Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Lesson 2


The Basics

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 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.


Noun Endings

Number Masculine Feminine

Plural  w  (w)t
Dual Masculine Dual Ending wy Feminine Dual Ending - ty ty

Now, lets look at a few examples to see these endings in action. The hieroglyph for “brother” is sn Noun - Masculine Singular Noun - sn - Brother   . 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 Noun - Masculine Plural - snw - Brothers, it becomes the plural, “brothers.” If we add the ending wy Noun - Masculine Dual - snwy - The Two Brothers, it becomes the dual, “the two brothers.” Sometimes, in place of the w in the plural, three plural strokes may be used instead Noun - Masculine Plural Strokes - snw - Brothers.

In some cases, the plural and dual endings may not be written. Instead, the repetition is used to show its number. The word  t3 hieroglyph tA , “land,” is a great example of this. If we were to add a second land hieroglyph below the first, it would become t3wy hieroglyph tAwy - two lands“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 hieroglyph tAw - lands “lands.” This type of repetition to show number is common enough you should commit it to memory along with the more common endings.

Nouns: Apposition

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.”


 Hieroglyph for king  Cartouche of King Tutankhamun


 King Tutankhamun

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.


 Epithet of King Tutankhamun
 Heka staff - Ruler  Heliopolis hieroglyph  Upper Egypt hieroglyph



 “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.


Click to reveal the list and example.


Possessive/Genitival Adjectives
Number Masculine Feminine
Singular  n(y)  nt
Plural  n(y)w  n(y)t
Dual  n(y)wy  n(y)ty


 hieroglyphs for mother and daughter mwt nt s3t “the mother of the daughter.”


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.

Nouns: Lists

Lists are common in Middle Egyptian, and contain two or more nouns. Below is an example that shows a number of consecutively placed nouns.

hieroglyph bread beer honey and wine nqt 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


Vocabulary list

hieroglyph for pr - house pr “house”

hieroglyph for - imn - Egyptian god Amun imn “Amun”

hieroglyph for nb - lord nb “lord, owner, master”

hieroglyph for nsw - king nswt “king”

hieroglyph for nTr - god nr “god”

ra - Egyptian god Re rʿ  “Re”

hieroglyph for rn - name rn “name”

hieroglyph for s - man s “man”

hieroglyph for sA - son s3 “son”

hieroglyph for sn - brother sn “brother”

hieroglyph for sS - scribe sš  “scribe”

hieroglyph for dpt - boat dpt “boat”



hieroglyph for wa - biliteral wʿ

hieroglyph for pr - biliteral pr

hieroglyph for nw - biliteral nw

hieroglyph for xa - biliteral  ʿ

hieroglyph for sw - biliteral sw

hieroglyph for sn - biliteral sn

hieroglyph for km - biliteral km

hieroglyph for gm - biliteral gm

hieroglyph for tm - biliteral tm


 hieroglyph for wHm - triliteral wm

hieroglyph for wHm - triliteral wsr

hieroglyph for mwt - triliteral mwt

hieroglyph for HqA - triliteral q3

 hieroglyph for Htp - triliteral tp

heiroglyph for xpr - triliteral pr


Exercises: transliterate and translate

1. Lesson 2 Exercises - 1

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rn n sš  “the name of the scribe” or “the scribe’s name”

2.Lesson 2 Exercises - 2

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pr rʿ  “the house of Re” or “Re’s house”


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s3 n sš  “the son of the scribe” or “the scribe’s son”

4.Lesson2 Exercises - 4

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imn nswt nrw “Amun, King of the Gods”

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