Romanization of Greek

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Romanization of Greek is the transliteration (letter-mapping) or transcription (sound-mapping) of text from the Greek alphabet into the Latin alphabet. The conventions for writing and romanizing Ancient Greek and Modern Greek differ markedly, which can create confusion. The sound of the English letter B (/b/) was β in ancient Greek but is now written as the digraph μπ, while the modern β sounds like the English V (/v/) instead. The Greek name Ἰωάννης became Johannes in Latin and then John in English but in Greek itself has instead become Γιάννης; this might be written as Yannis, Yanni, Jani, Ioannis, Yiannis, or Giannis, but not Giannes or Giannēs as it would have been in ancient Greek. The masculine Greek word Ἅγιος or Άγιος might variously appear as Hagiοs, Agios, Aghios, or Ayios, or simply be translated as "Holy" or "Saint" in English forms of Greek placenames.[1]

Traditional English renderings of Greek names originated from Roman systems established in antiquity. The Roman alphabet itself was a form of the Cumaean alphabet derived from the Euboean script that valued χ as /ks/ and Η as /h/ and used variant forms of Λ and Σ that became L and S.[2] When this script was used to write the classical Greek alphabet, ⟨κ⟩ was replaced with ⟨c⟩, ⟨αι⟩ and ⟨οι⟩ became ⟨æ⟩ and ⟨œ⟩, and ⟨ει⟩ and ⟨ου⟩ were simplified to ⟨i⟩ and ⟨u⟩. Sounds with rough breathing like ⟨θ⟩, ⟨φ⟩, initial-⟨ρ⟩, and ⟨χ⟩ simply wrote out the sound: ⟨th⟩, ⟨ph⟩, ⟨rh⟩, and ⟨ch⟩. Because English orthography has changed so much from the original Greek, modern scholarly transliteration now usually renders ⟨κ⟩ as ⟨k⟩ and the diphthongs ⟨αι, οι, ει, ου⟩ as ⟨ai, oi, ei, ou⟩.[3] Modern scholars also increasingly render ⟨χ⟩ as ⟨kh⟩.

The sounds of Modern Greek have diverged both from those of Ancient Greek and their descendant letters in English and other languages. There are now two major international standards, one established by the ISO[4] and another by the United Nations' Group of Experts on Geographical Names.[5] A third major format was that adopted by the United States' Board on Geographic Names (BGN) and the United Kingdom's Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use (PCGN) in 1962,[6] but this was superseded in 1996 by a format essentially identical to the present United Nations' system. A fourth format is that adopted by the American Library Association and the United States' Library of Congress.[3]

"Greeklish" has also spread within Greece itself, owing to the rapid spread of digital telephony from cultures using the Latin alphabet. Since Greek typefaces and fonts are not always supported or robust, Greek email and chatting has adopted a variety of formats for rendering Greek and Greek shorthand using Latin letters. Examples include "8elo" and "thelw" for θέλω, "3ava" for ξανά, and "yuxi" for ψυχή.


The following tables list several transliteration schemes from the Greek alphabet to modern English. For the romanization of Greek into other languages, see the corresponding articles in our sister wikis, such as "Romanisation du grec" on the French Wikipedia. Note, however, that the ISO and UN formats intend themselves as translingual and may be applied in any language using the Latin alphabet.


Greek Ancient Modern Greeklish
Classical ALA-LC[3] Beta
(former)[6] [note 1]
Iconic Spel-
Α α a A a a
Β β b B v b v b
Γ γ g  g / n [note 2]  G g  g / y [note 3]  g y g g / gh g
Δ δ d D d  dh / d [note 4]  d d
Ε ε e E e e
Ζ ζ z Z z z
Η η e ē H ī i h i e h
Θ θ th Q th 8 / 9 th u
Ι ι i I i i
Κ κ c k K k k k / c k
Λ λ l L l l
Μ μ m M m m
Ν ν n N n N v n
Ξ ξ x C x 3 ks / x j
Ο ο o O o o
Π π p P p p
Ρ ρ r R r r
Σ σ ς s S s s [note 5] s s / 6 s s / ss s
Τ τ t T t t
Υ υ y y / u [note 6] U y i y y / u i y / u / i y
Φ φ ph F f f f / ph f
Χ χ ch [note 7] X ch kh ch x h ch x
Ψ ψ ps Y ps y ps c
Ω ω o ō W ō o w o v
  1. ^ This 1962 standard is obsolete and was officially superseded in 1996 by a format identical to the UN system presented here.
  2. ^ Before γ, ξ, χ. Before κ in medial positions.
  3. ^ Before αι, ε, ει, η, ι, οι, υ, υι.
  4. ^ Between ν and ρ.
  5. ^ Sometimes doubled between vowels (ex. Larissa).
  6. ^ In the diphthongs αυ, ευ, ηυ, ου, υι, ωυ.
  7. ^ Informal modern transliterations sometimes romanize χ as "kh".

Letter clusters[edit]

Note that a diaeresis diacritical mark indicates that the letters are not a diphthong and that the vowels should be transliterated separately according to the table above.

Clusters [note 1]
Greek Ancient Modern Greeklish
(former)[6] [note 2]
αι ae ai AI ai e ai ai / e
αυ au AU au av av,[note 3] af[note 4] ay, au, af, av
γγ ng GG gg ng gg / gk / ng / nk
γξ nx GC gx nx gks / gx / nks / nx
γκ nc nk GK gk g,[note 5] ng[note 6] gk g, gk / nk
γχ nch nkh GX gch nkh nch gx / gch / nx / nch
ει i / e ei EI ei i ei ei / i
ευ eu EU eu ev ev,[note 3] ef[note 4] ey, eu, ef, ev
ηυ eu ēu HU īy iv iv[note 3] / if[note 4] hy / hu / if / iv
μπ mp MP mp b[note 5] / mb[note 6] b,[note 5] mp[note 6] b, mp / mb
ντ nt NT nt d,[note 5] nd[note 6] nt d, nt / nd
οι oe oi OI oi i oi oi / i
ου u / o ou OU ou u ou ou / u
υι ui / yi ui UI yi i yi yi / gi / i
  1. ^ except when there is a diaeresis¨ ) on the second vowel
  2. ^ This 1962 standard is obsolete and was officially superseded in 1996 by a format identical to the UN system presented here.
  3. ^ a b c before β, γ, δ, ζ, λ, μ, ν, ρ and vowels.
  4. ^ a b c before θ, κ, ξ, π, σ, τ, φ, χ, ψ and at the end of a word.
  5. ^ a b c d at the beginning of a word.
  6. ^ a b c d in the middle of a word.

Diacritical marks[edit]

Main article: Greek diacritics

The traditional polytonic orthography of Greek uses several distinct diacritical marks to render what was originally the pitch accent of Ancient Greek and the presence or absence of word-initial /h/. In 1982, monotonic orthography was officially introduced for modern Greek. The only diacritics that remain are the acute accent (indicating stress) and the diaeresis (indicating that two consecutive vowels should not be combined).

Diacritical marks
Greek Ancient Modern Name
Classical ALA-LC [3] Beta code
[note 1]
(former)[6] [note 2]
 ´  ´ / ´ [note 3] accent
acute accent
  ̀  \ N/A grave accent
 ῾  h [note 4] ( N/A rough breathing
 ᾿  ) N/A       smooth breathing      
 ˘  ' N/A breve
= N/A circumflex
 ¨  [note 5] + [note 5] ¨ [note 5] diaeresis
 ͺ  | N/A iota subscript
 ¯  & N/A macron
  1. ^ These marks are placed after the letter so that, e.g., Ἐν is written E)N and τῷ is written TW=|.
  2. ^ This 1962 standard is obsolete and was officially superseded in 1996 by a format identical to the UN system presented here.
  3. ^ Transliterations of the vowel combinations αύ, εύ, ηύ in modern Greek place the accent over the other vowel while the υ becomes a consonant v or f. Although a part of most formal systems, the accent mark is often omitted in practice, particularly in modern Greek.
  4. ^ In the ALA-LC system, the h is supplied even where the rough breathing is not marked in ancient and medieval Greek (for example, initial ρ was always considered to possess rough breathing) but not in Greek after 1453.
    • On a vowel: h before the vowel.
    • On a diphthong: h before the first vowel.
    • On ρ: h after the r.
  5. ^ a b c The diaeresis mark indicates that adjacent vowels should be taken separately and not as a single diphthong.

Uncommon letters[edit]

There are many archaic forms and local variants of the Greek alphabet, most notably beta which could appear as round Β or pointed Greek Beta 16.svg throughout Greece but also appears as Greek Beta 12.svg (at Gortyn), Greek Beta 01.svg and Greek Beta 10.svg (Thera), Greek Beta 03.svg (Argos), Greek Beta 05.svg (Melos), Greek Beta Corinth 1.svg (Corinth), Greek Beta Byzantium 1.svg (Megara, Byzantium), Greek Gamma C-shaped.svg (Cyclades).[7] For the most part, these are just silently emended to their standard forms and transliterated accordingly. Others, such as heta (Ͱ & ͱ) usually take their nearest English equivalent (in this case, h) but are too uncommon to be listed in formal transliteration schemes.

Uncommon Greek letters which have been given formal transliterations include:

Uncommon letters
Greek Ancient Name
ALA-LC [3] Beta code
Ϝ ϝ
Ͷ ͷ
w V digamma
Ϙ ϙ #3 qoppa
Ϡ ϡ
Ͳ ͳ
N/A #5 sampi
Ϻ ϻ N/A #711 san
Ϲ ϲ N/A S
S3 [note 1]
lunate sigma
  1. ^ Depreciated.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dubin, Marc. Rough Guide to the Dodecanese & East Aegean Islands, p. vi.
  2. ^ Jeffery, Lilian H. The local scripts of archaic Greece, p. 79. Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1961.
  3. ^ a b c d e f The Library of Congress. ALA-LC Romanization Tables: "Greek". 2010.
  4. ^ International Organization for Standardization. "ISO 843:1997 (Conversion of Greek characters into Latin characters)". 2010.
  5. ^ UNGEGN Working Group on Romanization Systems. "Greek". United Nations (New York), 2003. Accessed 15 July 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d Pedersen, Thomas T. Transliteration of Non-Roman Scripts: "Greek". 31 July 2005. Accessed 2 Oct 2014.
  7. ^ Jeffery, Lilian H. The local scripts of archaic Greece, p. 23. Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1961.

External links[edit]