Greek Profile

Language Identification: ISO 639-1 ell

Other Names:Νεοελληνική

Local Name: Ελληνικά [eliniˈka]

Pronunciation: [eliniˈka]

Region: Southeast Europe

Ethnic Population: Greeks

Greek users: Greece, Cyprus, Balkans, Southern Italy

Language family: Indo-European, Hellenic

Early forms: Proto-Greek

Language Status: Official language in Greece and Cyprus

Dialects: Greek language dialects are divided into three main groups, Northern, Semi-Northern and Southern:

– Northern dialects are Rumelian, Epirote, Thessalian, Macedonian and Thracian

– The Southern category is divided into groups that include variety groups from:

  1. Megara, Aegina, Athens, Kymi and Mani Peninsula.
  2. Peloponnese (except Mani), Cyclades, Crete and Ionian Islands.
  3. Dodecanese and Cyprus.
  4. Part of Southern Albania
  5. Asia Minor (Modern Turkey)

Typology: Greek is SVO (subject–verb–object) language, but word order is quite freely variable, with VSO and other orders as frequent alternatives.

Writing system: Greek Alphabet


Greek language is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus, Albania and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning at least 3,500 years of written records.


Greek has been spoken in the Balkan peninsula since around the 3rd millennium BC, or possibly earlier. The earliest written evidence is a Linear B clay tablet found in Messenia that dates to between 1450 and 1350 BC, making Greek the world’s oldest recorded living language.

The Greek language is conventionally divided into the following periods:

– Proto-Greek

– Mycenaean Greek

– Ancient Greek

– Koine Greek

– Byzantine Greek

– Modern Greek

Geographical distribution

Greek is spoken today by at least 13 million people, principally in Greece and Cyprus along with a sizable Greek-speaking minority in Albania.  Greek is also spoken worldwide by the sizable Greek diaspora which as notable communities in the U.S., Australia, South Africa, Latin America and European Union.

The official status of Greek language

Greek, in its modern form, is the official language of Greece, where it is spoken by almost the entire population. It is also the official language of Cyprus (nominally alongside Turkish). Because of the membership of Greece and Cyprus in the European Union, Greek is one of the organization’s 24 official languages. Furthermore, Greek is officially recognized as official in Albania as well as parts of Italy, Armenia, Romania and Ukraine.


The linguistic varieties of Modern Greek can be classified along two principal dimensions. First, there is a long tradition of sociolectal variation between the natural, popular spoken language on the one hand and archaizing, learned written forms on the other. Second, there is regional variation between dialects. The competition between the popular and the learned registers (Diglossia), culminated in the struggle between Dimotiki (Demotic Greek) and Katharevousa during the 19th and 20th centuries. As for regional dialects, variation within the bulk of dialects of present-day Greece is not particularly strong, except for a number of outlying, highly divergent dialects spoken by isolated communities.

Standard Modern Greek is the officially used standard, but there are several non-official dialects and distinct Hellenic languages spoken as well. Regional spoken dialects exist side by side with learned, archaic written forms. All surviving forms of modern Greek, except the Tsakonian language, are descendants of the common supra-regional (koine) as it was spoken in late antiquity. As such, they can ultimately be classified as descendants of Attic Greek, the dialect spoken in and around Athens in the classical era. Tsakonian, an isolated dialect spoken today by a dwindling community in the Peloponnese, is a descendant of the ancient Doric dialect. Some other dialects have preserved elements of various ancient non-Attic dialects, but Attic Koine is nevertheless regarded by most scholars as the principal source of all of them.

Some other notable dialects are:

– Cappadocian Greek – originally spoken in Cappadocia and since the 1920s spoken in Greece.

– Cretan Greek – Cretan Greek is spoken by more than 500,000 people on the island of Crete

– Cypriot Greek – Cypriot Greek is spoken by Greek Cypriots in Cyprus by more than 700,000 people

– Maniot Greek – The Maniot Greek dialect of the local area of Mani.

– Pontic Greek –  Pontic Greek is a  Hellenic language originally spoken in Pontus and by Caucasus Greeks in the South Caucasus region, although now mostly spoken in Greece by some 500,000 people.

Spoken and literary varieties

The most prominent contrasts between the present-day dialects are found between northern and southern varieties. Northern varieties cover most of continental Greece down to the Gulf of Corinth, while the southern varieties are spoken in the Peloponnese peninsula and the larger part of the Aegean and Ionian islands, including the large southern islands of Crete and Cyprus.

The most salient defining marker of the northern varieties is their treatment of unstressed vowels (so-called northern vocalism), while many southern varieties are characterised, among other things, by their palatalisation (refers to a way of pronouncing a consonant in which part of the tongue is moved close to the hard palate) of velar consonants.

Written language

The Greek alphabet consists of 24 letters, each with an uppercase and lowercase form. The letter sigma has an additional lowercase form (ς) used in the final position.

Greek has been written in the Greek alphabet since approximately the 9th century BC. It was created by modifying the Phoenician alphabet, with the innovation of adopting certain letters to represent the vowels. The variant of the alphabet in use today is essentially the late Ionic variant, introduced for writing classical Attic in 403 BC. In classical Greek, as in classical Latin, only upper-case letters existed. The lower-case Greek letters were developed much later by medieval scribes to permit a faster, more convenient cursive writing style with the use of ink and quill.

The Greek Alphabet

Vowels and vowel diacritics

There are 7 vowels in Greek Language. There are also five two-letter pairs that are usually pronounced as one vowel.

In addition to the letters, the Greek alphabet features a number of diacritical signs. The diacritics are written above lower-case letters and at the upper left of capital letters. In the case of a diphthong or a digraph, the second vowel takes the diacritics. A breathing diacritic is written to the left of an acute or grave accent but below a circumflex.


There are 17 consonants in Greek Language. As with the vowels, many Greek consonants are pronounced the same as in Romance languages, especially Italian and Spanish. The main differences between Greek pronunciations and English pronunciations of consonants is that the Greek pronunciations sound lighter, involving palatalization.

Greek consonants are divided into 3 categories according to specific criteria:

According to their sound; according to their duration; according to the part of mouth where they are formed.

Greek Letter Greek name Latin name IPA Translitteration
Α α άλφα Alfa [a] a
Β β βήτα Beta [v] v
Γ γ γάμμα Gamma [j] before [ɛ] o [i];

otherwise [ɣ]

Δ δ δέλτα Delta [ð] d
Ε ε έψιλον Epsilon [e] e
Ζ ζ ζήτα Zita [z] z
Η η ήτα Ita [i] i
Θ θ θήτα Thita [θ] th
Ι ι ιώτα Iota [i] i
Κ κ κάππα Kappa [k] k
Λ λ λάμβδα Lambda [l] l
Μ μ μυ Mi [m] m
Ν ν νυ Ni [n] n
Ξ ξ ξι Xi [ks] ks
Ο ο όμικρον Omicron [o] o
Π π πι Pi [p] p
Ρ ρ ρω Rho [r] r
Σ σ σίγμα Sigma [s] s
ς (final)Sigma [s]
Τ τ ταυ Taf [t] t
Υ υ ύψιλον Upsilon [i] y
Φ φ φι Phi [f] f
Χ χ χι Chi [x] ch, h
Ψ ψ ψι Psi [ps] ps
Ω ω ωμέγα Omega [o] o



The predominant word order in Greek is SVO (subject–verb–object), but word order is quite freely variable, with VSO and other orders as frequent alternatives.


The grammar of Modern Greek, as spoken in present-day Greece and Cyprus, is essentially that of , Demotic Greek but it has also assimilated certain elements of Katharevousa. Modern Greek grammar has preserved many features of Ancient Greek, but has also undergone changes in a similar direction as many other modern Indo-European languages, from more synthetic to more analytic structures.

The phonology, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary of the language show both conservative and innovative tendencies across the entire attestation of the language from the ancient to the modern period.

With regard to its phonology, Greek shows a mixed syllable structure, permitting complex syllabic onsets but very restricted codas. It has only oral vowels and a fairly stable set of consonantal contrasts. Further, the morphology of Greek shows an extensive set of productive derivational affixes, a limited but productive system of compounding and a rich inflectional system. In its syntax , Greek language shows relatively free word order. Finally, in its vocabulary, Modern Greek inherits most of its vocabulary from Ancient Greek. The form and meaning of many words have evolved. Greek words have been widely borrowed into other languages, including English: mathematics, physics, astronomy, democracy, philosophy, athletics, theatre etc.


The Greek nominal system displays inflection for two numbers (singular and plural), three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), and four cases (nominative, genitive, accusative and vocative). As in many other Indo-European languages, the distribution of grammatical gender across nouns is largely arbitrary and need not coincide with natural sex.

Personal pronouns

There are strong personal pronouns (stressed, free) and weak personal pronouns (unstressed, clitic). Nominative pronouns only have the strong form (except in some minor environments) and are used as subjects only when special emphasis is intended. Genitive (possessive) pronouns are used in their weak forms as pre-verbal clitics to express indirect objects, and as a post-nominal clitic to express possession. The strong genitive forms are relatively rare and used only for special emphasis.


Adjectives agree with nouns in gender, case and number. Therefore, each adjective has a threefold declension paradigm for the three genders. Adjectives show agreement both when they are used as attributes, and when they are used as predicates.

Most adjectives take forms in -ος (-os) in the masculine, -ο (-o) in the neuter and either -η (-i), -α (-a) or -ια (-ia) in the feminine. All those adjectives are declined similarly with the nouns that have the same endings. However they keep the accent stable where nouns change it. Adjectives with a consonant before the ending usually form the feminine with -η, those with a vowel before the ending in -α and some adjectives that end in -κός ([-ˈkos], -kos) or -χός ([-ˈxos], -chos) usually form it in -ια although the ending -η is applicable for those too.


The numerals, one, three and four are declined irregularly. Other numerals such as διακόσιοι (diakosioi, “two hundred”), τριακόσιοι (triakosioi, “three hundred”) etc. and χίλιοι (chilioi, “thousand”) are declined regularly like adjectives. Other numerals including two are not declined.

Cardinal Numbers

0 μηδεν midèn
1 ένα ena
2 δύο dio
3 τρία tria
4 τέσσερα tèssera
5 πέντε pende
6 έξι ecsi
7 εφτά eftà
8 οκτώ octò
9 εννέα ennea
10 δέκα deca
11 ένδέκα endeca
12 δοδέκα dodeca
13 δέκατρία decatri
14 δέκατέσσερα decatèssera
15 δέκαπέντε decapende
16 δέκαέξι decaecsi
17 δέκαεφτά decaeftà
18 δέκαοκτώ decaoctò
19 εννέαδέκα enneadeca
20 έίκοσί icosi



Greek verb morphology is structured around a basic 2-by-2 contrast of two aspects, namely imperfective and perfective, and two tenses, namely past and non-past (or present). The aspects are expressed by two separate verb stems, while the tenses are marked mainly by different sets of endings. Of the four possible combinations, only three can be used in indicative function: the present (i.e. imperfective non-past), the imperfect (i.e. imperfective past) and the aorist (i.e. perfective past). All four combinations can be used in subjunctive function, where they are typically preceded by the particle να or by one of a set of subordinating conjunctions.