Greek Alphabet

Greek Alphabet

It is one of the first alphabets with vowel and consonant letters in the Greek language. It appeared between the 9th and 8th centuries BC. The modern version of this alphabet has 24 letters (7 of them are vowels, the rest are consonants).

Upper Case LetterLower Case LetterGreek Letter NameEnglish Equivalent
Σσ,ς *Sigmas

If we talk about the origin of the Greek alphabet, it is interesting that it is based on the Phoenician alphabet rather than the writing systems practiced in ancient Greece. Each of the letters that make up the Phoenician alphabet was called by the word that began with it. For example, “aleph” meant “bull,” and “bet” meant “house.” Similar examples can be given for other letters.

The Greek alphabet, which was formed on the basis of the Phoenician alphabet, served as the basis for the creation of several alphabets that later spread to the states of Europe and the Middle East. These also include the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. However, the influence of the Greek alphabet was not limited to this. Its letters, in parallel, were transformed into mathematical signs and designations of elementary particles.

At the beginning of the last century, an abbreviated version of the alphabet was used, in which some letters were missing. Let’s consider the letters of the Greek alphabet in more detail. They are interesting not only from the linguistic and historical points of view. Many modern sciences and branches of practical knowledge use letters of the Greek alphabet – from medicine to aircraft construction.

Greek letters alphabets

Α α (άλφα, alpha)

Alpha Greek Symbol

Although the pronunciation of this letter is identical to the Russian “a,” it is derived from the Phoenician “aleph,” which means “bull.” Even its shape resembles the head of a bull.

The use of this letter covers many areas. For example, in medicine, it is used to denote the alpha rhythm. Geometry is not lagging behind, where alpha stands for plane angles. Astronomy also uses this letter. Not without reason, it is the name of the brightest star in the constellation Centaurus. In physics, this letter is used to denote heat transfer coefficients and angular acceleration. It is also used for alpha particles. In short, the field of application of this letter is very wide.

Β ϐ (βῆτα, beta)

Beta Greek Symbol

The Greek “beta” is also of Phoenician origin. And in the Cyrillic alphabet, it comes from two letters at once, B and C. Most people have probably heard of beta particles and beta radiation. However, these are not the only phenomena for which this letter is used. In geometry, it is used after α to denote angles. Beta is also used to designate the second brightest luminary in a constellation. Its use in astronomy is quite broad.

There is also the concept of “beta” in programming. This term can be used to refer to any IT product under development.

Γ γ (γάμα, gamma)

Gamma Greek Symbol

This letter has a distinctive Phoenician origin. In the alphabet of Ancient Greece, it was used to denote a sound similar to the Russian “g.” The Cyrillic letter “g” is also derived from the Greek gamma. In physics, this letter is used to represent gamma radiation. It is also used to denote certain variables when referring to mathematical terms.

In astronomy, gamma refers to the third brightest luminary in a constellation.

Δ δ (δέλτα, delta)

Delta Greek Symbol

Phoenician and Ancient Greek delta served as the origin of the Cyrillic letter “D.” The original meaning of the Phoenician letter is “door.” It can also be interpreted as the entrance to a tent.

In physics, this letter is used to denote some variables. In mathematics, it is used in the term Dirac delta function. Delta is also used to denote deviation in engineering mechanics. It is also used in chemistry and astronomy. For example, astronomers use it to refer to the brightness of celestial luminaries when talking about the fourth star in a constellation.

These are not the only examples of the use of the letter delta in the theoretical and practical applications of many sciences and disciplines.

Ε ε (έψιλον, epsilon)

Epsilon Greek Symbol

Here, the Phoenician letter “he” is transformed into the sound “e.” Several related Cyrillic vowels are derived from it. It should be noted that the letters epsilon and ipsilon (Ε ε and ϒ υ) are sometimes confused. However, they are two completely different letters. Epsilon is used in many sciences and fields. These include physics, chemistry, math, astronomy, which have already been mentioned, and programming.

Usually, this letter is used in set theory, automata theory, tensor calculus, angular acceleration in physics, empty string in computer science, etc. In astronomy, ε is used to designate the 5th star in a constellation in terms of brightness.

Ζ ζ (ζῆτα, zeta)

Zeta Greek Symbol

The Phoenician letter from which the word zeta was derived was called “zen” or “zain.” Originally, a sound similar to “ZZ” was used to represent it. However, the modern Greek alphabet has been somewhat transformed, and now zeta is pronounced as a ringing “z.” The letter is actively used not only by mathematicians but also by specialists in hydraulics and geodesy.

In more detail, in mathematics, there is a concept of the Riemann zeta function. Specialists in the field of colloidal chemistry use this letter when they talk about zeta potential. In hydraulics, it is used when talking about the coefficient of resistance.

Η η (ήτα, eta)

Eta Greek Symbol

The Phoenician letter “hit” served as the basis for the letter “ita” in the Greek alphabet. The variety of fields in which this letter is used is astounding. These include quantum physics, thermodynamics, and even cosmetology.

In optics, the letter is used in the measurement of the optical medium. In thermodynamics, it is used to denote the efficiency of heat machines. Equally important is the use of the letter in particle physics, quantum field theory, astronomy, and a number of other sciences and disciplines.

Θ ϑ (phita, theta)

Theta Greek Symbol

Like all the previous letters, it is of Phoenician origin. It is based on the Phoenician letter theta. In medicine, this letter is used to refer to the theta rhythm. It is also widely used in electrodynamics.

Physicists use this letter to denote the Debye temperature. In geometry, it denotes the zenith angle if the coordinate system is spherical. In linear algebra, theta is used for one of the notations in null matrices. The concept of theta function is known to all experts in mathematics.

Ι ι (γιώτα, iota)

Iota Greek Symbol

This letter, derived from the Phoenician “iodus”, is known even to many who are not familiar with the Greek alphabet. The saying “do not change an iota” is mentioned in the Bible. It has also entered the culture of many countries, as this aphorism very succinctly conveys the meaning when one wants to state that there is no necessary change in a situation.

The Latin I and J are derived from this letter. In addition, a similar letter was present in the Aramaic alphabet. By the way, this letter is mentioned in the above quote from the Bible for a reason. It was indeed the smallest letter in the alphabet.

Κ κ (κάππα, κάπα, kappa)

Kappa Greek Symbol

It has its origins in the Phoenician “kaf.” And already from the Greek kappa comes the Cyrillic and Latin K. By the way, despite the similarity, the letters are spelled differently. Kappa stands for symbols in chemistry, physics, and even differential geometry.

In chemistry, kappa denotes the Debye parameter; in physics, it denotes the heat transfer coefficient. In differential geometry, it denotes the curvature of a curve. In short, the applications of this letter are manifold.

Λ λ (λάμδα, λάμβδα, lambda)

Lambda Greek Symbol

This letter comes from the Phoenician “lamed” or “lambda.” As in many other examples, the Greek alphabet influenced the Cyrillic alphabet and the origin of the letter “l.” The scope of application of this letter today is astounding. It is used to refer to bacteriophages in virology. It is also used in linear algebra and linguistics. From physics, lambda particles are known. In airplane design, this letter is used to denote wing extension, and in cartography, it is used to denote the longitude of a place.

From historical sources, we know that this letter was depicted on the shields used by the warriors of the army in Sparta. Thus, the use of this letter was relevant both in antiquity and in our time.

Μ μ (μῦ, mu)

Mu Greek Symbol

The Phoenician “mem” underlies the origin of the Greek mu, as well as the Cyrillic and Latin letters M. This letter is used in physics, thermodynamics, and mathematics, where it is used to denote quantities.

This letter is used in the theory of measures. It is also used in the theory of dynamical systems. These are examples from mathematics. In physics, the letter mu denotes the coefficient of dry friction, the primary particle muon, and many other quantities and phenomena. Thus, the application of this Greek letter is very versatile.

Ν ν (νῦ, nu)

Nu Greek Symbol

In the alphabet of the ancient Phoenicians, it sounded like “nuon.” In the Cyrillic alphabet, it is from this letter that the “n” is derived. The pronunciation in both the Greek alphabet and the Cyrillic alphabet is identical.

In physics and chemistry, this letter is used to denote the amount of matter. It also stands for the frequency of waves, some other repetitive processes, and the elementary particle neutrino. In fluid dynamics, nu is used to denote the index of kinematic viscosity.

Ξ ξ (ξι, xi)

Xi Greek Symbol

Based on the Phoenician “sameh” or “semk”. There is no analog of this letter in the modern Cyrillic alphabet. Only in the Church Slavonic script today has the letter survived, which corresponds to the sound “ks” in oral speech.

This letter denotes a random value, but this use is not exhaustive. It is also used in hydraulics and nuclear reactor theory.

Ο ο (όμικρον, omicron)

Omicron Greek Symbol

It is based on the Phoenician letter “ain.” This letter has no exact correspondence in Cyrillic; it partially coincides with the letters “U” and “O.” Its pronunciation is close to the Russian sound “o.”

In astronomy, omicron is widely used to designate this letter as a measure of the brightness of stars. Many people have probably heard the phrase “Omicron of Andromeda” or some other luminary.

This designation is also used in medicine. For example, in November 2021, WHO gave this name to a new strain of coronavirus.

Π π (πι, pi)

Pi Greek Symbol

Derived from the Phoenician “pe,” which served as a further formation of the Cyrillic and Latin letter P. The sound is pronounced “p.” This letter is used in many fields of knowledge. The most famous of these is the designation of a mathematical constant. Also, the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet is used to denote potential energy. In dimension analysis, there is the P-theorem.

One of the elementary particles in physics is called a “pion” (or p-meson). In macroeconomics, this letter denotes the rate of inflation, and in astronomy, it denotes the parallax effect.

Ρ ρ (ρω, rho)

Rho Greek Symbol

It is based on the Phoenician “rosh”. This letter is used in both exact and natural sciences. It is widely used in mathematics, chemistry, and physics. For example, this letter denotes the distance that objects in metric space are from each other. It also denotes a coefficient indicating the correlation between random variables.

In physics, it denotes the density of matter and the resistivity index.

Σ σ/ς (σίγμα, sigma)

Sigma Greek Symbol

Orally rendered with the “s” sound and derived from the Phoenician “shin.” The prototype of this letter is the letter C in Cyrillic and S in Latin. It is often used to denote variables in various sciences and industries. For example, sigma is used in electronics and quantum mechanics. It is also used in medicine, chemistry, algebra, and even mechanics.

For example, in math, sigma is used to represent sums. In physics, there are sigma-hyperons, which are a type of elementary particles. By the way, the use of Greek letters to denote elementary particles is quite common, as you can see from this and the examples above.

Τ τ (ταυ, tau)

Tau Greek Symbol

From the Phoenician “taw” in the Greek alphabet came the letter “tau,” which is rendered by the sound “t” in spoken language. There are similar letters in the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.

We see this letter quite often in mechanics, mathematics, and chemistry. But perhaps even more often, it is used in astronomy to designate luminaries in constellations. However, the use of the letter is not limited to this. It is even used to designate intervals between stations in the railroad industry.

In the New Greek version, this letter is called “taf”.

ϒυ (ύψιλον, upsilon)

Upsilon Greek Symbol

It is based on the Phoenician letter “vav.” In the Cyrillic alphabet, it is from this letter that “izhitsa” is derived. It also indirectly influenced the appearance of the letters U and Y. Russian speech does not have an exact analog of this letter. In some cases, this sound is pronounced as “i” or “u” (this happens often). But when there are vowels on both sides of this letter in oral speech, it becomes the “v” sound.

Φ φ (φι, phi)

Phi Greek Symbol

This is one of the few letters of the Greek alphabet whose origin is not Phoenician. In principle, it is unknown to this day. In spoken language, this sound is pronounced as “ph.”

The use of this letter in various fields is multifaceted. It is used to denote the golden ratio, a term used by mathematicians, architects, and art historians.

It is also used in electrical engineering, physics, and chemistry. For example, in physics, it is used to refer to magnetic flux, light flux, and radiation flux. Even in internal ballistics, this letter is used to denote the coefficient of fictivity.

Χ χ (χῖ, χι, chi)

Chi Greek Symbol

The ancient Phoenician alphabet will also not be mentioned here. And this is not strange since there was no such letter in Ancient Greece either. It was added to the New Greek alphabet. It can be pronounced “h” or “ch”.

Topology, chemistry, and physics use this letter for symbols used in these sciences.

Ψ ψ (ψι, psi)

Psi Greek Symbol

Here, we will also talk about a letter of the New Greek alphabet that did not exist in Ancient Greece. But, despite this, it can be found in many directions and sciences. First of all, it is worth mentioning Church Slavonic writing. Also, do not forget that the super golden section is denoted precisely through the letter “psi.”

This letter is also included in the names of such important sciences and directions as psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry. Derivatives of these terms also contain a similar beginning (psychodiagnosis, psychocorrection, etc.).

Ω ω (ὦμέγα, omega)

Omega Greek Symbol

This letter is based on the Phoenician “ein.” As for the Cyrillic prototypes, they are “omega” and “from”. The letter “omega” differs from “omicron” (short “o”) in that it conveys the long variant of this sound.

The letter that completes the alphabet is traditionally associated with an ending. Alpha and Omega are mentioned in the Bible, signifying a beginning and an end.

Geometry and physics use this letter for their symbols. In ballistics, it stands for the mass of a charge.

These are the letters of the modern Greek alphabet. Many of them are of ancient origin; others came later. But most of them are used to denote a wide variety of fields of knowledge.

Archaic letters

Archaic letters (Greek Alphabet)

(these letters were used to write numbers)

The following are examples of letters not used in the modern Greek alphabet. However, their historical significance is important, so they are worth considering.

Ϝ, ϝ (digamma or vav, δίγαμμα or ϝαῦ)

Digamma Greek Symbol

Like epsilon, it is derived from the Phoenician “vav.” Like other archaic letters, it is not part of the New Greek alphabet. From historical sources, we know that digamma existed as early as in the language of Homer. The sound itself was used for a long time in the Aeolian dialect. As for the name, digamma means “double gamma” and is directly related to how the letter looks visually. Although this letter does not exist in the modern Greek alphabet, mathematicians use it to refer to the function of digamma. Consequently, it has not disappeared without a trace or gotten lost in historical sources.

Ͱ, ͱ (heta, ἧτα)

Heta Greek Symbol

Geta, unlike digamma, remained part of the archaic culture and the ancient Greek alphabet. It is derived from the Phoenician “heta.” It is pronounced as a semi-open long consonant “x.”

Ϻ, ϻ (san, ϻάν or σαν)

San Greek Symbol

It is based on the Phoenician “tsadi”. Around the 4th century BC, this letter disappeared from the ancient Greek alphabet. The reason is quite simple and practical. It was supplanted by the letter “sigma,” phonetically similar in sound. Thus, there was no need to have two letters in the alphabet at once, which partially duplicated each other.

Ϙ, ϙ or Ϟ, ϟ (koppa, ϙόππα or κόππα)

Koppa Greek Symbol

Koppa is a letter derived from the Phoenician “kufr.” In oral speech, it conveyed an explosive muffled consonant sound. For a long time, it was used when writing down the number “90”. This is due to the peculiarities of the alphabetic numbering system used in Greece.

Another interesting fact is associated with the letter “koppa.” It was the symbol of the famous Greek city of Corinth. That is why this letter was used to write its name.

Ͳ, ͳ or Ϡ, ϡ (sampi, σαμπί)

Sampi Greek Symbol

This letter is also not used in the modern Greek alphabet. In the alphabetic number system, it is responsible for the number “900”. Its origin is based on the ancient letter “san.” Interestingly, the original name of this letter has not survived. The word “sampi” appeared later, so it is not known what the original name of the letter was.

Letters used in other languages

The influence of some languages on others at the stage of their formation is a common practice. This applies not only to individual languages but also to dialects. Below are two letters of the Greek alphabet that have been used in other languages.

Ϳ, ϳ (γιότ, yot)

Yot Greek Symbol

Yot is a letter that came from Greek into Albanian (specifically the Arnautic dialect). When linguists reconstruct those forms of Ancient Greek used centuries ago, they also use this letter.

Ϸ, ϸ (σω, sho)

Sho Greek Symbol

At one time, this letter understandably made its way into the Bactrian alphabet. Alexander the Great conquered the area, and the expansion of Greek culture into Bactrian culture began. It is believed that in oral speech, this letter conveyed the “sh” sound. It is important to note that its name is conventional. What was the original name of the letter, unfortunately, is unknown.

In summary, it should be noted that the Greek alphabet is interesting not only for its history and modernity. It can also be studied from the point of view of its influence on other alphabets used earlier and at the present historical stage.