Spiritus asper

Spiritus asper

The spiritus asper (Latin for "rough breathing"; δασὺ πνεῦμα dasỳ pneûma or δασεῖα daseîa), is a diacritical mark used in the polytonic orthography. In ancient Greek, it indicates initial aspiration, or the presence of the voiceless glottal fricative (/h/) at the beginning of a word. It was maintained in the polytonic orthography even after the /h/ sound disappeared from the Greek language during the Hellenistic period, but has been dropped in the modern monotonic orthography.

The spiritus asper (῾ ) is placed over the initial vowel or, in the case of an initial diphthong, over the second vowel. In all other cases, the initial vowel or diphthong carries the spiritus lenis. In addition, it is always placed over an initial or doubled letter rho.

Examples: ὕμνος stands for hymnos, "hymn", and ῥήτωρ for rhētōr, "orator".

Origin and shape

The origin of the sign is thought to be the left-hand half ( ├ ) of the letter H, which was used in some Greek dialects as an [h] while in others it was used for the vowel eta. In medieval and modern script, it is written as on top of or to the left of an initial vowel (the second vowel of a pair comprising a diphthong), and also on an initial rho or the second of a pair of rhos. It takes the form of an opening half moon (C):

  • ἁ- ἑ- ἡ- ἱ- ὁ- ὑ- ὡ- ῥ-;


  • Ἁ- Ἑ- Ἡ- Ἱ- Ὁ- Ὑ- Ὡ- Ῥ-.

Use inside a word

In rare cases, it can be written inside a word (other than when the second vowel in a diphthong):

  • on a double rho in certain editions;
  • when two words contract ("crasis"), the second word can in some cases keep its spiritus asper. This situation is called coronis.

Other remarks

In Unicode, the code point assigned to the spiritus asper is U+1FFE ( ῾ ).

The spiritus asper was also used in the early Cyrillic alphabet when writing the Old Church Slavonic language. In this context it is encoded as Unicode U+0485 (  ).

In Latin transcription of Semitic languages, especially Arabic and Hebrew, a symbol similar to the spiritus asper ( ʿ ) U+02BF, is used to represent the letter ayin.

See also

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