Our Everyday Greek: Survival Guide for Greece Travelers: Read the Signs

The National Herald

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Christos Bonis)

When travelling in Greece, it is important to be able to read the signs or to ask somebody on your road about the place you would like to reach pronouncing it correct. Herewith we provide a complete pronunciation guide for Greece travelers. This first part refers to Greek vowels.


It is true that the Greek vocabulary is not easy to understand. Nevertheless, the pronunciation of Greek words is very easy for two reasons. First of all, each single letter one reads in a word is pronounced. We don’t omit the pronunciation of any letters in the words. Then, each letter possesses only one sound. In English the pronunciation of the letter o or a varies depending on the word to which it belongs, the letter that follows etc. In Greek the sound of the vowels is one, clear and open. It remains the same in all words and it doesn’t change.

Τhe vowels of the Greek Alphabet are Aα, Εε, Οο, Ιι, Ηη, Υυ, Ωω. The first is the capital and the second the small letter. The Greek alphabet has three different letters, Ιι, Ηη, Υυ, which are all pronounced the same: the sound is like the i in the word idiom. The letters Oo andΩω are also pronounced the same: the sound is like the o in the word organism, but the first one (Οο) is shorter and the second (Ωω) is longer. Why is that? In Ancient Greek, the vowels had a value. Short vowels are the Οο and Εε, while long vowels are always the Ηη and Ωω. In ancient Greek the long vowels took almost twice as long to pronounce as the short vowels. Αα, Ιι , Υυ were sometimes long and sometimes short depending on the letters that followed them. In Modern Greek we have inherited the writing and less the long values in the pronunciation.


Certain pairs of vowels are pronounced together to produce one continuous sound, different than the one that each vowel alone can produce. These are called diphthongs. The diphthongs ΕΙ,ει, ΟΙ,οι, and ΥΙ,υι are all pronounced as the Greek letter ι = i (idiom). ΑΙ,αι is pronounced as the letter ε = e (-e-nergy). ΟΥ,ου is pronounced like oo (b-oo-t). In some cases ΑΥ,αυ is pronounced as af (-af-ter) and in other like av (c-ov-er). The same goes for the diphthong ΕΥ,ευ. Sometimes it is pronounced as eph (-eph-emeral) and sometimes as ev (-Ev-elyn).

Letters            Pronunciation

Α,α      a like in the word -a-lphabet

Ο,ο      o like in the word c-o-re

Ω,ο      o like in the word c-o-re

Ι,ι         i l like in the word -i-diom

Η,η      i l like in the word -i-diom

Υ,υ      i l like in the word -i-diom

Ε,ε       e like in the word -e-nergy

Diphthongs   Pronunciation

ΕΙ,ει     i like in the word -i-idiom

ΟΥ,ου oo like in the word b-oo-t

ΑΙ,αι    e like in the word -e-nergy

ΑΥ, αυ af like in the word -af-ter

ΑΥ,αυ av like in the word c-ov-er

ΕΥ,ευ  like in the word -eph-emeroptera

ΕΥ,ευ like in the word -Ev-angelists


Unlike written English, written Greek marks, accents (tonos, pl. tonous) wherever they occur. The accented syllable is indicated by the tonos on the vowel (΄). When we say a word, the accent is shown by an increased stress on the accented syllable.  No matter how many syllables a word may have, the accent can appear only over one of the last three syllables. The one-syllable words do not get a tonos.