How do you pronounce phi?

As a first year physics student, the Greek alphabet bewilders me. I'm sure everyone here has made the mistake of confusing a nu for a v, and yesterday I found out that I am incapable of writing zeta. However, the worst offender in my book is the letter phi. In the E&M textbook I am using (by Purcell), flux is denoted by $$\Phi$$, and electric potential is denoted by $$\phi$$ -- except when it's denoted by $$\varphi$$. Worst of all, I can't decide whether it rhymes with "lie" or "lee." A Google search shows that there are a lot of people who pronounce it different ways (see this and this.) My question to you, is how do you pronounce it? Have you noticed different pronunciations in different contexts?

brewnog
Gold Member
Phi rhymes with Pi, Chi, Psi, and perhaps Xi.

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
brewnog said:
Phi rhymes with Pi, Chi, Psi, and perhaps Xi.

And in England they rhyme with pie, but in Greece they rhyme with pee.

I usually say "phy", but for the last couple of years, ever since I went through a semester with a physics II professor who always said "phee", it sounds wrong to me no matter which way I say it.

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I say it as "fie." Even if "fee" is the right way to say it, it never sounded right to me. Though, I used to find endless amusement in the tongue-twisting power of the letter Xi when pronounced ksee (sort of), especially in partial derivatives...in P-chem, about all I can remember is that dXi (yeah yeah yeah, one of these days I'll figure out how that LaTex stuff works to write that properly) was used a lot and it amused me endlessly to listen to the prof stumble over saying it when giving lecture. He was a hard-nose with a reputation for failing about half the class, which he lived up to so nobody was going to feel sorry for him if we found things amusing at his expense. (When I sheepishly went in to meet with the dean of academic affairs to request permission to retake the class when I got a D in it...my one and only D, ever!...she asked me what happened that I got a D in a class, and as soon as I said it was P-chem, she stopped me and said there was no need to explain further and signed my form.)

Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Hey, I pronounce ξ as ksee! (lol, of all the ones they could've chosen to actually look right in the default font...) I rather enjoy the strange consonant sounds of foreign languages, though! I've gotten in the habit of pronouncing φ as phee so much that phy sounds wrong... but psee for ψ and even worse pee for π really grate my ears.

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Hurkyl said:
Hey, I pronounce ? as ksee! (lol, of all the ones they could've chosen to actually look right in the default font...)

:rofl: It took me long enough to learn how to write that properly! I had never seen the lower case form written before that P-chem class, and it took me a while to figure out it was a real letter and not some lazy scribble. What can I say, I already had previous run-ins with language difficulties. When I took multivariable calc, one of the first lectures started out with the Russian prof talking about a rrrrrrode (that's a rolled r). It took us about three lectures to finally realize he meant a plain, old-fashioned, ordinary rod, as in the cylindrical object, not some Greek character or symbol or special math term. Anyway, it's still fun to say Deeksee, which was how our prof said d? (say it out loud a few times and you'll understand).

Edit: oh well, guess I can't just copy and paste it from your post.

Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Complain to chroot. You should be able to quote my ξ. In fact, I just cut-pasted it from my post to here myself! Well, it could just be your system sucks.

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Hurkyl said:
Complain to chroot. You should be able to quote my ?. In fact, I just cut-pasted it from my post to here myself! Well, it could just be your system sucks.

You're picking on my system! It's funny, because it shows up just fine in the reply box, and then doesn't show up in the post. Let me try pasting one in from Word on my computer. ? <---this one's mine. Yours is in the quote. Since I'm on a Mac, it might see it differently somehow. Though why should that affect how the forum displays it?

Edit: nope...huh, weird. I don't get to use ksee. Maybe the software can tell I'm up to no good with it.

Moonbear said:
Anyway, it's still fun to say Deeksee, which was how our prof said d? (say it out loud a few times and you'll understand).

Oh, I wish I was in $\partial \xi$, hooray, hooray ...

Pengwuino
Gold Member
And in England they rhyme with pie, but in Greece they rhyme with pee.

isnt it a greek symbol? if so, think the appropriate would be however its said in greek. My profs say it like it rhymes with pee.

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
gnome said:
Oh, I wish I was in $\partial \xi$, hooray, hooray ...

:rofl: :rofl: Thank you for using tex so I can actually quote you (I hope).

Moonbear said:
:rofl: :rofl: Thank you for using tex so I can actually quote you (I hope).

You're welcome. It's great fun being a high-tech idiot.

vsage
"fee" sounds like an american adaptation. I noticed most of my university professors use "phy" thought.

Pengwuino
Gold Member
http://www.sju.edu/alphaphi/History/Symbols.htm [Broken] Says its pronounced like pee

Last edited by a moderator:
Pengwuino said:
http://www.sju.edu/alphaphi/History/Symbols.htm [Broken] Says its pronounced like pee

To be exact, it says:
In Greek, the letter Phi is pronounced "Fee" ...

but isn't this discussion about how non-Greeks pronounce it?

Last edited by a moderator:
Pengwuino
Gold Member
Shouldnt we pronounce it how the original people pronounce it? I thought we're discussing how its suppose ot be said and when i think of "suppose to", i think of how it was originally said.

Yes the Greeks pronounce it "fee" being a letter of the alphabet. But the English pronounce it "fie" not to confuse it with f from their alphabet.

Monique
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
gnome said:
but isn't this discussion about how non-Greeks pronounce it?
Pronounciating can be confusing, fie in european is pronounced the same as fee in english. Most europeans (if not all?) pronounce the letter as the english speaking pronounce fee.

brewnog
Gold Member
Pengwuino said:
Shouldnt we pronounce it how the original people pronounce it?

That's rich, coming from an American...

Chi Meson
Homework Helper
To pronounce things as the original people pronounce them is impossible because they are all dead. The modern Greek pronunciation of the Greek letters is different from the classical greek pronounciation (mostly for the vowels). Depending on which part of Greece you go to, "chi" could be pronounce "kee" or "khee" (sort of like a scottish or semitic "ch" sound). AN american would sound silly making either of these sounds, so this one is sually pronounce "kai."

Moonbear said:
:rofl: When I took multivariable calc, one of the first lectures started out with the Russian prof talking about a rrrrrrode (that's a rolled r). It took us about three lectures to finally realize he meant a plain, old-fashioned, ordinary rod, as in the cylindrical object, not some Greek character or symbol or special math term.

My quantum professor started talking about the "Witchy Wector" one day. It's finally funny now.

First off, greetings, I finally became official after reading this site for a while.

To the matter at hand -

From Greek in College, some letters change pronunciation based on where they are located.

As for Phi, if it is follow be a vowel, it would be like "Fee", otherwise, it would be "Fie".

Same for Xi, after a vowel, it's "Zee", otherwise, it's like "Zai"

(Languages are a little hobby of mine, and they're fun to collect)

Last edited:
http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=xi
Two versions of Xi.

http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=phi&x=0&y=0 [Broken]
Phi is pronounced like "phy" here.

http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=chi&x=0&y=0 [Broken]
This is interesting. Two versions of chi.

Last edited by a moderator:
I say both in all honesty: when I give it some thought I say "fee" because I know that's how it's supposed to be pronounced. When I'm thinking rapidly in my head, however, I say "fie" and that's been known to carry into my conversations whenever I'm thinking too quickly to "convert" it in my mind.

brewnog said:
That's rich, coming from an American...

That's rich, coming from a Brit... :tongue: