Some browsers will use the symbol font to display the HTML 4.0 entities below, but others may show a bunch of α junk, and some may drop the stuff entirely. Also, I've included transliterations as well, taken from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition. The ê and ô are supposed to be &emacron; and &omacron; (e and o with a macron) but those aren't supported by some browsers either.

  1. alpha Α, α (a)
  2. beta Β, β (b)
  3. gamma Γ, γ (g,n)
  4. delta Δ, δ (d)
  5. epsilon Ε, ε (e)
  6. zeta Ζ, ζ (z)
  7. eta Η, η (ê)
  8. theta Θ, θ (th)
  9. iota Ι, ι (i)
  10. kappa Κ, κ (k)
  11. lambda Λ, λ (l)
  12. mu Μ, μ (m)
  13. nu Ν, ν (n)
  14. xi Ξ, ξ (x)
  15. omicron Ο, ο (o)
  16. pi Π, π (p)
  17. rho Ρ, ρ (r)
  18. sigma Σ, σ (s)
  19. tau Τ, τ (t)
  20. upsilon Υ, υ (y,u)
  21. phi Φ, φ (ph)
  22. chi Χ, χ (ch)
  23. psi Ψ, ψ (ps)
  24. omega Ω, ω (ô)

The modern greeks pronounce the alphabet rather differently from the greek alphabet used in western acedemia, which is based on classical greek. Their pronunciation of the alphabet (alfavet?) and its letters is:

alpha: alfa - a
beta: veeta - v
gamma: ghamma - gh, y, or a soft g
delta: thelta - th, as in 'the'
epsilon: epsilon - e
zeta: zeeta - z
eta: eeta - i
theta: theeta - th, as in 'thought'
iota: yota - i
kappa: kappa - k
lambda: lamtha - l
mu: mee - m
nu: nee - n
xi: ksee - x
omicron: omicron - o
pi: 'pea', not 'pie' - p
rho: roe - r
sigma: sighma - s
tau: taf - t
upsilon: ipsilon - u, or y
phi: fee - f
chi: chee - h, or ch as in 'loch'
psi: psee - ps
omega: ommega - o

For full information on how to pronounce modern greek, see tdent's excellent writeup in Modern Greek pronunciation.

Common uses for Greek symbols in math and science:

Greek letters were introduced into math and science long ago to supplement the usual Roman letters. Generally greek letters denote some type of variable or static constant. Occationaly it will be an operation (like summation). Introducing Greek letters into math wasn't as strange to mathematicians or scientists as it may seem. Most scholars at that time had learned some Greek or Latin.

Common uses in Math and Science:
α - Angles, acceleration, area
β - Angles
γ - conductivity, specific gravity
Δ - increment, decrement
ε - Dielectric constant
E - energy
Ζ - Impedance
η - FM Modulation index
θ - Angles, time constant, temperature
λ - wavelength, conductivity
μ - Micro(prefix), amplification factor
ν - Frequency
π - Circumference ÷ Diameter (3.14159...)
ρ - Resistivity, reflectance
Σ - Summation sign
τ - Time constant, transmittance
φ - Angle, radiant power
ω - Angle, angular frequency
Ω - Solid Angle, resistance (ohms)

General Wesc says On Windowns 98 with Netsape 4.72 the symbols for Greek alphabet don't show up in your writeup (They're all "?" except for "E" for energy).

I have no idea how to get the characters to display properly in Netscape. I have netscape 4.73 for Linux and neither my tags nor /dev/joe's show up correctly. The only difference is that mine display a ? instead of the tag. If his method reaches a larger audience then I would happily change my tags. Anybody know?

This is the alphabet of Classical Greek — that of Attica and Athens in the fifth century BCE. Clever classicists, glancing up from their Sappho fragments, dismissively tell us that this alphabet and its subtleties are well-established, and we trust them.

Then again, it Greek was a diverse language, and no two writers spelled everything quite the same way. Even modern scholars often differ in their pronunciation: there is an Oxford accent, a Stanford accent, and so on. Annoying, yes, but ancient Greek was primarily spoken, and you need to have an idea of how in order to produce some written forms correctly. Sorry.

Do not use modern Greek as a guide to ancient Greek. "Greek" has been around for five times as long as it's taken English to go from Geoffrey Chaucer to Hunter S. Thompson.

Uppercase lowercase: English name (Greek name): English word with approximate phoneme highlighted. Exciting notes!

Α α: alpha (αλφα): father.

Β β: beta (βητα): be.

Γ γ: gamma (γαμμα): go by default, but song before κ, μ, ξ, χ, or another γ. Our word angel, for instance, comes from αγγελος (= messenger).

Δ δ: delta (δελτα): do.

Ε ε: epsilon (ε ψιλον — "plain e"): set. The lowercase form may be written either as two arcs or as a single arc bisected by a tick (i.e., either a backwards unbarred B or a crossed C).

Ζ ζ: zeta (ζητα): z by custom, but technically misdeed. This means that Zeus (Ζευς) is pronounced something like sde-oos.

Η η: eta (ητα): fair. This is a mellower, longer sound than ε or α; it often ends words.

Θ θ: theta (θητα): thin by custom, but technically like loudly whispering too; that is, with a simultaneous or near-simultaneous hat.

Ι ι: iota (ιωτα): keen. This means that, for instance, π ought to be pronounced "pee", but don't trouble yourself.

Κ κ: kappa (καππα): kit.

Λ λ: lambda (λαμδα): loo.

Μ μ: mu (μυ): me. Think of the lowercase character as a stylized M rather than a funny U.

Ν ν: nu (νυ): no.

Ξ ξ: xi (ξι): ox.

Ο ο: omicron (ο μικρον — "small o"): dot.

Π π: pi (πι): pip.

Ρ ρ: rho (ρω): rip by custom, but technically more like (Spanish) burro: rolled or trilled.

Σ σ ς: sigma (σιγμα): so by default and custom, but technically zoo before β, γ, δ, and μ. The alternate lowercase form, ς, is only used at the ends of words (see long s for an English equivalent).

Τ τ: tau (ταυ): to.

Υ υ: upsilon (υ ψιλον — "plain u"): something like French tu — between yes and boo; it's transliterated as both "u" and "y". This one bears watching.

φ φ: phi (φι): foo by custom, but technically a simultaneous or near-simultaneous pat and hi.

Χ χ: chi (χι): again, customarily chap, but technically a simultaneous or near-simultaneous keg and hip. When Anglicised, this generally is spelled ch and pronouced k, e.g. chronology.

Ψ ψ: psi (ψι): oops.

Ω ω: omega (ω μηγα — "big o"): saw, with a little of so.

Diphthongs: two vowels sharing one accentuation (which will go over the second of them), or lack thereof, make a diphthong. It's just that easy!

Accents: vowels can be unaccented, grave (ò), acute (ó), or circumflex (ô). Accenting is fairly complicated, and belongs in some other node. Just try to put the most stress on the acute vowel.

Breathings: your keen eyes have already noticed that there is no hat sound in the alphabet, but that certain Greek-derived words (like "Hellenic", "rheme", and "hyper") start with that very sound! Ah-hah. When a vowel begins a word, it's given a semicircular breathing mark, which goes over it like an accent. If it's open to the left, ")"-like, it's a smooth breathing and nothing changes; if the opposite, it's a rough breathing and the vowel gets a ha sound before it. Thus, for instance, "Hercules" looks like "Ercules" until you notice the breathing. Rho (ρ), curiously enough, is always given a rough breathing when it rides point, but none of the other consonants bother. Want more? Go read Breathing marks in Greek.

Capitalization: inscriptions and other formal or constrained texts are generally put in all caps, and accents and breathings are left off. Otherwise, sentences do not take capital first letters, but proper names do. (Solitary caps in proper names are given accents and breathings, which float a little to the left of the letter.)

Punctuation: the question mark looks like our semicolon (";"), the semicolon like a raised period ("·"), and the comma and full stop like ours. You'll get along swimmingly; the language is more flexible in rhythm and emphasis, so it doesn't need as much punctuation. Usage is almost exactly what your English-honed instincts expect. (Since Greek is keen on parallelism and so on, you'll probably see proportionally more semicolons and fewer commas.)

You can find a tolerable rendering of Hellenic Greek (later than classical, but near enough for these purposes) halfway down http://www.linguistsoftware.com/gntu.htm.

Questions, suggestions, and corrections are of course welcome.

Unicoders: tell me how to render proper breathings and accents and I will make you a star. Thanks, Cogito! But on the other hand (as Cogito points out) Unicode font support is still weak enough that I'd better wait a bit.

Ancient Greek made use of a somewhat dizzying array of diacritic marks to compliment the alphabet. Most of these have been eliminated in the writing of modern Greek.

The most basic of these was the acute accent. On almost all polysyllabic words an accent was necessary. In Modern Greek it mostly just marks the portion of the word receiving stress, however it served a different purpose in Ancient Greek. It certainly marked a change in pitch (a bit like the tone systems used in Korean and Japanese, not as vital to the word as in Chinese or Thai). Scholars are fairly certain the acute accent marked a high pitch.

The second diacritic was the grave accent. In modern written Greek this is no longer used, and it was marked inconsistantly in Ancient Greek, although the Byzantines developed the most consistant of the usage systems. The grave accent probably indicated a level or falling pitch, although classicists are less sure about this one than they are about the acute.

The last pitch marker was the circumflex, which in Ancient Greek was usually curved instead of pointed. It indicated (probably) a high falling pitch. Thus, it could only be placed over a long vowel.

As vruba explained in more detail above, a twin pair of diacritics that fell only on the first or second letter of a word were the breathing marks. They are thought to derive from the two halves of the capital Greek letter 'H'. Related to this is the coronis. It marks the joining of two words whose vowels interlap, somewhat like the apostrophe marking the merge of the English words "we are" into "we're", but since Greek spelling was mostly phonetic, it goes directly over the new blended vowel sound.

The final diacretic mark used was a diaeresis, still in use in Modern Greek. Just like in other languages, and looking exactly the same too, the diaeresis (also called an umlaut) marks a vowel that is its own separate syllable from an adjoining vowel.

In terms of alignment (since multiple diacritics could fall on one letter), the breathings and coronis go under the circumflex and to the left of the acute or grave accents. The diaeresis always goes to the bottom. Accent marks on capital letters are written to the left of them, instead of on top.


Information sourced from Daniels, Peter T. Bright, William. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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