Chapter 15: The Greek Language

§100. Notes on Classical Greek Pronunciation

A.    VOWELS:

Alpha (α) and iota (ι) were pronounced very much like Latin a and i (long or short).

Epsilon (ε) and omicron (ο) were always short vowels in Greek, like Latin ĕ and ŏ—very much like the English vowels in get and got.

Eta (η) and omega (ω) were always long vowels, like Latin ē and ō—something like the English sounds in gate and goat. THESE TWO VOWELS SHOULD ALWAYS BE TRANSCRIBED as ē and ō, in order to distinguish them from epsilon and omicron.

Upsilon (υ) was not pronounced like Latin u, but rather like the u in French pur or German grün. The Romans transliterated it as y (i.e., capital upsilon).

B.    CONSONANTS:

β, γ, δ, κ, λ, μ, ν, ξ, π, σ (ς), τ much like English
ζ like dz in English adze
ρ lightly trilled (?); at the beginning of words, aspirated as hr or rh
θ an aspirated τ = (th), like th in English coathook
φ an aspirated π = (ph), like ph in English uphill
χ an aspirated κ = (kh), like kh in English backhoe
ψ always pronounced like ps in English capsule, even at the start of words

C.    BREATHINGS:

If a word begins with a vowel, a BREATHING MARK is placed above it to indicate whether or not that vowel is ASPIRATED—that is, whether or not there is an h sound at the start of the word.[1] If there is an h sound, the ROUGH BREATHING mark is used (ʽ as in ἡλιος = hēlios). If there is no h sound, the SMOOTH BREATHING mark is used (ʼ as in ἀγορα = agora). One or the other must be present on all such words. Because rho is aspirated at the beginning of words, initial rho is written ῥ as in ῥυθμος = ruthmos or rhythmos.


  1. If a word begins with a diphthong, the breathing mark is placed over the second letter of the diphthong; e.g., αἰ, αὐ, εἰ, εὐ, οἱ, οὑ, υἱ. If the word begins with a capital vowel, the breathing mark is placed to the left of the capital; e.g., ʼAθηυη, ʽOμηρος = Athēnē, Homēros (E Homer).

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§100. Notes on Classical Greek Pronunciation by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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