Modern Greek/Lesson 01.4

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This is the fourth lesson teaching you how to read, write and pronounce Greek. By this time, you're already more than halfway done. The rest of the letters will be easy to learn.

Let's start with Eta:

Η η

Even though the capital letter looks like an H and the small letter looks somewhat like a small N, this is actually a vowel. In Hellenistic, Medieval, and Modern Greek, it is pronounced like the Spanish "i" (IPA [i]), same as the letter Iota. In Ancient Greek, it used to be pronounced like a long "e", as in the word "pain". That's why words which got derived in the past from Greek and are spelled with an Eta are actually spelled with an E in English, which is also a different sound from the original eta. An example: δημοκρατία became "democracy" and not "dimocracy" in English. In Attic Greek it must have sounded different from both. Fortunately, this reference to those English words is a way to know whether a Modern Greek word is spelled with Eta or Iota. In standard transliteration this letter is rendered as ī (the dash is used in order to distinguish it from Iota), while in names and toponyms it is transcribed simply as i (with the disadvantage of being unable to distinguish it from Iota). Sometimes h is used just because of the similarity of the respective capital letters, providing though a weird and wrong spelling. Practice your reading now:

  • ακαδημία
  • Κρήτη
  • Αμερική
  • ηλεκτρονικά
  • Ισραήλ
  • Ινδονησία
  • Μαδρίτη
  • Τρίπολη
  • Άρης
  • Σπάρτη
  • Ταϊλάνδη

There is yet another letter that sounds like i: upsilon.

Υ υ

The shape of this Greek letter seems to refer us to both Y and U, and that's correct: when English words derive from Greek ones, most of times this letter is rendered as Y in English and vice versa. Also, in very ancient Greek this letter was pronounced like the u in "rule" (IPA [u]) but later it transformed to the French U sound (German Ü, IPA [y], sound which doesn't exist in English). In medieval Greek the letter started sounding just like Iota and Eta. Example words:

  • δυναμική
  • ανάλυση
  • Σύδνεϋ
  • Τόκυο
  • Συρία
  • Υεμένη

Now you're probably wondering how to write the u sound as in "rule" in Modern Greek. Greeks need two letters for this: Omikron and Upsilon (ου). This probably sounds familiar to those who have studied French, because French also spells [u] as "ou". Here are a lot of sample words with this letter combination, for practice:

  • Ουκρανία
  • Ρουμανία
  • Τουρκία
  • μουσική
  • Καμπούλ
  • Καλκούτα
  • Ιερουσαλήμ
  • Σεούλ
  • Περού
  • Ρουάντα

Now you're going to learn another very important Greek letter: Omega.

Ω ω

This is the second variety of O in Greek. The O that you already learned is called Omikron, which translates to "small O". This one is called Omega, which translates to "big O". They are both pronounced the same, as o in obey. In standard transliteration, this letter is rendered as ō because in ancient Greek it had the sound of a long [o], which made it essentially a different vowel. Transcription in names and toponyms is usually just o. Sometimes unofficially it is rendered as w (inspired by the shape of the small letter), but this leads to weird and incorrect spelling, as in some pretty weird-looking transliterations, like "egw agapw". Knowing this letter (and the ones taught before), you can read some new words:

  • Ιαπωνία
  • Ρωσία
  • ωροσκόπιο
  • ερωτικός
  • άρωμα
  • Κώστας
  • Κως
  • Πορτ-ω-Πρενς
  • Ρώμη
  • Πολωνία

The last letter I'd like to introduce to you in this lesson is Beta.

Β β

As I mentioned earlier, this letter sounds like an English V (IPA [v]), not like a B. That's why it is often used for English words that contain V or W. In classical Greek it was pronounced like English B, explaining the common origin of the two letters, but the pronunciation changed to V in Hellenistic Greek. Compare the sound of Beta to the sound of the Spanish 'B', which has a V sound unless it's found in the beginning of a word. Beta is generally used very often and there are lots of example words that you can use for practice:

  • ασβέστης
  • αμβροσία
  • Βιετνάμ
  • Βολιβία
  • Λίβανος
  • Ιβάν
  • Οττάβα
  • Κούβα
  • Κουβέιτ
  • Αλβανία
  • Λίβερπουλ
  • Βρετανία
  • Βανκούβερ
  • Μελβούρνη
  • Βιέννη
  • Βατικανό
  • Βουδαπέστη
  • Ελ Σαλβαδόρ
  • Βέρνη
  • Βομβάη
  • Ρέυκιαβικ
  • Κολομβία
  • Βαρσοβία
  • Λισαβόνα
  • Δουβλίνο
  • Ταϊβάν

That's it for this lesson! If you didn't have trouble reading the example words, you're ready to continue with the next lesson!


Η η
Greek Transliteration English
δημοκρατία dīmokratía democracy
ακαδημία akadīmía academy
Κρήτη Krī́tī Crete
Αμερική Amerikī́ America
ηλεκτρονικά īlektroniká electronics
Ισραήλ Israī́l Israel
Ινδονησία Indonīsía Indonesia
Μαδρίτη Madrítī Madrid
Τρίπολη Trípolī Tripoli
Άρης Árīs Ares (Greek god of war)
Σπάρτη Spártī Sparta
Ταϊλάνδη Taïlándī Thailand
Υ υ
Greek Transliteration English
δυναμική dynamikī́ dynamics
ανάλυση análysī analysis
Σύδνεϋ Sýdneÿ Sydney
Τόκυο Tókyo Tokyo
Συρία Syría Syria
Υεμένη Yeménī Yemen
Ου ου
Greek Transliteration English
Ουκρανία Oukranía Ukraine
Ρουμανία Roumanía Romania
Τουρκία Tourkía Turkey
μουσική mousikī́ music
Καμπούλ Kampoúl Kabul
Καλκούτα Kalkoúta Calcutta
Ιερουσαλήμ Ierousalī́m Jerusalem
Σεούλ Seoúl Seoul
Περού Peroú Peru
Ρουάντα Rouánta Rwanda
Ω ω
Greek Transliteration English
Ιαπωνία Iapōnía Japan
Ρωσία Rōsía Russia
ωροσκόπιο ōroskópio horoscope
ερωτικός erōtikós erotic
άρωμα árōma aroma
Κώστας Kṓstas Kostas
Κως Kōs Kos
Πορτ-ω-Πρενς Port-ō-Prens Port-au-Prince
Ρώμη Rṓmī Rome
Πολωνία Polōnía Poland
Β β
Greek Transliteration English
ασβέστης asvéstīs asbestos
αμβροσία amvrosía ambrosia
Βιετνάμ Vietnám Vietnam
Βολιβία Volivía Bolivia
Λίβανος Lívanos Lebanon
Ιβάν Iván Ivan
Οττάβα Ottáva Ottawa
Κούβα Koúva Cuba
Κουβέιτ Kouvéit Kuwait
Αλβανία Alvanía Albania
Λίβερπουλ Líverpoul Liverpool
Βρετανία Vretanía Britain
Βανκούβερ Vankoúver Vancouver
Μελβούρνη Melvoúrnī Melbourne
Βιέννη Viénnī Vienna
Βατικανό Vatikanó Vatican
Βουδαπέστη Voudapéstī Budapest
Ελ Σαλβαδόρ El Salvadór El Salvador
Βέρνη Vérnī Bern
Βομβάη Vomváī Bombay
Ρέυκιαβικ Réykiavik Reykjavik
Κολομβία Kolomvía Colombia
Βαρσοβία Varsovía Warsaw
Λισαβόνα Lisavóna Lisbon
Δουβλίνο Douvlíno Dublin
Ταϊβάν Taïván Taiwan