Lesson 1


Lesson 2


Lesson 3


Lesson 4


Lesson 5


Lesson 6


Lesson 7


Lesson 8


Lesson 9


New Testament Greek
Course I
E-mail your  
FONT INFO: If you see boxes or question marks where you should see Greek text on this page, download and install the Gentium font.  
  Lesson 1 - Historical Background, Alphabet, Breathing Marks, Diphthongs, Syllables, Accent, Punctuation, Word Pronunciation  
  Historical Background  
8th century B.C. Homer Classical Greek
7th century B.C.  
6th century B.C  
5th century B.C. Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus,
Aristophanes, Thucydides, Socrates
 400   Plato
4th century B.C. Xenophon

Aristotle, Alexander the Great

3rd century B.C. Polybius  
2nd century B.C. Diodorus
1st century B.C.    
 Jesus'  Birth      
1st century A.D. Plutarch New Testament
2nd century A.D. Lucian, Galen  
3rd century A.D.    
4th century A.D.    

Alexander's world conquest resulted in a Hellenization of the ancient world. But as Greek culture and language changed the world, the world changed Greek language. Not only did the various dialects meld, but the resulting language that became common to diverse nationalities underwent various changes, some typical of what happens to language over time, and some the result of the internationalization of the language. Hellenistic Greek is this Greek that was common (κοινή = koine) to the various peoples of the ancient world from about 300 B.C. to about A.D. 300.1

Prior to the twentieth century, scholars were well aware of Hellenistic Greek as exemplified in literary writing. However, what they saw in New Testament manuscripts (and in the Septuagint) was different and unparalleled. Some supposed that the unique nature of Biblical Greek was due to particular influence from Hebrew and Aramaic. Others speculated that the Biblical Greek must have been a special form of the language used by the Holy Spirit.

Early in the twentieth century, Adolf Deismann's pioneering work demonstrated that Biblical Greek was actually not unique at all. It was that form of Hellenistic Greek spoken every day by the masses, as opposed to the more formal style used in literary works by the upper classes.2 This became clear when documents not meant as literature for posterity came to light, such things as legal documents, receipts, letters, diaries, etc. In these was found evidence of the vernacular that we see in the New Testament.

We can use the terms Hellenistic Greek and Koine interchangeably to refer to that language which was common to men throughout the world. Subcategories are literary Koine and non-literary Koine. The New Testament belongs in the latter category, although there is a range of styles even within the New Testament, some parts exhibiting a more literary style than others.

1The terminus a quo is the conquest of Alexander (d. 323 B.C.). The terminus ad quem is Constantine's removal from Rome to Byzantium (A.D. 326). Some would extend Hellenistic Greek forward to about A.D. 500.

2 However, debate continues concerning the degree to which the New Testament is characterized by Semitisms, Greek expressions directly derived from expressions in the Semitic languages of Hebrew and Aramaic.



Orthography and Pronunciation

Pages 22-23 in your text book (pages 1-3 in the 1986 edition) will introduce the alphabet and explain how the sound of each letter is pronounced. It will also explain the transliteration of each letter, that is, what English letter corresponds to each Greek letter. (The text book referenced is New Testament Greek, A Beginning and Intermediate Grammar by James Allen Hewett, revised and expanded by C. Michael Robbins & Steven R. Johnson, published by Hendrickson Publishers, 2009. Through the remainder of 2009, when pages in the text book are referenced, corresponding pages in the 1986 edition will also be given. For more information, see the New Text Book page.)

There are three letters that may especially confuse you, η, ν, and ρ.

  • Note well that η does not correspond to n
  • Rather, ν corresponds to n.
  • Also note that ρ is not a p

When writing the letters, you don't need to perfectly emulate the printed font in the text book. Compare the machine produced characters with the hand written characters below:


Click here for Orthography tips.

Memorize the Alphabet

You need to memorize the alphabet, saying it aloud, "alpha, beta, gamma..." (How else can you find a word in a lexicon?) See your text book for the names of the letters.

Relating the Greek alphabet to the English alphabet will make memorization easier for you. Notice the following:

  • α through ε corresponds to a through e, except for the third letter, γ
  • The next three letters, ζ η θ, can be remembered if you suppose Zeta (Zay-ta) is a woman's name and she "ate a theta". What a theta might taste like, I don't know, but remember that Zeta ate a theta and you won't have any trouble getting through this part of the alphabet.
  • ι through υ corresponds to i through u with these exceptions:
    • Nothing corresponds to j.
    • ξ for x is squeezed in between ν and ο.
    • Nothing corresponds to q.
  • The order of the next three letters, φ χ ψ, can be remembered by thinking of a town in New York: Poughkeepsie. Yes, it's a stretch, but try it. It will work. Just don't go to New York asking for directions to Phichipsi.
  • And of course, Jesus is "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last," so you know the last letter is ω, omega.



short   long
α as in father   α as in father
ε as in bed   η as in they
ι as in pit   ι as in machine
ο as in top   ω as in tote
υ as in deja vu   υ as in deja vu


  Breathing Marks  

Every word that begins with a vowel will have a breathing mark above the initial vowel (or vowel sound). For lower case letters, the breathing mark is placed just above the vowel. For upper case letters, the breathing mark is placed just before the initial vowel.

If the breathing mark is concave to the right (like a reverse comma), as in


 the mark is called a "rough" breathing mark and indicates an initial "h" sound is to be pronounced.

ἡμέρα is pronounced, "hay-ME-ra". Notice the "h" sound.

If the breathing mark is concave to the left (like a comma), as in


the mark is called a "smooth" breathing mark and indicates that there is no initial "h" sound.

ἀλήθεια is pronounced, "a-LAY-thay-a". Notice the absence of an "h" sound.

Every word beginning with the letter ρ (rho) will have a rough breathing mark.


Vowels are categorized as either "close" or "open". Pronounce the sound of "a" as in father, and make note that your throat is wide open. Then pronounce the sound of the letter "i" as in pit, and make note that your throat is constricted. Pronounce the sound of the letter "u" in deja vu and although your lips are differently formed, notice that your throat again is constricted.

The open vowels are α, ε, η, ο, ω

The close vowels are ι, υ

A diphthong is a combination of two vowels, but not every pair of vowels is a diphthong. The first vowel of a Greek diphthong will be an open vowel, and the second vowel will always be a close vowel. Therefore, οι is a diphthong, but ιο is not a diphthong.

The following are diphthongs: αι, ει, οι, αυ, ευ, ηυ, ου

In addition to these, there are three "improper dipthongs," diphthongs wherein the second vowel, ι, is written as a subscript to the first letter. These are ᾳ, ῃ, ῳ (named respectively, "alpha iota subscript," "eta iota subscript," "omega iota subscript")

Finally, there is one exception to the rule that the first vowel must be an open vowel. Even though υ is a close vowel, υι is a diphthong.

Although a diphthong is a combination of two sounds with one sliding into the other, for purposes of syllabification, a diphthong is considered to be one vowel sound. contrast the oi in Illinois with the io in Ohio. The i and o in Ohio are clearly two distinct sounds. But the oi in Illinois is a diphthong and makes one vowel sound. The sounds made by Greek diphthongs are these

αι is pronounced ai as in Thailand
ει is pronounced ei as in eight1
οι is pronounced oi as in Illinois
αυ is pronounced ow as in cow
ευ is pronounced eu as in feud2
ηυ is pronounced the same as eu
ου is pronounced ou as in soup
υι is pronounced uee as in queen

"Improper Diphthongs"
is pronounced the same as α
is pronounced the same as η
is pronounced the same as ω

1 In the volume on Accidence & Word-Formation by J. H. Moulton and W. F. Howard, (Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. 2) it is said that in Hellenistic times, ει was pronounced i as in machine. (p. 118) There are a number of instances where the pronunciation typically taught in schools today is known to be different than the pronunciation that existed in Hellenistic times. And in fact, there is some difference of opinion as to which of various pronunciation schemes makes the most sense for modern students. In recent years, some have advocated using Modern Greek pronunciation in New Testament Greek courses. What is important is that the student learn to use a given pronunciation scheme consistently so as to better facilitate committing the vocabulary to memory.
2 Edward Hobbs sent me the following explanation of ευ as an improvement over the illustrative word "feud" :

Most textbooks suggest something like "e as in 'get,' followed by -oo- as in 'food'" or the like.  Goetchius suggests pronouncing my name (Edward) dropping the "d" between E and d, or saying "house" as they do in some parts of Virginia! [my place of residence, JS]  In any case, it is "eh" followed quickly by "oo".

Diphthongs are always long, except final αι and final οι. For example:

οι in ἄνθρωποι is final and is short.
οι in ἀνθρώποις is not final (it is followed by ς) and is long.

When a word begins with a diphthong, the breathing mark goes over second letter. For example




Each syllable must have one and only one vowel sound. A diphthong is considered one vowel sound. In general, syllable divisions should be made immediately following a vowel or diphthong.

λυομεν λυ-ο-μεν υο is not a diphthong, and therefore the two vowels belong to different syllables.
γινωσκω γι-νω-σκω σκ is not split. The syllables are divided after the vowel preceding σκ.
δαιμονιον δαι-μο-νι-ον αι is a diphthong, and therefore is not divided. ιο is not a diphthong, and therefore the two vowels are divided.

Exceptions arise when there are two consecutive consonants or even three consecutive consonants. In these cases, if the combination of consonants is not one that can appear at the beginning of a word, they are usually divided.

λαμϐανω λαμ-ϐα-νω μ goes with the preceding vowel because μϐ cannot begin a word or a syllable.
νθρωπος ν-θρω-πος ν goes with the preceding vowel because νθρ cannot begin a word or a syllable.
χθρος χ-θρος χ goes with the preceding vowel because χθρ cannot begin a word.or a syllable.

Of course, at this point, you don't know what combinations of consonants can appear at the beginning of a word. You could memorize a list of such combinations, but the value of such is not worth the effort. If you only know that there is one vowel sound per syllable, you can identify the number of syllables and pronounce the word. In time, you will develop a feel for how to allocate consonants to syllables.


The importance of learning accent rules

  • fixing the sound in memory is an aid to learning
  • accent mark helps indentify the form in some cases


  • ultima, penult, antepenult
  • acute, grave, circumflex


Originally, words were not written with accent marks. That does not mean they were not fixed. In fact, the various accents were distinct musical pitches. The following anecdote is related on p. 52 in A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. II, "Accidence and Word-Formation," by J. H. Moulton and W. F. Howard:

We recall the well-known story of the actor Hegelochus, who in declaiming a line of Euripides ending with γαλήν' ὁρῶ = ("I see a calm") pronounced a circumflex instead of an acute, and sent the audience into roars of laughter: γαλῆν ὁρῶ = "I see a weasel."

As the Greek language became a world language, spreading to lands where it was not indigenous, the subtleties of pitch were being lost. In a retrenching effort, Greek grammarians encouraged the writing of the accent mark. But the effort succeeded only in retaining a stress on the accented syllable. Distinctions of pitch between the different accents were lost.

General Rules

1. Only the last three syllables of a word may be accented.
2. An acute accent may stand on any of the last 3 syllables.
  A circumflex may stand only on the last 2 syllables.
  A grave may stand only on the last syllable.
3. The antepenult may be accented only if the ultima is short.
4. A circumflex may stand only on a long syllable.  
5. An accented penult will have a circumflex if and only if the penult is long and the ultima is short.
6. An acute on the ultima is changed to a grave when the word is followed immediately by another word without intervening punctuation mark.  
  • Special Rule for Verbs

For verbs, the accent is recessive. That is, within the constraints of the general rules, the accent will stand on the syllable closest to the beginning of the word.

For example, in the case of ἀκολουθήσατε, rule #1 prevents the accent from being placed on any of the first three syllables, but because the ultima is short, the accent can come all the way back to the antepenult. Because this is a verb, the accent must come all the way back to the antepenult.

Practice accenting verbs.

  • Skip Special Noun and Adjective Rules for Now!

A period is represented in Greek by a period.

A question mark is represented in Greek by a semicolon.

A colon or a semicolon is represented in Greek by a dot above the line.

  Word Pronunciation  

To pronounce a word,

  • First, count the number of vowels
  • Then, where there are two or more vowels in succession, identify pairs of vowels that form diphthongs
  • Next, counting each diphthong as one vowel sound, and every other vowel as a vowel sound, count the total number of vowel sounds. This is the number of syllables in the word.
  • Pronounce the syllables, syllable by syllable
  • Identify the syllable that has an accent mark indicating that syllable should be stressed.
  • Pronounce the whole word, stressing the accented syllable.

Example: θεραπεύω

Count the vowels 5 vowels, ε, α, ε, υ, ω
Identify diphthongs 1 diphthong, ευ
Count the vowel sounds 4 vowel sounds, ε, α, ευ, ω, and therefore, 4 syllables
Pronounce each syllable
Identify the accented syllable πεύ
Pronounce the whole word, stressing the accented syllable


   Assignment 1