Modern Greek

Modern Greek
Modern Greek
(Νέα) Eλληνικά
(Nea) Elliniká
Spoken in  Greece
 United States
 United Kingdom
 South Africa
and worldwide
Native speakers C. 13 million[1][2][3][4][5]  (date missing)
Language family
Standard forms
Writing system Greek alphabet
Recognised minority language in

Official language in:

 European Union
------------------------------ Recognised as minority language in parts of:

Language codes
ISO 639-1 el
ISO 639-2 gre (B)
ell (T)
ISO 639-3 ellmodern Greek
Linguasphere part of 56-AAA-a

Modern Greek (Greek: Νέα Ελληνικά or Νεοελληνική, "Neo-Hellenic", historically and colloquially, also known as Ρωμαίικα, "Romaic" or "Roman") refers to the varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic modern features of the language had been present centuries earlier - from the fourth to the fifteenth century AD. During most of the period, the language existed in a situation of diglossia (due in part to the dark ages), with regional spoken dialects existing side by side with learned, archaic written forms. Most notably, during much of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was known in the competing varieties of popular Demotic and learned Katharevousa. Today, standard modern Greek, based on Demotic, is the official language of both Greece and Cyprus. Greek is spoken today by approximately 12-15 million people, mainly in Greece and Cyprus, but also by minority and immigrant communities in many other countries.



Greek forms an independent branch of the Indo-European languages. All surviving forms of modern Greek, except the Tsakonian dialect, 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, 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.

Geographic distribution

History of the
Greek language

(see also: Greek alphabet)

Proto-Greek (c. 3000–1600 BC)
Mycenaean (c. 1600–1100 BC)
Ancient Greek (c. 800–330 BC)
Aeolic, Arcadocypriot, Attic-Ionic,
Doric, Locrian, Pamphylian,
Homeric Greek,
Macedonian (?)

Koine Greek (c. 330 BC–330)
Medieval Greek (330–1453)
Modern Greek (from 1453)
Calabrian, Cappadocian, Cheimarriotika, Cretan,
Cypriot, Demotic, Griko, Katharevousa,
Pontic, Tsakonian, Maniot, Yevanic
This box: view · talk · edit

*Dates (beginning with Ancient Greek) from Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. p. 12. ISBN 0310218950. 

Modern Greek is spoken by about 12 million people mainly in Greece and Cyprus. There are also traditional Greek-speaking settlements in the neighboring countries Albania, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as in several countries in the Black Sea area (Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Armenia) and around the Mediterranean Sea (Southern Italy, Egypt). The language is also spoken by emigrant communities in many countries in Western Europe, North America, Australia, as well as in Argentina, Brazil and others. Countries with notable number of speakers of Greek as a foreign language are Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.

Official status

Greek is the official language of Greece where it is spoken by about 99.5% of the population. It is also, alongside Turkish, one of the two official languages of Cyprus. Because of the membership of Greece and Cyprus in the European Union, Greek is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. Greek is officially recognised as a minority language in parts of Italy, Armenia, Ukraine and Albania.


Modern Greek dialects en.svg
Map showing the distribution of major modern Greek dialect areas[9]
Griechisch Isoglossen 1900.png
Map showing important isoglosses between the traditional modern Greek dialects (c. 1900).[10]
  • Purple: Area of "northern vocalism" (/skiˈli/[ˈskli])
  • Green: Area of palatalisation of /k/[ts] (/kiriaˈki/[tsirjaˈtsi])
  • Yellow: Area of palatalisation of /k/ (/kiriaˈki/[tʃirjaˈtʃi]
  • Brown: Geminated initial consonants (/ˈne/[ˈnne])
  • Red: Retention of word-final /n/
  • Dark brown: Historical /y//u/

The main dialects of modern Greek are:

  • Demotic Greek (Δημοτική): Strictly speaking "Demotic" refers to all popular varieties of Modern Greek which followed a common evolution path from Koine and have retained a high degree of mutual intelligibility to the present day. As shown in Ptochoprodromic and Acritic poems, Demotic Greek was already before the 11th century the vernacular, "Roman" language of the Byzantine Greeks, notably in peninsular Greece, the Greek islands, coastal Asia Minor, Constantinople and Cyprus. Today, a standardised variety of Demotic Greek is the official language of the Hellenic Republic (Greece) and Cyprus, and is referred to as the "Standard Modern Greek", or less strictly simply as "Modern Greek" or "Demotic".
Demotic Greek comprises various regional varieties with minor linguistic differences, mainly in phonology and vocabulary. Due to their high degree of mutual intelligibility, Greek linguists refer to those varieties as "idioms" of a wider "Demotic dialect", known as "Koine Modern Greek" (Koini Neoelliniki - 'common Neo-Hellenic'). Most English-speaking linguistics tend to refer to them as "dialects", emphasising degrees of variation only when necessary. Demotic Greek varieties are divided into two main groups, Northern and Southern:
Examples of Northern dialects are Rumelian, Epirote, Thessalian, Macedonian,[11] Thracian.
The Southern category is divided into groups that include variety groups from:
  1. Megara, Aegina, Athens, Cyme (Old Athenian) and Mani Peninsula (Maniot)
  2. Peloponnese (except Mani), Cyclades and Crete, Ionian Islands, Northern Epirus, Smyrna and Constantinople
  3. Dodecanese and Cyprus.
Demotic Greek has officially been taught in monotonic Greek script since 1982. Polytonic script remains popular in intellectual circles.
  • Katharevousa (Καθαρεύουσα): A semi-artificial sociolect promoted in the 19th century at the foundation of the modern Greek state, as a compromise between Classical Greek and modern Demotic. It was the official language of modern Greece until 1976. Katharevousa is written in polytonic Greek script. Also, while Demotic Greek contains loanwords from Turkish, Italian, Latin, and other languages, these have for the most part been purged from Katharevousa. See also Greek language question.
  • Pontic (Ποντιακά): Originally spoken in the Pontus region of Asia Minor until most of its speakers were displaced to mainland Greece during the great population exchange between Greece and Turkey that followed the Destruction of Smyrna. It hails from Hellenistic and Medieval Koine but preserves characteristics of Ionic since ancient colonisations. Pontic evolved as a separate dialect from Demotic Greek as a result of the region's isolation from the Greek mainstream that followed the Battle of Manzikert.[citation needed]
  • Cappadocian (Καππαδοκικά): A dialect close to and of the same fate as Pontic. Hails directly from the Alexandrian dialect, and its speakers settled in mainland Greece during the great population exchanges.
  • Southern Italian or Italiot (Κατωιταλιώτικα): Comprising both Calabrian and Griko varieties, it is spoken by around 15 villages in the regions of Calabria and Apulia. The Southern Italian dialect is the last living trace of Hellenic elements in Southern Italy that once formed Magna Graecia. Its origins can be traced to the Dorian Greek settlers who colonised the area from Sparta and Corinth in 700 BC. However, it has received significant Koine Greek influence through Byzantine Greek colonisers who re-introduced Greek language to the region, starting with Justinian's conquest of Italy in late antiquity and continuing through the Middle Ages. Griko and Demotic are mutually intelligible to some extent, but the former shares some common characteristics with Tsakonian.
  • Yevanic: A recently extinct language of Romaniote Jews. The language was already in decline for centuries until most of its speakers were killed in the Holocaust. Afterward, the language was mostly kept by remaining Romaniote emigrants to Israel, where it was displaced by modern Hebrew.
  • Tsakonian (Τσακωνικά): Spoken in its full form today only in a small number of villages around the town of Leonidion in the region of Arcadia in Southern Peloponnese, but partially spoken further afield in the area. Tsakonian evolved directly from Laconian (ancient Spartan) and therefore descends from the Doric branch of the Greek language. It has limited input from Hellenistic Koine and is significantly different from and not mutually intelligible with other Greek varieties (such as Demotic Greek and Pontic). Some linguists consider it a separate language because of this.

Demotic as Koiné (Standard) Modern Greek

Standard Modern Greek (Κοινή Νεοελληνική) refers to the form of Demotic that was chosen as the official language of Greece and Cyprus. The Greek term "Κοινή Νεοελληνική", besides its literal meaning of "Common Modern Greek", also evokes the parallel with the ancient Koiné, from which it descends. It is universally spoken in the urban parts of Greece, with minor variation in the vernacular forms used in rural Greece and the Greek diaspora.

Standard Modern Greek evolved from the Southern Demotic dialects, primarily those of Peloponnese, and is thus, ultimately, a descendant of the ancient Koiné of the Hellenistic era. After Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829, the dual-language status of the late Byzantine Empire was re-adopted. The vernacular speech was Demotic (a term similar to "popular") and the official state dialect was Katharevousa ("purified"). Demotic was the language of daily vernacular use, whereas Katharevousa, a more archaic form closer to Attic, was used for formal purposes such as literature, newscasting and official documents. In the course of the 20th century, Demotic saw a slow functional expansion as it was adopted gradually in more and more domains of life, including literature and some parts of journalism and education. The competition between the two forms, known as the "language question" remained a hotly contested ideological issue during much of the early and mid 20th century, and official policies towards the extent of use of Demotic in education and administration changed multiple times. In 1976 Katharevousa was finally replaced by Demotic as the official language of the Greek state. However, by this time, the form of Demotic actually used in practice was marked by a considerable amount of influence from Katharevousa, because during its expansion to new communicative domains it had enriched its vocabulary through internal loans from the learned tradition. It is for this reason that modern linguistics has adopted terms like Standard Modern Greek or "Modern Koiné" for the resulting variety, distinguishing it from "pure" traditional Demotic.[12]


A series of radical sound shifts, which the Greek language underwent mainly during the period of Koine, has led to a phonological system in Modern Greek that is significantly different from that of Ancient Greek. Instead of the rich vowel system of Ancient Greek, with its four vowel-height levels, length distinction, and multiple diphthongs, Modern Greek has a very simple system of five vowels. This came about through a series of mergers, especially towards /i/ (iotacism). In the consonants, Modern Greek has two series of fricatives in lieu of the Ancient Greek voiced and aspirated voiceless plosives. Modern Greek has not preserved length distinctions, either in the vowels or in the consonants.

Writing system

Greek alphabet alpha-omega.svg
Greek alphabet
Αα Alpha Νν Nu
Ββ Beta Ξξ Xi
Γγ Gamma Οο Omicron
Δδ Delta Ππ Pi
Εε Epsilon Ρρ Rho
Ζζ Zeta Σσς Sigma
Ηη Eta Ττ Tau
Θθ Theta Υυ Upsilon
Ιι Iota Φφ Phi
Κκ Kappa Χχ Chi
Λλ Lambda Ψψ Psi
Μμ Mu Ωω Omega
Archaic local variants
Digamma · Heta · San · Koppa · Sampi  · Tsan
Ligatures (ϛ, ȣ, ϗ) · Diacritics
Numerals: Greek letter Stigma.svg (6) · Greek Koppa lamedh-shaped.svg (90) · Sampi.svg (900)
In other languages
Bactrian  · Coptic  · Albanian
Scientific symbols

Wikipedia book Book  · Category Category · Commons-logo.svg Commons
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Modern Greek is written in the Greek alphabet, which has 24 letters, each with a capital and lowercase (small) form. The letter sigma additionally has a special final form. There are two diacritical symbols, the acute accent which indicates stress and the diaeresis marking a vowel letter as not being part of a digraph. Greek has a mixed historical and phonemic orthography, where historical spellings are used if their pronunciation matches modern usage. The correspondence between consonant phonemes and graphemes is largely unique,[13] but several of the vowels can be spelled in multiple ways.[14] Thus reading is easy but spelling is difficult.[15]

A number of diacritical signs were used until 1982, when they were officially dropped from Greek spelling as no longer corresponding to the modern pronunciation of the language. Monotonic orthography is today used in official usage, in schools and for most purposes of everyday writing in Greece. Polytonic orthography, besides being used for older varieties of Greek, is still used in book printing, especially for academic and belletristic purposes, and in everyday use by some conservative writers and elderly people. The Greek Orthodox Church continues to use polytonic and the late Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens[16] and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece[17] have requested the reintroduction of polytonic as the official script.

The Greek vowel letters with their pronunciation are: ⟨α⟩ [a], ⟨ε⟩ [e̞], ⟨η⟩ [i], ⟨ι⟩ [i], ⟨ο⟩ [o̞], ⟨υ⟩ [i], ⟨ω⟩ [o̞]. There are also vowel digraphs which are phonetically monophthongal: ⟨αι⟩ [e̞], ⟨ει⟩ [i], ⟨οι⟩ [i], ⟨ου⟩ [u], ⟨υι⟩ [i]. The three digraphs ⟨αυ⟩, ⟨ευ⟩ and ⟨ηυ⟩ are pronounced [af], [e̞f] and [if] except when followed by voiced consonants or vowels, in which case they are pronounced [av], [e̞v] and [iv] respectively.

Modern Greek has also four diphthongs: ⟨αη⟩ (or ⟨άη⟩) [aj], ⟨αϊ⟩ (or ⟨άι⟩) [aj], ⟨οη⟩ (or ⟨όη⟩) [o̞j] and ⟨οϊ⟩ (or ⟨όι⟩) [o̞j] (diphthongs can better be transcribed using the IPA non-syllabic diacritic under [i] instead of the approximant [j]).

The Greek letters ⟨β⟩ and ⟨δ⟩ are pronounced [v] and [ð] respectively. The letter ⟨γ⟩ is generally pronounced [ɣ], but before the mid or close front vowels, it is pronounced [ʝ] (or [ʑ] and [ʒ] in some dialects, notably those of Crete and the Mani). Μoreover, before the mid or close back vowels, tends to be pronounced further back than a prototypical velar, between a velar [ɣ] and an uvular [ɢ] (transcribed [ɣ̄]).

The letters ⟨θ⟩, ⟨φ⟩ and ⟨χ⟩ are pronounced [θ], [f] and [x] respectively. The letter ⟨χ⟩, before mid or close front vowels, is pronounced [ç] (or [ɕ] and [ʃ] in some dialects, notably those of Crete and the Mani) and before the mid or close back vowels, it tends to be pronounced as a postvelar [x̱]. The letter ⟨ξ⟩ stands for the sequence /ks/ and ⟨ψ⟩ for /ps/. The digraphs ⟨γγ⟩ and ⟨γκ⟩ are generally pronounced [ɡ] in everyday speech, but are pronounced [ɟ] before the front vowels [e̞] and [i] and tend to be pronounced [ɡ̄] before the back [o̞] and [u]. When these digraphs are preceded by a vowel, they are pronounced [ŋɡ] in formal speech ([ɲɟ] before the front vowels [e̞] and [i] and [ŋ̄ɡ̄] before the back [o̞] and [u]). The digraph ⟨γγ⟩ may be pronounced [ŋɣ] in some words ([ɲʝ] before front vowels and [ŋ̄ɣ̄] before back ones). The pronunciation [ŋk] for the digraph ⟨γκ⟩ is extremely rare, but could be heard in literary and scholarly words or when reading ancient texts (by a few readers); normally it retains its "original" pronunciation [ŋk] only in the trigraph ⟨γκτ⟩ where ⟨τ⟩ prevents the sonorization of ⟨κ⟩ by ⟨γ⟩ (hence [ŋkt]).


Modern Greek is largely a synthetic language. It is one of only two Indo-European languages that has retained a synthetic passive, the other being Albanian (the North Germanic passive is a recent innovation based on a grammaticalized reflexive pronoun). Noticeable changes in grammar (compared to classical Greek) include the loss of the dative case, the optative mood, the infinitive, the dual number, and the participles (except the past participle); the adoption of the gerund; the reduction in the number of noun declensions, and the number of distinct forms in each declension; the adoption of the modal particle θα (a contraction of ἐθέλω ἵναθέλω ναθε' ναθα) to denote future and conditional tenses; the introduction of auxiliary verb forms for certain tenses; the extension to the future tense of the aspectual distinction between present/imperfect and aorist; the loss of the third person imperative, and the simplification of the system of grammatical prefixes, such as augmentation and reduplication. Some of these features are shared with other languages spoken in the Balkan peninsula (see Balkan linguistic union), although not others, such as the postposed article.

Because of the influence of Katharevousa, however, Demotic is not commonly used in its purest form, and archaisms are still widely used, especially in writing and in more formal speech, as well as in some everyday expressions, such as the dative εντάξει ('OK', literally 'in order') or the third person imperative ζήτω! ('long live!').


Some common words and phrases

English Modern Greek Pronunciation
Greek (man) Έλληνας [ˈe̞linas].
Greek (woman) Ελληνίδα [ˌe̞liˈniða].
Greek (language) Ελληνικά [e̞ˌliniˈka].
good morning καλημέρα [ˌkaliˈme̞ra].
good evening καλησπέρα [ˌkaliˈspe̞ra].
good night καληνύχτα [ˌkaliˈnixta].
good-bye χαίρετε (formal), αντίο (semi-formal), γεια σου or γεια σας (informal) [ˈçe̞re̞te̞], [aˈdio̞], [ˈʝasu], [ˈʝa-sas] .
madam! κυρία [kiˈria] (used only for living persons)
please παρακαλώ [paˌrakaˈlo̞].
sir! κύριε [ˈkirie] (used only for living persons)
sorry συγνώμη [siˈɣno̞mi].
thank you ευχαριστώ [e̞fˌxariˈsto̞].
that αυτό, (ε)κείνο [afˈto̞]; [(e̞)ˈcino̞].
this αυτό, (ε)τούτο [afˈto̞]; [(e̞)ˈtuto̞].
yes ναι [ne̞].
no όχι [ˈo̞çi].
generic toast εις υγείαν! (lit. "to health") or more colloquially γεια μας! (lit. "our health") [ˌis iˈʝ], [ˈʝa mas].
juice χυμός [çiˈmo̞s̠].
water νερό [ne̞ˈro̞].
wine κρασί [kraˈsi].

Sample text

The following is a sample text in Modern Greek of the Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (by the United Nations):

Άρθρο 1: 'Ολοι οι άνθρωποι γεννιούνται ελεύθεροι και ίσοι στην αξιοπρέπεια και τα δικαιώματα. Είναι προικισμένοι με λογική και συνείδηση, και οφείλουν να συμπεριφέρονται μεταξύ τους με πνεύμα αδελφοσύνης.
—Modern Greek in Greek alphabet
Arthro 1: 'Oloi oi anthropoi gennioyntai eleytheroi kai isoi stin axioprepeia kai ta dikaiomata. Einai proikismenoi me logiki kai syneidisi, kai ofeiloyn na symperiferontai metaxy toys me pneyma adelfosynis.
—Modern Greek in Roman Transliterationfaithful to script
Árthro 1: Óli i ánthropi yeniúnde eléftheri ke ísi stin aksioprépia ke ta dhikeómata. Íne prikizméni me loyikí ke sinídhisi, ke ofílun na simberiféronde metaksí tus me pnévma adhelfosínis.
—Modern Greek in Transcriptionfaithful to pronunciation
[ˈarθro ˈena ‖ ˈoli i ˈanθropi ʝeˈɲunde eˈlefθeri ce ˈisi stin aksioˈprepia ce ta ðiceˈomata ‖ ˈɪne priciˈzmeni me loʝiˈci ce siˈniðisi | ce oˈfilun na simberiˈferonde metaˈksi tuz me ˈpnevma aðelfoˈsinis]
—Modern Greek in IPA
Article 1: All the human beings are born free and equal in the dignity and the rights. Are endowed with reason and conscience, and have to behave between them with spirit of brotherhood.
—Gloss, word-to-word
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
—Translation, grammatical


  1. ^ "Greek language". SIL International. 2009. 
  2. ^ BBC Languages Portal
  3. ^ "Languages Spoken by More Than 10 Million People - Table - MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b "Greek". Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved 8 December 2008. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b c "List of declarations made with respect to treaty No. 148". Council of Europe. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  8. ^ "An interview with Aziz Tamoyan, National Union of Yezidi". Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  9. ^ Based on: Brian Newton: The Generative Interpretation of Dialect. A Study of Modern Greek Phonology, Cambridge 1972, ISBN 0521084970
  10. ^ Map based on: Peter Trudgill: Modern Greek dialects. A preliminary Classification, in: Journal of Greek Linguistics 4 (2003), p. 54-64 pdf
  11. ^ Artemis Alexiadou, Geoffrey C. Horrocks, Melita Stavrou. Studies in Greek Syntax. 
  12. ^ Horrocks, Geoffrey (1997). "17". Greek: A history of the language and its speakers. London: Longman. 
  13. ^ Exceptions include the spelling of /z/, which may be ⟨σ⟩ or ⟨ζ⟩ and the pronunciation of ⟨ντ⟩, which may be [nt], [nd], or [d].
  14. ^ cf. Iotacism
  15. ^ G. Th. Pavlidis and V. Giannouli, "Spelling Errors Accurately Differentiate USA-Speakers from Greek Dyslexics: Ιmplications for Causality and Treatment" in R.M. Joshi et al. (eds) Literacy Acquisition: The Role of Phonology, Morphology and Orthography. Washington, 2003. ISBN 1586033603
  16. ^ ""Φιλιππικός" Χριστόδουλου κατά του μονοτονικού συστήματος". News. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  17. ^ "Την επαναφορά του πολυτονικού ζητά η Διαρκής Ιερά Σύνοδος". News. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 


  • Ανδριώτης (Andriotis), Νικόλαος Π. (Nikolaos P.) (1995). Ιστορία της ελληνικής γλώσσας: (τέσσερις μελέτες) (History of the Greek language: four studies). Θεσσαλονίκη (Thessaloniki): Ίδρυμα Τριανταφυλλίδη. ISBN 960-231-058-8. 
  • Vitti, Mario (2001). Storia della letteratura neogreca. Roma: Carocci. ISBN 88-430-1680-6. 

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