Ok, this is not about false diphthong /ou̯/(ου), 'cause it split with long /uː/ (but anybody know a certain time of this spliting? In Wiki this describes simple "at early times") and disappeared from phonological system at all. So there is not problem with the distinction.

But, as described at Wiki, diphthong /ei̯/ still remains in the phonology, and we have a some kinda disposition - there is still true and false diphthong ει.

So, but how to distinct the one from the other!!? I have found a little description that there are so rules for the distinction, but nothing else (by condition of my asking here):

diphthongs distinct at writings by placing some accent marks to the next syllable.

But what about exlamation '¡εί!' - '¡hey!' !? It must be pronounced as /ei̯/, and not as /eː/, or not!?

Wiktionary still have this issue (or not). So maybe who know more complex explanation how to separate the one from the other?

P.S. Why here isn't AG section at the Stack~!?

  • 3
    Spurious and etymological diphthongs have completely merged in pronunciation in the Classical period. ει is pronounced like a diphthong before vowels and a monophthong elsewhere, regardless of its origin. During the fifth century υι is pronounced like a monophthong except in the feminine ending -υια, which is the model for the later restoration of the diphthong elsewhere. If you're particularly invested in pronunciation, you'll want to check out W. Sidney Allen's Vox Graeca at some point.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jun 21, 2020 at 13:53
  • Ah, ok. Thanks! So, if I want to recitate ει as diphtong it is need to see its environment.
    – TrmIntrs2
    Jun 21, 2020 at 19:22

1 Answer 1


There's no distinction in Classical times.

When the Greek alphabet was standardized by Euclid the Archon (around 400 BCE), the sounds of earlier /ej/ and earlier /eː/ (likewise /ow/, /oː/) had merged completely. Since they were pronounced the same, Eucleides decided to write them the same.

From that point onward, there was no distinction in Greek writing of which was which. (And since most people don't try to use a pronunciation from earlier than that, there's not much interest in distinguishing them.) So you'll need to turn to other methods…

Earlier inscriptions may write them differently.

In pre-Euclidean times, when the two were still pronounced differently, "genuine" diphthongs tended to be written ΕΙ ΟΥ, and "spurious" diphthongs (long monophthongs) were written Ε Ο. So older inscriptions may provide clues for the quality of diphthongs, even when the etymology is uncertain.

False diphthongs only have a few sources.

The long monophthongs arose when a short /e/ or /o/ was lengthened: either in compensation when a consonant was deleted, or by contraction with another /e/ or /o/.

This contraction is sometimes visible through inflection, like when a noun or verb stem ends in epsilon. In these cases, you can be sure it's a spurious diphthong.

Other dialects may show different reflexes.

In "Severer" Doric, for example, lengthening of /e/ or /o/ produced η ω, not ει ου. So if the Doric form of a word has a monophthong where the Attic or Ionic form has a diphthong, it's probably spurious.

  • Can you comment on Cairnarvon's statement that "ει is pronounced like a diphthong before vowels and a monophthong elsewhere, regardless of its origin"? That seemed like a non-obvious statement to me so I was wondering about its basis
    – Asteroides
    Jun 27, 2020 at 19:16
  • @Asteroides Allen (Vox Graeca page 79) suggests that, as a possible explanation for why ειC merged with ιC much earlier than ειV~ιV. But his evidence doesn't seem convincing enough to say for certain, especially since ειV was regularly transcribed into Latin as ēV (not eiV) during that period (Aenēas, Nīlus). I'm quite confident in the statement that earlier /ej/ and /eː/ had merged by Euclid's time, though, and whatever variation there was in pronunciation was purely phonetic.
    – Draconis
    Jun 27, 2020 at 19:33

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