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Hi, everybody! Stefania here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Greek questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is “What are some words that have alternative spellings and why?”
This is something that confuses every single learner initially as they always come across words that have two different spellings. There are many reasons for this - historical, phonological, or the word itself might be of foreign origin. In this video, I'll show you some of the most common words that have alternative spellings.
The first example we'll see is the pair εννέα and εννιά (enéa / eniá, "nine").
The normal form is εννέα (enéa). But due to a phonological phenomenon called “synizesis,” or συνίζηση (sinízisi) in Greek, the word can also be spelled as εννιά (eniá).
Synizesis is the union in pronunciation of two adjacent vowels into one syllable within a word. For example,
μία → μια (mía → mia, "one") and δύο → δυο (dío → dio, "two").
Synizesis occurs in many words when there is an /i/ or an /e/ sound followed by a vowel, resulting in the two vowel sounds being pronounced as one syllable. However, not all words that have such vowel combinations go through synizesis. And in some, synizesis is optional, like with μία (mía) and δύο (dío).
Sometimes the first vowel might also change, especially when it's an /e/ sound, which then becomes an /i/ sound spelled with ι (γιώτα, yóta). This is what happens with εννέα (enéa). Other examples are...
γενεά → γενιά (yeneá → yeniá, "generation")
and παλαιός → παλιός (paleós → paliós, "old")
Here are some sample sentences.
Είμαι τριάντα εννιά χρονών. (Íme triánda eniá hronón.)
"I'm thirty-nine years old."
Η θερμοκρασία θα φτάσει τους είκοσι εννέα βαθμούς Κελσίου. (I thermokrasía tha ftási tus íkosi enéa vathmús Kelsíu.)
"The temperature will reach twenty-nine degrees Celsius."
Some other phonological phenomena that cause words to change are...
• elimination or αποβολή (apovolí)
• prefixation or πρόταξη (prótaxi)
• and change or αλλαγή (alayí).
Elimination is the loss of the initial vowel of a word. For example...
αγελάδα → γελάδα (ayeláda → yeláda, "cow"), αμύγδαλο → μύγδαλο (amígdalo → mígdalo, "almond"), εβδομάδα → βδομάδα (evdomáda → vdomáda, "week"), εμπρός → μπρος (embrós → bros, "forward"), εξάδερφος → ξάδερφος (exáderfos → xáderfos, "cousin"), εξομολογώ → ξομολογώ (exomologó → xomologó, "to confess"), ερωτώ → ρωτώ (erotó → rotó, "to ask"), ευλογώ → βλογώ (evlogó → vlogó, "to bless"), ημέρα → μέρα (iméra → méra, "day"), υγεία → γεια (iyía → ya, "health"), and υπερήφανος → περήφανος (iperífanos → perífanos, "proud").
Prefixation is the addition of an initial vowel. For example,
βδέλλα → αβδέλλα (vdéla → avdéla, "leech") and σκιά → ίσκιος (skiá → ískios, "shadow/shade").
Finally, with change, the initial vowel changes to a different one. For example,
έμορφος → όμορφος (émorfos → ómorfos, "beautiful") and έξαφνα → άξαφνα (éxafna → áxafna, "suddenly").
Here are some sample sentences.
Ο πατέρας είναι περήφανος για τον γιο του. (O patéras íne perífanos ya ton yo tu.)
"The father is proud of his son."
Ας κάτσουμε στον ίσκιο, γιατί κάνει ζέστη. (As kátsume ston ískio, yatí káni zésti.)
"Let's sit in the shade, because it's hot."
Next let's see some words that have changed throughout history.
In antiquity, it was normal for a word to have two plosives or two fricative consonants together. Plosive consonants are the ones that don't require an airflow, like the "p" in "plosive" while fricative consonants require an airflow, like the "f" in "fricative." An example is the word επτά (eptá, "seven") that started out with the two plosive consonants π (p) and τ (t). Throughout history though, the tendency was to have different kinds of consonants together. So today, the plosive π (p) of επτά (eptá) became the fricative φ (f), like in εφτά (eftá). Although the original version sounds more standard, both spellings are equivalent today. Similarly, we have αδελφός → αδερφός (adelfós → aderfós, "brother"), αδελφή → αδερφή (adelfí → aderfí, "sister"), (ε)ξάδελφος → (ε)ξάδερφος ((e)xádelfos → (e)xáderfos, "[male] cousin"), (ε)ξαδέλφη → (ε)ξαδέρφη ((e)xadélfi → (e)xadérfi, "[female] cousin"), οκτώ → οχτώ (októ → ohtó, "eight"), and (ε)χθές → (ε)χτές ((e)xthés → (e)xtés, "yesterday").
Here are some sample sentences.
Έχω δύο αδερφούς και μία αδερφή. (Ého dío aderfús ke mía aderfí.)
"I have two brothers and one sister."
Για τεχνική υποστήριξη, πατήστε το επτά. (Ya tehnikí ipostírixi, patíste to eptá.)
"For technical support, press seven."
Finally, let's look into the spelling of some foreign loan words.
Initially, foreign loan words were written in a way that they resembled the foreign spelling. For example, τραίνο (tréno) from the French "train" meaning "train." That, however, was problematic because one would have to know the foreign word's spelling in order to spell the Greek version correctly. After 1976, when Demotic Greek became the official language, a series of orthographic simplifications took place favoring single instead of double consonants and the vowels ε, ι, and ο (e, i, o) instead of αι, υ, and ω (e, i, o). So today we write τρένο (tréno) instead of τραίνο (tréno) . Older people, though, still use the old spellings so these are common to see. Some few examples are...
φέρρυ μπωτ → φέρι μποτ (féri bot, "ferry boat")
μπύρα → μπίρα (bíra, "beer") (German "Bier")
μωβ → μοβ (mov, "purple") (French "mauve")
πάρτυ → πάρτι (párti, "party")
and στυλό → στιλό (stiló, "pen") (French "stylo")
Note that foreign proper names are usually an exception. For example, Ζυρίχη (Ziríhi, "Zurich") and not Ζιρίχη (Ziríhi).


How was the lesson? Pretty interesting, right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
Γεια χαρά! (Ya hará!)


Please to leave a comment.
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GreekPod101.com Verified
Friday at 06:30 PM
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What Greek learning question do you have?

GreekPod101.com Verified
Thursday at 12:05 AM
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Hi Letícia,

Your question is one of the most common questions I receive. In lesson 3 of this series, I explain about when to use ο and ω. I hope it helps a little!


All the best,


Team GreekPod101.com

Wednesday at 11:18 AM
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I have a question about when to use certains vowes. Sometimes I write a word with an o where should be an ω, for exemple. This is the main letter that gets me.