What Are the Letters of the Greek Alphabet?

Ancient Greek inscription in Celcus Library
GM Stock Films / Getty Images

The Greek alphabet was developed about 1000 BCE, based on the Phoenician's North Semitic Alphabet. It contains 24 letters including seven vowels, and all of its letters are capitals. While it looks different, it is actually the forebear of all European alphabets.

History of the Greek Alphabet

The Greek alphabet went through several changes. Before the fifth century BCE, there were two similar Greek alphabets, the Ionic and Chalcidian. The Chalcidian alphabet was very possibly the forerunner of the Etruscan alphabet and, later, the Latin alphabet. It is the Latin alphabet that forms the basis of most European alphabets. Meanwhile, Athens adopted the Ionic alphabet; as a result, it is still used in modern Greece.

While the original Greek alphabet was written in all capitals, three different scripts were created to make it easier to write quickly. These including uncial, a system for connecting capital letters, as well as the more familiar cursive and minuscule. Minuscule is the basis for modern Greek handwriting.

Why You Should Know the Greek Alphabet

  • Even if you never plan to learn Greek, there are good reasons to familiarize yourself with the alphabet. Mathematics and Science use Greek letters like PI (π) to complement the numeric symbols. That same SIGMA in its capital form can stand for "sum," while the letter DELTA can mean "change."
  • Greek letters are used to designate fraternities, sororities, and philanthropic organizations.
  • Some books in English are numbered using the letters of the Greek alphabet. Sometimes, both lower case and capitals are employed for simplification. Thus, you may find that the books of the "Iliad" are written Α to Ω and those of "The Odyssey", α to ω.

Get to Know the Greek Alphabet

Upper Case Lower Case Letter Name
Α α alpha
Β β beta
Γ γ gamma
Δ δ delta
Ε ε epsilon
Ζ ζ zeta
Η η eta
Θ θ theta
Ι ι iota
Κ κ kappa
Λ λ lamda
Μ μ mu
Ν ν nu
Ξ ξ xi
Ο ο omicron
Π π pi
Ρ ρ rho
Σ σ,ς sigma
Τ τ tau
Υ υ upsilon
Φ φ phi
Χ χ chi
Ψ ψ psi
Ω ω omega
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Gill, N.S. "What Are the Letters of the Greek Alphabet?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/letters-of-greek-alphabet-118638. Gill, N.S. (2020, August 29). What Are the Letters of the Greek Alphabet? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/letters-of-greek-alphabet-118638 Gill, N.S. "What Are the Letters of the Greek Alphabet?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/letters-of-greek-alphabet-118638 (accessed January 23, 2021).