Nominal Sentences

Nominal sentences are sentences where the predicate is not really a verb, but a noun. A nominal sentence says that the subject is a noun. If you say “The man is a carpenter”, the man is not the interesting bit; saying “the man” implies the listener knows who you mean. The interesting bit is that he is a carpenter.


The types of nominal sentences are:

  1. A-B
    • A is an independent pronoun, B is a noun or demonstrative; or
    • A is a noun, B is a demonstrative; or
    • Both A and B can be nouns if:
      • one is a noun of kinship
      • one is a name (often in a phrase including kinship)
      • A and B are the same noun in different phrases (balanced statement)
    • The sentence means “A is B.”
  2. nj A B
    • If A is an independent pronoun, the sentence means “B belongs to A”;
    • If A is a dependent pronoun or noun, the sentence means “A belongs to B”;
    • A is usually only a noun in proper names.
  3. A pw
    • A is an independent pronoun, a demonstrative, or a noun; the sentence means “It/he/she/they is A.”
  4. A pw B
    • A and B are both nouns/noun phrases; the sentence means “B is A.”

A-B sentences

For some nominal sentences, you can simply put the predicate after the subject. This is always permitted if the subject is an independent pronoun. With nouns, it’s only permitted in the following cases:

  • if one of them is a noun of kinship, such as “My father is a priest”
  • if one of them is rn “name”, usually in a phrase of kinship, such as “His sister’s name is Isis”
  • if the two nouns are actually identical, but are in two different noun phrases, such as “your life is Ra’s life”. This is called a “balanced” sentence.
Independent pronoun and nounnts mjwt.f
3fs-IND mother-3fs
“She is his mother.”
Independent pronoun and adjective
(1st person only)
jnk jqrt
1s-IND skillful-f
“I am skillful.”
(lit. “I am a skillful (fem.) one.”)
Kinship statementjtj.j Jmn
father-1s Amun
“My father is Amun.”
Name statementrn n mjwt.f Nbt-ḥwt
name of mother-3fs Nephthys
“The name of his mother is Nephthys.”
Balanced sentencepr.n
house-1p house-3p
“Our home is their home.”

Belonging (nj A B)

The genitival adjective n used to form indirect genitives is actually short for the nisbe nj, “the belonging-to one of.” You can use this at the start of an A-B sentence to express that one of the pair adheres to or belongs to the other.

Note that if A is an independent pronoun, it is the possessor, but if it’s a noun or dependent pronoun, then B is the possessor.

Element APossessorSentenceMeaning
Independent pronounAnj ntk Kmt
nj 2ms-IND Egypt
“Egypt belongs to you”
Dependent pronoun Bnj wj Jmn
nj 1s-DEP Amun
“I belong to Amun”
NounBnj ꜥnḫ Ḫnmw
nj life Khnum
“Life belongs to Khnum”

There are a few other complications of these sentences:

  1. Contraction of the nj with pronouns.
    • With independent pronouns, the nj can contract with the initial j or n of the pronoun: nj jnk nbw > nnk nbw “Gold belongs to me.” nj ntk tꜣ > ntk tꜣ “The land belongs to you.”
    • With dependent pronouns, these combinations often occur: nj wj > nw(j); nj sw > nsw; nj sj > ns(j). A somewhat famous name using this construction is the owner of the Greenfield Papyrus, Nesitanebetashru: ns(j) tꜣ nbt jšrw “she belongs to the lady of the Ashru” (the sacred lake).
  2. The A element is usually a pronoun. It’s usually only a noun in personal names, in which case the second part of the sentence is a god or the king: nj ꜥnḫ Ḫnmw “life belongs to Khnum” (Niankhkhnum).
  3. The “B” element can be a dependent pronoun: nnk sn “they belong to me”. Or, it can be the interrogative adjective: nj sw wr “how much is it” (lit. “it belongs to how much?”)

“It’s” sentences (A pw)

Sometimes you just want to say “That/this/it/he/she is X”, like in answer to a question. “Do you know this man?” “It’s my brother.”

This is very simple in Egyptian. Put the subject first, which can be a noun, noun phrase, independent pronoun, or demonstrative pronoun, and follow it with the demonstrative 𓊪𓅱 pw (which in this usage, as a sentence marker, is always in the masculine singular form). If it’s a noun, it can have a suffix pronoun, which allows a bit more meaning: “it’s my X”, “it’s their X”, etc.

Type of subjectSentenceMeaning
Independent pronounnts pw
3fs-IND pw
“it is she”,
“it’s her”
Noun with suffix pronounḥjmt.j pw
wife-1s pw
“she’s my wife”
Noun phraseḥm nṯr dpj pw
servant god first pw
“It’s the High Priest”,
“he is the High Priest”
Demonstrative pronounpꜣ pw
this-ms pw
“It’s this.”

A pw B sentences

Since nj sentences are for belonging more than for identity, and since A-B sentences can only have nouns for both A and B in a few cases (names, kinship, balanced sentences), the usual way of saying “Noun 1 is Noun 2” is A pw B.

nbw pw ꜥnḫ “Life is gold.”

Subject and Predicate

In a nominal sentence, what is the subject and what is the predicate? The easiest way to tell is to ask: “What is the sentence intended to describe,” which will be the subject, or “What question is the sentence intended to answer,” which will be the predicate.

For example: “He’s the high priest” is generally going to describe “he” or answer “who is the high priest?” “I belong to Amun” is generally going to describe “I” or answer “to whom does ‘I’ belong?”

So here’s some rules of thumb:

  • In an A pw B or A pw sentence, the pw follows the predicate. In nbw pw ꜥnḫ “Life is gold”, the sentence describes life and answers “what is life”, so the predicate is “gold”. In ḥqꜣ pw “He/she/it is the ruler”, the sentence describes “he/she/it” and answers “what is he/she/it”, so the predicate is “the ruler”.
  • In a nj A B sentence, the predicate is the possessor, whether that is A or B. nj jnk Kmt “Egypt belongs to me” is describing Egypt and answering “to whom does Egypt belong.” nj wj rꜥ “I belong to the sun” is describing “I” and answering “to whom does ‘I’ belong?”
  • In an A B sentence where A is kinship or name, or in a balanced sentence, B is the predicate. pr.j pr.k “my house is your house” is describing my house and saying that it is also yours.
  • In an A B sentence where A is an independent pronoun, it’s complicated, because either half could be the subject. The answer to “Who is the ruler?” could be “I am the ruler.” But the answer to “Who are you?” could also be “I am the ruler.

    If you wanted to say “He is the ruler“, there’s a construction for that which is unambiguous (A pw) and you should use it: ḥqꜣ pw “He is the ruler.” Therefore if you say ntf ḥqꜣ you must mean to emphasize “He is the ruler.” So in an A B sentence, if A is a third person independent pronoun, then A is the predicate.

    But pw can only stand in for a third person pronoun, not a first or second. So in an A B sentence, if A is a first or second person pronoun, then subject and predicate are ambiguous, and must be determined by context or guessing.