Discovering Writing: Learning Egyptian Hieroglyphs - Lesson 4 (Part I)

Learning Egyptian Hieroglyphs - Lesson 4 (Part I)

by Caroline Seawright

Leaning to Read Hieroglyphs

Biliteral Signs

Here are biliteral signs with y as the second consonant:

my my

my my1

ty ty

1Sometimes used to accompany or replace a simple m m when used as a grammatical affirmative.

With ` as the second consonant:


kh` kh`

With w as the second consonant:

aw aw

nw nw (rarely also for yn)

hw hw (rare)

shw shw

yw yw

nw nw

khw khw

djw djw (later dw)

mw mw

rw rw

sw sw (old shw)

with b as the second consonant:

ab ab

nb nb

Triliteral Signs

The triliteral signs respondent combinations of three consonants and have a far more restricted use than the biliteral signs. These need only be learned when the occasion calls for them.

As with the biliteral signs, these are normally accompanied by phonetic complements. Two arrangements are frequently used: adding the third consonant only:

  • alt`h` `h` 'stand up, arise'

    khpr khpr 'become'

    sdjm sdjm 'hear' adding the second and third consonants:

  • nfrfr nfr 'good, happy, beautiful'

    `nkh `nkh 'live'

    htp htp 'rest, become at peace'

    Dependent Personal Pronouns

    Dependent pronouns are less closely attached to a preceding word than the suffix pronouns, but can never stand as a first word of a sentence.

  • Sing. 1

    wman determinative


    I, me

    Or wyman determinative Varr. as in the corresponding suffix: whawk determinative, wking determinative, wy, w, etc

    Sing. 2, masc



    Thou, thee

    Later also tw

    Sing. 2, fem



    Thou, thee

    Later also tn

    Sing. 3, masc



    He, him, it

    Originally shw

    Sing. 3, fem

    s two strokes


    She, her, it

    Early s; later also sy or s; Originally shy

    Sing. 3, fem



    See Reflexive Use of the Dependant Pronouns

    Later writings st, st three strokes Originally sht

    Plural 1

    n three strokes


    We, us

    Rarely n

    Plural 2 *

    thn three strokes



    Or thn, later also tn three strokes or thn

    Plural 3 *

    sn three strokes


    They, them

    Or sn, later also written as sn three strokes or sn Originally shn

    * Also used as suffixes

    Among the chief uses of the dependent pronouns are the following:

    As an object of any form of the verb, except the infinitive:

    habhlegs determinativekwman determinative habaltk wy 'thou sendest me'

  • djaaboat determinativenfsww djaaltnaltf sw 'he ferried him over'

    After a number of particles like ysth ysth 'lo', mmyk mk 'behold', shrug determinativen nn 'not', ntt ntt 'that', as well as the relative adjective nty nty 'which', the pronoun frequently serves as subject when an adverbial predicate follows:

    makrope determinativeman determinativembbaahphallus determinativebook determinativek

    mk wy m-bahaltk 'behold, I am before thee'

  • makthwmbakman determinativeman determinative mk thw m bakalty 'behold thou art my servant' (lit. 'as my servant') As the subject after adjectival predicate: nfrfrtrope determinativehn`man determinative nfr tw hn`alty 'thou art happy with me'

  • (Note: tw here is for thw, and is to be carefully distinguished from the indefinite pronoun.)

    Reflexive Use of the Dependent Pronouns

    As with the suffix, the dependent pronouns are used reflexively:

    r`nwman determinativeface determinative one strokecht one strokeman determinative rdyaltnalt(y) wy hr chtalty 'I place myself on my belly' The pronoun st st appears to be an old form of the dependent pronoun third singular fem, which has been specialised for certain particular uses, mainly as third plural 'they', 'them' or the neuter form of 'it'.

    As the object of the verb:

    `nnlegs determinativesn three strokesst `nnaltsn st 'they turned themselves about'

  • (Note the reflexive meaning).

    After the particles mentioned above, in Dependent Personal Pronouns:

    mkstkhftfacek mk st khft hraltk 'behold, they (my gifts to thee) are before thee'

    As the subject after adjectival predicate:

    nfrfrstrkhtbook determinative three strokesnbt nfr st r kht nbt 'it is more beautiful than anything'