Gender

Grammatically, Middle-Egyptian distinguishes between two genders: masculin and feminin. Abstract words were often rendered by using the grammatical feminin.

Masculin words (in singular) may have had the ending .w in earlier stages of the language, but since w is a weak consonant, it had faded from the written and spoken language at the latest by the Middle Kingdom. This means that in Middle Egyptian, masculin nouns and adjectives can end in any consonant. You may, however, encounter some publications where the ending .w is added either as such or between brackets.

Feminin words (in singular) had the ending .t. This ending was usually written using the uniliteral sign for t: .

Note that masculin words can end in any consonant, including t. In transcription, we therefore usually separate the feminin t from the preceding word with a dot. The word Ax.t, horizon, for instance, is rendered as Ax.t in transcription. This convention makes it easier to distinguish between feminin words and masculin words, such as xt xt, wood that end in t.

When looking up words in a dictionary, it is necessary to first drop the feminin ending .t. It is therefor essential to indeed separate this ending from the root by the dot.

Number

Dual and plural

Unlike many western words which simply have a singular to denote things of which there is one, and plural for things were there is more than one, Middle Egyptian can have words in singular, dual and plural.

Dual was used to expresm the dualism of things or notions. Quite often, it was used for things that typically come in pairs, such as ears, eyes and hands. The dual was also common for notions that the Ancient Egyptians considered as being made up of two things. In their ideology, for instance, their country consisted of Upper and Lower Egypt and the unity of the two was often refered to as the Two Lands. It also occurs in frozen expressions, denoting that its use was felt as somewhat archaic.

Plural was used when there were more than two of something. Except for some things that typically came in two, plural tends to be used even when there were just two of something.

Dual and plural can be recognised by specific endings that were added to the roots of the words, as is illustrated in the table below:

Gender Singular Dual Plural
Masculin - .wj .w
Feminin .t .tj .wt

 

Thus the masculin word sn, brother becomes sn.wj, two brothers in dual and sn.w, brothers in plural. The feminin word, sn.t, sister is sn.tj, two sisters in dual and sn.wt, sisters in plural.

Different ways of writing dual and plural

The flexibility of hieroglyphic writing has caused that dual and plural could be written in a variety of ways. The table below demonstrates this flexibility. As a basis the words , sn, brother and , nTr, god are used for masculin and , sn.t, sister for feminin. Where the feminin does not present any particularity, only the masculin example is given.

Dual Masculin Feminin
  Repeat the determinative twice  
  Repeat the ideogram twice (for words written ideographically)  
  Repeat the main phonetic sign twice  
  Phonetically write the dual ending
 
 
Plural Masculin Feminin
  Repeat the determinative three times  
  Repeat the ideogram three times (for words written ideographically)  
  Repeat the main phonetic sign three times  
  Use the plural determinative  
  Phonetically write the plural ending

 
 
 
Note that not every duplication of a phonetic sign is to be interpreted as a dual. The verb , to be brotherly is read snsn and not as sn.wj.

The plural determinative consists of three strokes that can be arranged horizontally, vertically or in a triangular group. For grains or minerals, three grains or dots can be used instead of the strokes.

Article

Strictly speaking, Middle Egyptian did not have an article. Thus, depending on the context, sn can be translated as brother, a brother or the brother. It often depends on the translator's understanding of the context to know what type of article should be used in the translation.

In texts from the New Kingdom on, one may encounter some pronouns which are used as article. These pronouns are:

Hieroglyph Transcription Gender Number Old meaning
pA masculin singular this (masculin)
tA feminin singular this (feminin)
nA - plural these (both genders)

 
 
 
Note that different spellings are possible and that only the most common spelling has been provided here.

Also from the New Kingdom on, wa, one (the number), could occasionally be used to render the indefinite article a(n).

In both cases, the article would preceed the noun it determines. Thus, in texts from the later 18th Dynasty on, tA sn.t can be translated as the sister, but the context should still be examined if it does not mean this sister. Note that in hieroglyphic, there is no space to distinguish between words.

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- Nouns -

  A Concise Middle Egyptian Grammar   ...
  Relationship to Other Languages   Combining Nouns
  Evolution   Personal Pronouns
  Nouns      
  Adjectives      
  ...      
 


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