Egyptian Hieroglyphs – Lesson 6 – Adjectival Sentences and Relative Clauses

Adjectival Sentences

The Basics

Up until this point, only the most basic concepts of the Egyptian language have been introduced. From this point on, we will begin to integrate these concepts into the bigger picture–how these basic components interact with each other to create a complex language through which ancient Egyptians communicated. This lesson, and a handful of the following, will deal with different types of nonverbal sentences and clauses.

Sentences are combinations of words and phrases that express a complete idea, and consist of a subject and a predicate. At the most basic level, the subject of a sentence is the person or thing who performs the action of the verb.  On the other hand, the predicate expresses something about the subject. Here’s an English example:

“King Tutankhamun is interesting.”

King Tutankhamun is the subject, while  is interesting is the predicate. Try to identify the subject and predicate in the following sentence:


Hatshepsut is the pharaoh of Egypt.
is the pharaoh of Egypt


The examples above the verb “is” is used. There is not a counterpart to this verb in the Egyptian language. Instead, we would find a sentence like “Interesting, King Tutankamun” or “Hatshepsut, the pharaoh of Egypt.” When we find these types of sentences in Egyptian, we identify them as nonverbal sentences; however, we will supply the verbs “is,” “was,” “were,” or “are” in order to create a more meaningful English translation. The first type of nonverbal sentence we will look at is the adjectival sentence.


Adjectival Sentences

When a sentence uses an adjective for the predicate, it is know as and adjectival sentence. This type of sentence follows the  format of adjectival predicate + subject.  Both the gender and the number of the adjective does not need to match the subject. Lets look at a few examples to make more sense of this.


hieroglyphs meaning strong and man

nḫt s

“the man is strong” or “strong is the man” literally “strong, the man”


Hieroglyphs for sweet, honey, and this

nḏm bit tn

 “this honey is sweet” or “sweet is the honey” literally “sweet, this honey”


Hieroglyphs for old and beautiful

is nfrt

“the beautiful one is old” or “the beautiful ones are old” literally “old, the beautiful one”


Hieroglyphs for great and he

wr sw

“he is great”


In each example above, the adjective is located at the head of the sentence, followed by the subject. In the first example, the subject is the noun s and the predicate is nḫt.  

As you may have discovered, the subjects of the sentences can be both a noun (phrase) or a pronoun. In the third example, the subject nfrt is a nominalized adjective (an adjective acting as a noun) and the predicate is is ,”old.” In the last example, the subject is the pronoun sw and the predicate is wr. See if you can identify the subject and predicate of the second example.

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Subject – bit tn “this honey”

Predicatenḏm “sweet”

The common thread in adjectival sentences is that the they express a certain quality or characteristic about the subject. That quality functions as the main purpose of the sentence.

Adjectival Sentences: Possession

This construction is fairly rare in long texts of Middle Egyptian; however it is quite common to find in names. This construction was used in the name of the owner whose coffin I studied for my thesis, Nesytanebbettawy.

This construction is composed of the genitival adjective, n , + either a dependent or independent pronoun at the head of the sentence, followed by the thing or person being possessed.  You might want to check out Lesson 3 for a quick refresher on pronouns. This may seem confusing at first, but let’s look at a few examples to clear it up.

Hieroglyph showing belong, you, and horus

n w rw

“you belong to Horus”

Hieroglyphs for he and egypt

n sw kmt

“he belongs to Egypt”

There is one tip that might help you identify this construction. When either the feminine or masculine form of the third person singular dependent pronoun is used, the genitival adjective often rendered as n - genitival adjective -lesson 6. Once we identify this type of construction, we can begin translating.

Look for the pronoun in the first example. The pronoun is the 2ms dependent pronoun, “you.” Begin your translation with the pronoun “you.” Then, insert “belong to” between the pronoun and the noun, “Horus.” The translation results with “you belong to Horus.” So, it is the noun that acts as the posessor and the pronoun that acts as the possessed. Since this pattern is fixed, you follow the same steps with the second example. The pattern changes slightly when independent pronouns are used.

Hieroglyphs for you and cat

n ntk miw

“the cat belongs to you”

Hieroglyph for i and dog

n ink iw

“the dog belongs to me”

When the independent pronoun is used, the possessor/possessed relationship flips. Now, it is the pronoun that acts as the possessor, rather than the noun.

Remembering small details like this is what makes learning Egyptian hieroglyphs frustrating at times. The language is difficult. My only suggestion is to accept this and keep practicing, because once you pass through the barrier, everything falls into place. Remember, nothing worthwhile comes easy.


Relative Clauses

The Basics – Clauses

Clauses have both a subject and a predicate, and they function as either a main clause or a subordinate clause. Main clauses are sentences that can stand alone as a complete sentence. “I walked to school,” for example, is a main clause because it completes a thought. Subordinate clauses, on the other hand, cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. “Before the sun rose,” is a subordinate clause that must be attached to a main clause in order to complete a thought.

If we were to combine the two clauses above into one sentence we would create a complete sentence, composed of two clauses, “I walked to school before the sun rose.”  In this lesson, we will learn three about relative clauses.


The Basics – Relative Clauses

When a clause functions like an adjective, it is considered a relative clause.  Relative clauses are introduced by words such as “who,” “which,” or “that,” and function as the subjects of the relative clauses. These clauses are subordinate clauses because they describe a quality of a person or thing in a separate clause.

For example, the relative clause “who was mighty,” describes a quality of something, possibly a person; however, that thought is incomplete because the thing to which the clause refers is absent. To complete this thought, an additional clause is required, such as “They spoke of Thutmosis III who was mighty.”

There are two terms that need to be introduced and defined: the coreferent and the antecedent. The antecedent is the noun or noun phrase that the adjective modifies. In the example above, “Thutmosis III” would be the antecedent. Without the antecedent, the clause “who was mighty,” is incomplete. The coreferent is the word within the relative clause which refers back to the antecedent. “Who” would be considered the coreferent in the English example above.

It is possible for relative clauses to stand on their own, but only when the relative adjective functions as a noun. When it functions as a noun it translates as “the one who.” So, we could complete the relative clause above as, “the one who is mighty.”

Relative clauses are introduced by the relative adjective, nty hieroglyph of relative adjective nty . When it follows its antecedent, it shares the same number and gender.  Below is a chart listing the various forms of the relative adjective.

Click here to show the relative adjective chart

 Number Masculine Feminine
 Singular  hieroglyph of relative adjective nty nty relative adjective - ntt ntt
 Plural  hieroglyph for relative adjective ntyw


There are two types of relative clauses, direct or indirect. When the subject of the relative clause is the same as the coreferent, it is a direct relative clause. The English example above, “They spoke of Thutmosis III who was mighty,” is an example of this type. When hen the subject of the relative clause is not the same as the coreferent, then it is an indirect clause. We can modify the sentence above to form an indirect relative clause, “They spoke of Thutmosis III whose army is mighty.”  The subject of the relative clause is “army” and the coreferent is “whose,” so it is an indirect relative clause. Lets look at a few examples.


Hieroglyphs for state, i, and under

 sšm pn nty wi r.f

 “This state which I was under it”

hieroglyphs of mummy and great pyramid

sʿ nty m mr wr

 “The mummy which is in the great pyramid.”


The first example, the coreferent is the suffix f, while the subject is the dependent pronoun wi–an example of an indirect relative clause. In the second example ,the coreferent and the subject of the relative clause are the same, nty–an example of a direct relative clause.


Lesson 6 Vocabulary and Exercises


Vocabulary List

isft - Chaos isft “Chaos”

ity - Sovereign ity “Sovereign”

aAm - Asiatic ʿ3m “Asiatic”

wAD - Green w3 “Green”

mnw - Monuments mnw “Monuments”

mr - Pyramid mr “Pyramid”

xt - Fire t “Fire”

Xsy - Vile sy “Vile, cowardly”

sr - Official sr “Official”

Smsw - Attendant šmsw “Attendant”

qniw - Palanquin qniw “Palanquin”

kAS - Kush k3š “Kush”



Ab or mr - Biliteral 3b or mr

wp - Biliteral wp

wr - Biliteral wr

mr - Biliteral mr

ti - Biliteral ti

tp - Biliteral tp

di - Biliteral di

DA - Biliteral 3

Dr - Biliteral r


isw - Triliteral isw

awt - Triliteral ʿwt

wAs - Triliteral w3s

wAD - Triliteral w3

wHa - Triliteral wʿ

xrw - Triliteral rw

sSm - Triliteral sšm

stp - Triliteral stp

Ssp - Triliteral šsp


Exercises: transliterate and translate

1. Lesson 6 Exercises - 1

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nfr st wt nbt “It is better than anything.”

2.Lesson 6 Exercises - 2

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wr mr pn “This pyramid is great.”

3. Lesson 6 -Exercise3

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srw nty gs.f  “the officials who were at his side.”

4.Lesson 6 Exercises - 3

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sy ʿ3mw “The Asiatics are vile.”

5.Lesson 6 Exercises - 4

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n ntk qniw “The palanquin belongs to you.”


Return to IndexContinue to Lesson 7