an English to Greek dictionary with Greek words

What role did the Greek language have in the development of English?

The famous saying “It’s all Greek to me” might be the most wrongfully chosen expression there is. Because each of us speaks a little Greek every day as there are over 150.000 English words that originate from the Ancient Greek language. Architect, base, and chaos are just a few examples.

How has the Greek language influenced language?

The Greek language has wielded a profound and enduring influence on the evolution of numerous languages over the course of history, notably English. Now, let’s delve into an overview highlighting how the ancient Greek language, in a somewhat clandestine manner, stands as one of the most spoken languages globally.

The alphabet

Although Greek letters might seem different from the English ones, Greek has contributed to the development of the English alphabet. The ancient Greeks were the first to establish a true alphabet, around the 8th century B.C.. Later, this alphabet was adopted by the Romans who, in turn, passed it on to Western Europe. Therefore, the modern English contains many of the same letters as the ancient Greek alphabet did. Moreover, even the name alphabet shows the Greek influence, as the first two letters of the Greek alphabet are Alpha and Bet(a).

Greek words in English

One of the most obvious ways in which Greek has influenced English is through the many words that have been borrowed from the Greek language. These words (often passed on through Latin) have become an integral part of the English vocabulary. For example, words such as “philosophy,” “democracy,” “telephone,” and “typhoon” are all of Greek origin. Greek has also contributed to the technical vocabulary of English, with words such as “mathematics,” “biology,” “geography,” and “psychology” being derived from Greek roots.


In addition to the borrowed words, Greek has also had a significant impact on the grammar and syntax of English. The Greek language has an inflected structure. This means that the grammatical function of a word is indicated by its ending rather than by its position in the sentence. This structure has influenced the way in which English forms its verb tenses and noun declensions.

Besides, Greek prefixes and suffixes are commonly used in English to create new words or modify existing ones. Examples include “tele-” (distant), “micro-” (small), “anti-” (against), “ology” (study of), and “ism” (belief in).


Furthermore, Greek mythology and literature have had a major influence on Western culture. Many words and phrases from Greek mythology have become part of the English language. For example, words such as “nemesis,” “hubris,” and “eureka” come from Greek mythology and are used in English to convey specific meanings. Also, the Greek epic poem “Iliad” and “Odyssey” were considered the foundation of Western literature, and many phrases and idioms from these works, such as “Achilles heel” and “Trojan horse,” have been passed down through the generations and are still in use today.

Science and medicine

Moreover, Greek has also played a crucial role in the field of science and medicine. Many scientific and medical terms in English have derived from Greek roots. For instance, words such as “anatomy,” “physiology,” and “pathology” come from Greek roots and are commonly used in the medical field. Greek letters are commonly used as symbols in mathematics and science as well. Examples include “alpha,” “beta,” and “gamma,” which are used in mathematical equations and scientific formulas.

Additionally, the Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine,” has had a profound impact on the development of the medical field. Even until today his teachings are still widely studied.

English words you probably didn’t think were Greek

Did you ever watch the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? In this movie, there are multiple scenes in which a Greek father explains how every English word derives from a Greek word. Although these scenes add to the level of comedy of the movie, there is actually some truth in it as well. Here is an overview of English words, secretly derived from the Greek language.

  • Cemetery
    The word cemetery seems far from Greek. However, it originates from the Greek word koimitirion, which you pronounce as kee-mee-tee-rion. This Greek word describes the place you sleep. While death is often described as an endless sleep, the cemetery is this place.
  • Dynasty
    The word dynasty comes from the Greek word dinami which means strength or power.
  • Enthusiasm
    In ancient Greece, there was a word made up of en, (in), heós (god), and usía (essence). Enthousiasmós meant something like possed by a god or inspired by the divine. This word then went through Latin and French until it entered the English language with the meaning of excitement.
  • Jealous
    The word jealous comes from the Greek word zêlos.
  • Democracy
    The term democracy itself is derived from the Greek words demos (people) and kratos (rule). The concept of democracy originated in ancient Greece and has profoundly influenced political thought.
  • Dinosaur
    Dinosaur comes from a combination of two Greek words. The first one is dinos, meaning terrible or fearful. Secondly, saúros means lizard. When you put these two together, you have the fearful creatures that used to wander our world.

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2 responses to “What role did the Greek language have in the development of English?”

  1. Wendy K. Mason Avatar
    Wendy K. Mason

    I think the phrase it’s Greek to me stems from how the letters in the Greek alphabet aren’t always the same sound in English. Like Po is pronounced Ro.

    1. Anna Avatar

      And in non-capitals Greek is even more confusing!

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