What is the Greek alphabet? Well, the question really does answer itself this time. Simply put, the Greek alphabet is an alphabet, used by the Greeks. It’s been around since about 800 BC.
Unlike the NATO phonetic alphabet, we don’t use the Greek alphabet as a phonetic alphabet nowadays. Of course, Greek is still a language, and the Greek alphabet is used in that context. But it’s gained a handful of other uses over time as well.
Further reading: What Is the NATO Phonetic Alphabet?
But before we move on, we should probably lay out what the Greek alphabet actually looks like.
What Is the Greek Alphabet?
|Symbol (Uppercase / Lowercase)||Name||Symbol (Uppercase/ Lowercase)||Name|
|? / ?||Alpha||? / ?||Nu|
|? / ?||Beta||? / ?||Xi|
|? / ?||Gamma||? / ?||Omicron|
|? / ?||Delta||? / ?||Pi|
|? / ?||Epsilon||? / ?||Rho|
|? / ?||Zeta||? / ? (alternative ?)||Sigma|
|? / ?||Eta||? / ?||Tau|
|? / ?||Theta||? / ?||Upsilon|
|? / ?||Iota||? / ?||Phi|
|? / ?||Kappa||? / ?||Chi|
|? / ?||Lambda||? / ?||Psi|
|? / ?||Mu||? / ?||Omega|
Is Ancient Greek Different from Modern Greek?
In short, yes, today’s Greek alphabet is different than it was in the past. Things evolve over time, and language is no different. Ancient Greek had different pronunciations and a few more letters here and there (? and Ϙ, digamma and koppa). There are also diacritics, which weren’t introduced to the Greek alphabet until about the 3rd century BC. They’ve kind of come and gone over the years, but modern Greek still retains two.
Furthermore, Greek was an ancestor of Latin, and interestingly, both languages did not have lower-case letters during Classical times. It wasn’t until the medieval period, when scribes added lower-case symbols to make writing easier, that both languages gained upper- and lower-casing.
What Is the Greek Alphabet Used for Now?
So what is the Greek alphabet used for today? The answer really depends on whom you ask. If you ask someone who speaks, reads, or otherwise knows/works with Greek regularly, the Greek alphabet is still very much used as an alphabet. Greek isn’t a dead language.
But even if you don’t know Greek, you probably see it a lot, especially if you’re working in the sciences. You’ve probably seen theta (?) used in reference to angles, and of course pi (?) is used to represent the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Greek alphabet symbols are so common that they even double up every now and then. For example, lambda (?) is used as a symbol for wavelength. It’s also used to denote linear charge density of an electric field (aka too much physics for a blog post).
Lastly, if you’re anywhere near a college or university, you’ve probably seen Greek lettering used in association with campus fraternities or sororities. This is commonly referred to as “Greek life”. Fun fact, they aren’t inspired by the way Greeks actually used to live. But that’s a topic for another time.
Think you’re an expert on all things Greek? Test your knowledge of the Greek alphabet in the quiz below!