Our Everyday Greek: Spelling Tips for the Greek e’s: ΑΙ,αι, and Ε,ε

October 23, 2018
Dimitra Pontoporou

The letter Ε, ε and the diphthong ΑΙ, αι are both pronounced as the letter ε = e (-e-nergy). Are there any slight differences in their pronunciation? Are there any grammatical rules for the use of and in the words?

Though the diphthong ΑΙ, αι is composed of two vowels, Α, α and Ι, ι these letters haven’t kept their original sound, but they are pronounced as one, e. Ancient Greeks had the short Ε, εand the long diphthong ΑΙ, αι. That means that while speaking, the duration of the sound e in the long diphthong ΑΙ, αι was almost the double compared to the short Ε, ε. The only exception was, when ΑΙ, αι was found in the ending syllable of the words. Then it was also a short e. For example, in ancient Greek the ending of the feminine grammatical gender words in the plural was αι, as well as the feminine gender article in the plural: αιωραίαι (E oREe= the beautiful), αιαρχαίαι (E arHEe= the ancient), αινέαι (E Nee= the young). In modern Greek we say instead: οιωραίες (EE oREes), οιαρχαίες (EE arHEes), οινέες (EE NEes).In modern Greek we haven’t kept these values and we keep the same duration for both Ε, ε and ΑΙ, αι.

Ε, ε is more common in the Greek words than ΑΙ, αι. Therefore, if you are puzzled about the spelling of a word, just write it with Ε, ε, if the e is inside the word and not in the ending syllable. Nevertheless, there are a few cases, regarding the ending syllable of the verbs, that you need to take into consideration.

The ending syllable of the first (I), the second (you) and the third (he/she/it) person in the singular number of the verbs’ passive voice, as well as the ending syllable of the third person plural (they) are always written with αι.(All Greek verbs ending in -μαι are considered as passive voice verbs.)

Greek phrase Pronunciation Meaning
Εγώπλέν-ομαι eYOPLEnome I wash myself
Εσύπλέν-εσαι eSEEPLEnese You wash yourself
ΗΜαρίαπλέν-εται EE maREEaPLEnete Maria washes herself
Ταπαιδιάπλέν-ονται TA pediAPLEnonte The kids wash themselves
Εγώκοιμ-άμαι eYOkiMAme I am sleeping
Εσύκοιμ-άσαι eSEEkiMAse You are sleeping
ΟΠέτροςκοιμ-άται O PEtroskiMAte Petros is sleeping
Ταπαιδιάκοιμ-ούνται TA pediAkiMOOnte The kids are sleeping

In the first- and second-person plural (we, you), both in the active and passive voice the ending syllable is always written with ε.
Greek phrase Pronunciation Meaning
Εμείςπλεν-όμαστε eMEESpleNOmaste We wash ourselves
Εσείςπλεν-όσαστε eSEESpleNOsaste You wash yourselves
Εμείςκοιμ-όμαστε eMEESkiMOmaste We are sleeping
Εσείςκοιμ-όσαστε eSEESkiMOsaste You are sleeping
Εμείςκάν-ουμε eMEESKAnoome We are doing
Εσείςκάν-ετε eSEESKAnete You are doing
Εμείςθέλ-ουμε eMEESTHEloome We want
Εσείςθέλ-ετε eSEESTHElete You want
Εμείςτρώ-με eMEESTROme We eat
Εσείςτρώ-τε eSEESTROte You eat

In the Past tenses, both in Simple Past and in Past Continuous, in the active and passive voices, Greek verbs usually begin with an ε in front of the first syllable.
Present Tense
Τρέχω (TREho= I run), γράφω (YRAfo= I write)
Past Continuous Tense
Έ-τρεχα (Etreha = I was running), έ-γραφα (Egrafa= I was writing)
Simple Past Tense
Έ-τρεξα (Etrexa= I ran), έ-γραψα (Egrapsa= I wrote)

i (ill), ee (beer), e (ever), o (organ), oo (boot), y (yes), h (helium), th (theory), d (the). The capitalized syllables are accented.

ΗαρχαίαΣπάρτη (EE arHEaSPArti) (= Ancient Sparta).


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