ACCENTS AND BREATHINGS (those little marks)

Greek was originally written with all capital letters, no spaces or punctuation:


Later, in addition to word divisions, accents and breathings were added to aid pronunciation:

Βασιλεὺς Πτολεμαῖος αἰωνόβιος (would have been easier to read, but harder to carve).

Accents were first introduced to indicate the pitch of the emphasized syllable; they are also related to the length of the vowel they accompany.  There are specific rules governing accents, but they do not contribute much to understanding Greek, so we will simply introduce them here for future reference.  A very short summary:

The acute accent (forward slanting) can occur on any of the last three syllables.  It becomes a grave (backward slanting) when written on the last syllable of a word followed immediately by another word:  ωκεανὸς μέγας

The circumflex indicates a long vowel (η, ω; sometimes α, ι, or υ; never ε or ο).  It can occur on either of the last two syllables:  πῦρ, ᾶθλον

Words that begin with a vowel have either a smooth ᾿ or rough breathing above the first letter.

The rough breathing looks like a backward comma and is pronounced like the English letter “h” (for which there is no letter in Greek).

The smooth breathing is not pronounced.

Words that begin with ρ or υ always have a rough breathing.

Examples:  ὀκτώ, ἕλιξ (twisted), ἥλιος (sun), ῥόδον (rose)

Capital letters are used at the beginning of names, paragraphs, or quotations (not every sentence).  Accents and breathings are written before capital letters:  Ὄλυμπος

To revisit the words from the previous page:

ἆθλον νίκη
ἀκρόπολις ὀκτώ
ἀντί Ὄλυμπος
βίος πόλις
γῆ πρῶτον
γράφω πῦρ
δέκα σοφία
δύναμις Σφίγξ
ἐγώ ταῦρος
Ζεύς φόβος
θερμός φωνή
κλέπτω χρόνος
λύρη ψευδής
μέγας ψυχή
μικρός ὠκεανός

The rest of Greek punctuation:

Question mark is like the English semicolon.

Semicolon is a raised period.

Period and comma are the same in Greek and English.