Introduction to Modern Greek Alphabet:
Lesson 1

By Linas

You may not know this but you already know a lot of the Greek letters. Look at this:


You are probably asking "Is this Greek?" and yes, it is. Definitely not all Greek to you, is it? It, of course, means atom as well. As a side fact, here is uppercase ATOM written in the English, Greek and Russian alphabets and languages: ATOM, ΑΤΟΜO, АТОМ. Oh well.

To make this more interesting, look if you can still recognize the lowercase version of this word:


Now here are some changes. First of all the letter m looks a little bit different. If you look at it the right way, it still looks like the letter m only both / and | from the letter are just right next even blending to each other.

You can also see the letter α having an accent mark like this: . That is called the stress mark. It is helping you to pronounce the word correctly since it shows which part of the word you should stress (i.e. emphasize) when pronouncing the word. The stressed part of the word is pronounced longer and louder. For example, in English, you say EXport by emphasizing EX because saying exPORT would sound kind of strange. That’s kind of a similar thing that this ά in άτομο does in Greek. Here’s another rule about the stress:

Only lowercase letters can have stress marks in Greek!

That explains why we wrote the uppercase word without stress. This does not mean that it doesn’t have any emphasis when pronounced: it simply means that it is hidden so it would be a lot harder to pronounce uppercase only text in Greek correctly than a usual one because you wouldn’t know where the words are stressed.

Now look at the Greek word mono meaning only:


This has practically the same origin and pronunciation as in the English word monotheism. The letters are also the same.

You don’t need to know their names just like you don’t need to know that the letter w is named double "u" to pronounce the word wet but if you are still interested in the names, the letters M and N are called em and en just like in English but O is actually called omicron in Greek. Now look at the lowercase version of the same thing:


Still mono. You can see the stress on o and also you can see that lowercase n is ν in Greek. You could think of ν it as a simple N with its beginning missing. See it again:


Now take a look at another Greek word, again uppercase:


It goes without saying that it is the word mini. You pronounce the i’s like in the word lit and you don’t pronounce the second one like ee in bee like you do in English. Again, if you are interested, the name of the letter I is yota. Here’s its lowercase version:


No big surprise there. It is also stressed in the beginning so you have ί to mark the stress. Notice that the second letter ι (yota) is not stressed. Unlike English, the lowercase Greek letter yota does not have a dot above it. It seems to have a dot when it’s stressed but it still doesn’t. Take a look at it again:


That’s good. Now look at the Greek word for packet which is paketo:


If you do not recognize the letter Π, I will tell you that this letter approximately equals 3.14 because it is the letter pi. Look at this word in lowercase:


You will notice no major changes but that there is now stress and that the letter ε is more similar to the uppercase E than e is in English.

I want you to write the lowercase Greek word for cloth which is paní (with i stressed):


Answer: πανί
Not correct. Please try again.

Good. Now I want to you to show how Greek is not only letters but also letter combinations so I’m going to give you the word for oh which is ba:


You might be surprised for two reasons. First, it has no stress. That has an easy answer: one syllable words usually don’t have stress since you can’t go wrong in stressing them (there is only one syllable and you have to put the stress on some one syllable... which syllable do you choose? ... that’s why).

The second, more important thing that you might be surprised about is the pronunciation. You might be asking "shouldn’t it be pronounced mpa instead?". That is a totally legit question and here is how it is:

The letter combination μπ is pronounced b in the beginning of the word.

That’s the way Modern Greek works: it has letters and then letter combinations for different sounds. For example, Greek has no letter for the sound b so that’s their way of getting it. Don’t worry, though, there are just 24 letters and even less main letter combinations for forming sounds. Talking about letters, we have learned α, ε, ι, μ, ν, ο, π, τ which amount to one third of the alphabet. That’s what I call a good start.