Cannot write Greek Polytonic in Linux

For up to date instructions for Greek and Greek Polytonic see How to type Greek, Greek Polytonic in Linux.

The following text is kept for historical purposes. Greek and Greek Polytonic now works in Linux, using the default Greek layout.

General Update: If you have Ubuntu 8.10, Fedora 10 or a similarly new distribution, then Greek Polytonic works out-of-the-box. Simply select the Greek Polytonic layout. For more information, see the recent Greek Polytonic post.

Update 3rd May 2008: If you have Ubuntu 8.04 (probably applies to other recent Linux distributions as well), you simply need to add GTK_IM_MODULE=xim to /etc/environment. Start a Terminal (Applications/Accessories/Terminal) and type the commands (the first command makes a backup copy of the configuration file, and the second opens the configuration file with administrative priviliges, so that you can edit and save):

$ gksudo cp /etc/environment /etc/environment.ORIGINAL
$ gksudo gedit /etc/environment

then append


save, and restart your computer. It should work now. Try to test with the standard Text editor, found in Accessories.

In Ubuntu 8.10 (autumn 2008), it should work out of the box, just by enabling the Greek Polytonic layout.

Update 20th June 2008: If still some accents/breathings/aspirations do not work, then this is probably related to your system locale (whether it is Greek or not). It works better when it is Greek. If you are affected and you do not use the Greek locale, there is one more thing to do.

$ gksudo cp /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose.ORIGINAL
$ gksudo cp /usr/share/X11/locale/el_GR.UTF-8/Compose /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose

The first command makes a backup copy of your original en_US Compose file (assuming you run an English locale; if in doubt, read /usr/share/X11/locale/locale.dir). The second command copies the Greek compose file over the English one. You then logout and login again.

End of updates

To write Greek Polytonic in Linux, a special file is used, which is called the compose file. There is a bit of complication here in the sense that the compose file depends on the current system locale.

To find out which compose file is active on your system, have a look at


Let’s assume your system locale is en_US.UTF-8 (Start Applications/Accessories/Terminal and type locale).

In the compose.dir file it says

en_US.UTF-8/Compose: en_US.UTF-8

Note that the locale is the second field. If you have a different system locale, match on the second field. Many people make a mistake here. Actually, I think be faster for the system to locate the entry if the compose.dir file was sorted by locale.

Therefore, the compose file is


So, what’s the problem then?

Well, for the Greek locale (el_GR.UTF-8) we have a different compose file, a compose file in which Greek Polytonic actually works ;-).

Therefore, there are numerous workarounds here to get Greek Polytonic working.

For example,

  • If you speak modern Greek, you can install the Greek locale.
  • You can edit /usr/share/X11/locale/compose.dir so that for your locale, the compose file is the Greek one, /usr/share/X11/locale/el_GR.UTF-8/Compose.
  • You can edit the Greek compose file, take the Greek Polytonic section and update the Greek Polytonic section of en_US.UTF-8/Compose.
  • You can copy the Greek compose file in your home directory under the name .XCompose. I did not try this one, and also you may be affected by this bug. (not tested)

Of course the proper solution is to update en_US.UTF-8/Compose with the updated Greek Polytonic compose sequences. There is a tendency to add the compose sequences of all languages to en_US.UTF-8/Compose, and this actually is happening now. In this respect, it would make sense to rename en_US.UTF-8/Compose into something like general/Compose.

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