Egyptian Hieroglyphs – Lesson 9 – Verb Basics


The Basics

Verbs are words that describe actions.

There are two kinds of verbs:

1. Transitive – These types of verbs can take a direct object.

  • ex. Sally dropped the box. In this case, the direct object of the transitive verb dropped is the box. Without the direct object, the meaning is lost–what did Sally drop?

2. Intransitive – These types of verbs cannot take a direct object.

  • ex. The sun shines in the sky. If we were to place a direct object into this sentence it would not make much sense–the sun shines the clouds in the sky.

What can verbs express?

Although verbs primarily describe actions, their grammatical form can express four different features: tense, voice, mood,  and aspectI use a silly mnemonic device to remember these features: TV MA–the first letter of each word… and a rating for some TV shows.

1. Tense

Tense expresses the time at which the action of a verb occurs.


The past tense indicates that the action has occurred previously, before the present moment. ex. The dog barked at the mailman yesterday.


The present tense indicates that the action is occurring at the present time.

ex. Randy spots a cat.


The future tense indicates that the action will occur in the future, after the present moment.

ex. The dog will bark at the mailman.

2. Voice

Voice describes the relationship between a verb and its subject.


Active voice is used when the subject performs the action, while the direct object receives the action.

ex. Charlie drew the boat. (The subject “Charlie” performs the action “drew,” while the direct object “the boat” receives the action.)


Active voices is used when that the subject receives the action. The performer of the action, if it is present, is introduced by the preposition “by” and is referred to as the agent.

ex. The boat was drawn by Charlie. (The subject boat receives the action of “was drawn,” while the performer of the action “Charlie” is introduced by the preposition “by.”

3. Mood

Mood reflects the attitude of the speaker toward what he or she is doing/saying.


This indicative mood is used when the action of the verb is a statement of fact–the most common mood.

ex. I walked in the rain.


This imperative mood is used when the action of the verb is a command.

ex. Come to me.


This mood expresses that the action of the verb is not actually occuring, but may occur–a wish of sorts.

ex. I would walk the dog, if it were not for the heavy rain.



Aspect refers to the type of action the verb indicates.

Complete or Incomplete Action

I walked the dog – Completed action.

I am walking the dog – Incomplete action.

Repeated Action 

I used to ride my bike to school – Reference to a repeated action.

In general, the perfect and perfective aspects express completed action, and the imperfect and imperfective express incomplete or repeated/ongoing action.  This is one of the most confusing, uh, aspects of the Egyptian verb. There’s no need to get too caught up in it now. It still confuses the hell out of me sometimes, so no worries.

Egyptian Root Classes

Notice: This section is meant to be used as a reference. It would be helpful to memorize these charts eventually, but at this point, it is not essential.

Egyptian verbs are divided into groups, depending on the number of consonants in the root. The root is the foundation of the verb. This is the form that you will find in dictionaries. For example, the root of finding and finder is “find.” The number of consonants that can be found in a root ranges from 2-6. The weak consonants are and w.

Below is a chart of the root classes which show their basic format and an example.

Click to open.


Root Class Description Example
2-lit 2 consonants. Dd - 2-lit
2ae-inf. (Second weak) 2 consonants, the final weak.
2ae-gem. (Second geminating) 3 consonants, the second and third are the same. m33 - 2ae-gem
3-lit. 3 consonants. aHa - 3-lit
3ae-inf. (Third weak) 3 consonants, the final weak. wpi - 3-ae-inf
3ae-gem. (Third geminating) 4 consonants, the second and third are the same. nHmm - 3ae-gem
4-lit. 4 consonants. ptpt - 4-lit
4ae-inf. (Fourth weak) 4 consonants, the final weak. Hmsi - 4-ae-inf
5-lit. 5 consonants. nftft - 5-lit



Causatives and Anomalous Verbs

Causatives are formed by taking one of the root classes above and adding an s before the root. For instance, the word wswsx - widen“widen” can be written as the causative swsḫ swsx - causative - widen “cause to widen.” Since the causative is formed by adding a s to the 3-lit verb wsḫ, sws is considered a caus. 3-lit verb. 

Causatives are sometimes difficult to identify, because not all words that begin with s are causatives. The easiest way to identify causatives is to remove the s and see if the remaining root is an actual verb. If it is not a verb after removing the s, then it is not a causative.

Anomalous verbs are irregular verbs that do not follow the same patterns of the verbs in their same class. There are three anomalous verbs: rdi rdi - anomalous verbiw iw - anomalous verband ii ii - anomalous verb.

You will become better acquainted with these forms in the coming lessons.


Lesson 10 Vocabulary and Exercises


Vocabulary List

 ii - come, return ii “come, return”

iwi- come, return iw “come, return”

iri - do, make iri “do, make”

wnn - exist wnn “exist”

wD - command w “command”

m33 - see m33 “see”

 ms - give birth msi “give birth, bear”

rdi - give,put, cause rdi “give, put, cause”

 hAb - send h3b “send”

xpr - evolve, happen, occur ḫpr “evolve, happen, occur”

sDm - hear sm “hear”

 Dd - speak, say d “speak, say”



Hs - biliteral s

XA - biliteral 3

Xn - biliteral n

Xr - biliteral r

qn - biliteral qn

sk - biliteral sk

st - biliteral st

sT- biliteral s

Sn - biliteral šn

Exercises: Note the root class.

1. ms - give birth

2.Dd - speak, say

3.xpr - evolve, happen, occur

4.wnn - exist

5.iwi- come, return

6. sxpr

7. iri - do, make

8. saHa


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