Greek Alphabet: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mel Green

Mel has taught elementary, special education and high school english. She has a master's degree in education.

The Greek alphabet is over 3,000 years old and is still used today! In this lesson, we will learn about the letters that make up the Greek alphabet, how they are pronounced and how they affect the English language.

What Is the Greek Alphabet?

Can you imagine a world where everyone writes in emojis, using pictures to communicate rather than words? Well, this is not as strange as it sounds. Thousands of years ago, humans wrote without any letters--instead, they drew pictures to create messages. This meant more complex messages would have taken a long time to write by hand. Over time, these pictures became symbols.

The ancient Greeks cut down thousands of symbols into letters, and this was the start of the Greek alphabet. It was developed around 1,000 B.C., which makes it more than 3,000 years old. At this time, the Greeks also decided they needed to add vowels--the equivalent of a, e, i, o, u in our alphabet--and defined how each letter should be pronounced. After a bit of help from the Romans, the Greeks were left with the modern-day version of the Greek alphabet, which looks like this:


The image above shows the Greek alphabet with uppercase letters to the left and lowercase letters to the right. Originally, the Greek alphabet didn't have uppercase and lowercase letters. These were developed much later.

In both its classical and modern forms, the Greek alphabet has 24 letters, unlike the English alphabet which has 26.

Pronouncing the Greek Alphabet

Now that you have seen the letters, you may be confused about how to pronounce them. Look at the list below; the words in the parenthesis will help you to say the sounds of the Greek letters.

alpha (al-fah)

beta (bay-tah)

gamma (gam-ah)

delta (del-ta)

epsilon (ep-si-lon)

zeta (zay-tah)

eta (ay-tah)

theta (thay-tah)

iota (eye-o-tah)

kappa (cap-ah)

lamda (lamb-dah)

mu (mew)

nu (new)

xi (zai)

omicron (om-e-cron)

pi (pie)

rho (roe)

sigma (sig-mah)

tau (taw)

upsilon (oop-si-lon)

phi (fie)

chi (kie)

psi (sigh)

omega (o-may-gah)

Greek Alphabet in English language

It's estimated that around 30% of English words have been taken from some type of classical Greek word! Look at the word 'alphabet,' for example. It's made from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta.

With all the words we use from the Greek vocabulary, it shouldn't be surprising to know we also use their alphabet in some way, too. Many Greek letters are used in the International Phonetic Alphabet (the letters dictionaries used to tell readers how to pronounce a word). And in the United States, the Greek alphabet is relevant to students in college fraternities and sororities. Many of these organizations are named with combinations of Greek letters, which is why they're called 'Greek letter organizations.'

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