Understanding Greek Diphthongs

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No matter what your goals are for learning the Greek language, you do need to have exposure to certain grammatical concepts. Many English language speakers who start learning Greek are particularly challenged by the fact that Greek has a unique alphabet that has 24 letters, where each letter has its own, predictable sound. However, there are more sounds in the Greek language than what can be expressed with these 24 letters.

Some of these letters are combined to form a unique set of sounds called diphthongs, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as, “a gliding speech sound (such as the vowel combination at the end of toy) that starts at or near the articulatory position for one vowel and moves to or toward the position of another.”  Please see this article for more detail about the specific letters.

Greek Diphthongs

In the Greek language, there are around eleven diphthongs to get to know. While you do need to be aware of these sounds, you don’t need to spend a lot of time on this. Just be aware that some combinations of Greek letters have a unique sound. Here’s a summary of the letter combinations plus a description of the sounds they make:

ει – Pronounced ‘ee’ as in Tree

  • ξενοδοχείο – xenothoheeo – hotel
  • νοσοκομείο – nosokomeeo – hospital

οι – Pronounced ee as in Tree

  • οικογένεια – eekoyenia – family
  • φοιτητής – feetitis – student

αι – Pronounced e as in Shelf

  • παιδί – pethi – child
  • παίζω – pezo – I play

αυ – Pronounced af as in Afford or ow as in Hour

  • αὐτός – aftos -he

ου – Pronounced oo as in Soup

  • οὐδέ – oothay – nor

There might be other diphthongs you may encounter, but these are the major ones that you will encounter as you work on learning the Greek language since they find their way in some of the words you will encounter on a regular basis. As mentioned above, how much time you spend on this concept will depend on your goals. If you are just learning Greek casually, either for travel or to increase your understanding of the language, there really is no need to obsess over it. As you gain more experience in the Greek language, concepts like this will naturally become second nature.


The Learn Greek section on GreekBoston.com was written by Greeks to help people understand the conversational basics of the Greek language. This article is not a substitute for a professional Greek learning program, but a helpful resource for people wanting to learn simple communication in Greek.

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