Alpha (letter)

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(See Also Strongs number 1)

Alpha (uppercase Α, lowercase α; Greek: Αλφα) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 1. It was derived from the Phoenician letter Aleph Aleph. Letters that arose from Alpha include the Latin A and the Cyrillic letter А.




In Ancient Greek, alpha was pronounced a when short and aː when long. Where there is ambiguity, long and short alpha may be written with a macron and breve: Ᾱᾱ, Ᾰᾰ.

  • ὥρα = ὥρᾱ hōrā hɔ̌ːraː "a time"
  • γλῶσσα = γλῶσσᾰ glôssa ɡlɔ̂ːssa "tongue"

In Modern Greek, vowel length has been lost, and all instances of alpha represent the short a.

Shift to long e

In the Attic-Ionic dialect of Ancient Greek, long alpha aː fronted to ɛː (eta). In Ionic, the shift took place in all positions. In Attic, the shift did not take place after epsilon, iota, and rho (ε, ι, ρ; e, i, r). In Doric and Aeolic, long alpha is preserved in all positions.[1]

  • Doric, Aeolic, Attic χώρᾱ — Ionic χώρη "country"
    chṓrā — chṓrē
  • Doric, Aeolic φᾱ́μᾱ — Attic, Ionic φήμη "report"
    phā́mā — phḗmē

Privative a

Privative a is the Ancient Greek prefix ἀ- or ἀν- a-, an-, added to words to negate them. It originates from the Proto-Indo-European *n̥- (syllabic nasal) and is cognate with English un-.

Copulative a

Copulative a is the Greek prefix ἁ- or ἀ- ha-, a-. It comes from Proto-Indo-European *sm̥.

International Phonetic Alphabet

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, a letter based on the lower case of alpha represents the open back unrounded vowel.

Upper case

The uppercase letter alpha is not generally used as a symbol because it tends to be rendered identically to the uppercase Latin A.

Math and science

See also Alpha (disambiguation)

The letter alpha represents various concepts in physics and chemistry, including alpha radiation, angular acceleration, alpha particles and alpha carbon. Alpha also stands for thermal expansion coefficient of a compound in physical chemistry. It is also commonly used in mathematics in algebraic solutions representing quantities such as angles. Furthermore, in mathematics, the letter alpha is used to denote the area underneath a normal curve in statistics when finding figures such as the null and alternative hypotheses. In zoology, is used to name the dominant individual in a wolf or dog pack.

History and symbolism


Alpha was derived from aleph, which in Phoenician means "ox".[2]

According to Etymologicum Magnum, alpha was derived from álphō (άλφω) "to invent": thus alpha is the "first invented letter".[3] The closest attested words are alphánō (αλφάνω) I yield, produce"[4] and the noun derived from it, alphē (αλφή) "produce, gain".[5]


The Homeric word alphesíboios[6][7] is associated with both the root alph- and "ox". It is derived from alphánō[4] "to yield", "earn" and boûs "ox",[8] hence alphesíboios means "bringing in" or "acquiring oxen".


Plutarch in Moralia,[9] presents a discussion on why the letter alpha stands first in the alphabet. Ammonius asks Plutarch what he, being a Boeotian, thinks of Cadmus, the Phoenician who reputedly settled in Thebes and introduced the alphabet to Greece, placing alpha first because it is the Phoenician name for ox — which, unlike Hesiod,[10] the Phoenicians considered not the second or third, but the first of all necessities.

"Nothing at all" Plutarch replied. He then added that he would rather be assisted by Lamprias, his own grandfather, than by Dionysus' grandfather, i.e. Cadmus. For Lamprias had said that the first articulate sound made is "alpha", because it is very plain and simple — the air coming off the mouth does not require any motion of the tongue — and therefore this is the first sound that children make.

According to Plutarch's natural order of attribution of the vowels to the planets, alpha was connected with the Moon. Oxen were also associated with the Moon in both early Sumerian and Egyptian religious symbolism, possibly due to the crescent shape of their horns.

Alpha and Omega

Alpha, both as a symbol and term, is used to refer to or describe a variety of things, including the first or most significant occurrence of something. The New Testament has God declaring himself to be the "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (Revelation 22:13, KJV, and see also 1:8).


In the Runic alphabet of the Elder Futhark in received shamanic oral lore traditions from Scandinavia, the alphabet is a cycle rather than a linear progression and Ur commences the cycle that Fe closes and both are cattle. This is a correlate to Alpha and Omega.[11]


  • 1. Herbert Weir Smyth. Greek grammar for colleges. paragraph 30 and note.
  • 2. alpha on the Online Etymology Dictionary
  • 3. άλφα: τό στοιχείον, παρά τό άλφω τό ευρίσκω: πρώτον γάρ τών άλλων στοιχείων ευρέθη:Alpha: the letter, from alpho "I invent": for it was invented first before the other letters
  • 4. Entry ἀλφάνω in Liddell and Scott
  • 5. ἀλφή in Liddell and Scott
  • 6. Iliad, XVIII, 593
  • 7. Entry ἀλφεσίβοιος. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon at Perseus Project
  • 8. Entry βοῦς in Liddell and Scott
  • 9. Symposiacs, Book IX, questions II & III On-line text at Adelaide library
  • 10. Hesiod, in Works and Days (see on Perseus Project), advises the early Greek farmers, "First of all, get a house, then a woman and third, an ox for the plough."
  • 11. Meadows, Kenneth (1995). Rune Power: The Secret Knowledge of the Wise Ones. Element Books Ltd. ISBN 1852307064; ISBN 978-1852307066
Majuscule form
Minuscule form

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