Reading New Testament Greek

Lesson Three


This week we are moving on to vowels. We have completed a three-week study on the alphabet focusing on both the capital and small letters.

What is a vowel?

Vowels are simply defined as letters that represent an open sound. Rodney J. Decker defines vowels as, “the glue that holds consonants together, enables pronunciation, and distinguishes similar words. In Greek they also have a morphological function; they serve to join various parts of a word and to distinguish some forms of a word from other forms.” (Decker 2014:14).

How many vowels does Greek have?

 David Holton, Peter Mackridge, and Irene Philippaki-Warbaton argue that “the Greek sound system has five distinct vowels.” (Holton, Mackridge & Philippaki-Warbaton 2004:3). These five distinct vowels are: ι, ε, α, ο, υ. This sounds like the English vowel system or Shona in my native language. However, in essence, Greek has seven vowel systems that represent the Greek sound system. There is a debate as to whether English has five vowels or six because the letter ´y´ has a double function, for example, in the word hymn the ´y´ serves as a vowel while in the word Yesterday, it is a consonant. Therefore some argue that English has six vowels while others it has five and ´y´ serves as a semi-vowel. The difference lies in the fact that in Greek there are separate letters for the long and short versions of the ´ε´ and ´ο´. In total, the seven vowels in Greek are; α, ε, η, ι, ο,   υ,   ω.  

 Short vowelLong VowelEither short or long
3  υ


Decker, Rodney. J. (2014). Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Duff, Jeremy. (2005). The Elements of New Testament Greek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hilderbrandt, Ted. (2003). Mastering New Testament Greek Textbook. Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Academic.

Holton, David, Mackridge, Peter, & Philippaki-Warbaton, Irene. (2004). Greek: An Essential Grammar of the Modern Language. London: Routledge.  

Mounce, William. D. (2003). Basics of Biblical Greek: Grammar. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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