Noun Phrases

Two (or more) nouns in Egyptian can be put together as a phrase for three purposes: apposition (where both refer to the same thing), conjunction (an “and” or “or” relationship), or as a direct genitive phrase (where one noun is “of” the other, like a possession or a property, like “Statue of Liberty”).

Additionally, a genitive phrase can be made by using a construction called an indirect genitive, with a special “genitival adjective” linking the nouns.


This is when two adjacent nouns refer to the same thing in different ways: “your friend Bob” or “Helen the chairperson.” There’s an unspoken “that is” or “you know” in such a phrase: “Helen, you know, the chairperson.” “Your friend, that is, Bob”. Egyptian allows such phrases as well: zꜣ.k Ḥrw “your son Horus”, ḥm-nṯr Jmnḥtp “the priest Amenhotep”.


Two adjacent words could also be a pair that in English would be joined with the conjunctions “and” or “or”: zꜣ zꜣt could mean “son and daughter” or “son or daughter”.

While Egyptian did not have a true word for “and” or “or”, there were ways to be less ambiguous. For “and”, one could use either of two prepositions:  𓎛𓈖𓂝 ḥnꜥ “with, together with” or 𓁷𓏤 ḥr “upon”, in a phrase like t ḥnꜥ ḥnqt “bread with beer” or t ḥr ḥnqt “bread upon beer”. The use of “upon” is probably the same idea as “on top of” in an English sentence like “And on top of all that, he still …”

To make a disjunction (an “or” relationship) clearer, there is a phrase 𓂋𓏤𓊪𓅱 r-pw which functions as a “whichever” at the end of a list of words: Jmn Ptḥ Rꜥ r-pw “Amun, Ptah, or Re” (literally “Amun, Ptah, Re, whichever”).

Direct Genitives

Lastly, a noun phrase could express possession or connection, where the first noun is “owned” or “of” the second:

nṯr Kmt “god of Egypt”
zꜣ mjwtj “son of the two mothers”

There is a special rule about direct genitives: nothing is permitted to come between the two nouns. If the first (“possessed”) noun has any adjectives (“the man’s good daughter”, i.e. “the good daughter of the man”), there are two options:

  1. Move the adjective to the end of the noun phrase: zꜣt nfrt zj (“daughter good man”) is not permitted, so it must be phrased as zꜣt zj nfrt “daughter-of-man good”. If the two nouns would use the same form of the adjective, this can be ambiguous. If it were “son” instead of “daughter”, it would be zꜣ zj nfr, and could mean “a good (son of a man)” or “a (good son) of a man”.
  2. Use the indirect genitive as described below: zꜣt nfrt nt zj “daughter good of man”, zꜣ nfr n zj “son good of man”.


So if there’s no helpful ḥnꜥ, ḥr, or r-pw, the relationship between two nouns must be determined by context and what simply makes the most sense. For example: t ḥnqt (literally “bread beer”).

  • It’s probably not apposition because “bread (that is, beer)” doesn’t make sense in most contexts
  • It’s probably not a direct genitive because “bread of beer” doesn’t make much sense either.
  • But either “bread and beer” or “bread or beer” could make sense in many contexts.

Indirect Genitives

A less ambiguous way to express the “of” relationship is by using a special genitival adjective to link the two nouns. This works like an adjective on the first noun, relating it to the second noun, and in standard Middle Egyptian, its form should correspond with the noun it modified:

Gender and numberGenitival AdjectiveExample
Masculine singular𓈖 nzꜣ n nswt “the son of the king”
Masculine dual or plural𓏌𓏤 nwsnwj nw Nbt-ḥwt “the two brothers of Nephthys”
Feminine (any number)𓈖𓏏 ntzꜣt nt Rꜥ “the daughter of Re”

In earlier stages of the language, the genitival adjective probably matched its noun in gender and number more precisely, but it simplified to the point that during Middle Egyptian, it was beginning to be written just 𓈖 n in all cases.

Meaning of the Indirect Genitive

The genitival adjective is a nisbe formed from the preposition n “for”. So the indirect genitive is similar to a direct genitive phrase, in which the first noun is being explicitly described as belonging to or being for the second noun.

nṯr n njwt
god “for-y” city
“the ‘for’ god of the city”, “the god for the city”, “the god of the city”

Now if the genitival adjective were “just” like any other adjective, it would not be allowed to go between the two nouns of a direct genitive phrase, but this is a way to conceptualize it. When the genitival adjective is used on the first noun, all the other adjectives of the first noun can come with it:

nṯr nb nfr wꜥb n njwt “every good and clean god of the city”.