The Orthodox Pages
A NOTE ON
HOW TO PRONOUNCE THE GREEK ALPHABET
The Greek language has 7 vowels (α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω) but only 5 basic vowel sounds. Τhus η, ι, υ are all pronounced as the i in inner. In comparison the English language has 5 vowels which can be pronounced in 20 basic vowel sounds.
Of the 8 basic Greek diphthongs, 4 make the same vowel sounds as the basic vowels, ου is pronounced as the English ou in You and the remaining 3 - αυ, ευ, ηυ - make the sound of the first vowel with the sound of the consonant v at the end. In the transliteration, all the diphthongs with the exception of ou are written as single vowels so in places where there are consecutive vowels, they must be pronounced separately e.g. eléison = e-lé-i-son, Iisoú = I-i-soú, zoobió = zo-o-bi-ó.
Many of the consonants are pronounced as they are in English, but some need special attention. For example, let’s take the first 4 letters of the Greek Alphabet. Traditionally they are known in English as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta, but apart from Alpha, they are not pronounced as they are read in English. A more proper phonetic translation would be – Alpha, Vida, Yamma and Thelda. Thus the Greek B has an English V sound, the Γ has a Y sound and the Δ has a Th sound as in the words The, They or Thee.
Five more consonants need careful pronunciation.
Θ as Δ is also pronounced as a Th, but as in Third or Thesis. To distinguish between the two Th sounds I has used Th for Θ and Dh for Δ.
Κ is usually translated as K but has the sound of the English G as in Go or Give. When 2 κκ are used then the sound can be either like a double gg or like the English C or K in Cat, Kite.
Π is usually translated as P, but has the sound of the English B. When 2 ππ are used they produce the English sound P.
Ρ is the Greek R but is pronounced stronger than the English R and with a roll of the tongue.
Τ is usually translated as the English T but has the sound of the English D. When 2 ττ are used they produce the sound of the English T as in Taxi, Attic, etc. A single τ can also produce a soft t sound after some consonants or diphthongs as in αυτό.
Some combined consonants have no English equivalent sound e.g. αγνοία Αγνή, Γραφάς. Γν, γν and Γρ, γρ are traditionally translated as Gn, gn and Gr, gr as in words like Gnostic, Agnes and graphic, but in Greek there is no g sound in these words, thus I have kept to the Greek Γ as Y – Γραφάς – Yrafás, αγνοία – aynía. . Someone wishing to use the phonetic transliteration for the Divine Liturgy must audibly hear these sounds to produce them correctly.
The Greek Alphabet
Α α - as in Apple
Β β - as the English V
Γ γ - as the English Y as in Yes
Δ δ - as the English Th as in They, Thee. Dh in translation
Ε ε - as in Empty, Emperor
Ζ ζ - as the English Z as in Zebra
Η η - as the English I as in Inner
Θ θ - as the English Th as in Third or Thesis
Ι ι - as the English I as in Inner
Κ κ - the English G as in Go or Give. Two kk are pronounced as the English C in Cat
Λ λ - as the English L
Μ μ - as the English M
Ν ν - as the English N
Ξ ξ - as the English X in Extreme
Ο ο - as the English O in God
Π π - as the English B. Two ππ are pronounced as the English P
Ρ ρ - as the English R but with a stronger roll of the r
Σ σ ς - as the English S
Τ τ - as the English D. Two ττ are pronounced as the English tt in attic
Υ υ - the English I as in Inner
Φ φ - as the English F or Ph
Χ χ - as the English H in Hat
Ψ ψ - as the English Ps pronouncing both the P and S together as in Psalter
Ω ω - as the English O in God
Αι αι - as in Empty, Emperor
Αυ αυ - as the English Av as in Avarice
Ει ει - as the English I as in Inner
Ευ ευ - as the English Ev in Every, Ever
Ηυ ηυ - as the English iv as in give
Ου ου - as the English ou in You
Οι οι - as the English I as in Inner
Υι υι - as the English I as in Inner