Coptic alphabet

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Coptic alphabet
Script type
Time period
2nd century A.D.[1] to present (in Coptic liturgy)
Directionleft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesCoptic language
Related scripts
Parent systems
Child systems
Old Nubian
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Copt (204), ​Coptic
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Coptic script is the script used for writing the Coptic language, the latest stage of Egyptian. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the uncial Greek alphabet, augmented by letters borrowed from the Egyptian Demotic. It was the first alphabetic script used for the Egyptian language. There are several Coptic alphabets, as the script varies greatly among the various dialects and eras of the Coptic language.


The letters of the Coptic alphabet

The Coptic alphabet has a long history, going back to the Hellenistic period, when the Greek alphabet was used to transcribe Demotic texts, with the aim of recording the correct pronunciation of Demotic. During the first two centuries of the Common Era, an entire series of spiritual texts were written in what scholars term Old Coptic, Egyptian language texts written in the Greek alphabet. Seven letters, however, were derived from Demotic, and many of these (though not all) are used in “true” form of Coptic writing. With the spread of Christianity in Egypt, by the late 3rd century, knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost, as well as Demotic slightly later, making way for a writing system more closely associated with the Christian church. By the 4th century, the Coptic alphabet was "standardized", particularly for the Sahidic dialect. (There are a number of differences between the alphabets as used in the various dialects in Coptic). Coptic is not generally used today except by the members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria to write their religious texts. All the Gnostic codices found in Nag Hammadi used the Coptic alphabet.

The Old Nubian alphabet—used to write Old Nubian, a Nilo-Saharan language —is written mainly in an uncial Greek alphabet, which borrows Coptic and Meroitic letters of Demotic origin into its inventory.


The Coptic alphabet was the first Egyptian writing system to indicate vowels, making Coptic documents invaluable for the interpretation of earlier Egyptian texts. Some Egyptian syllables had sonorants but no vowels; in Sahidic, these were written in Coptic with a line above the entire syllable. Various scribal schools made limited use of diacritics: some used an apostrophe as a word divider and to mark clitics, a function of determinatives in logographic Egyptian; others used diereses over and to show that these started a new syllable, others a circumflex over any vowel for the same purpose.[2]

The Coptic alphabet's glyphs are largely based on the Greek alphabet, another help in interpreting older Egyptian texts,[3] with 24 letters of Greek origin; 6 or 7 more were retained from Demotic, depending on the dialect (6 in Sahidic, another each in Bohairic and Akhmimic).[2] In addition to the alphabetic letters, the letter ϯ stood for the syllable /te/ or /de/.

As the Coptic alphabet is simply a typeface of the Greek alphabet,[4] with a few added letters, it can be used to write Greek without any transliteration schemes. Latin equivalents would include the Icelandic alphabet (which likewise has added letters), or the Fraktur alphabet (which has distinctive forms). While initially unified with the Greek alphabet by Unicode, a proposal was later accepted to separate it, with the proposal noting that Coptic is never written using modern Greek letter-forms (unlike German, which may be written with Fraktur or Roman Antiqua letter-forms), and that the Coptic letter-forms have closer mutual legibility with the Greek-based letters incorporated into the separately encoded Cyrillic alphabet than with the forms used in modern Greek. Because Coptic lowercases are usually small-caps forms of the capitals, a Greek would have little trouble reading Coptic letters, but Copts would struggle more with many of the Greek letters.[5][6]


These are the letters that are used for writing the Coptic language. The distinction between capital and lowercase is a modern invention.

Uppercase (image) Lowercase (image) Uppercase (unicode) Lowercase (unicode) Numeric value Letter Name[7] Greek equiv. Translit. Sahidic pron.[8] Bohairic pron.[8] Late Coptic pron.[9] Greco-Bohairic pron.[10]
Coptic Alpha-maj.svg Coptic Alpha-min.svg 1 Alpha Α, α a /a/ /æ/, /ɑ/ /ä/
Coptic Beta-maj.svg Coptic Beta-min.svg
[note 1]
2 Beta Β, β b /β/ /β/
(final [b])
(final [b])
/b/, (/v/ before a vowel [except in a name])
Coptic Gamma-maj.svg Coptic Gamma-min.svg 3 Gamma Γ, γ g /k/
(marked Greek words)
/g/, ( /ɣ/ before ⲁ, ⲟ, or ⲱ) /ɣ/, /g/ (before // or /i/), /ŋ/ (before /g/ or /k/)
Coptic Dalda-maj.svg Coptic Dalda-min.svg 4 Delta Δ, δ d /t/
(marked Greek words)
(marked Greek words)
/ð/, (/d/ in a name)
Coptic Ei-maj.svg Coptic Ei-min.svg 5 Eey Ε, ε ə /ɛ/, /ə/
(ⲉⲓ = //, /j/)
/ɛ/, /ə/
(ⲓⲉ = /e/)
/æ/, /ɑ/
(ⲓⲉ = /e/)
Coptic Sou.svg Coptic Sou.svg 6 Soou (6) ϛ
Ϛ, ϛ*
(Greek Digamma cursive 07.svg, Greek Digamma cursive 04.svg)
s͡t[note 2]

Coptic Zeta-maj.svg Coptic Zeta-min.svg 7 Zeta Ζ, ζ z /s/
(marked Greek words)
(marked Greek words)
Coptic Eta-maj.svg Coptic Eta-min.svg 8 Eta Η, η aa, ê // /e/ /æ/, /ɑ/, /ɪ/ //
Coptic Theta-maj.svg Coptic Theta-min.svg 9 Theta Θ, θ th /th/ // /t/ /θ/
Coptic Iota-maj.svg Coptic Iota-min.svg 10 Iota Ι, ι i //, /j/ /i/, /j/, /ə/
(ⲓⲉ = /e/)
/ɪ/, /j/
(ⲓⲉ = /e/)
/i/, /j/ (before vowels), /ɪ/ (after vowels to form diphthongs)
Coptic Kappa-maj.svg Coptic Kappa-min.svg 20 Kappa Κ, κ k /k/ //, /k/ /k/
Coptic Laula-maj.svg Coptic Laula-min.svg 30 Lola Λ, λ l /l/

Coptic Me-maj.svg Coptic Me-min.svg 40 Mey Μ, μ m /m/

Coptic Ne-maj.svg Coptic Ne-min.svg 50 Ney Ν, ν n /n/

Coptic Kxi-maj.svg Coptic Kxi-min.svg 60 Exi Ξ, ξ ks /ks/
(only in Greek loanwords)
/ks/, [ks] (usually following a consonant, or sometimes when starting a word)
Coptic Ou-maj.svg Coptic Ou-min.svg 70 O Ο, ο o /ɔ/ (ⲟⲩ = //, /w/) /o/ (ⲟⲩ = /u/, /w/) // (ⲟⲩ = /u/)
Coptic Pi-maj.svg Coptic Pi-min.svg 80 Pi Π, π p /p/ /b/ /p/
Coptic Ro-maj.svg Coptic Ro-min.svg 100 Roo Ρ, ρ r /ɾ/~/r/

Coptic Semma-maj.svg Coptic Semma-min.svg 200 Seema Σ, σ, ς s /s/

Coptic Tau-maj.svg Coptic Tau-min.svg 300 Tau Τ, τ t /t/ //, /t/ /d/
(final [t])
Coptic He-maj.svg Coptic He-min.svg 400 Upsilon Υ, υ u /w/ (ⲟⲩ = //, /w/) /ɪ/, /w/ (ⲟⲩ = /u/, /w/) /i/, /w/ (between "" and another vowel except ""), /v/ (after /ɑ/ ( or // ()), /u/ (digraph "ⲟⲩ")
Coptic Phi-maj.svg Coptic Phi-min.svg 500 Phi Φ, φ ph /ph/ // /b/~/f/ /f/
Coptic Khi-maj.svg Coptic Khi-min.svg 600 Chi Χ, χ kh /kh/ // /k/
/k/ (if the word is Coptic in origin), /x/ (if the word is Greek in origin), /ç/ (if the word is Greek in origin but before // or /i/)
Coptic Pxi-maj.svg Coptic Pxi-min.svg 700 Epsi Ψ, ψ ps [bs]
(only in Greek loanwords)
[ps], [ps] (usually following a consonant)
Coptic O-maj.svg Coptic O-min.svg 800 Oou Ω, ω ô // /o/ // /o̞ː/
Coptic Sai-maj.svg Coptic Sai-min.svg Ϣ ϣ Shai (none) š /ʃ/

Coptic Fai-maj.svg Coptic Fai-min.svg Ϥ ϥ 90 Fai ϙ
(numerical value)
f /f/

Coptic Hai-maj.svg Coptic Hai-min.svg Ϧ (Ⳉ) ϧ (ⳉ)
[note 3]
Khai (none) x NA /x/

Coptic Hori-maj.svg Coptic Hori-min.svg Ϩ ϩ Hori (none) h /h/

Coptic Dandia-maj.svg Coptic Dandia-min.svg Ϫ ϫ
[note 4]
Janja (none) j /t͡ʃ/ /t͡ʃʼ/, /t͡ʃ/ /ɟ/ /g/, // (before // or /i/)
Coptic Cima-maj.svg Coptic Cima-min.svg Ϭ ϭ
[note 4]
Cheema (none) c // /t͡ʃʰ/ /ʃ/ //, [] (usually following a consonant)
Coptic Ti-maj.svg Coptic Ti-min.svg Ϯ ϯ
[note 5]
Ti (none) ti /t/ /i/, /ti/, /tə/ /di/ /ti/
Coptic Sampi.svg Coptic Sampi.svg 900 Sampi Ϡ,ϡ
(numerical value)
  1. ^ seemed to have retained a [β] intervocalically in Late Coptic.
  2. ^ The upper line of s connected with t to distinguishes it from the standalone "s" and "t"
  3. ^ Akhmimic dialect uses the letter for /x/. No name is recorded.
  4. ^ a b Ϫ and ϭ seemed to have merged in Late Coptic into one phoneme, /ʃ/, with [ɟ] intervocalically.
  5. ^ When part of the digraph ϯⲉ, it is pronounced [de] in Bohairic.

Letters derived from Demotic[edit]

In Old Coptic, there were a large number of Demotic Egyptian characters, including some logograms. They were soon reduced to half a dozen, for sounds not covered by the Greek alphabet. The following letters remained:

Hieroglyph   Demotic   Coptic   Translit. Late Coptic pron.
Demotic-character-š.png Ϣ š §
Demotic-character-f.png Ϥ Fh /f/
Demotic-character-ẖ.png Ϧ Kh /x/
Demotic-character-ḥ-2.png Ϩ Ĥ /h/
Demotic-character-ḏ-2.png Ϫ Ĵ /ɟ/
Demotic-character-k.png Ϭ Ĉ /ʃ/
Demotic-character-ḏj.png Ϯ Ť /di/


Coptic numerals are an alphabetic numeral system in which numbers are indicated with letters of the alphabet, such as for 1.[11] The numerical value of the letters is based on Greek numerals. Sometimes numerical use is distinguished from text with a continuous overline above the letters, as with Greek and Cyrillic numerals.


In Unicode, most Coptic letters formerly shared codepoints with similar Greek letters, but a disunification was accepted for version 4.1, which appeared in 2005. The new Coptic block is U+2C80 to U+2CFF. Most fonts contained in mainstream operating systems use a distinctive Byzantine style for this block. The Greek block includes seven Coptic letters (U+03E2–U+03EF highlighted below) derived from Demotic, and these need to be included in any complete implementation of Coptic.

Greek and Coptic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+037x Ͱ ͱ Ͳ ͳ ʹ ͵ Ͷ ͷ ͺ ͻ ͼ ͽ ; Ϳ
U+038x ΄ ΅ Ά · Έ Ή Ί Ό Ύ Ώ
U+039x ΐ Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο
U+03Ax Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω Ϊ Ϋ ά έ ή ί
U+03Bx ΰ α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο
U+03Cx π ρ ς σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω ϊ ϋ ό ύ ώ Ϗ
U+03Dx ϐ ϑ ϒ ϓ ϔ ϕ ϖ ϗ Ϙ ϙ Ϛ ϛ Ϝ ϝ Ϟ ϟ
U+03Ex Ϡ ϡ Ϣ ϣ Ϥ ϥ Ϧ ϧ Ϩ ϩ Ϫ ϫ Ϭ ϭ Ϯ ϯ
U+03Fx ϰ ϱ ϲ ϳ ϴ ϵ ϶ Ϸ ϸ Ϲ Ϻ ϻ ϼ Ͻ Ͼ Ͽ
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+2CBx ⲿ
U+2CFx ⳿
1. ^ As of Unicode version 15.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Coptic Epact Numbers[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+102Ex 𐋠 𐋡 𐋢 𐋣 𐋤 𐋥 𐋦 𐋧 𐋨 𐋩 𐋪 𐋫 𐋬 𐋭 𐋮 𐋯
U+102Fx 𐋰 𐋱 𐋲 𐋳 𐋴 𐋵 𐋶 𐋷 𐋸 𐋹 𐋺 𐋻
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Diacritics and punctuation[edit]

These are also included in the Unicode specification.


  • Latin alphabet punctuation (comma, period, question mark, semicolon, colon, hyphen) uses the regular Unicode codepoints for punctuation
  • Dicolon: standard colon U+003A
  • Middle dot: U+00B7
  • En dash: U+2013
  • Em dash: U+2014
  • Slanted double hyphen: U+2E17

Combining diacritics[edit]

These are codepoints applied after that of the character they modify.

  • Combining overstroke: U+0305 (= supralinear stroke)
  • Combining character-joining overstroke (from middle of one character to middle of the next): U+035E
  • Combining dot under a letter: U+0323
  • Combining dot over a letter: U+0307
  • Combining overstroke and dot below: U+0305,U+0323
  • Combining acute accent: U+0301
  • Combining grave accent: U+0300
  • Combining circumflex accent (caret shaped): U+0302
  • Combining circumflex (curved shape) or inverted breve above: U+0311
  • Combining circumflex as wide inverted breve above joining two letters: U+0361
  • Combining diaeresis: U+0308

Macrons and overlines[edit]

Coptic uses U+0304 ◌̄ COMBINING MACRON to indicate syllabic consonants, for example ⲛ̄.[12][13]

Coptic abbreviations use U+0305 ◌̅ COMBINING OVERLINE to draw a continuous line across the remaining letters of an abbreviated word.[13][14] It extends from the left edge of the first letter to the right edge of the last letter. For example, ⲡ̅ⲛ̅ⲁ̅, a common abbreviation for ⲡⲛⲉⲩⲙⲁ 'spirit'.

A different kind of overline uses U+FE24 ◌︤ COMBINING MACRON LEFT HALF, U+FE26 ◌︦ COMBINING CONJOINING MACRON, and U+FE25 ◌︥ COMBINING MACRON RIGHT HALF to distinguish the spelling of certain common words or to highlight proper names of divinities and heroes.[13][14] For this the line begins in the middle of the first letter and continues to the middle of the last letter. A few examples: ⲣ︤ⲙ︥, ϥ︤ⲛ︦ⲧ︥, ⲡ︤ϩ︦ⲣ︦ⲃ︥.

Sometimes numerical use of letters is indicated with a continuous line above them using U+0305 ◌̅ COMBINING OVERLINE as in ⲁ͵ⲱ̅ⲡ̅ⲏ̅ for 1,888 (where "ⲁ͵" is 1,000 and "ⲱ̅ⲡ̅ⲏ̅" is 888). Multiples of 1,000 can be indicated by a continuous double line above using U+033F ◌̿ COMBINING DOUBLE OVERLINE as in ⲁ̿ for 1,000.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coptic alphabet/Great Russian Encyclopedia
  2. ^ a b Ritner, Robert Kriech. 1996. "The Coptic Alphabet". In The World's Writing Systems, edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 1994:287–290.
  3. ^ Campbell, George L. "Coptic." Compendium of the World's Writing Systems. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Biddles LTD, 1991. 415.
  4. ^ "Coptic". Ancient Scripts. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  5. ^ Everson, Michael; Mansour, Kamal (2002-05-08). "L2/02-205 N2444: Coptic supplementation in the BMP" (PDF).
  6. ^ For example: The composer's name "Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich" is Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович in Cyrillic, and Ⲇⲙⲏⲧⲣⲓⲓ Ⲇⲙⲏⲧⲣⲓⲉⲃⲓϭ Ϣⲟⲥⲧⲁⲕⲟⲃⲓϭ in Coptic.
  7. ^ Peust (1999.59-60)
  8. ^ a b Peust (1999)
  9. ^ Before the Greco-Bohairic reforms of the mid 19th century.
  10. ^ "The Coptic Language" (PDF). Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States.
  11. ^ "Section 7.3: Coptic, Numerical Use of Letters" (PDF). The Unicode Standard. The Unicode Consortium. July 2016.
  12. ^ "Revision of the Coptic block under ballot for the BMP of the UCS" (PDF). ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2. 2004-04-20.
  13. ^ a b c Everson, Michael; Emmel, Stephen; Marjanen, Antti; Dunderberg, Ismo; Baines, John; Pedro, Susana; Emiliano, António (2007-05-12). "N3222R: Proposal to add additional characters for Coptic and Latin to the UCS" (PDF). ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2.
  14. ^ a b "Section 7.3: Coptic, Supralineation" (PDF). The Unicode Standard. The Unicode Consortium. July 2017.
  • Quaegebeur, Jan. 1982. "De la préhistoire de l'écriture copte." Orientalia lovaniensia analecta 13:125–136.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabet in Coptic, Greek". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 30–32.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabets, Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 32–41.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabets, Old Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 41–45.
  • Wolfgang Kosack: Koptisches Handlexikon des Bohairischen. Koptisch - Deutsch - Arabisch. Verlag Christoph Brunner, Basel 2013, ISBN 978-3-9524018-9-7.

External links[edit]