Modern Greek/Lesson 1b

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The Alphabet and Pronunciation[edit]

Vowels[edit]

Greek has five vowel sounds, all vowels are pronounced nearer the English long rather than short:

α approximately as in arc
ε approximately as in bet
ι approximately as in maria
ο approximately as in robot
ου approximately as in football

Throughout this book, tables highlighted in this color have (or will eventually have) audio recordings to go with them.

Audio recording: About this sound Modern_greek_1ab.ogg This recording was made by a non-native speaker of Greek. We would be grateful to any native speaker who could redo it.

As you can see from these examples, many letters in the Greek alphabet look like their counterparts in English. There are multiple spellings for some of these sounds:

ι, η, υ, οι, ει, and υι all sound alike.
ε and αι sound alike.
ο and ω sound alike.

Consonants[edit]

The following letters sound like the English letters they resemble:

κ, τ

Note: If you're a native English speaker, try to pronounce a plain τ, that is without the "h" sound in the end.

Reading practice:

τα, τι, η, τη, το, του, τω, κάτω, κότα, άκου

Most greek words have a stressed syllable which in words of more than one syllable is shown with an accent over the stressed vowel.

Vocabulary:

κακό bad
κατά against, according to, toward

Audio recording: About this sound Modern_greek_1c.ogg This recording was made by a non-native speaker of Greek. We would be grateful to any native speaker who could redo it.

The following Greek consonants sound like familiar sounds from English, but look different from their English counterparts:

β vie λ low π pie
δ the μ mow σ,ς sigh
ζ zoo ν no φ fie
θ thigh ξ axe ψ oops

The letter sigma, σ, is written as ς at the end of a word. Some Greek speakers pronounce the sigma sound so that it sounds half-way between s and sh.

Vocabulary and reading practice:

ναι yes
καλό good
πού where
με with
από from
σε in
αλλά but

Audio recording: About this sound Modern_greek_1d.ogg This recording was made by a non-native speaker of Greek. We would be grateful to any native speaker who could redo it.

The following Greek consonants have sounds not found in English:

γ a soft, gargling g sound, except before the sounds ε and ι, where it sounds like y
ρ like Spanish r
χ like the ch in Scottish loch

Vocabulary and reading practice:

γράφω I write
για for
γιατί why?, because
προς to, toward
όχι no
παρακαλώ please

Audio recording: About this sound Modern_greek_1e.ogg This recording was made by a non-native speaker of Greek. We would be grateful to any native speaker who could redo it.

The following combinations of letters have sounds that have to be learned:

ου oo
αυ av before vowel or voiced consonant, else af
ευ ev before vowel or voiced consonant, else ef
ηυ iv before vowel or voiced consonant, else if
μπ b at the beginning of a word, mb elsewhere
ντ d at the beginning of a word, nd elsewhere
χε, χαι hye
κε, και kye

Vocabulary and reading practice:

και and
ή or
αυτός he
αύριο tomorrow
ευχαριστώ I give thanks, thank you (~"Eucharist")
χαίρετε Rejoice! (a greeting and leave-taking)

One of the big obstacles for an English speaker trying to learn Greek is that so few common usage words are related to English ones (although an estimated 10% to 20% of the total English vocabulary has Greek roots, most of it though of scientific/technical nature). However, sometimes there is a relationship that would help you to remember the Greek word, but the relationship isn't obvious, as with ευχαριστώ and Eucharist. When this happens, we'll note it as in the example above, with ~. This may mean that the English word is derived from the Greek one, or merely that both the English word and the Greek one come from a common root.

Names of the letters:

α άλφα ι γιώτα (or ιώτα) ρ ρω (or ρο)
β βήτα κ κάππα (or κάπα) σ σίγμα
γ γάμμα λ λάμδα (or λάμβδα) τ ταυ
δ δέλτα μ μι υ ύψιλον
ε έψιλον ν νι φ φι
ζ ζήτα ξ ξι χ χι
η ήτα ο όμικρον ψ ψι
θ θήτα π πι ω ωμέγα

Audio recording: About this sound Modern_greek_1g.ogg This recording was made by a non-native speaker of Greek. We would be grateful to any native speaker who could redo it.