The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Greek language

The Greek language (Greek Ελληνικά, IPA – "Hellenic") is an Indo-European language with a documented history of some 3,000 years. Ancient Greek in its various forms was the language both of classical Greek civilisation and of the origins of Christianity, and was a first or second language over a large part of the Roman Empire. It has been studied in schools and universities in many countries from the Renaissance onwards. Modern Greek, which differs in many ways from Ancient Greek but is still recognisably the same language, is spoken by approximately 12 million speakers worldwide, most of whom live in Greece. Greek is traditionally written in the Greek alphabet.



Main article: History of the Greek language

Greek has been spoken in the Balkan Peninsula since the 2nd millennium BC. The earliest evidence of this is found in the Linear B tablets dating from 1500 BC. The alphabet normally used was adapted from the Phoenician alphabet in c. 1000 BC and, with various modifications, is still used today.

Two main forms of the language have been in use since the end of the medieval Greek period: DhimotikÝ (Δημοτική), the Demotic (vernacular) language, and KatharÚvusa (Καθαρεύουσα), an imitation of classical Greek, which was used for literary, juridic, and scientific purposes during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Demotic Greek is the official language of the modern Greek state, and the most widely spoken by Greeks today.

Some scholars have overly stressed Modern Greek's similarity to the millennia-old Greek languages. However, its intelligibility with ancient Greek is a matter of debate. It is claimed that an "educated" speaker of the modern language can read the ancient dialects, but it is not made clear how much of that education consists of exposure to vocabulary and grammar obsolete to normal communication. Still, Koinē [KinÝ (oi=ē=i)], an older version of Greek originally used to write the New Testament and the Septuagint, is easily understood by modern speakers.

Greek word forms continue to have a great influence in the world's scientific and technical vocabulary, and make up a large part of the technical vocabulary of many languages including Latin, Italian, German, French, and English e.g. astronomy, democracy, philosophy, thespian, anthropology etc. For a more complete list, see List of English words of Greek origin, and List of Greek words with English derivatives.


Greek is its own independent branch of the Indo-European language family, with no living close relatives. Among modern languages, Armenian seems to be the most closely related to it. The Greek language has been influenced by the neighboring Balkan languages and Turkish. It is a member of the Balkan Linguistic Union.

Geographic distribution

Greek is spoken by about 12 million people mainly in Greece and Cyprus but also in many other countries where Greeks have settled, including Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the USA.

Official status

Greek is the official language of the Hellenic Republic (Greece) where it is spoken by about 98.5% of the population. It is also, alongside Turkish, the official language of the Republic of Cyprus.


The pronunciation of Modern Greek has changed considerably from Ancient Greek, although the orthography still reflects features of the older language. The examples below are intended to represent Attic Greek in the 5th century BC. Although ancient pronunciation can never be reconstructed with certainty, Greek in particular is very well documented from this period, and there is little disagreement among scholars as to the general nature of the sounds that the letters represented. See W. Sidney Allen, Vox Graeca – a guide to the pronunciation of Classical Greek. Cambridge University Press, 1974. ISBN 0-521-20626-X.


In the International Phonetic Alphabet:

Ancient Greek – short

The short e (ε in Greek orthography) is shown in the table as mid close vowel [e] but it may have been nearer to [ɛ].

  Front Back
Close unrounded i  
Close rounded y  
Close-mid e o
Open a  

Ancient Greek – long

The [] (ου in Greek orthography) may still have been [] in the fifth century.

  Front Back
Close unrounded  
Close rounded
Open-mid ɛː ɔː

Modern Greek

The systematic distinction between long and short vowels has been lost in modern Greek.

  Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid               o
Open-mid ɛ  
Open a  


In the International Phonetic Alphabet:

Ancient Greek

Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p b t d k g
Aspirated Plosive            
Nasal m n ŋ
Trill r ̥ r
Fricative s z h
Lateral approximant l

Note: [z] was an allophone of [s], used before voiced consonants, and in particular in the combination [zd] written as zeta ( ζ ). The [r ̥] (voiceless r) written as rho with a rough breathing ( ) was probably an allophone of [r].

Modern Greek

Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Plosive p b t d c ɟ k g
Nasal m ɱ n ɲ ŋ
Tap ɾ
Fricative f v θ ­ s z š ʝ x ɣ
Affricate ts dz
Approximant j
Lateral approximant l ʎ


Greek has sandhi rules, some written, some not. ν before bilabials and velars is pronounced /m/ and /ŋ/ respectively, and is written μ (συμπάθεια, "sympathy") and γ (συγχρονίζω "synchronize") when this happens within a word. The word ἐστὶ (estÝ, IPA /ˌɛsˈti/), which means "is" in Greek gains ν, and the accusative articles τόν and τήν in Modern Greek lose it, depending on the start of the next word; this is called "movable nu". In tˇn patÚra (τον πατέρα), which means "the father" (accusative case), the first word is pronounced /tom/, and in Modern Greek (but not Ancient Greek, which had an independent /b/ sound) the second word is pronounced /ˌbaˈtɛɾa/ because mp is pronounced /mb/.

Historical sound changes

The main phonetic changes between Ancient and Modern Greek are a simplification in the vowel system and a change of some consonants to fricative values. Ancient Greek had five short vowels, seven long vowels, and numerous diphthongs. This has been reduced to a simple five-vowel system. Most noticeably, the vowels i, ē, y, ei, oi (ι, η, υ, ει, οι) have all become i. The consonants b, d, g (β, δ, γ) became v, dh, gh (dh is /­/ and gh is /ɣ/). The aspirated consonants , , (φ, θ, χ) became f, th, kh (where the new pronunciation of th is /θ/ and the new pronunciation of kh is /x/).


Greek, like all of the older Indo-European languages, is highly inflected. For example nouns (including proper nouns) have five cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and vocative), three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Verbs have four moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive and optative), three voices (active, middle and passive), as well as three persons (first, second and third) and various other forms. Modern Greek is one of the few Indo-European languages that has retained a synthetic passive.

DhimotikÝ, has lost the dative, except for in a few expressions like εν τάξει (en tßxei /ɛn ˈdaˌksi/), which means "OK" (literally: "in order").
Other noticeable changes in its grammar include the loss of the infinitive, the dual number and the simplification of the system of grammatical prefixes, such as augment and reduplication.

Writing system

Greek is written in the Greek alphabet which dates from the 8th century BC. The Greek alphabet consists of:

24 Capital Letters:

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

25 Small Letters (sigma has two forms, one used at the end of words):

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


Some common words & phrases

  • Greek (man): Έλληνας, IPA /ˈɛliˌnas/
  • Greek (woman): Ελληνίδα /ˌɛliˈni­a/
  • Greek (language): Ελληνικά /ɛˌliniˈka/
  • hello: γειά /ʝa/ (informal), you only say this to people that you know well. When you address a stranger you use the more formal "good day": καλημέρα /ˌkaliˈmɛɾa/
  • good-bye: αντίο /aˈndiˌo/ (formal) (see above), γειά /ʝa/ (informal)
  • please: παρακαλώ /paˌɾakaˈlo/
  • I would like ____ please: θα ήθελα ____ παρακαλώ /θa ˈiθɛˌla ____ paˌɾakaˈlo/
  • sorry: συγνώμη /ˌsiˈɣnomi/
  • thank you: ευχαριστώ /ɛˌfxaɾiˈsto/
  • that/this: αυτό /ˌaˈfto/
  • how much?: πόσο; /ˈpoˌso/
  • how much does it cost?: πόσο κοστίζει; /ˈpoˌso ˌkoˈstizi/
  • yes: ναι //
  • no: όχι /ˈoˌši/
  • I don't understand: δεν καταλαβαίνω /­ɛŋ kaˌtalaˈvɛno/
  • I don't know: δεν ξέρω /­ɛŋ ˈksɛˌɾo/
  • where's the bathroom?: πού είναι η τουαλέτα; /pu ˈiˌnɛ i ˌtuaˈlɛta/
  • generic toast: εις υγείαν! /is iˈʝiˌan/
  • juice: χυμός /ˌšiˈmos/
  • water: νερό /ˌnɛˈɾo/
  • wine: κρασί /ˌkɾaˈsi/
  • beer: μπύρα /ˈbiˌɾa/
  • milk: γάλα /ˈɣaˌla/
  • Do you speak English?: Μιλάτε Αγγλικά; /miˈlaˌtɛ ˌaŋgliˈka/
  • I love you: σ’ αγαπώ /ˌsaɣaˈpo/
  • Help!: Βοήθεια! /voˈiθiˌa/

The Lord's Prayer in Greek (Matt. 6:9-13)

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·
&#ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου· γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς·
τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·
καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφελήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν·
καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ρῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.
Ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας·


Pater hēmōn, ho en tois ouranois hagiasthētō to onoma sou;
elthetō hē basileia sou; genethetō to thelēma sou, hōs en ouranōi, kai epi tēs gēs;
ton arton hēmōn ton epiousion dos hēmin sēmeron;
kai aphes hēmin ta opheilēmata hēmōn, hōs kai hēmeis aphiemen tois opheiletais hēmōn;
kai mē eisenenkēis hēmas eis peirasmon, alla rhusai hēmas apo tou ponērou.
Hoti sou estin hē basileia, kai hē d˙namis, kai hē doxa eis tous aiōnas;

The Nicene Creed in Greek

Πιστεύω εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, παντοκράτορα, ποιητήν οὐρανοῦ καί γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καί ἀοράτων.
Καί εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τόν Υἱόν τοῦ Θεοῦ τόν μονογενῆ, τόν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρός γεννηθέντα πρό πάντων τῶν αἰώνων. Φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεόν ἀληθινόν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι’ οὗ τά πάντα ἐγένετο.
Τόν δι’ ἡμᾶς τούς ἀνθρώπους καί διά τήν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν καί σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καί Μαρίας τῆς Παρθένου καί ἐνανθρωπήσαντα.
Σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπέρ ἡμῶν ἐπί Ποντίου Πιλάτου καί παθόντα καί ταφέντα.
Καί ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ κατά τάς Γραφάς.
Καί ἀνελθόντα εἰς τούς οὐρανούς καί καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ Πατρός.
Καί πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετά δόξης κρῖναι ζῶντας καί νεκρούς, οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.
Καί εἰς τό Πνεῦμα τό Ἅγιον, τό κύριον, τό ζωοποιόν, τό ἐκ τοῦ Πατρός ἐκπορευόμενον, τό σύν Πατρί καί Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καί συνδοξαζόμενον, τό λαλῆσαν διά τῶν προφητῶν.
Εἰς μίαν ἁγίαν, καθολικήν καί ἀποστολικήν Ἐκκλησίαν.
Ὁμολογῶ ἕν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
Προσδοκῶ ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν.
Καί ζωήν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος.


W. Sidney Allen, Vox Graeca - a guide to the pronunciation of classical Greek. Cambridge University Press, 1968-74. ISBN 0-521-20626-X

Geoffrey Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (Longman Linguistics Library). Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 0582307090

Crosby and Schaeffer, An Introduction to Greek, Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1928

External links

Last updated: 10-15-2005 11:10:44
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