Egyptian Hieroglyphs – Lesson 7 – Nominal Sentences and Noun Clauses

Nominal Sentences

The Basics

Nominal sentences consist of a subject + a nominal predicate. The subject can be a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase, but no word can intervene between the subject and predicate. This construction is nonverbal, so we must supply the English verb “is” to create a meaningful English translation. An example of this in English could be “My son is Horus.” The subject and nominal predicate of this sentence consists of my son and Horus, respectively. In Egyptian, we would find this sentence as “My son, Horus,” without the verb “is.”

Nominal sentences appear with some regularity in Egyptian hieroglyphs, and in a number of different shapes and sizes. In this lesson, we will look at three types of nominal sentences: the AB nominal sentence, the A pw nominal sentence, and the A pw B nominal sentence. Some Egyptologists refer to the latter two types as bi-partite and tri-partite nominal sentences.


AB Nominal Sentences

There are two elements to an AB nominal sentence, A and B. Similar parts of speech are found in these spots–nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases. More often than not.A noun or noun phrase steals the B spot, while the A spot is usually reserved for an independent pronoun or noun (phrase). It must be noted that no word can appear in between these elements, A and B. They appear side-by-side, bound together. Let’s look at a few examples:


Hieroglyphs of a scribe and independent pronoun

ink sš nsw

“I am a royal scribe” “I am the king’s scribe”

In this first example, we find an independent pronoun, ink, in element A, while a noun phrase, sš nsw, is situated in spot B. We can identify the use of honorific transposition in this example as well. The nsw precedes  in the hieroglyphic depiction, so one would expect a transliteration that reflects this organization, nsw sš. This is not the case, instead the sentence is transliterated as sš nsw “scribe of the king” or “royal scribe.” We often find nsw used in honorific transposition out of respect for the king. It seems unlikely, under these circumstances, that the translation “scribe’s king” would be preferable to “king’s scribe.”


Hieroglyphs of djedi and his name

ḏdi rn.f

“Djedi is his name”

Hieroglyph for name, mother, and maat

rn n mwt m3ʿt

“the name of his mother is Maat”

Both of these examples show how names could be introduced in Egyptian hieroglyphs. However, the construction of these sentences emphasize the individual’s name differently.

The first example emphasizes the name, ḏdi, by “fronting” it–placing it at the front of the sentences, rather than the last–while the second emphasizes the noun phrase, rn n m mwt, over the name m3ʿt.


A pw  Nominal Sentences

A pw nominal sentences, when spotted, are fairly straightforward to translate. Of course, actually spotting them remains the difficult part. They are composed of only two elements, A and pw hieroglyph for pw, and roughly translate as “it is A.” The “it” may be replaced with other pronouns, depending on context A. For example, if element A was the noun “son,” then “he” would be used, or if the noun “daughter,” sat in position A, “she” would be used. And so on.


ink pw

“it is I”

Hieroglyph for scribe

sš pw

“he is a scribe”

These examples are fairly straightforward. An independent pronoun, ink, stands in position A in the first example, while the noun, , stands in that position in the next. So, the translation follows the formation of “it is” or “he is” plus the noun or pronoun in position A. Although straightforward, things can get messy when noun phrases come into play, especially when the indirect genitive is used.


Hieroglyphs for peasant and wadi natrun

sty pw n st m3t

“He is a peasant of the Wadi Natrun.”

This popular example comes to us from the ancient Egyptian story, The Eloquent Peasant. Let’s break the example down in an attempt to make it appear less complicated. If we remove the pw, we are left with the noun phrase, sty n sm3t, that uses indirect genitive n. This translates as “a peasant of the Wadi Natrun.” Now, we bring  pw back into the equation, which would add to “he is” to our translation. Combine these elements and we are left with the final result of “He is a peasant of the Wadi Natrun.”

You might have noticed that in this example,  pw is not at the end of the sentence. This occurs in two different combinations of the A pw sentence: (1) a noun phrase with an indirect genitive (2) a noun + adjective. Under these circumstances, the pw moves as close to the front of the sentence as possible–either preceding the indirect genitive or the adjective.

Hieroglyphs for face and beautiful

 r pw nfr

“it is a beautiful face.”


A pw  B Nominal Sentences

Of the three types of nominal sentences, A pw B  sentences are the most difficult to understand. They are primarily used when both A and B are nouns or noun phrases. These sentences create an identity relationship of sorts between two things–either A is B or B is A, depending on preference. Here are a few examples:


Hieroglyphs for Akhenaten and Pharaoh

 pr-ʿ3 pw 3-n-itn

“Akhenaten is the pharaoh”

Hieroglyphs for Father and Aten

itn pw it.f

“his father is Aten”

The translation, “B is A,” was used in the previous example; however, they could have easily been translated as “A is B.” Preference is the main factor involved in this decision. What does the sentence emphasize? Is Akhenaten the emphasis? Then translate “B is A.” Is pharaoh the emphasis? Then translate as “A is B.”It reinforces how Egyptian hieroglyphs can be both flexible and rigid.

Just like A pw nominal sentences, the pw stands as close to the front of the sentence as possible, but always before A. If an indirect genitive stands in position A, then pw is placed before the genitival adjective . If, on the other hand, a direct genitive stands in position A, the pw must follow the direct genitive. Refer to the examples below.


Hieroglyphs for Nebmaatre and Tiye

mt nb-m3ʿt-rʿ pw tiy

“the wife of Nebmaatre (Amenhotep III) is Tiye”

Hieroglyphs for Akhenaten, mother, and Tiye

mwt pw nt 3-n-itn tiy

 “the mother of Akhenaten is Tiye”

In the first example, pw stands after the noun phrase of A, mt nb-m3ʿt-rʿ.  This is because A is a direct genitive, and cannot be separated. However, in the second example, pw intervenes between the first noun of the noun phrase that uses the indirect genitive construction, mwt nt 3-n-itn.


Noun Clauses

A clause that functions nominally is considered a noun clause. Let’s look at a sentence in English for clarification: “Akhenaten thought that the Aten was the sole god.” The noun clause (bolded) is introduced by “that.” Noun clauses are either marked or unmarked. We will begin with marked clauses, with examples the use two of the more common markers, is particle is and the relative adjective ntt relative adjective - ntt.


noun clause example with is

rḫ.f sr is pw nfr

“He knows that the plan is good.”

noun clause example with ntt

r ntt rʿ pw

“…because he is Re.”

There are three components to the first example: a verb (rḫ.f ), an A pw B nominal sentence (sr pw nfr), and the marker (is). The particle is stands before the pw in the nominal sentence, allowing the clause to function nominally as the object of the verb.

We find the feminine relative adjective, along with the preposition r, in the second example. This marker, when used in noun clauses, will stand at the front of the noun clause. ntt can be used alone (trans. as “that”), or in conjunction with prepositions. The most common combinations are listed below.


relative adjective n ntt


preposition hr and relative adjective ntt ḥr ntt


hieroglyphs for preposition Dr and relative adjective ntt

r ntt “since”

In this final example, we will see an unmarked noun clause.


Hieroglyphs for found and snake

gm.n.i f3w pw

“I found it was a snake.”

In this example, f3w pw, an A pw construction, and main clause, function as as the object of the verb gm.n.i, a verb form that we will find in a later lesson.


Lesson 7 Vocabulary and Exercises


Vocabulary List

AHt - Field 3t “Field”

wAw - Wave wʿw “Wave”

wnmw - Food wnmw

hbny - Ebony hbny “Ebony”

hqA - Ruler q3 “Ruler”

saH - Mummy sʿ “Mummy”

sbAyt - Teaching sb3yt “Teachings”

sp - Time sp “Time, deed, matter, misdeed”

styw - Nubians styw “Nubians”

S - Lake š “Pool, lake”

Swbty - Ushabti šwbty “Ushabti”

knbt - Court qnbt “Court”



im - Biliteral im

in - Biliteral in

is - Biliteral is

ab - Biliteral ʿb

aH - Biliteral ʿ

hb - Biliteral hb or triliteral šnʿ

Hw or bH - Biliteral ḥw or b

Sn- Biliteral šn

Ss- Biliteral sš or triliteral sšr


wHA - Triliteral wḥ3

wDa or psD - Triliteral wʿ or ps

wDb - Triliteral wb

Hnw - Triliteral nw

Xnm - Triliteral nm

swA - Triliteral sw3

kAp - Triliteral k3p

Dam - Triliteral ʿm

DbA - Triliteral b3


Exercises: transliterate and translate

1. Lesson 7 Exercises1

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3t tf nt sty “That is a field of a peasant.”

2.Lesson 7 Exercises2

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qniw hbny pw “It is a palanquin of ebony”

3.Lesson 7 Exercises - 3

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fty pw n q3 styw “He is an enemy of the ruler of the Nubians.”

4.Lesson 7 Exercises4

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s pw sʿ “The man is a mummy.”

5. Lesson 7 -Exercise 1

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r ntt wr s(y) ʿ3 s(y) “since it is great and it is big.”

6. Lesson 7 -Exercise 6

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t3 pw nfr i33 rn.f  “it was a good land, Iaa was its name.

Return to IndexContinue to Lesson 8