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 Long and Short vowels in Greek
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2 Posts

Posted - 01 Jun 2010 :  02:33:23  

Greetings! I'm excited to be learning koine Greek through self-study. It is, of course, quite difficult, but I am simply amazed at the number of resources available to someone in my position!

Right now I am having difficulty with vowels.

1. How do I know when the vowels that are sometimes short and sometimes long are one or the other, eg: a, i, u...

2. I am especially having trouble guessing with i. For example, I was surprised to hear Mr Mounce pronounce "ὅτι" as ho-tee instead of ho-ti ("i" like "i" in "sing".) Granted, ho-ti "sounds" strange, but so does a lot of Greek to a beginner's ears :-)

I am wondering if there are definite rules for identifying when a vowel has a long or short pronunciation, or if I must memorize each usage of the vowels in individual words (BTW, I'd like to leave aside whether Mounce pronounces the ancient greek letters correctly for now, and focus on the length of the vowels.)

Thank you so very much for taking the time to read this.




615 Posts

Posted - 01 Jun 2010 :  05:08:48  


Hi Jared,

There are some rules about the length of vowels that can be either short or long (α, ι, υ), and I'm sure you can find them in your Grammar book. But you can also infer their length by the accent of a word (see http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/lessons/greek-accentuation.asp?pg=5 ).

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2 Posts

Posted - 01 Jun 2010 :  11:58:47  


Thank you very much. That is exactly the sort of information I am looking for. Any further details would be similarly appreciated!

I had assumed I could find the details in Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (3rd Edition.) I may have missed it, but so far I've only found, on page 8, "The iota can either be long ("intrIgue") or short ("Intrigue"). Listen to how your teacher pronounces the words and you will pick up the differences." Then, in the Workbook Answer Key pg 3 "Advanced information: Some teachers instruct students to pronounce alpha differently depending on whether it is short or long. Since iota only subscripts under long vowels, if alpha has an iota subscript, then you know that it is a long alpha, and should be pronounced accordingly. Where there is no iota subscript, however, you need some other information to know whether the alpha is long or short, and hence how to pronounce it. So the iota subscript does not affect the pronunciation of alpha, but it tells you which pronunciation to use. Because of the difficulty in knowing whether an alpha is long or short, some teachers have students pronounce alpha the same regardless of whether it is long or short."

Any further information/rules (including any references I might have missed in Mounce) would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again to George for your contribution :-)

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615 Posts

Posted - 01 Jun 2010 :  14:53:10  


I hope the rules below will help a little. As for the actual pronunciation, a longer vowel sounds a little less long than double the short one. But keep in mind that such differences exist only before classical times. Even in the time of Plato and afterwards all vowels were actually pronounced the same. However, you need to know the differences for grammatical reasons beyond pronunciation, since without knowing the length of the vowels you will not be able to place the proper accent on a word. The accents - grave, accute, circumflex- may be pronounced as if they were signifying a single, identical, stress, yet they represent the optical equivalent of the varying duration of syllables - they are necessary to the perception of our mind, and they help us keep each syllable distinct and clear. Notice e.g. the word "single" that I used above, how in English its "e" disappears and we pronounce as if it was a crippled "singl". Greek accents urge our mind to keep such vowels intact in Greek words, even if their length is not longer or shorter than that of other vowels. We need the accents to keep the integrity of our thinking.
ε and ο are always short - η and ω are always long.

Diphthongs are long (with exceptions).

α, ι, υ in the penultimate of nouns and adjectives have short length. (There exist exceptions, such as μῦθος).

α in the ultimate of male and female nouns and adjectives is long.

α in the ultimate of neutral nouns, pronouns and adjectives is short

α in the ultimate of adverbs is short.

α in the ultimate of verbs is long, when accented (in the indicative mood it is short, if not accented.)

α in the ultimate of imperative verbs is long

α in the penultimate of verbs is short (with exceptions).

ι in the ultimate of neutral nouns is long

ι and υ in the penultimate of verbs are short.

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1 Posts

Posted - 07 Jun 2010 :  05:03:48  


Wow. That does help. Thanks a lot!

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