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Learning Egyptian Hieroglyphs - Lesson 2 (Part II)

by Caroline Seawright


I'm going to go through the book, "Egyptian Grammar" by A.H. Gardiner, and try to learn Middle Egyptian hieroglyphs. In this column, I will attempt to share what I learn as I go along!

Verbal Sentences

Verbal sentences are sentences where the predicate is a verb form, having the sense of a simple finite verb (eg. 'loves', 'loved'). In such sentences, the normal word order is:

  1. Verb
  2. Subject
  3. Object
  4. Adverb or Adverbial Phrase (preposition with noun)

wbnrarasun determinativempt (sky determinative)
wbn1 r`2 m3 pt4
Rises1 the sun2 in3 the sky4.
"The sun rises in the sky."

Non-Verbal Sentences

These are sentences that either have no proper verb at all (in the predicate), or have one with the attenuated meaning of the copula (eg. is, are, was, etc). The copula is often unexpressed in Egyptian:

rasun determinativempt (sky determinative) r` m pt "The sun is in the sky."

Notice how there is no 'is' in the Egyptian example above - r` The sun m in pt the sky.

Non-verbal sentences are classified according to the nature of their predicate and can be grouped together as:

  1. Sentences with adverbial predicate - 'the scribe is there', 'the scribe is in the city' (a preposition together with its noun also makes up an adverbial predicate - 'in the city')
  2. Sentences with nominal or pronominal predicate - 'the scribe is a jerk', 'I am he', 'who are you?'
  3. Sentences with adjectival predicate - 'the scribe is good'

Sentences with Adverbial Predicate

The word order is the same as with verbal sentences, but because there are no objects, nor (in many cases) are there copula, the order is:

  1. Subject
  2. Adverb or Adverbial Phrase

rasun determinativegod determinativeConsonantal ym
R`1 ym2
Ra (sun god)1 there2
"Ra is there."

The word Consonantal yw iw is frequently used to introduce adverbial predicate sentences. It is an old verb that only has this form, but it is used for 'is', 'are', etc. Eg:

Consonantal ywrasun determinativempt (sky determinative) iw r` m pt "The sun is in the sky."

When the subject is a noun, iw only occurs in independent statements or assertions. This means that if a sentence has iw, it gives the sentence prominence or importance. Without it, it is a simple description. r` m pt tells us that the sun is in the sky. iw r` m pt tells us that the sun is, indeed, in the sky!

When the subject is a pronoun, the iw has a wider use, which will be discussed later.

Dependance, Tense and Mood

Egyptian doesn't use the words 'when', 'if', 'though', 'for', 'and', etc, very often. This means that it's up to the translator to supply the logical meaning between sentences and words.

It is also the same for the tense and mood of the words - they are not as clearly marked as in English.

This applies to both verbal and non-verbal sentences. For instance, in context, any of the following translations may be correct:

wbnrarasun determinativempt (sky determinative) wbn r` m pt:
"The sun rises in the sky."
"The sun rose in the sky."
"The sun will rise in the sky."
"When the sun rises in the sky."
"When the sun rose in the sky."
"If the sun rises in the sky."

rasun determinativempt (sky determinative) r` m pt
"The sun is in the sky."
"The sun was in the sky.
"When the sun is in the sky."
"When the sun was in the sky."
"Let the sun be in the sky."

Consonantal ywrasun determinativempt (sky determinative) iw r` m pt
"The sun is in the sky."
"The sun was in the sky."
"Whereas the sun is in the sky." (emphatic contrast)

At the moment, translate these into the present tense, unless it is obvious that it should be translated otherwise.


Hieroglyph Sound Transliteration Meanings
rkhbook determinative rkh rekh 1. become acquainted with, know
khmwide spread arms determinative khm khem 1. not know, be ignorant of
grman eating determinative gr ger 1. be silent, cease
khdboat determinative khd khed 1. fare downstream, northwards
hawalk forwards determinative ha ha 1. go down, descent
ear determinativem sdjm sedjem 1. hear
2. (with n 'to') hearken to, obey (a person)
wbn shine determinative wbn weben rise, shine forth
r`sun determinative r` ra 1. sun, day
2. with god determinative, Ra, sun god
yahmoon determinative yah yaeh 1. moon
irrigated land determinative ta ta 1. earth, land
pt (sky determinative) pt pet 1. sky, heaven
skhrbook determinative skhr sekher 1. plan, counsel
hrwsun determinative hrw herew 1. day, day-time
grhnight determinative grh gereh 1. night
rshwtnose determinativebook determinative rshwt reshwet 1. joy, gladness
dptboat determinative dpt depet 1. boat
wyaboat determinative wya weya 1. ship, barque, divine ship
ndjssparrow determinativeman determinative ndjs nedjes 1. poor man, commoner
s man determinative stroke determinative varr. s man determinative s se 1. a man
stwoman determinative st set 1. woman
scribe determinativeman determinative ssh sesh 1. scribe
horizon determinative t stroke determinative akht akhet 1. horizon
pr stroke determinative pr per 1. house
town determinative t stroke determinative nywt neywet 1. town, city
sh irricated land determinative stroke determinative sh she 1. lake, pool


Try to translate the following in hieroglyphs, with transliteration sounds (words in brackets are not to be translated):

  1. The scribe goes down into another boat
  2. Ptah knows this counsel
  3. (When) this poor man fares downstream to the city, the house is in joy
  4. The moon rises in the sky
  5. The scribe is silent by day and by night (render: in day, in night)
  6. This land is in joy (when) Ra goes down into the barque
  7. A pool is in this city
  8. This woman hearkens to the scribe
  9. A man is there in the house

<< Lesson 2 (Part I) || Lesson 3 (Part I) >>

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2000 - present

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