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Rough breathing

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Rough breathing
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In the polytonic orthography of Ancient Greek, the rough breathing (Ancient Greek: δασὺ πνεῦμα dasỳ pneûma or δασεῖα daseîa; Modern Greek: δασεία dasía; Latin spīritus asper), is a diacritical mark used to indicate the presence of an /h/ sound before a vowel, diphthong, or rho. It remained in the polytonic orthography even after the Hellenistic period, when the sound disappeared from the Greek language. In the monotonic orthography of Modern Greek phonology, in use since 1982, it is not used at all.

The absence of an /h/ sound is marked by the smooth breathing.


File:Heta uc lc.svg
Tack-shaped archaic consonantal Heta, together with a lowercase variant designed for modern typography.
The rough breathing comes from the left-hand half of the letter H.[1] In some Greek dialects, the letter was used for [h] (Heta), and this usage survives in the Latin letter H. In other dialects, it was used for the vowel [ɛː] (Eta), and this usage survives in the modern system of writing Ancient Greek, and in Modern Greek.


The rough breathing ( ῾ ) is placed over an initial vowel, or over the second vowel of an initial diphthong.

  • αἵρεσις haíresis "choice" (→ Latin haeresis → English heresy)
  • ἥρως hḗrōs "hero"

An upsilon[2] or rho[3] at the beginning of a word always takes a rough breathing.

  • ὕμνος hýmnos "hymn"
  • ῥυθμός rhythmós "rhythm"

Inside a word

In some writing conventions, the rough breathing is written on the second of two rhos in the middle of a word.[3] This is transliterated as rrh in Latin.

In crasis (contraction of two words), when the second word has a rough breathing, the contracted vowel does not take a rough breathing. Instead, the consonant before the contracted vowel changes to the aspirated equivalent (i.e., π → φ, τ → θ, κ → χ),[4] if possible, and the contracted vowel takes the apostrophe or coronis (identical to the smooth breathing).

  • τὸ ἕτερον → θοὔτερον (not *τοὕτερον) "the other one"
    tò héteronthoúteron

Under the archaizing influence of Katharevousa, this change has been preserved in modern Greek neologisms coined on the basis of ancient words, e.g. πρωθυπουργός ("prime minister"), from πρῶτος ("first") and ὑπουργός ("minister"), where the latter was originally aspirated.

Technical notes

In Unicode, the code point assigned to the rough breathing is Template:Unichar. It is intended to be used in all alphabetic scripts (including Greek and Latin).

It was also used in the original Latin transcription of Armenian for example with Template:Unichar in .

The pair of space + combining rough breathing is Template:Unichar. It may bind typographically with the letter encoded before it to its left, to create ligatures for example with Template:Unichar in , and it is used for the modern Latin transcription of Armenian (which no longer uses the combining version).

It is also encoded for compatibility as Template:Unichar mostly for usage in the Greek script, where it may be used before Greek capital letters to its right and aligned differently, e.g. with Template:Unichar, where the generic space+combining dasia should be used after the letter it modifies to its left (the space is inserted so that the daisa will be to the left instead of above that letter). Basically, U+1FFE was encoded for full roundtrip compatibility with legacy 8-bit encodings of the Greek script in documents where dasia was encoded before the Greek capital letter it modifies (it is then not appropriate for transliterating Armenian and Semitic scripts to the Latin script).

When Template:Unichar is used incorrectly after a Latin letter it is supposed to modify, for example with Template:Unichar in t῾d, a visible small gap will occur between the leading Latin letter t and the Greek dasia, and the Greek dasia may interact typographically with the Latin letter d following it to suppress this gap, like in Greek.[citation needed]

There is a polytonic Greek code range in Unicode, covering precomposite versions (breathing mark + vowel etc.). Editing these is facilitated by dedicated Greek word processors such as Nanos (

The rough breathing was also used in the early Cyrillic alphabet when writing the Old Church Slavonic language. In this context it is encoded as Unicode Template:Unichar

In Latin transcription of Semitic languages, especially Arabic and Hebrew, a symbol similar to the rough breathing Template:Unichar, is used to represent the letter ayin. This left half ring may also be used for the Latin transcription of Armenian (though the Armenian aspiration is phonetically nearer to the Greek dasia than the Semitic ayin).

See also


  1. ^ Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar, par. 14.
  2. ^ Smyth, par. 10.
  3. ^ a b Smyth, par. 13.
  4. ^ Smyth, par. 64.