Diacritics in Ancient Greek

Polytonic Greek diacritics, the markings seen above Greek letters, indicate the proper pronunciation. Most novice and intermediate Greek translators ignore these characters, but familiarity with these little markings is a great timesaver and avoids potential translation errors.

For example, the confusing words: ην, η, and ως, each one can have a number of different meanings. A person can use context to decide which meaning is to be used, but a quick glance at the diacritic along with context makes it much faster to understand.

Here are ην, η, and ως, with the diacritics and possible English translations:


  • ἤν conditional particle, shortened form for εἰ ἄν and ἐάνif or when
  • ἦν imperfect indicative active 3rd singular of εἰμίhe was
  • ἤν interjection—see there!
  • ἥν feminine accusative singular relative pronoun—whom, which or that


The Greek letter, η, is more complex. The diacritics and context have to be utilized:

  • feminine singular nominative definite article—the
  • feminine singular nominative relative pronoun—who, which or that
  • two possible meanings:
    • feminine dative singular of the relative Pronoun ὅς, ἥ, ὅwhich way, where, how, as, in so far as
    • feminine dative singular—to/for/with/in whom
  • verb, present subjunctive active 3rd singular of εἰμί—no simple English equivalent

  • four possible meanings:
    • comparative—either, or, than
    • adverbially—surely, doubtless
    • the next two are possibilities for in ecclesiastical literature but remote:
      • verb, imperfect indicative active 3rd singular of φημίhe was saying
      • verb, imperfect indicative active 1st singular of εἰμί, Attic Greek—I was


This one can also cause some confusion:

  • ὧς and ὥς (with accent)—so or thus
  • ὡς (without accent) of the relative pronoun ὅςas
  • ὡς relative and Interrogative—how
  • ὡς temporal—when
  • ὡς local—where

A larger list of problem words can be found at chioulaoshi.org.

Mastery of diacritics is beneficial in the translation process. It is worth taking the time to learn.

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