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The Coptic alphabet is the script used for writing the Coptic language. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the Greek alphabet augmented by letters borrowed from the Egyptian Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used for the Egyptian language. There are several Coptic alphabets, as the Coptic writing system may vary greatly among the various dialects and subdialects of the Coptic language.

Coptic alphabet
Languages Coptic language
Time period
c. 200 BC to 18th century AD (Still used today in Coptic churches in Egypt and abroad)
Parent systems
Sister systems
Old Nubian
Direction Left-to-right
ISO 15924 Copt, 204
Unicode alias



Coptic letters in a florid Bohairic script

The Coptic alphabet has a long history, going back to the Hellenistic period, of using the Greek alphabet to transcribe Demotic texts, with the aim of recording the correct pronunciation of Demotic. During the first two centuries of the Common Era, an entire series of magical texts were written in what scholars term Old Coptic, Egyptian language texts written in the Greek alphabet. A number of letters, however, were derived from Demotic, and many of these (though not all) are used in "true" Coptic writing. With the spread of Christianity in Egypt, by the late 3rd century, knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost, as well as Demotic slightly later, making way for a writing system more closely associated with the Christian church. By the 4th century, the Coptic alphabet was "standardised", particularly for the Sahidic dialect. (There are a number of differences between the alphabets as used in the various dialects in Coptic.) Coptic is not generally used today except by the members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria to write their religious texts. All the Gnostic codices found in Nag Hammadi used the Coptic alphabet.

The Old Nubian alphabet—used to write Old Nubian, a Nilo-Saharan language —is written mainly in an uncial Greek alphabet, which borrows Coptic and Meroitic letters of Demotic origin into its inventory.


The Coptic alphabet was the first Egyptian writing system to indicate vowels, making Coptic documents invaluable for the interpretation of earlier Egyptian texts. Some Egyptian syllables had sonorants but no vowels; in Sahidic, these were written in Coptic with a line above the entire syllable. Various scribal schools made limited use of diacritics: some used an apostrophe as a word divider and to mark clitics, a function of determinatives in logographic Egyptian; others used diereses over and to show that these started a new syllable, others a circumflex over any vowel for the same purpose.[1]

The Coptic alphabet's glyphs are largely based on the Greek alphabet, another help in interpreting older Egyptian texts,[2] with 24 letters of Greek origin; 6 or 7 more were retained from Demotic, depending on the dialect (6 in Sahidic, another each in Bohairic and Akhmimic).[1] In addition to the alphabetic letters, the letter ϯ stood for the syllable /te/ or /de/. As the Coptic alphabet is simply a typeface of the Greek alphabet,[citation needed] with a few added letters, it can be used to write Greek without any transliteration schemes. Latin equivalents would include the Icelandic alphabet (which likewise has added letters), or the Fraktur alphabet (which has distinctive forms).

Alphabet tableEdit

Image maj. Image min. Unicode maj. Unicode min. Numeric value Name Greek equivalent Translit. (IPA)
    1 Alpha Α, α a [a, ʔ, ʕ]
    2 Bēta Β, β b, v [β~v]
    3 Gamma Γ, γ g [ɡ]
    4 Delta Δ, δ d [d]
    5 Ei Ε, ε e [i, e][note 1]
    6 So Ϛ, ϛ (stigma)
    7 Zēta Ζ, ζ z [z]
    8 Ēta Η, η ē / e [eː]
    9 Thēta Θ, θ th / t' [tʰ]
    10 Yota Ι, ι i [iː~j]
    20 Kappa Κ, κ k [k]
    30 Lambda Λ, λ l [l]
    40 Me Μ, μ m [m]
    50 Ne Ν, ν n [n]
    60 Eksi Ξ, ξ ks
    70 O Ο, ο o [o]
    80 Pi Π, π p [p]
    100 Ro Ρ, ρ r [r]
    200 Sima Σ, σ, ς s [s]
    300 Taw Τ, τ t [t]
    400 Epsilon Υ, υ u / ou [uː][note 2]
    500 Fi Φ, φ ph / p' [pʰ]
    600 Khe Χ, χ kh [kʰ]
    700 Epsi Ψ, ψ ps
    800 Ōu Ω, ω ō / o [oː]
    Ϣ ϣ Shay (none) sh / š [ʃ]
    Ϥ ϥ 90 Fay Ϙ, ϙ (koppa)
(form, number)
f [f]
    Ϧ (Ⳉ) ϧ (ⳉ)[note 3] Khay (none) x [x]
    Ϩ ϩ Hōri (none) h [h, ħ]
    Ϫ ϫ Janja (none) j / dzh [dʒ]
    Ϭ ϭ Tshēma Ϙ, ϙ (koppa)
q / tsh [kʲ, tʃ][note 4]
    Ϯ ϯ Ti / De (none) ti / de [ti, de][note 5]
  1. ^ In Sahidic dialect, it is [i], while, in Bohairic dialect, it is [e].
  2. ^ The vowel /uː/ is commonly written with ⲟⲩ not alone.
  3. ^ The additional letter xai is in Akhmimic and in Bohairic, both for a velar fricative /x/.
  4. ^ Some scholars constructed its pronunciation as [kʲ], while others as [tʃ].
  5. ^ In Sahidic dialect, it is [ti], while in Bohairic dialect, it is [de].

Letters derived from DemoticEdit

The following letters were derived from Demotic:

Hieroglyph   Demotic   Coptic
  Ϣ š
  Ϥ f
  Ϧ x
  Ϩ h
  Ϭ q
  Ϯ te


In Unicode, most Coptic letters formerly shared codepoints with similar Greek letters, but a disunification was accepted for version 4.1, which appeared in 2005. The new Coptic block is U+2C80 to U+2CFF. Most fonts contained in mainstream operating systems use a distinctive Byzantine style for this block. The Greek block includes seven Coptic letters (U+03E2–U+03EF highlighted below) derived from Demotic, and these need to be included in any complete implementation of Coptic.

Greek and Coptic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+037x Ͱ ͱ Ͳ ͳ ʹ ͵ Ͷ ͷ ͺ ͻ ͼ ͽ ; Ϳ
U+038x ΄ ΅ Ά · Έ Ή Ί Ό Ύ Ώ
U+039x ΐ Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο
U+03Ax Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω Ϊ Ϋ ά έ ή ί
U+03Bx ΰ α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο
U+03Cx π ρ ς σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω ϊ ϋ ό ύ ώ Ϗ
U+03Dx ϐ ϑ ϒ ϓ ϔ ϕ ϖ ϗ Ϙ ϙ Ϛ ϛ Ϝ ϝ Ϟ ϟ
U+03Ex Ϡ ϡ Ϣ ϣ Ϥ ϥ Ϧ ϧ Ϩ ϩ Ϫ ϫ Ϭ ϭ Ϯ ϯ
U+03Fx ϰ ϱ ϲ ϳ ϴ ϵ ϶ Ϸ ϸ Ϲ Ϻ ϻ ϼ Ͻ Ͼ Ͽ
1.^ As of Unicode version 10.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+2CBx ⲿ
U+2CFx ⳿
1. ^ As of Unicode version 10.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Coptic Epact Numbers[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+102Ex 𐋠 𐋡 𐋢 𐋣 𐋤 𐋥 𐋦 𐋧 𐋨 𐋩 𐋪 𐋫 𐋬 𐋭 𐋮 𐋯
U+102Fx 𐋰 𐋱 𐋲 𐋳 𐋴 𐋵 𐋶 𐋷 𐋸 𐋹 𐋺 𐋻
1.^ As of Unicode version 10.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Diacritics and punctuationEdit

These are also included in the Unicode specification.


  • Normal English punctuation (comma, period, question mark, semicolon, colon, hyphen) uses the regular Unicode codepoints for punctuation
  • Dicolon: standard colon U+003A
  • Middle dot: U+00B7
  • En dash: U+2013
  • Em dash: U+2014
  • Slanted double hyphen: U+2E17

Combining diacriticsEdit

These are codepoints applied after that of the character they modify.

  • Combining overstroke: U+0305 (= supralinear stroke)
  • Combining character-joining overstroke (from middle of one character to middle of the next): U+035E
  • Combining dot under a letter: U+0323
  • Combining dot over a letter: U+0307
  • Combining overstroke and dot below: U+0305,U+0323
  • Combining acute accent: U+0301
  • Combining grave accent: U+0300
  • Combining circumflex accent (caret shaped): U+0302
  • Combining circumflex (curved shape) or inverted breve above: U+0311
  • Combining circumflex as wide inverted breve above joining two letters: U+0361
  • Combining diaeresis: U+0308

Macrons and overlinesEdit

Coptic uses U+0304 ◌̄ COMBINING MACRON to indicate syllabic consonants, for example ⲛ̄.[3][4]

Coptic abbreviations use U+0305 ◌̅ COMBINING OVERLINE to draw a continuous line across the remaining letters of an abbreviated word.[4][5] It extends from the left edge of the first letter to the right edge of the last letter. For example, ⲡ̅ⲛ̅ⲁ̅.

A different kind of overline uses U+FE24 ◌︤ COMBINING MACRON LEFT HALF, U+FE26 ◌︦ COMBINING CONJOINING MACRON, and U+FE25 ◌︥ COMBINING MACRON RIGHT HALF to distinguish the spelling of certain common words or to highlight proper names of divinities and heroes.[4][5] For this the line begins in the middle of the first letter and continues to the middle of the last letter. A few examples: ⲣ︤ⲙ︥, ϥ︤ⲛ︦ⲧ︥, ⲡ︤ϩ︦ⲣ︦ⲃ︥.

Coptic numerals are indicated with letters of the alphabet such as for 1.[6] Sometimes numerical use is indicated with a continuous line above using U+0305 ◌̅ COMBINING OVERLINE as in ⲁ͵ⲱ̅ⲡ̅ⲏ̅ for 1,888 (where "ⲁ͵" is 1,000 and "ⲱ̅ⲡ̅ⲏ̅" is 888). Multiples of 1,000 can be indicated by a continuous double line above using U+033F ◌̿ COMBINING DOUBLE OVERLINE as in ⲁ̿ for 1,000.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Ritner, Robert Kriech. 1996. "The Coptic Alphabet". In The World's Writing Systems, edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 1994:287–290.
  2. ^ Campbell, George L. "Coptic." Compendium of the World's Writing Systems. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Biddles LTD, 1991. 415.
  3. ^ "Revision of the Coptic block under ballot for the BMP of the UCS" (PDF). ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2. 2004-04-20. 
  4. ^ a b c Everson, Michael; Emmel, Stephen; Marjanen, Antti; Dunderberg, Ismo; Baines, John; Pedro, Susana; Emiliano, António (2007-05-12). "N3222R: Proposal to add additional characters for Coptic and Latin to the UCS" (PDF). ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2. 
  5. ^ a b "Section 7.3: Coptic, Supralineation" (PDF). The Unicode Standard. The Unicode Consortium. July 2017. 
  6. ^ "Section 7.3: Coptic, Numerical Use of Letters" (PDF). The Unicode Standard. The Unicode Consortium. July 2016. 
  • Quaegebeur, Jan. 1982. "De la préhistoire de l'écriture copte." Orientalia lovaniensia analecta 13:125–136.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabet in Coptic, Greek". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 30–32.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabets, Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 32–41.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabets, Old Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 41–45.
  • Wolfgang Kosack: Koptisches Handlexikon des Bohairischen. Koptisch - Deutsch - Arabisch. Verlag Christoph Brunner, Basel 2013, ISBN 978-3-9524018-9-7.

External linksEdit