, 863, and 865 contain the letters ΓΘΣΦΩαδεπστφ (plus β as an alternative interpretation for ß).


See also

* Greek Font Society * Greek ligatures * Palamedes *
Romanization of Greek Romanization of Greek is the transliteration (letter-mapping) or transcription (sound In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as an acoustic wave, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid. In human physiolo ...


Notes


References


Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * * * reek translation of ''Greek: a history of the language and its speakers'', London 1997* * * * * * * – selections from the Gospels in Macedonian. * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links


Greek and Coptic
character list in Unicode
Unicode collation charts
including Greek and Coptic letters, sorted by shape
Examples of Greek handwriting
*



(Alan Wood)



a browser-based tool * Collection of free fonts

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