- Types of Adjectives
- Nominalized Adjectives
- Apparent Adjectives
- Degrees of Comparison
Adjectives in Egyptian serve the same purpose as in other languages: they describe qualities of nouns. Adjectives can also function as descriptive substitutes for nouns, when context can assist, like the title of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, or the saying “only the good die young.”
Types of Adjectives
Egyptian has three types of adjectives:
- Primary. There is only one primary adjective, and that is 𓎟 nb “all, each, every”. We call it a primary adjective because it is only an adjective and does not also function as a verb, nor is it derived from another word. Note that it is a quantifier or determiner, not so much a descriptor.
- Secondary. Most words used as adjectives in Egyptian are secondary because they are participles of verbs. For example, there is a verb 𓄤𓆑𓂋 nfr “to be good or beautiful” which gives the better-known adjective nfr “good, beautiful”. Think of the phrase nṯr nfr “good/beautiful god” as a noun with a participle: “god who is doing the activity of being good/beautiful”.
- Derived. Other adjectives are made from nouns or prepositions; the most common way this happens is by what is called a nisbe (a term from the similar feature in Arabic grammar). Examples include turning the noun njwt “city” into the adjective njwtj “local”, or turning the preposition n “for” into the adjective n/nw/nt, which is used to form a type of noun phrase.
When modifying nouns, all adjectives (primary, secondary, or derived) must agree with their noun’s gender and number. However, instead of six forms (masculine and feminine of singular, dual, and plural), adjectives generally have only three distinct forms: masculine singular, masculine plural, and feminine.
|Gender and number||Ending||Examples|
|Masculine singular||(none)||nṯr nfr “good god”|
|Masculine plural||𓅱 or 𓏲 w||nṯrw nfrw “good gods”|
|Feminine (any number)||𓏏 t||nṯrt nfrt “good goddess”
nṯrwt nfrt “good goddesses”
In addition to the w, a masculine plural adjective is usually written with the three plural strokes 𓏥 as its noun is. (In some cases, the w, being weak, is omitted, but the plural strokes are kept.) Despite having the same ending as the singular, feminine plural adjectives are sometimes written with the plural strokes as well.
During the Middle Kingdom the forms of the adjective were starting to be “worn down” to just the single form that was used for the masculine singular, and all of the endings (w, t, and plural strokes) start to disappear more and more often.
A dual adjective is rarely seen, but could be written with the two strokes 𓏭 indicating duality.
An adjective always follows and never precedes the noun it modifies; there are no exceptions. The primary adjective, nb(t) “all, each, every”, looks exactly like the noun nb(t) “lord, master/lady, mistress”, but the adjective always follows the noun. If you see the word nb(t) before a noun, it must be “lord/lady” and not “all”.
Multiple adjectives can be used on the same noun, all following it: nṯr nb nfr wꜥb “every good and clean god”.
Any secondary or derived adjective may be used as a noun. (The primary adjective nb cannot.) When used as a noun, the adjective declines fully like a noun:
|Masculine||nfr “good one”||nfrw “good ones”||nfrwj “two good ones”|
|Feminine||nfrt “good one”||nfrwt “good ones”||nfrtj “two good ones”|
Occasionally a scribe may put a determinative on a nominalized adjective to indicate what sort of noun it was, since the noun itself was omitted: 𓌌𓏏𓃒 ḥḏt white-feminine-bovine “white cow”.
Nominalized adjectives behave as nouns in pretty much every way; they can take suffix pronouns 𓌌𓏏𓃒𓀀 ḥḏt.j “my white cow”, demonstratives, and so forth; they can be used as the subjects and objects of verbs, in noun phrases, etc.
A few words that are adjectives in English are not truly adjectives in Egyptian, so they behave differently; the most important of these is ky/kt “another”, plural in both genders kjwj “others”. This is grammatically a noun, used in apposition with other nouns:
|Masculine||ky zj “another man”|
(lit. “another (masc.) one, a man”)
|kjwj zjw “other men”
(lit. “other (masc.) ones, men”)
|Feminine||kt nṯrt “another goddess”|
(lit. “another (fem.) one, a goddess”)
|kjwj nṯrwt “other goddesses”
(lit. “other (fem.) ones, goddesses”)
The word is spelled interestingly; even in the plural it is often written with dual strokes. It developed from a dual noun in Old Egyptian.
Degrees of Comparison
To make a comparison, like “X is better/more beautiful/greater/redder than Y”, the preposition r “with respect to, regarding” is used much as “than” is used in English, but no change is made to the adjective: nṯrt nfr r nṯrt.sn “a more beautiful goddess than their goddess”, literally “a goddess beautiful with respect to their goddess”.
To form the superlative (“biggest/most beautiful/reddest”), a genitive, either direct or indirect, is used: wr n wrw “the greatest of the great” (literally “great one of great ones”), ḏsr ḏsrw “the holiest of holies” (literally “holy one of holy ones”). Usually superlatives are formed with nominalized adjectives rather than with adjectives that modify nouns.