Learning New Testament Greek
Copyright©2006, 2008, 2011 by Daniel B. Sedory

This page uses the Galatia SIL Unicode Font; you must
install that font to see the Greek letters as intended here.

Pronouncing Greek

An important part of learning any language is to first listen to the various sounds its composed of while observing the characters used to represent them, then use your own voice to imitate those sounds until you can finally read its words out loud on your own. If you can spend the time doing so (using language tapes, or in a more traditional class setting with a teacher who can interact with you), it should be much easier to build a vocabulary and retain most of what you've learned. However, we believe there's a great deal you can learn about Greek by reading a simple introduction, asking yourself questions and seeking the answers.

Before you can read New Testament Greek aloud, you'll first have to memorize a method for pronouncing combinations of its consonants, vowels and diphtongs (two vowels together). We'll describe here what's sometimes called "Erasmian" or Academic pronunciation. It's neither how "Classical" nor "Koine" Greek was pronounced, though it's probably closer to them than how "Byzantine" was spoken; and much different than the pronunciation of "Modern" Greek, already in use over 100 years ago.

This Academic method began in a period of renewed interest in Greek around the same time Erasmus edited the first printed Greek-Latin parallel New Testament (1516 AD). It continued to be developed and altered until most of the words in any Greek text could easily be distinguished from others when spoken by a student's teacher or visiting Greek scholar.

The Greek Alphabet

Long before Paul penned his first epistle, the Greek alphabet had already been standardized as the same 24 letters still used in present-day Greece.

When writing about Greek for readers who've never studied the Greek alphabet (or using a printer that has no Greek font available), we can transliterate (trans-liter-ate; not trans-late) Greek words into the characters of another language. The last column in the table below, shows a method for representing Greek letters in the English language. When using this scheme, we need only account for the differences between two sets of vowels in the Greek which are commonly transliterated by the same characters in English:

1) Epsilon (ε) and Eta (η); for which an English 'e' is used, and
2) Omicron (ο) and Omega (ω); for which an English 'o' is used.

To tell which letter was actually used in the Greek, we place a macron (a horizontal bar) above the transliterated character for the longer sounding vowel. So, an Eta (η); which is pronounced like the "a" in the English word "day" (even though we call it a long e), is distinguished from Epsilon (ε) by transliterating the Greek η as ē and the ε simply as e. Likewise, Omega (ω); which is always pronounced like the o in "toe" or "tow", is distinguished from the short vowel Omicron (ο) by transliterating ω as ō and ο as o. (We'll cover the pronunciation of all the long and short vowels, and diphtongs too, at a later time.)

Greek Letters
Pronounced Like
a in father
(a) alpha
b in boy
(b) bēta
g in got
(but see note 1)
(g)1 gamma
d in dog
(d) delta
ἒ ψιλόν
e in met
(e) e psilon
z (when first letter)
or dz in
(z) zēta
Η ²
a in late
(ē) ēta
th in thin
(th) thēta
i in sit (short ³) or
i in machine (long ³)
(i) iōta
k in kit
(k) kappa
l in long
(l) lambda
m in man
(m) mu
n in now
(n) nu
x in box or relax
(sounds like: 'ks')
(x) xi
ὂ μικρόν
o in on
(o) o mikron
p in pop
(p) pi
r in round (when
first) or r in dirt
(r) rhō
ς 4
s in song
(s) sigma
t in time
(t) tau
ὖ ψιλόν
u in put
(u) u psilon
ph in phone
(ph) phi
ch in Christ
(ch) chi
ps in taps
(ps) psi
ὦ μέγα
o in toe
(ō) ō mega

The Rough Breathing Mark 5
Sounds like
h as in hope
(Written like a little 'c' above small letters, or
in front of capital letters; see examples.)

The Smooth Breathing Mark
There is no sound           nor any transliteration 
(Written like a 'backwards little c' above small letters, or
in front of capital letters; see the examples below.)

the (Definite Article; Nom., Masc., Singular)
rh (whenever ρ is the first letter of a word)
an hour (cf. Mt 10:19, etc.)
heaven (cf. Mt   5:18, etc.)
(Note the position of the smooth breathing mark;
two vowels together are called a diphthong.)
a son (Note position of rough breathing mark.)

For some example passages from the Greek Text (in 3 different fonts of various point sizes), take the links below:

Polytonic Accents (Galatia SIL)   Polytonic Accents (SBL)   Polytonic Accents (Palatino)

Although the "monotonic" writing system in present-day Greece has simplified the rules for writing Greek, some believe that it has separated the Greek people from their rich cultural identity and Christian heritage, both of which are contained within countless polytonic Greek writings.


1 When gamma is doubled (γγ) in a Greek word, as in the case of ἄγγελος (angel; cf. Mt 1:20,24, etc.), the γγ is pronounced similar to the "ng" in the English word angle (rather than the English pronunciation of an-gel; in which the letters 'gel' sound like the "jell" in the English word 'jelly'). Likewise, the combination of a gamma preceding either a kappa (κ) or chi (χ) are pronounced in a similar way:
γκ results in the sound 'nk' (as in the English word 'ankle') and γχ like the 'nch' in the English word 'anchor'.

Regarding the transliteration of γγ, γκ, γχ :

Some reference tools will transliterate these as "gg, gk and gch," whereas others will use "ng, nk and nch" (see examples below).

Some examples from the Greek Text:
γκιστρον, ankistron, a fishhook (Mt 17:27); γκυρα, ankura, a ship's anchor (Acts 27:29-30,40);
σπλάγχνον, splanchnon, bowels, heart, tender mercies, compassion, affection (cf. Lk 1:78; 2 Co 7:15; Phi 1:8; 2:1; Col 3:12; Phm 1:7,12,20; 1 Jn 3:17); and λόγχη, lanchē, a spear, a lance (Jn 19:34).

2,5 The capitalized form of Eta (Η) looks just like an English H because it's derived from it: This letter, which came from the Phoenician (and early Hebrew) form of ח, Ḥêth (Chēyth), had a consonantal h sound in early Greek being called Heta and was adopted by Latin with this sound. But in the Ionian and then other Greek dialects, it came to have the sound of a vowel instead. And by c.400 BCE, though it retained the same form as the Latin ('H'), the new Eta sound was part of the standard alphabet in Athens; the 'h' sound having generally dropped out of use. However, in some locations a half-H symbol ( ) came to be used for the 'h' sound; which may also be referred to as a tack symbol, due to its shape. In later periods, scholars created the rough and smooth breathing marks (apparently from the left and right halves of Heta) and once again began marking the old 'h' sound; as well as accenting Greek vowels and diphtongs with diacritics.

3 The pronunciation of an Iōta at the beginning of a Greek word needs to be researched further. At this time, we're unsure if it should ever be a long vowel. And if it can be, then what is the proper pronunciation of the name, Jesus (Ἰησοῦς, Iēsous)? Can/should we say this name as 'eeaysoos,' or closer to the Spanish pronunciation ('Haysoos')? Or, perhaps a sound in which we'd mostly substitute the sound of the English letter ' y ' after starting with a very brief, almost silent, short ' i ' ('iYaysoos'). Do you have an online link for us? Are there any Greek words with an Iōta that's not at the beginning or end of a word, where it has a 'long' sound?

The Greek words ξ, π, φ, χ and ψ should all be pronounced with a long sounding ' i ' (like English 'ee') at the end of their names.

4   ς is called "final Sigma" and is used whenever Sigma is the last letter of a word.

Further Notes on Transliterating Greek

Although we recommend use of the letter U for transliterating Upsilon (υ) into English, the letter Y has often been chosen by others since the English "Y" is itself derived from Upsilon (note the form of its capital letter). This is also common in English words derived from Greek; such as, ὑπόκρισις, hupokrisis (cf. hypocrisy in Mt 23:28; Mk 12:15; Lk 12:1; Ga 2:13; 1 Tm 4:2 and 'hypocrisies' in 1 Peter 2:1) and Βαβυλῶν Babulōn (cf. Babylon in Mt 1:11-12,17, etc.).

A simplified system of transliteration for use in electronic communications where only plain ASCII text is required (e.g., some old e-mail systems) could use a capital "E" for Eta and a capital "O" for Omega. (Though capital letters were historically the first forms in use, they're only used in printed Greek Texts for the convenience of readers, to easily identify person and place names, or the beginning of a new section or paragraph, if not every sentence. Thus, it wouldn't be very difficult to work with a transliterated text using this scheme; provided no accents need to be included. If accents and other symbols are required for ones studies, there exist various other schemes, including "Beta Code," for transmitting the accented texts of Greek and other languages using only ASCII characters.

The letters, J, Q, V and W are usually not found in any transliterations of Greek into English, since these letters either originated only in the Latin or English alphabets (J, V, W), or were dropped (Q) from Greek during the standardization of its alphabet:

"J" is a comparatively late modification of the letter "I"; which was used as both a vowel and consonant. By the 17th century, its consonantal usage had become symbolized by j, with I, i remaining as a vowel. The capital form J, was introduced last.

"Q" came from the Roman alphabet, having been taken from the Ϟ (koppa) of early Greek before the letters of its alphabet were standardized in Athens; this letter was derived from Phoenician and its corresponding Hebrew letter ק, Qôph.
[Though Ϟ (koppa) continued as the symbol for 90, our Greek Text has this number written out as (ἐνενήκοντα, enenēkonta) ninety (cf. Mt 18:12-13 and Lk 15:7, where we find the phrase "ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα"; which is ninety-nine).]

In the Roman alphabet, V, v was employed as both a consonant and a vowel, but during the 17th century, U, u was finally accepted as a new English letter for its vowel sounds with V being used only for its consonantal sounds.

W's name (double u) is quite literally derived from two u's being placed right next to each other. In the 7th century when the Latin alphabet was first applied to the writing of English, there was no letter that could be used exclusively for a particualr sound, so 'uu' was employed to signify that sound. But in the 8th century this began to be superseded by the Runic character, Ƿ, wynn. It wasn't until the 11th century that Norman scribes introduced a ligature (joined) form of 'uu' into England which slowly took its place; wynn (Ƿ) finally falling out of use around the beginning of the 14th century.



Created: April 27, 2008 (27.04.08).
Updated: October 27, 2010 (27.10.10), November 14, 2010 (14.11.10), September 11, 2011 (11.09.11).
Last Updated: September 24, 2011 (24.09.11).





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