Ancient Greek and Modern Greek: Similarities and Differences

Ancient Greek comprises several different dialects, including Attic, Ionic, and Doric. Among these dialects, Attic Greek is one which was spoken in Athens during the Classical period (the 5th and 4th centuries BC), it is also the dialect that students of Ancient Greek learn in most cases today.

Ancient Greek did not directly evolve into Modern Greek; there are several intermediary forms of the language between the two. Koine Greek and Medieval Greek are two important stages of this evolution.

The Greek language spread far beyond Greece during the conquests of Alexander the Great, the ruler of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. In large parts of the Mediterranean region, Geek became a lingua franca, a common language used for communication between people with different native languages. This form of the Greek language is called Koine Greek.

Koine Greek is an important step in the process of evolution from Ancient Greek to Modern Greek. As a lingua franca, it was spoken by many non-native speakers which led to a simplification of some of the complexities which existed in Ancient Greek. Koine Greek is also important because it is the language in which the New Testament was originally written.

Koine Greek evolved into Medieval Greek, a form of the language which lasted nearly 1000 years (5th to the 15th century CE), which is followed by Modern Greek.

The vast majority of modern Greek words come from ancient Greek.

Vocabulary comparison of Ancient Greek and Modern Greek
English Greek Ancient Greek
language γλώσσα (glóssa) γλῶσσᾰ (glôssa)
love αγάπη (agápi) ᾰ̓γᾰ́πη (agápē)
friend φίλος (fílos) φῐ́λος (phílos)
sun ήλιος (ílios) ἥλῐος (hḗlios)
night νύχτα (nýchta) νῠ́ξ (núx)
sea θάλασσα (thálassa) θᾰ́λᾰσσᾰ (thálassa)
color χρώμα (chróma) χρῶμᾰ (khrôma)
work εργασία (ergasía) ἐργᾰσῐ́ᾱ (ergasíā)
woman γυναίκα (gynaíka) γῠνή (gunḗ)
sleep ύπνος (ýpnos) ῠ̔́πνος (húpnos)
old παλαιός (palaiós) πᾰλαιός (palaiós)
voice φωνή (foní) φωνή (phōnḗ)
wealth πλούτος (ploútos) πλοῦτος (ploûtos)
writing γραφή (grafí) γρᾰφή (graphḗ)
name όνομα (ónoma) ὄνομᾰ (ónoma)
shape μορφή (morfí) μορφή (morphḗ)
music μουσική (mousikí) μουσῐκή (mousikḗ)
foot πόδι (pódi) πούς (poús)
memory μνήμη (mními) μνήμη (mnḗmē)
wind άνεμος (ánemos) ᾰ̓́νεμος (ánemos)
power δύναμη (dýnami) δῠ́νᾰμῐς (dúnamis)
word λέξη (léxi) λέξῐς (léxis)
knowledge γνώση (gnósi) γνῶσῐς (gnôsis)
city πόλη (póli) πόλις (pólis)
nature φύση (fýsi) φῠ́σῐς (phúsis)
tree δέντρο (déntro) δένδρον (déndron)
plant φυτό (fytó) φῠτόν (phutón)

Differences in writing

In Ancient Greek manuscripts, individual words were not separated by spaces. That writing style is called Scriptio continua which means “continuous script” in Latin and is still used in some modern languages such as Thai or Japanese.

Ancient Greek used only capital letters, whereas modern Greek has both lower-case and upper-case forms for letters.

Grammatical differences

In ancient Greek, there are five different Grammatical cases for nouns (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, and vocative). In Modern Greek, the dative case has disappeared leaving just four grammatical cases for nouns.

In Ancient Greek, there are three grammatical numbers (singular, dual, and plural), but in Modern Greek, the dual number no longer exists.

There are four different moods for verbs in Ancient Greek (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and optative). The optative mood does not exist in Modern Greek, which leaves the indicative, the subjunctive, and imperative.

Modern Greek has preserved all three grammatical genders which existed in Ancient Greek (masculine, feminine, and neuter)

Attic Greek has a definite article, but it doesn't have an indefinite article. In Contrast, Modern Greek has both definite and indefinite articles.

Pronunciation differences

The contrast between long and short vowels which existed in Ancient Greek has disappeared from Modern Greek.

Two other important sound changes are betacism and iotacism.


Betacism refers to the following sound change: the letter beta (β) is pronounced as a ‘b’ in Ancient Greek, whereas in Modern Greek it is pronounced as a ‘v’.

Vocabulary words which illustrate the sound changes between Ancient and Modern Greek due to Betacism
English Greek Ancient Greek
library βιβλιοθήκη (vivliothíki) βῐβλῐοθήκη (bibliothḗkē)
problem πρόβλημα (próvlima) πρόβλημᾰ (próblēma)
life βίος (víos) βῐ́ος (bíos)
week εβδομάδα (evdomáda) ἑβδομάς (hebdomás)
king βασιλιάς (vasiliás) βᾰσῐλεύς (basileús)
barbarian βάρβαρος (várvaros) βᾰ́ρβᾰρος (bárbaros)


Iota is the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet. Its phonetic alphabet symbol is [i] and it corresponds to the ⟨ee⟩ sound in the English words “meet” or “feet”.

Several distinct vowels (and diphthongs) which existed in Ancient Greek converged in Modern Greek.

As a result, Modern Greek has many different spellings for the same sound.

The following vowels and vowel combinations have different pronunciations in Ancient Greek but they all converged to the long ⟨ee⟩ sound in Modern Greek.

In modern Greek:

To learn more about Greek, see this comparison of Greek and Latin and this list of the 1000 most common Modern Greek words.