Ancient and modern Greek show a remarkable similarity, and much of what follows covers both. Modern Greek may be divided into two forms, katharevousa (literally ‘purified’), a heavily archaized form used in technical and Church contexts, written in polytonic script, and demotic, the form which is spoken and used in everyday contexts. Demotic, which uses monotonic orthography, has been the official form since 1976, and is employed in official documents.
Ancient and modern Greek are written in an alphabet that consists of twenty-four letters: seventeen consonants and seven vowels (α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω). Modern Greek is written from left to right, as was ancient Greek from the classical period onwards.
In ancient Greek the ‘final’ sigma (i.e. the form used at the end of words) must be distinguished from ϛ stigma [sic], which was used for the numeral 6 and in late manuscripts and early printed books for στ. Stigma is also used in scholarly work (especially on Latin authors) to denote ‘late manuscripts’. In papyri and inscriptions sigma is normally printed Ϲ ϲ (‘lunate sigma’), with no separate final form; this is also sometimes used in other ancient contexts, but never in modern Greek.
Texts of early inscriptions may require Latin h (to be italic with a sloping fount), and the letters Ϝ (wau or digamma) and ϙ (koppa).
In ancient Greek an iota forming a ‘long diphthong’ with a preceding α, η, or ω is traditionally inserted underneath the vowel: ᾳ ῃ ῳ (‘iota subscript’). Some modern scholars prefer to write αι, ηι, ωι (‘adscript iota’), in which case accents and breathings should be set on the first vowel; in the case of αι this means that the accent may fall on either letter depending on the pronunciation. When a word is set in capitals, iota is always adscript (i.e. written on the line rather than beneath it); when the word has an initial capital but is otherwise lower case, an initial long diphthong will have the main vowel as capital, the iota adscript lower case; hence ᾧ will become ΩΙ in capitals (for the absence of accent and breathing see below), but άΩι at the start of a paragraph. In modern Greek the iota is omitted even in phrases taken bodily from the ancient language.
Whether or not to transliterate ancient or modern Greek must of course depend on the context. In general contexts any use of Greek script will be very off-putting to the majority of people, but readers who know Greek will find it far harder to understand more than a few words in transliteration than in the Greek alphabet. If the work is intended only for specialists, all Greek should be in the Greek alphabet; in works aimed more at ordinary readers, individual words or short phrases should be transliterated:
although longer extracts should remain in Greek script, with a translation.
The accents in ancient and modern Greek are acute ´, used on any of the last three syllables of a word; grave ` used only on final syllables; circumflex ˆ, used on either of the last two syllables of a word. The diaeresis ¨ is also used, to show that two vowels occurring together do not form a diphthong.
All words of three or more syllables, and most others, carry an accent. Most unaccented words cause the majority of preceding words to take an acute on their final syllable; they are known as enclitics, the others (all monosyllables) as proclitics. An acute accent on a final syllable or a monosyllable will be found before an enclitic, before punctuation, and in the two words τίϛ and τί when they mean ‘who?’ and ‘what?’; otherwise it is replaced by a grave, although in modern Greek it is sometimes retained.
Greek uses marks known as breathings to indicate the presence or absence of an aspirate at the beginning of a word: they are ‘ (asper or rough breathing) and ’ (lenis or smooth breathing). Breathings are used on all words beginning with a vowel or diphthong and also with ρ; in this case, and that of υ and υι, the breathing will nearly always be the asper.
Each of the accents may be combined with either breathing or with the diaeresis; but breathing and diaeresis never stand on the same letter. The accent always stands over the diaeresis; the breathing stands to the left of the acute or grave, but underneath the circumflex. Except in the case of long diphthongs (see above), accents are placed over the second vowel of a diphthong (which is always ι or υ).
Accents and breathings are regularly used when words are set in capital and lower-case style; they precede capitals and are set over lower-case letters. They are omitted when words are set wholly in capitals.
In modern Greek many printers now dispense with breathings and use only a single accent, either a small downward-pointing filled-in triangle or simply the acute; as before, the accent is omitted in capitals, but otherwise precedes capitals and stands over lower-case letters. Monosyllables, even if stressed, do not have an accent, save that ὴ ‘or’ is distinguished from η ‘the’ (nominative singular feminine), in traditional spelling ἤ and ἡ respectively. The diaeresis remains in use; however, it is used to show that ᾳἷ and οἷ are diphthongs, as opposed to the digraphs αι (pronounced ε) and οι (pronounced ι).
In both ancient and modern Greek a final vowel or diphthong may be replaced at the end of a word by an apostrophe when the next word begins with a vowel or diphthong; occasionally it is the latter that is replaced. Traditionally setters have represented the apostrophe by a lenis; but if the font has a dedicated apostrophe that should be used. Do not set an elided word close up with the word following. It may be set at the end of a line even if it contains only one consonant and the apostrophe or lenis.
12.8.5 Capitalization and punctuation
In printing ancient Greek, the first word of a sentence or a line of verse is capitalized only at the beginning of a paragraph. In modern Greek, capitals are used for new sentences, though not always for new lines of verse.
For titles of works in ancient Greek, it is best to capitalize only the first word and proper nouns, or else proper nouns only. In modern Greek the first and main words tend to be capitalized; first word and proper nouns only is the rule in bibliographies.
In ancient Greek, it is conventional to capitalize adjectives and adverbs derived from proper nouns, but not verbs:
Ἑλληνιστί ‘in Greek’
In modern Greek, lower case is the rule:
ελληνικὰ ‘in Greek’
The comma, the full point, and the exclamation mark (in modern Greek) are the same as in English; but the question mark (;) is the English semicolon (italic where necessary to match a sloping Greek font), and the colon is a raised full point (·). Use double quotation marks, or in modern Greek guillemets.
12.8.6 Word division
In ancient Greek the overriding precept should be that of breaking after prefixes and before suffixes and between the elements of compound words. This requires knowledge of the language, however, since many prefixes cannot be distinguished at sight: ἔν-αυε ‘lit’ contains a prefix, ἔναιε ‘dwelt’ does not.
A vowel may be divided from another (λʿ-ων) unless they form a diphthong (αι, αυ, ει, ευ, ηυ, οι, ου, υι). Take over any combination of ‘mute’ (β, γ, δ, θ, κ, π, τ, ϕ, χ) followed by ‘liquid’ (λ, μ, ν, ρ), also β δ, γ δ, κτ, πτ, ϕθ, χθ, or any of these followed by ρ; μν; and σ followed by a consonant other than σ or by one of the above groups: ἑλι-κτός, γι-γνά-σκω, μι-μνή-σκω, κα-πνός, βα-πτί-fω.
Any doubled consonants maybe divided; λ, μ, ν, and ρ maybe divided from a following consonant, except in μν. Divide γ from a following κ or χ; take over ξ and ψ between vowels (δεί-ξειν, ἀνε-ψιός).
Modern Greek word division follows ancient principles, but the consonant groups taken over are those that can begin a modern word. Therefore θμ is divided, but γκ, μπ, ντ, τf, τσ are not.
Two systems of numerals were in use in ancient Greek. In the older system (the ‘acrophonic’ system, used only for cardinal numbers), certain numbers were indicated by their initial letters. This was eventually replaced by the alphabetic system, shown in
Modern Greek uses Arabic numerals: if a sloping font is being used they should be set in italic, but with upright fonts they should be set in roman, in both cases ranging. Alphabetic numerals are still employed, however, in much the same way as Roman numerals are in Western languages; vi is commonly written στ*.