Sanskrit and Greek: The Similarities and Differences between them

Ancient Greek and Sanskrit are classical languages: both have a large collection of ancient literature.

Scholars study these languages to get direct access to ancient literary and philosophical texts, as well as to get a perspective on human thought across the ages.

Sanskrit and Greek similarities in vocabulary

Greek and Sanskrit are linguistically related languages: they both belong to the Indo-European family of languages.

This means that both Sanskrit and Greek have a common ancestor language, a reconstructed language called the Proto-Indo-European language.

This common linguistic ancestry is the reason for the existence of several similar vocabulary words between Sanskrit and Greek. Some examples of these are provided in the table below:

Table: Sanskrit and Greek similar words
English Sanskrit Greek
mind मनस् (manas) μένος (menos)
great, big मह (maha) μέγας (megas)
knee जानु (janu) γόνυ (gonu)
boat नौ (nau) ναῦς (naus)
water उदन् (udan) ὕδωρ (hudor)
winter, cold हिम (hima) χεῖμα (kheima)
a field अज्र (ajra) ἀγρός (agros)
house दम (dama) δόμος (domos)
night नक्ति (nakti) νύξ (nux)
a foot पद् (pad) πούς (pous)
mouse मूष् (mus) μῦς (mus)
reward मीढ (midha) μισθός (misthos)
donor दातृ (datr) δώτωρ (dotor)
lady पत्नी (patni) πότνια (potnia)
star स्तृ (str) ἀστήρ (aster)
sleep स्वप्न (svapna) ὕπνος (hupnos)
a month मास् (mas) μείς (meis)
man नर (nara) ἀνήρ (aner)
name नामन् (naman) ὄνομα (onoma)
door दुर् (dur) θύρα (thura)
a fox लोपाश (lopasa) ἀλώπηξ (alopex)
a bend अङ्कस् (ankas) ἄγκος (ankos)
bone अस्थि (asthi) ὀστέον (osteon)
intestine अन्त्र (antra) ἔντερον (enteron)
a reproach निन्दा (ninda) ὄνειδος (oneidos)
ray अक्तु (aktu) ἀκτίς (aktis)
flesh क्रविस् (kravis) κρέας (kreas)
to bite दशति (dasati) δάκνω (dakno)
to tame दाम्यति (damyati) δάμνημι (damnemi)

A list with some additional similar words between Greek and Sanskrit is provided at the end of this article.

Sanskrit and Greek: language variants

Sanskrit and Greek are two of the 3 most ancient documented languages which descend from the Proto-Indo-European language, the reconstructed ancestor of the Indo-European family of languages. (the 3rd is the Hittite language)

Because the use of Sanskrit and Greek spans a very long timeframe (over a millennium), both of these languages have different variants which were in use during different periods.

Greek language variants

Mycenaean Greek is the most ancient documented form of Greek, dating back to the 15th century BCE. It predates the Greek alphabet and was written in a script called “linear B” which contained many ideograms (and pictograms) in addition to syllabic symbols.

Attic Greek is the form of Ancient Greek that is most studied by scholars today. It was written using the Greek alphabet.

Koine Greek is the form of Greek that was in use from the 4th century BCE to the 6th century CE. One of the noteworthy differences between Koine Greek and its predecessor (Attic Greek) is the disappearance of the distinction between long vowels and short vowels.

Modern Greek is the form of Greek that is used in Greece today.

Sanskrit language variants

Vedic Sanskrit is the earlier form of Sanskrit. Its name comes from the Vedas, which are a collection of religious texts.

Classical Sanskrit is the form of the Sanskrit language which was codified by the scholar and grammarian Pāṇini around the 4th century BCE.

A visible linguistic pattern in the evolution of Sanskrit is the increased use of compound nouns. This was less common in Vedic Sanskrit, but later it became increasingly common, leading to longer and longer words. A Sanskrit word holds the first place for the “longest word” category in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Important texts in Greek and Sanskrit

The existence of important philosophical, and literary texts written in Greek and Sanskrit is one of the reasons why scholars study these ancient languages.

Some examples of important texts written in Ancient Greek include the following:

Sanskrit is an important language for scholars who are interested in Eastern philosophy and yoga. Examples of important texts written in Sanskrit include:

Sanskrit vs Greek Grammar

Both Sanskrit and Greek are languages that have 3 grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter).

The grammatical genders of Sanskrit and Greek vocabulary words are in some cases aligned and in some cases not, as the following examples show:

Articles are words that accompany nouns. English, for example, has a definite article (“the”), as well as indefinite articles: “a” and “an”.

Sanskrit and Ancient Greek are languages that use noun declensions (changes in endings) to indicate grammatical cases. As a result, Sanskrit and Greek are languages that have a relatively flexible word order (since the grammatical function can be inferred from the declensions rather than the word order).

Sanskrit and Ancient Greek have, in addition to singular and plural, a third grammatical number called the dual. This is a grammatical feature that Sanskrit and Greek received from their ancestor language, the Proto-Indo-European language.

More similar words between Greek and Sanskrit

The following list contains Ancient Greek and Sanskrit words that are similar in meaning, and which resemble each other. Most of these are cognates, meaning that they derive from a common ancestor word.

Conclusion: are Sanskrit and Greek similar languages?

Sanskrit and Ancient Greek are important classic languages that are linguistically related as they share a common ancestor.

Scholars study these languages because of the cultural, literary, and philosophical importance of the texts written in them.

For more on classic languages, see this comparison of Sanskrit and Latin, this comparison of Latin and Greek, and and this list of the thousand most common Sanskrit words.