Nouns can describe both tangible (book, man, Amun) and intangible things (love, desire, justice). In Middle Egyptian, there are two terms that we use to describe nouns: gender and number. A noun’s gender can be either feminine or masculine, and its number can be singular, plural, or dual.
The best method to determine whether a noun is feminine or masculine is to look for the t hieroglyph . This hieroglyph signals that the gender of the word is feminine (usually). In some cases, the t hieroglyph is present and the gender is not feminine. These exceptions, however, are few and far between. If the t hieroglyph is not present, then the noun is more than likely masculine. The following chart lists the masculine and feminine endings for nouns.
Now, lets look at a few examples to see these endings in action. The hieroglyph for “brother” is sn . There is no ending attached to the noun, so we can identify it as singular and masculine. Now, as we now know that sn is a masculine noun, we can attach a different ending to it in order to change its number. If we add a w , it becomes the plural, “brothers.” If we add the ending wy , it becomes the dual, “the two brothers.” Sometimes, in place of the w in the plural, three plural strokes may be used instead .
In some cases, the plural and dual endings may not be written. Instead, the repetition is used to show its number. The word t3 , “land,” is a great example of this. If we were to add a second land hieroglyph below the first, it would become t3wy , “the Two Lands,” referring to Upper and Lower Egypt. If we were to add a third land hieroglyph below the second, it would become t3w “lands.” This type of repetition to show number is common enough you should commit it to memory along with the more common endings.
When two nouns are placed next to each other, they are described as being in apposition. This type of relationship is common in Middle Egyptian. Let’s look at an example to see how this works. In this example, we will be looking at part of Tutankhamun’s cartouche and the noun nswt, “(the) king.”
When these nouns are placed in apposition, they form a noun phrase, “(the) king, Tutankhamun.”
We can identify another feather of the Egyptian language within the cartouche, honorific transposition. Out of respect, the names for gods and kings are commonly placed at the front of noun phrases, even though they should be read after the connected nouns. So, you might be inclined to transliterate Tutankhamun’s cartouche as imn-twt-ʿnḫ, as the orientation of the hieroglyphs suggests; however, this transliteration does not account for the honorific transposition, and should read twt-ʿnḫ-imn instead.
Nouns: Direct Genitive
The direct genitive is formed by two nouns that are placed in apposition. However, the direct genitive expresses a relationship of possession, X Noun’s Y Noun (The king’s wife)–the possessor noun and the possessed noun. In Middle Egyptian the possessed noun always precedes its possessor. Lets look at an example of the direct genitive.
“Ruler of Heliopolis of Upper Egypt” “The Ruler of Upper Egypt’s Heliopolis.”
In this example, the direct genitive is composed of a noun (ḥq3) and a noun phrase (iwnw šmʿw). We know this is a direct genitive through a process of elimination. If we were to translate this example without the possessive relationship, it would be “The Ruler, Upper Egypt’s Heliopolis.” The more likely option would be to translate it as a direct genitive, “The ruler of Upper Egypt’s Heliopolis,” describing Tutankhamun’s role as Heliopolis’ ruler.
There are two ways to translate the genitive: Apostrophe + s attached to the possessor noun, followed by the possessed noun (The king’s wife); the possessed noun followed by “of” + possessor noun (wife of the king).
Nouns: Indirect Genitive
The indirect genitive is another construction that expresses possession. This construction is easier to identify, because it uses genitival adjective (see chart below). The genitival adjective is placed in between two nouns, and like direct genitives, the first noun is the possessed noun. The genitival adjective that is used is determined by the first noun–it must match in both gender and number.
In the example above, the first noun, mwt, is singular and feminine, so the corresponding singular, feminine genitival adjective (nt) follows it.
The singular, possessive adjective is identical to a preposition that you will learn later, n, “to, for.” So, it may be difficult, at first, to determine how the n is being used, but with practice, this will become a non-issue.
Lists are common in Middle Egyptian, and contain two or more nouns. Below is an example that shows a number of consecutively placed nouns.
t ḥnqt bit irp “Bread, beer, honey, and wine.”
When you find a string of nouns, it is quite likely that it is a list. The easiest way to determine the relationship of the nouns is translate them using all three relationships. For apposition, “the bread, beer and the honey, wine” does not make much sense. For possession, “the bread of beer and the honey of wine,” is an even sillier option. So, it is most likely a list, ” bread, beer, honey, and wine.”
Lesson 2 Vocabulary and Exercises
nb “lord, owner, master”
Exercises: transliterate and translate
rn n sš “the name of the scribe” or “the scribe’s name”
pr rʿ “the house of Re” or “Re’s house”
s3 n sš “the son of the scribe” or “the scribe’s son”
imn nswt nṯrw “Amun, King of the Gods”