Look Inside! A Grammar of New Testament Greek

Today, we look inside Rodney A. Whitacre’s forthcoming book, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Nov. 11, 2021). This book is an indispensable source as both a textbook and as a reference for all Greek New Testament readers.

A Grammar of New Testament Greek is available for pre-order at Eerdmans.com, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBook.com, and Amazon.com.

A complete table of contents is available here.


– Chapter 1 –


Introduction to Greek Writing, Pronunciation, and Punctuation


This chapter begins with material that is important to learn at the outset of a Greek course, followed by several related topics that can be learned as they are met in reading. The final section is included for those who wish to use one of the alternative forms of pronunciation.

Essential Material

1.1.  Approaches to Pronunciation

There was no one way to pronounce Greek, any more than there is one way to pronounce English. Some elements of Modern Greek were already present among the dialects in the fifth to fourth centuries BC, including Attic Greek associated with Athens, often referred to as Classical Greek (CG). Other elements of Modern Greek appeared in the Hellenistic period in which Koine Greek (KG) developed, mostly from Attic Greek.

Throughout these periods and those that followed there was no uniform way to pronounce Greek.

  1. At present there are four main approaches to pronouncing KG. Perhaps most students, at least in the West, are taught a form of pronunciation based on the views of Desiderius Erasmus in the early sixteenth. He attempted to reconstruct the pronunciation of CG, but most scholars agree that Erasmus’s system has flaws. Alternatively, some advocate using Modern Greek pronunciation, while others propose using a reconstruction of how Greek was pronounced around the time of the New Testament. These reconstructions of CG and KG are valuable, but are only approximations; no one has heard any form of ancient Greek pronounced by an ancient Greek! Any of these approaches is fine for reading purposes. As one Greek professor put it, if we are ever able to travel back in time to ancient Greece we will all sound like tourists.
  2. The pronunciation offered here draws mostly from CG, and thus is close to the Erasmian pronunciation used in many courses. Since there is increasing interest in moving to a reconstruction of Hellenistic pronunciation or to Modern Greek pronunciation, guidelines to those are included as well (§1.13).
  3. The goal in learning ancient Greek is not to be able to speak with native speakers today—they don’t exist—but to read the amazing texts that have come down to us from the past. To develop even basic proficiency in reading it is extremely helpful to become comfortable pronouncing Greek, whichever form you choose to use.


1.2.   The Alphabet

The upper-case forms are used infrequently and can be learned as you encounter them.


  1. Editions of ancient Greek texts vary in their use of capital letters. For example, the five main editions of the Greek New Testament use capital letters on proper nouns (Πέτρος, Petros, Peter) and on the first word in a 8 In addition, NA28 also capitalizes the first word in a subsection within a paragraph, while UBS5, SBLGNT, and WH add capitals to the first word in direct speech (since Greek does not have quotation marks).
  2. The final form of sigma (ς) occurs at the end of a word; the other form (σ) occurs everywhere else.
  3. Gamma is always a hard “g” (get, not germ), but when γ occurs before κ, γ, χ, or ξ it is pronounced like ν and is transliterated into English with “n”: ἄγγελος, angelos, angel. Thus, γγ is pronounced “ng,” as in sing, γκ is pronounced “nk” as in ink, γχ is pronounced “nch” as the “nkh” in sink-hole, and γξ is pronounced “nx” as in lynx.
  4. Iota is pronounced short when it is in a syllable ended by a consonant, and it is long when it ends a syllable or is itself a 9 Thus τινι (τι – νι) = tīnī, τισιν (τι – σιν) = tīsĭn, similarly πίστις (πί – στις) = pīstĭs. Alpha and upsilon also may be short or long, distinguished by how long the sound is drawn out. This distinction is important in CG texts, especially the epics and poetry, but not for most KG texts.
  5. The omicron is similar to the “o” in “pot” as pronounced in Britain, “a pot of tea,” though more lightly, like “awe.” Avoid the common practice of pronouncing omicron the same as alpha. So “awe” not “aah.”
  6. Upsilon is pronounced like the French “u.” Pronouncing it like a quick combination of “ee” and “oo” is close enough, somewhat like “puberty.” Don’t draw it out as if you smelled something
  7. It is proper to trill the rho like an “r” in Spanish, though a bit more lightly, like in
  8. Chi may be pronounced as “c” in cool or, better, like a heavy guttural “h” sound as in the Scottish loch or the German Bach.
  9. The line over ē and ō is called a macron, from μακρόν, long. It is important to include this line in transliterated texts to distinguish epsilon from eta and omicron from omega. For example, ὁδῷ = hodō, ἐγκοπή = enkopē. Several Unicode fonts include the symbols ē and ō.
  10. Upsilon is transliterated “y,” except when it is in a For example, Κύριε, lord, Lord, is transliterated Kyrie instead of Kurie: Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy. So ὗς, sow, is hys, but υἱός, son, is huios. Compare the two upsilons in ὑπεραυξάνω, I increase greatly: hyperauxanō.


1.3.  Diphthongs

When two vowels are pronounced together as one sound they form a diphthong.

At one stage ευ was pronounced as ε followed quickly by υ with a constricted pronunciation. Together the diphthong sounded like the “ell” in the Cockney “bell”; ηυ was pronounced similarly, but with an initial sound more like its η, Beowulf. This pronunciation was a stage on the way to Modern Greek “eff ” and “ev” for ευ and “eef” and “eev” for ηυ (§1.13). Often in Koine courses both sounds are given as “eu” in “eucharist” (AGG §2b). For reading purposes any of these options is fine.


1.4.   Breathing Marks

 A vowel at the beginning of a word has a mark over it indicating whether an “h” sound is added (῾) or not (᾽). These marks not only affect pronunciation but also sometimes signal the difference between words. For example, ἑν has the rough breathing so it is pronounced “hen” and it means one, while ἐν has a smooth breathing so it is pronounced “en,” and means in. These breathing marks should always be included when writing Greek.

  1. If the vowel is a capital then the breathing mark is in front of it (Ἀβραάμ, Abraham). In a diphthong the breathing mark is on the second letter of the diphthong (the iota in υἱός, Υἱός, son). The rho has a rough breathing mark at the beginning of a word since trilling the rho causes air to flow around the tongue somewhat like the “h” sound (ῥάβδος, staff). This breathing mark on a rho is not included in transliteration, Ῥωμή, Rōmē,
  2. If you are using the reconstructed pronunciation or the modern pronunciation note that the breathing marks are not sounded. So words with a rough breathing mark are pronounced as if they had a smooth breathing Indeed, in Modern Greek the breathing marks are not written, by decree of the Greek government in 1982.


1.5.  Iota Subscript

Sometimes an iota is placed under an α, η, or ω, thus, ᾳ, ῃ, ῳ. This iota subscript does not change the pronunciation and it is not included in transliteration. It is, however, an important part of the word, often signaling the way the word is functioning in a sentence.


1.6.   Accents

Three accent marks are used: the acute (´), grave (`), and circumflex (~). In earlier Greek they denoted changes between lower and higher pitch; rising, falling, rising then falling, respectively. By the second century BC, however, they were increasingly used simply to mark the syllable to be stressed. At that time they began to be written occasionally and by the ninth century AD they appeared on each word.

Words often change their accent when there is a change in a word’s form. Such changes in accent are not usually significant for understanding a word, but occasionally they are. For example, ὁ is a definite article, the, but ὅ is a relative pronoun, which. See appendix 1 for the basic rules of accenting and appendix 2 for a list of the main places where the accent makes a difference.


1.7.   Syllabification

Words in Greek have one vowel or diphthong per syllable. Thus Ἰερουσαλήμ (Jerusalem) = Ἰ – ε – ρου – σα – λήμ. Notice that vowels which are not part of a diphthong may be a syllable by themselves, and that a single consonant goes with the vowel or diphthong following it. As a rough rule, when two or more consonants are together they stay together if they can be pronounced together easily: ἐπιστρέψας = ἐ – πι – στρέ – ψας; otherwise they are separated.

This guideline can affect pronunciation at times. For example, πίστις (faith) is divided πί – στις and thus pronounced pī – stĭs with a long iota in the first syllable since it is not closed by a consonant (§1.2d). Doubled consonants are split: θάλασσα = θά – λασ – σα, ἄρρωστοι = ἄρ – ρω – στοι, but this division need not affect pronunciation.

The components of words also guide your pronunciation. For example, ἐπι- στρέψας is a compound verb composed of a verb with the preposition ἐπί added to the front. So when you pronounce the word you will naturally pronounce the preposition as a unit, as the diaeresis (§1.12) in προϋπῆρχεν illustrates.


1.8.   Punctuation

Greek uses a period (.) and comma (,) as in English. A Greek question mark looks like an English semicolon (;). A raised dot in Greek (·) is not found in English. It represents a stronger break than a comma, but less than a period. It signals a division in a long sentence. English translations often start a new sentence where there is a raised dot in the Greek. Periods, raised dots, and question marks always signal the completion of a clause; commas do so sometimes, but not always.


Further Related Details

1.9.   Enclitics and Proclitics

 Some words, such as ὁ mentioned in §1.6, do not have an accent because they are pronounced in conjunction with the word either before or after. Sharing an accent does not change the meaning of a word.

  1. Enclitics (ἐνκλίνω, lean on) share their accent with the word before them. For example, in ὁ θεός ἐστιν ἀγαθός (God is good), ἐστιν is pronounced as one word with θεός. Often this sharing will cause a word to have two accents, for example, ἐλέησόν με (have mercy on me).
  2. Proclitics (προκλίνω, lean forward) share their accent with the following word. For example, ἐκ in ἐκ θεοῦ (from God) is pronounced with θεοῦ as one word. In ὁ θεός ἐστιν ἀγαθός (God is good) ὁ is a proclitic, pronounced with θεός. Since ὁ is a proclitic and ἐστιν is an enclitic the three words are pronounced together with only the one accent on θεός.
  3. The main rules for accenting enclitics and proclitics are included in appendix 1. For reading purposes you don’t need to learn the rules for accenting enclitics and But it is important to know that such accent sharing happens, otherwise you are likely to wrongly identify a word at times. For example, in ὅ τε Φίλιππος (and Philip, Acts 8:38) the enclitic τε has caused the article ὁ, a proclitic, to have an accent and thus look like the relative pronoun ὅ.


1.10.    Elision

When a word ending in a short final vowel is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, the short final vowel often is elided, that is, it drops out. Its place is marked by an apostrophe. Elision is especially common in conjunctions and prepositions. For example, ἀλλὰ ὕπαγε becomes ἀλλ᾽ ὕπαγε and ἀπὸ αὐτῶν becomes ἀπ᾽ αὐτῶν. For further details see §4.37 and §5.255b.


1.11.   Crasis

Sometimes two words are combined, with the final vowel on the first word melding with the vowel at the front of the second word. The resulting vowel has a mark called a coronis over it, which looks like a smooth breathing mark. For example, καί and ἐγώ become κἀγώ; καί and ἄν become κἄν. Lexicons cite the combined form.


1.12.   Diaeresis

Two dots over a letter, like a German umlaut, is called a diaeresis (διαίρεσις, division). It is put over the second vowel in a diphthong when the diphthong is pronounced as two separate vowels. So πραΰς is pronounced πρα – ΰς.


1.13.   Reconstructed Hellenistic Pronunciation and Modern Pronunciation

Resources vary in their descriptions of some of these sounds. A more detailed description of a reconstructed pronunciation is available on the website for the Biblical Language Center, along with sample recordings. For help with modern pronunciation the web has many resources, and language learning sites such as Duolingo and Mango Languages are very helpful. There are several websites containing the entire Greek New Testament read aloud, many of them using modern pronunciation. Just search “greek audio new testament.” There are also free apps for phones.


A Grammar of New Testament Greek is available for pre-order at Eerdmans.com, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBook.com, and Amazon.com.

Source: eerdword.com

Look Inside! A Grammar of New Testament Greek