Vowels (Learning a little Greek part 3)

Me trying to learn the Greek Alphabet

I am learning NT Greek. So far so good. I think I have the sounds of the letters sorted. It took several goes of writing them out and saying them. The first 5, then another 5 or 6 and so on. I would try to recall them at different times during the day. I would jot them down on bits of paper or on my phone. I can write them out pretty much every time now but I am still learning to refine the pronunciations.

I have to remember that:

  • Upsilon is not so much like “up” but more like the German for “u” ie “oo” as in “put”
  • I am not sure exactly how to say Alpha. I’m not actually sure its as in “apple” any more so my first blog title is wrong! Oh dear. I think it’s more like the first part of “a” in “father” but without the “r” sound. Like when the doctor asks you to open your mouth and say “ah”. Except more like an “a” for apple….Oh I don’t know..
  • I am also not quite comfortable yet with Iota. I must remember it’s “ee-ota” and Epsilon is as in “elephant”. Eta is “ate a”.

Next I need to learn the vowels. They are produced by exhaling air form the lungs. There are seven of them: Alpha, Epsilon Iota, Omicron, Upsilon, Eta and Omega.

Two are always short – Epsilon “elephant” and Omicron “fog”. Two are always long – Eta “they, ate” (remember “Zeta ate a theta”) and Omega “. Three can be long or short (called common vowels). Think of the word “aha”. The first half of the sound is the short Alpha and the second is like the long Alpha. Iota can be short as in “bit” or long as in “police” and Upsilon can be short as in “put” or long as in “flute”. I’m not currently sure how you tell is the letter should be long or short for these last three. It might depend on the word itself so you just have to know it or you can just use the short version. I shall just use the short versions until I am told otherwise.

Sometimes two vowels are combined into one syllable or diphthong. There are seven proper or common diphthongs (I think there might have been eight in ancient Greek with the addition of ηυ):

αι              aisle

ει              eight (no distinction is made between this and Eta ( h )

οι              soil

υι              suite (pronounced sweet), sweet, “wee”, quit

αυ             automatic (faust), “aw”

ευ or ηυ       deuce, feud, “you”

ου             soup, “oo”

Interestingly if we think of the English versions of the letters the Greek diphthongs are all made up of vowel letters ie “aeiou”. The first three start with α, ε and ο and end in ι. The last three also start with α, ε and ο but end in υ. In the middle there (or at the end, not sure where it should go) is a diphthong made from υ and ι. The English words given to illustrate them are quite helpful as they correspond to the English equivalent of the letters.

Here is a clearer version of the 7 proper diphthongs:


Sometimes, especially when they come at the end of a word, the long vowels Alpha ( α ), Eta ( η ) and Omega ( ω ) are combined with Iota ( ι ) to make another diphthong but the Iota is paced underneath the vowel. It’s called the “Iota subscript” and it’s not pronounced. They are called “improper diphthongs”: ᾳ (need to use http://users.ox.ac.uk/~tayl0010/polytonic-greek-inputter.html for that as I’m not sure how to do it from the operating system method of changing language input.)

Well I’m not totally clear on some of this stuff, especially the common vowels but I think the best thing to do is press on.


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