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Ancient Greece

Greek Alphabet

History >> Ancient Greece

The Ancient Greeks developed an alphabet for writing. Their common language and writing was one of the things that bound the Greeks together. The Greek alphabet is still used today. It is even used in the United States where Greek letters are popular as mathematical symbols and are used in college fraternities and sororities.

History

The Greeks learned about writing and the alphabet from the Phoenicians. They took much of their alphabet from the Phoenician alphabet, but they added a few new letters. They also assigned some of the letters to vowel sounds. The Greek alphabet was the first alphabet to use vowels.

The Letters

There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet.

Letter

alpha
beta
gamma
delta
epsilon
zeta
eta
theta
iota
kappa
lamda
mu
nu
xi
omicron
pi
rho
sigma
tau
upsilon
phi
chi
psi
omega
Upper Case

Α
Β
Γ
Δ
Ε
Ζ
Η
Θ
Ι
Κ
Λ
Μ
Ν
Ξ
Ο
Π
Ρ
Σ
Τ
Υ
Φ
Χ
Ψ
Ω
Lower Case

α
β
γ
δ
ε
ζ
η
θ
ι
κ
λ
μ
ν
ξ
ο
π
ρ
σ
τ
υ
φ
χ
ψ
ω


How to pronounce the Greek alphabet?

In parenthesis below is a description of how to pronounce each letter.

alpha (al-fah)
beta (bay-tah)
gamma (gam-ah)
delta (del-ta)
epsilon (ep-si-lon)
zeta (zay-tah)
eta (ay-tah)
theta (thay-tah)
iota (eye-o-tah)
kappa (cap-ah)
lamda (lamb-dah)
mu (mew)
nu (new)
xi (zai)
omicron (om-e-cron)
pi (pie)
rho (roe)
sigma (sig-mah)
tau (taw)
upsilon (oop-si-lon)
phi (fie)
chi (kie)
psi (sigh)
omega (o-may-gah)

Greek Numbers

Greek letters were also used for writing Greek numerals. The first nine letters (from alpha to theta) were used for the numbers 1 to 9. The next nine letters (from iota to koppa) were used for multiples of 10 from 10 to 90. Finally, the next nine letters (from rho to sampi) were used for 100 to 900. For example, the numbers 1, 2, and 3 are alpha, beta, and gamma.

Wait a minute you say! That's 27 letters, not 24. Plus, some of those letters I don't recognize from your list above. Well, they also added three letters for numbers. They were digamma for the number 6, koppa for the number 90, and sampi for the number 900.

Greek Letters in Science and Math

A lot of Greek letters are used in science and math. They are usually used for constants, variables, and functions. Some examples include:
  • Δ Delta - a difference or change in quantity
  • π Pi - the constant 3.14159 used in calculating the circumference and volume of a circle
  • λ Lambda - represents the wavelength of light in physics
  • θ Theta - is often used to represent an angle
  • Σ Sigma - is used to represent a summation of a number of items
Interesting Facts about the Greek Alphabet
  • The word "alphabet" comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet "alpha" and "beta".
  • The original Greek alphabet didn't have upper case and lower case letters. These were developed later.
  • Many Greek letters are used in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
  • Today Greek is the official language of the country of Greece and one of the official languages of Cyprus.
  • It is estimated that around 30% of English words are derived from some sort of classical Greek word.
  • The Greek alphabet gave rise to other alphabets including Latin, Gothic, and Cyrillic.
  • Many Greek letters are the same as Latin letters, but some of them sound different.
Take a ten question quiz at The Greek alphabet questions page.

For more about Ancient Greece:

Overview
Timeline of Ancient Greece
The City of Athens
Sparta
Greek City-states
Peloponnesian War
Persian Wars
Glossary and Terms

Culture
Daily Lives of the Ancient Greeks
Ancient Greek Art
Olympic Games
Government of Ancient Greece
Greek Alphabet

People
Alexander the Great
Aristotle
Pericles
25 Famous Greek People
Greek Philosophers

Greek Mythology
Greek Gods and Mythology
Zeus
Hercules
Monsters of Greek Mythology
The Iliad
The Odyssey



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