The Greek alphabet in an ancient writing system first developed around 1000 BCE. However, its letters remain prevalent today. Throughout history, letters of the Greek alphabet evolved to represent many things. The alphabet is a staple in the “Greek System” of American universities, scientific naming schemes, modern military communications, and more.
The alphabet holds great significance. Not only is it commonly used in many forms today, but it either directly or indirectly influenced all modern European alphabets. That includes the Latin alphabet of the Western world.
The origins of the Greek alphabet come from the North Semitic alphabet. The Phoenicians took inspiration from the North Semitic alphabet to create their own writing system. The Greeks then modified the Phoenician alphabet to make writing a non-Semitic language more efficient and accurate. Greeks did this by adding new letters and removing others. For example, the Greek alphabet turned Semitic symbols representing consonants into those denoted vowel sounds. The introduction of vowels was a game-changer increasing the overall legibility of the new non-Semitic writing system.
Greeks separated the new alphabet into two branches during the early stages of adoption. Around the 5th century BCE, there was the Ionic Greek alphabet and the Chalcidian Greek Alphabet. The branches belonged to eastern and western Greece, respectively.
The Chalcidian Greek alphabet of the west paved the way for the Etruscan alphabet of Italy. As a result, it’s considered an indirect ancestor of the Latin alphabet.
The Ionic Greek alphabet became the official writing system for Athens in 403 BCE. During the next five decades, its adoption spread. It replaced all other versions, including Chalcidian. Thus, the Ionic script became the classical Greek alphabet.
The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters. Seven of the 24 letters are vowels. Ancient Greeks also had lowercase and uppercase characters. Furthermore, the alphabet had different scripts. These included uncial, cursive, and minuscule. Uncial dropped out of favor, allowing the modern Greek handwriting form to prominence.
The Classical Greek Alphabet In Order
Below is a table that indicates the Classical Greek alphabet in order.
|Greek Letter Name||Uppercase letter||Lowercase letter||English Equivalent|
|Sigma||Σ||σ / ς||s|
Classical Greek Numerals
Below is a table that indicates the Classical Greek numerals.
Modern Greek Alphabet
Below is a table that indicates the modern Greek alphabet
|Capital||Lower case||Combinations||Name||English equivalents|
|Γ||γ||ghámma||gh before α, ο, ου, ω, and consonants other than γ, ξ, and χ, y before αι, ε, ει, η, ι, οι, υ, υι; n before γ, ξ, and χ|
|γκ||initial, g; medial, ng|
|Δ||δ, ∂*||dhélta||dh; d between ν and ρ|
|μπ||initial, b; medial, mb|
|ντ||initial, d; medial, nd|
|Υ||υ||ípsilon||i initially and between consonants|
Alpha – Α α
The first letter of the Greek alphabet is Alpha. Because it starts the entire writing system, Alpha often signifies the first or the best in a group.
For example, game and software developers use it to represent the first testing stage. It’s also common in science and medicine. You might see it used to describe the first variant of a virus or the most essential element of a scientific concept.
Alpha even appears in different faiths across the world. In the bible, God is referred to as the “Alpha and the Omega.” Generally, the interpretation is that God is both the beginning and end of all things.
Beta – Β β
Beta is the second letter of the Greek alphabet. It has a numerical value of two and often represents an item that’s second in a line of concession. The term “Beta” is often used in slang to represent someone less than an Alpha. It may also describe second versions of concepts in science. For example, a Beta variant of a virus will come after the Alpha.
In software development, Beta is a term that represents the second stage of testing after the Alpha. You might also hear the letter used in physics, aerodynamics, and even finance.
Gamma – Γ γ
Gamma has a numerical value of three. The approximate Western equivalent of Gamma is a hard “G” sound. It can also take the place of the “ng” sound that end words like “sing” or “belong.”
Once again, this letter is frequently utilized in science and physics. The most popular use describes the smallest wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum: Gamma rays. The lowercase Gamma letter is also the symbol for photon particles, motor neurons, and more. It represents many concepts, including the active coefficient in thermodynamics, the gyromagnetic ratio in electromagnetism, and the Lorentz factor in the Theory of Relativity.
Delta – Δ δ
The fourth letter in the Greek alphabet is Delta. The capital Delta symbol is a triangle. As a result, the term “Delta” was used to describe many phenomena with a similar shape. The most recognizable is a river delta.
In the realm of mathematics, Delta plays a big part in calculus. It’s an auxiliary function and represents the change of a variable value. In chemistry, Delta is predominantly used to show the shift of nuclear magnetic resonance.
Delta also appears in writing. Proofreaders typically use the uppercase Delta symbol to indicate text that needs deletion.
Epsilon – Ε ε
Epsilon in the Greek alphabet is the equivalent of the letter “E” in Western European alphabets. Both the uppercase and the lowercase symbols even look like the letter “E.”
There are many uses of the Epsilon letter. In computer science, the lowercase symbol represents an empty string. Meanwhile, it’s used for the degree of error in statistics.
Epsilon is important in astronomy, too. The letter lends its name to the most visible ring of Uranus. It also indicates the axial tilt of planetary bodies in space.
Zeta – Ζ ζ
The sixth letter of the Greek alphabet is Zeta, but it has a numeric value of seven. The modern pronunciation is similar to the letter “Z.” The same goes for its uppercase symbol appearance. However, the ancient pronunciation of Zeta is closer to the sound of “sd.” For example, the middle of the word “wisdom.”
Zeta is most often used to represent the damping ratio in physics and engineering. It’s also the symbol of equilibrium computations. For mathematics, Zeta is a prominent symbol in the Riemann Zeta function and the Weierstrass Zeta function.
Like other letters, Zeta is also used in many naming conventions. One famous example was the tropical storm Zeta in 2005. It became the 30th storm of the season.
Eta – Η η
Next is Eta. It has a numerical value of eight and is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet. The original Greek alphabet had a different letter in Eta’s position, but it was phased out in the transition to Ionic script across Greece.
In chemistry, Eta is the symbol for hapticity. It also appears in thermodynamics, particle physics, and oceanography. In those disciplines, Eta is the packing fraction and efficiency of a Carnot heat engine, the eta mesons, and the measurement of sea level height, respectively.
The modern pronunciation of Eta is a long “E” sound, such as the “ea” in “beat.” The classical pronunciation is closer to a short “E” sound like “let.”
Theta – Θ θ
Theta is the eighth letter of the Greek alphabet. But because of script changes, it has a numeric value of nine. The modern pronunciation is a “th” like “thick.” However, classical pronunciation is a hard “T” like “teach.”
The Theta symbol is unique. The uppercase version is like a circle with a small line in the middle. Meanwhile, the lowercase is like a zero number with a line in the middle.
Interestingly enough, Theta was considered the symbol of death in ancient Greece. It was used when judging criminals and voting for the death penalty. As a result, it became an “unlucky” letter.
Iota – Ι ι
Iota has a value of 10 but is the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet. Iota represents many things in the realms of mathematics and computer science. In math, the lowercase Iota symbol is used to represent an imaginary number. It’s also the symbol for certain Unicode points and generates a ray of consecutive integers in some programming languages.
The term “iota,” which describes a small amount, came from the Greek letter. That may come from its pronunciation, which is a small and short “i” sound.
Kappa – Κ κ
Kappa is the tenth number of the Greek alphabet. Its numerical value is 20. Next to Alpha and Beta, Kappa is one of the most commonly used Greek letters in university sorority and fraternity names.
For chemists, Kappa is the symbol to represent the amount of oxygen required to bleach pulp. You’ll see the Kappa symbol in mathematics and statistics, too. It’s used for everything from capital utilization rates to the curvature of a graph.
The symbol for Kappa is the same as the letter “K” and is identical for lowercase and uppercase scripts.
Lambda – Λ λ
Lambda is the eleventh letter of the Greek alphabet and holds a numerical value of 30. The Western equivalent of Lambda is the letter “L.” Pronunciation is the same across the board, acting as the symbol for the “L” sound.
The capital Lambda symbol is akin to an upside-down “V.” The lowercase script is like an upside-down “y.” These symbols have been adopted for many organizations throughout history. The lowercase Lambda became a symbol of gay liberation after the events at Stonewall in the 1970s. The Lambda also represents unity, which is why it was used on Spartan army shields and by modern NATO military operations.
Mu – Μ μ
Mu has a numerical value of 40 and is the twelfth letter of the Greek alphabet. The uppercase version of Mu is identical to the Western “M” letter. However, the lowercase is unique and features a similar appearance to the letter “u.”
You may recognize the lower Mu, as it’s commonly utilized for precise measurements. It represents microns and often takes the place of any “micro” descriptors.
Nu – Ν ν
Next up, we have Nu. It’s similar to the previous Mu letter. However, it has a numerical value of 50 and is the Western equivalent of the letter “N.” The sound is the same, and the capital Nu is identical to the “N” letter of the Latin alphabet.
Nu appears in many scientific and mathematical applications. In psychology, it’s used to represent the maximum conditioning possible for unconditioned stimulus. In math, it’s most often reserved for financial equations. Most notably, it’s the degree of freedom and the value of the greatest fixed point.
Xi – Ξ ξ
The fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet is Xi. Its numerical value is 60. In modern Western alphabets, the closest thing to Xi is the letter “X.” It has a similar sound to uses in words like “fox” and “ax.”
The character symbols are distinct. For that reason, it appears in modern logos and artworks. For example, the uppercase X is in the logo for Razer and ZEA.
Of course, it’s important in science and math, too. It represents microturbulence velocity, the diameter of a crystal nucleus, spatial frequency, systematic function equation, and so much more.
Omicron – Ο ο
Omicron has a numerical value of 70 and is the fifteenth letter in the Greek alphabet. Like other names, Omicron is widely used in the Greek system of American universities to name sororities and fraternities. It’s also a common classification name for different variants of diseases and viruses. While it’s pretty deep into the Greek alphabet, it’s still used pretty frequently for scientific naming schemes.
The symbol for Omicron is the Western alphabet letter of “O.” Like in the Latin alphabet, the symbol is the same for uppercase and lowercase scripts. The only difference is the size.
Pi – Π π
Pi is one of the more famous letters of the Greek alphabet. The lowercase letter is a distinct mathematic constant. It’s something that’s used in a wide array of complex equations.
Pi is the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet and has a numerical value of 80. In law, it’s commonly used in legal shorthand to describe a plaintiff. Meanwhile, engineers use the uppercase script for product operators, osmotic pressure, and viscous stress tensors.
It’s quite flexible in math. It may represent prime counting functions, inflation rates, economic profit, and more.
Rho – Ρ ρ
The seventeenth letter of the Greek alphabet is Rho. Its numerical value is 100. Rho doesn’t have the pronunciation that most expect. In both ancient and modern pronunciations, the Rho letter has the same sound as a trilled “R.” For example, you’ll hear it commonly in Italian or Spanish languages that have a rolled “R” sound.
Applications for Rho are plentiful. Rhodes scholars typically use the symbol to designate their status. It’s also used in science for densities, quantum states, resistivity, and more. Interestingly, many use it to represent Christ. When combined with Chi letter, it creates the symbol of Christ.
Sigma – Σ σ/ς, Ϲ ϲ
Sigma is the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet and holds a numerical value of 200. The Sigma symbol is distinct. Uppercase Sigmas is utilized heavily in science and math. For those disciplines, it’s often a summation operator. You might also see it as a symbol for a covariance matrix, macroscopic cross-sections, and more.
Lowercase Sigmas are popular in physics. It can symbolize the standard deviation of a complex equation, surface charge, and velocity dispersion, among other things.
The sound of the Sigma is typically a soft “S.” However, it can also represent a buzzier “S” sound depending on the letters it follows.
Tau – Τ τ
The nineteenth letter of the Greek alphabet is Tau, which has a numerical value of 300. The Latin letter “T” is the closest equivalent of the Greek Tau. It has the same sound and symbol shape.
The Tau letter has been used symbolically throughout history. For example, the letter was adopted by Franciscan monks, the Hospital brother of St. Anthony, and even Ancient Egyptians to mark water vessels.
In math, Tau is utilized for concepts like the Golden Ratio, the divisor function, and the stopping of time.
Upsilon – Υ υ
Upsilon is a flexible letter with evolving applications. The classic pronunciation to ancient Greeks is like the sound of a long “U” in the Latin alphabet. Think of the “U” sound in words like “ruse” or “dune.” However, modern pronunciations are closer to a long “E” sound.
Upsilon is the twentieth letter of the Greek alphabet. Its numerical value is 400. The letter is used to represent mass to light. Upsilon also lends its script to the Airies symbol.
Phi – Φ φ
Phi is the twenty-first letter of the Greek alphabet. Its numerical value is 500. The appearance of Phi is unlike anything we have in the Latin alphabet. However, it may be an ancestor of the letter “P.” It features a circle and a line that crosses through it vertically.
This symbol represents a wide range of concepts in math and science. Some examples include the Golden Ratio, Euler’s totient function, the Veblen function, the ratio of free energy, magnetic flux, and more. Thanks to the distinct look, the Phi letter also appears in logos.
Chi – Χ χ
The twenty-second letter of the Greek alphabet is Chi. Its value is 600. The symbol for Chi is similar to a Latin “X.” However, the sound it makes is distinct. The historic pronunciation is a hard “C” like you would say in “cat” or “call.” Modern pronunciation is more guttural, combining the classic “C” with the English “H” sound.
As mentioned earlier, combining the Rho and Chi letters creates the symbol of Christ. The letter also has other metaphysical applications. For example, Plato believed the crossing symbol represented the two bands that form the world’s soul.
Psi – Ψ ψ
Psi has a numerical value of 700 and is the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet. The pronunciation for Psi is like the “ps” sound in words such as “relapse.” It’s unique, and the shape of the letter is very memorable. It looks like the three-pronged trident of Poseidon.
Psi represents wave functions, the Fibonacci constant, the Super Golden Ratio, and other complex concepts for math and science.
Omega – Ω ω
Finally, we come to Omega. Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet and holds a numerical value of 800. Like other Greek letters, Omega is frequently used in classification systems. In this case, Omega typically belongs to the final entry into a group.
It’s also important in science, math, and other disciplines. For astronomy, Omega represents a star’s brightness. Meanwhile, it indicates tracking errors, the root of unity, and self-application combinators in math.
The historical pronunciation of Omega is similar to the “aw” sound in Western alphabets. For example, Omega would be used in words like “saw” or “paw.” Modern pronunciation is a little different, standing closer to a short “O” sound like “block” or “soft.”
How to Write Greek God Names in Greek Alphabet
|English Name||Greek Name|
Zeus = Ζεύς
The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters. Seven of the 24 letters are vowels.
Link/cite this page
If you use any of the content on this page in your own work, please use the code below to cite this page as the source of the content.
Link will appear as Greek Alphabet Letters & Symbols: https://greekgodsandgoddesses.net - Greek Gods & Goddesses, January 21, 2022