Pre-Late Egyptian Reconstruction/Classification of Egyptian Verbs

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All the Egyptian verb forms, as shown in the previous pages, appear to progressively deviate from the Afro-Asiatic stereotypical templatic categories thus creating a renovated way of defining grammatical elements in a more analytical, lexicalized form. In affect, this meant that Egyptian stems were eventually categorized in a different way than sister languages, retaining the original vocalic structure in tact through into Coptic[1] without adopting new internal inflections as is not the case in other Afro-Asiatic languages especially Arabic where new vocalic templates emerged as the language progressed also giving way to new verb forms. According to the previous templates learned, we can come to a conclusion that Egyptian vocalic inflections, those among the same verbal forms, differed due to one of these three divisions:

  • Static Verbs [2] not only differed in vocalic inflection compared to other stems of that identical group of T.A.M. but also had modified/limited uses of that particular vocalic inflection when used elsewhere. In many Egyptian grammars, the aforementioned Static Verbs are generally grouped under a larger class of Intransitive Verbs but not all Intransitive Verbs followed the vocalic template of the Static Verb- other times, especially in more modern Egyptian Grammars, static verbs are individually recognized as Adjective-Verbs.
  • Vowel changes which are caused due to modifications of pronunciation through time... This includes vowel changes due to the proximity of specific consonants. There hasn't been a concise explanation, to date, why some roots had vowel changes versus others with identical radicals/consonants (to be exact, roots with a final /j,y/ consonant). There could be several reasons for this:
1 - one reason for the ambiguity may be in the earlier phases of the language, during the time when /ɜ > j/, several roots instead were treated as if < ɜ > took over for another consonant which later made that verb weak and thus continued to use the original vocalization. All other original final /-j/ roots assimilated to a renovated vocalization.
2 - Another explanation could be, those verbs which were final weak roots adopted an adjectival inflection; although if this was the case why did not all root types [not only final -y/j] go through this process?! It could be that later < -j/y > was added to the root (like in the Coptic verb: ⲤϩⲀⲒ - write), this is very easy to go unnoticed especially if there is no other spelling of the word to compare . In such case, if it was to be true that only final < -j > roots were modified, it is not to be excluded and just as probable, that there may still be a grammatical, syntactic reason for the change in vowels.
3 - an interesting feature with words with final stressed < -ⲀⲒ > is that this vocalization seems to be originally adjectival (a nisba adjective to be exact) then somehow this vocalization was adopted to the infinitive of some verbs in Coptic:
ϨⲢⲀⲒ (ḥry = ḥurǐj)- upwards, upper part... ḥrj “upper, lying on” from ḥr “on” - considered a prepositional nisba by James P. Allen Middle Egyptian Grammar pg 91.
ϩⲢⲀⲒ - beneath (hry = hurǐj) ... fem form: ϩⲢⲈ (hurǐjat ~ contracted to ~ hurǐt)[3]
ⲤϩⲀⲒ - write (from zš or zh - write)
  • They were borrowed from another language. This seems to be more the case in Coptic than Old - Middle Kingdom Egyptian, as it appears in the earlier language that all borrowed roots conformed to one of the previous patterns but in Coptic (and possibly in Demotic and Late Egyptian) the verbal forms, adopting the vocalization of the source languages' infinitive form, used a different vocalic inflection consisting of the Coptic letter < H > stemming from the source languages different sounding /a/ sounds which sounded different to the Egyptian ear.

Transitive vs Intransitive[edit]

Before learning about the various verb (sub-)classes, we must first determine if the original stem was transitive or intransitive. The following few paragraphs are taken from A Coptic Grammar by Layton, Bentley [4]:

Every infinitive by its very nature nature belongs to one or the other of two syntactic classes, transitives and intransitives, according to the following definition:

  • Transitive infinitives are those which at the speaker's choice can be constructed so as to express action directed at a direct object, i.e. at a receiver or goal or action. A direct object follows the infinitive:

ⲀⲨ-ⲚⲀⲨ Ⲉ-ⲠϢⲎⲢⲈ ϢⲎⲘ - They saw the child
ⲀⲨ-OⲨⲰⲚ Ⲛ-ⲚⲈⲨⲀϩⲰⲰⲢ - They opened their treasures
ϨⲎⲢⲰλⲎⲤ ΓⲀⲢ ⲚⲀ-ϢⲒⲚⲈ ⲚⲤⲀ-ΠϢⲎPⲈ ϢⲎⲘ - Herod is about to search for the child
ⲀⲨ-ⲤⲰⲦⲚ Ⲛ-ⲤⲦⲈΦⲀⲚOⲤ - They choose Stephen.

By this definition, ⲚⲀⲨ, OⲨⲰⲚ, ϢⲒⲚⲈ, and ⲤⲰⲦⲚ (see, open, search, choose) are classed as transitives, even though they can also occur without a direct object. The direct objects in these Coptic examples (the child, their treasures, etc.) are marked as such by an appropriate preposition (Ⲉ-, Ⲛ-, ⲚⲤⲀ-); each transitive infinitive has its own particular preposition(s) that mark objects.

Futhermore, with mutable infinitives (mutable transitive infinitives are those which occur as a set of allomorphs called states; absolute state, prenominal state, and personal state- traditionally these are called status absolutus, status constructus, and status pronominalis), under certain conditions a direct object can or must be immediately suffixed to the infinitive instead of being mediated by a preposition, i.e:

ⲀⲨ-CⲈⲦⲠ-ⲘⲚⲦ-ⲤⲚOOⲨⲤ - He chose twelve
ⲚⲈⲨ-†-CⲂⲰ - They taught (gave teachings)
Ⲉ-ⲦⲀⲔO-Ϥ - To destroy him (transitivity is also a property of the suffixally conjugated verboid OYNTE-).

By the definition used here, transitivity or intransitivity does not just refer to the construction in which a verb happens to occur in one sentence or another; but rather, to the verb's potential compatibility with the direct object construction- it's ability to take a direct object- as a permanent feature of its lexical character. In other words, transitivity is here defined as the essential property of a lexical subclass of verbs, not an incidental feature of usage in one particular sentence or another.

  • Intransitives are those whose infinitives cannot, under any circumstances, be constructed so as to express action directed at a direct object (receiver or goal of action). E.g. OⲨⲂⲀϢ - 'turn white', ϢⲀ - 'rise'. Crum, Coptic Dictionay (p.vii) uses 'transitive' and 'intransitive' in quite different senses.


It is to be noted that in Egyptian most if not all verb forms follow similar rules for the governing of subjects and objects unlike in Coptic where it is restricted to the infinitive as the infinitive was the main verbal device used to designate tense in Coptic.

Intransitives: Unergative & Unaccusative Verbs[edit]

Two second categories, which go hand in hand with intransitives, and are periodically used to describe verbs in Egyptian are:

The Unergative Verb - is an intransitive verb distinguished semantically by having an agent argument, or that treats the argument like the ergative argument of a transitive verb. For example, in English, run, talk and resign are unergative verbs, and fall and die are unaccusative verb.

The Unaccusative Verb - is an intransitive verb whose syntactic external argument is not a semantic agent; that is, it does not actively initiate, or is not actively responsible for, the action of the verb; or it treats the argument like the accusative argument of a transitive verb.

Classifications of Verbs [5][edit]

Grammatically [syntactically] speaking, all Egyptian stems are further divided on how and when each inflected form of the original stem could be used [6]. Antonio Loprieno, in his book A Linguistic Introduction To The Egyptian Language, gives a convincing and compelling argument in relation to how the stems are best grouped using what is called Aktionart. Methodically, verbs are divided between Punctual (no duration of time or instantaneous, taking just a moment) and Durative (has duration of time) and then further divided into:

  • Durative - accomplishments, activities and states.

In addition, verbs are then divided into: telicity (is the property of a verb or verb phrase that presents an action or event as being complete in some sense), a verb or verb phrase that presents an action or event as being incomplete is said to be atelic; the third class is termed changeless (these would be static verbs). Below is the table representing all the above terms:

Punctual - No Duration Durative - Has Duration
Telic Achievement - [realize, find[7]] Accomplishment - [drown, write[8]]
Atelic Semalfactive - [knock[9]] Activity - [walk[10], run[11]]
Changeless State - [know[12]]


Another division of verbs which can assist in proper categorization, is by identifying a verb as fini-transformative (develops towards an end point, i.e., die, arrive, make/build) non-transformative (does not develop towards an end point, i.e., play, sing) or initio-transformative (are verbs such as: find out; know, become; be, fall asleep; sleep, which all have an intermediate relation between fini-transformative and non-transformative and can go either way individually or both ways)[13].

Antonio Loprieno's Verb Class Hypothesis[14][edit]

The three semantic categories of tense and aspect, mood, and voice were conveyed by morphological oppositions and superimposed on the lexical structure of the verbal lexeme, which in its turn provides a further temporal dimension, called Aktionart, treated in some linguistic schools as a form of aspect. This is the temporal structure inherent to the verbal lexeme; it specifics, for example, whether a verbal predication consists of a single act (wpj "to open," punctual Aktionsart), or is extended over time (sdr "to sleep," durative Aktionsart), whether the existence of the argument(s) is affected by the predication (qd "to build," a transformative verb) or not (sdm "to hear," a non-transformative verb), whether the predication presents the result of a process (gmj "to find," an achievement), or entails a phase preceding the goal itself (jnj "to fetch," an accomplishment), whether it conveys an action by a subject (mš "to walk," an activity), or a state (ndn "to be pleasant")[15]

Rather than on the grammatical form, these temporal features depend on the ontology of the described situation, i.e. on the internal semantic structure of the lexeme, and remain constant in all its forms; they do, however, bear heavily on the spectrum of semantically acceptable combinations for each verbal root, restricting the number of choices by the speaker. Accordingly, punctual verbs will appear more frequently in the perfective aspect (wpj.n=j "I opened") focusing on the verbal action, whereas durative verbs will be more frequent in the imperfective (sdr=f "while he sleeps") and less salient within the flow of discourse; transformative verbs will be more likely than non-transformative verbs to be found in passive constructions (jw prw qd.w "the house was built"); verbs of achievement are unlikely candidates for imperfective uses (gmjpj *"I am finding"), which on the contrary are frequent with verbs of accomplishment (zḫꜢ=j "I am writing); verbs of activity will display a much larger inventory of temporal or aspectual references than stative verbs, which in turn are preferably used as adjectives, etc. No verbal root, therefore, will exhibit a complete paradigm of verbal forms: rather, the morphological patterns discussed in the next sections and conventionally applied to the verb sdm "to hear" and jrj "to do" represent a purely grammatical inventory of the Egyptian verb.

Stative Verb Classifications[edit]

It also appears that Egyptian intransitives (unergative and unaccusative) - Stative Verbs had sub-classes which also affected vocalizations and usages. In linguistics, they are generally divided as follows:

  • Verbs of Perception and Sensation - see, hear[16]
Sometimes this can be divided into:
Verbs of Sensation - feel[17], hear
Verbs Denoting Reasoning and Mental Attitude - believe, understand
Verbs of Position/Stance - lie[20], surround
  • Verbs of Cognition, Emotion, and Sensation - believe[21], regret
  • Verbs Denoting Relations - resemble[22], contain[23]

To the above sub-classes should also be the Egyptian Verbs of Color, which originally Egyptian only had 4 major verbs of color[24]:

  • Verbs of Color - ⲦⲰⲢϢ, ⲦⲢOϢ[25] - to be red, OYⲰⲦ (wāɜid)- green, ϨⲀⲦS.B.,ϨⲎⲦSaF.,ϨⲈⲦSaA.A2F. (ḥid) - silver [originally meant 'white'], ⲔⲀⲘⲈmasc, ⲔⲀⲘⲎfem - black
... OYⲂⲀϢ (wabǎḫ) - to become white [is first attested in Demotic & Coptic].

Locational and Directional Verbs[edit]

Egyptian makes use of stems defining location and direction, some of the inflectional forms of the stems were eventually lexicalized or made into prepositional/verbal phrases in the later phases of the Egyptian language. It goes without reason that there is not only a difference between:

  • locational verbs - put[26], place[27] ... these generally have some kind of end-point and in Egyptian they typically follow normal paradigms without much ambiguity.
  • direction verbs - open[28], up[29], down[30], across, in, back, out, in front[31],right[32], left[33], ect... In Egyptian, directional verbs generally have an adjectival and/or prepositional element associated with its original definition.
In the Chinese language, it is also interesting to note that come[34] and go[35][36] [37][38]are regarded as directional verbs in this category which is termed subjective direction whereas the verbs up, down, ect are termed objective verbs[39]; the same is true of the Egyptian versions of come and go which also not only differ within the phases of the Egyptian language but also within the various dialects most noticeable in Coptic.

But also, in this respect, Locational and Directional Verbs should be distinguishable from movement verbs. Several stems within this category, though not all of them, are treated differently than other verbs of motion specifically speaking some of those within the sub-class of directional verbs.

Final Notes of Verb Classifications[edit]

Earlier Egyptian is a language in which the morphological differentiation of event-denoting and state-denoting verbs is an essential part of the grammar. The language has at its disposal two finite verb paradigms, which present a given state of affairs from a more dynamic or more static point of view. The big picture that emerges from the templates we've learned, is that the Old and Early Middle Egyptian Stative has a broad semantic distribution across various lexical classes of transitives, unergative and unaccusative verbs. The possibility of forming statives from bona fide unaccusative verbs generally shows that stativity and unaccusativity, in spite of their semantic affinity, are two different facets of verbal meaning. The syntactically encoded contrast between Eventide and Statives must therefore be distinguished carefully from the lexically encoded dynamic-stative contrast in different verb classes. The alternations in verbal meaning that we see with pairs of Eventide and Stative forms of the same root are highly systematic and predictable. This systematic regularity (predictability) follows from the uniformity of inflectional morphology, which leaves little or no space for lexical idiosyncrasy[40]

  1. This does not include the various vowel changes occurring during the phases of the Egyptian language (for example the Canaanite Vowel Shifts or a simple a>i change, ect .....).
  2. Egyptian roots which had an original interpretation of state attached to their initial translation - i.e., to turn yellow...
  3. On egyptian Participles And Nomina Agentis - Helmut Satzinger pg 474
  4. Layton, Bentley, A Coptic grammar: with chrestomathy and glossary : Sahidic dialect pg 26.
  5. In this article there is a section titled 4.2. Verbs of movement in Late Egyptian which slightly goes into detail with classifications of verbs... https://orbi.ulg.ac.be/bitstream/2268/185608/1/A%20new%20Egyptian%20Dictionary%20Academia%2020150903.pdf ... pg 7
  6. In turn this is when the Perfect Active Participle (or a modified Nominal Form/Infinitive) form became lexicalized thus assisting in the analytical element surrounding the skeletal repertoire of the Coptic phases of the language
  7. ϬⲒⲚⲈ (ϪⲒⲘⲒ) [gmyMEg]- find.
  8. ⲤϨⲀⲒ [zš, sš; possibly originally zh] - write.
  9. ⲔⲰⲖϦ - knock, strike .. also means 'to knock on a door'; ḳlhDem
  10. ⲘOOϢⲈ, ⲘⲀ(Ⲁ)ϨⲈ and mšꜥLEg; there appears to be a unique spelling to this stem because of the 'sh' sound, it shows an original h = mhꜥ - there are Demotic spelling with . There is another Egyptian root/verb (dgsMEg - walk, tread) not attested in Coptic.
  11. ⲠⲰⲦ - run, flee, go [p(ɜ)dMEg - knee = ⲠⲀⲦS./ⲠⲈⲦSfA.A2F.]... ϬOϪⲒB. [qdLEg, ddjDem.] - run ~ Sahidic uses ⲠⲰⲦ and Bohairic uses ϬOϪⲒ... There is another Egyptian root/verb [gsjMEg - run] which does not seem to be attested in Coptic.
  12. There are several words for 'to know' in Egyptian: ⲈⲒⲘ(Ⲙ)Ⲉ [ꜥm], ⲔⲀϮ [unknown origin & usage], ⲢⲰϢ - infinitive of rḫMEg, LEg [measure, establish] it only means 'to know' in the Old Perfective form.
  13. https://books.google.com/books?id=eyS2BQAAQBAJ&pg=PA341&lpg=PA341&dq=transformative+and+non-transformative+verbs&source=bl&ots=mr47qNTvk_&sig=mSysnu35G-rmhEzEZqpa9mUh7BQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwighMCzq-vRAhUDPCYKHbeAC_gQ6AEIMDAE#v=onepage&q=transformative%20and%20non-transformative%20verbs&f=false pg 341
  14. Taken from Antonio Loprieno's Book Ancient Egyptian Languageː A Linguistic Introduction pages 75-76.
  15. These oppositions are similar to the Aristotelian concept of "aspect"; here, I basically follow Z. Vendler, "Verbs and times," in Linguistics in Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), 97-121. See Binnick, Time and the Verb, 170-214].
  16. ⲤⲰⲦⲘ - hear ~ in Egyptian, ⲤⲰⲦⲘ, is both transitive: ⲤⲰⲦⲘ Ⲉ = listen to [or ⲤⲰⲦⲘ Ⲛ - listen to; obey] and intransitive: hear = ⲤⲰⲦⲘ, but is regarded as transitive (even though it may not have an indirect object), a better term for ⲤⲰⲦⲘ is ambitransitive.
  17. ϪOⲠϪⲠ, ϨϪOⲠϪⲠ (dbdbMEg - crush by treading) - grope, feel (as blind man), is a reduplication of the verb: ϪⲰⲰⲂⲈ - pass by, over
  18. ϨⲘOOⲤ, ϨⲘⲀⲤⲦ, ϨⲘⲈⲤⲦ - sit, dwell, remain [ḥmsy - to sit, ḥms - sit] - this is an interesting verb as it doesn't follow the normal paradigm, the Coptic infinitival form is borrowed from a qualitative construction which contaminated the spelling; as shown in Crumm's dictionary, there is a Bohairic form showing another infinitival construction following a modified a > i in proximity of the radical jː ϨⲈⲘⲤⲒ.
  19. ⲰϨⲈ - to stand [ꜥḥꜥ - stand].
  20. In Egyptian and Coptic this verb is causative: ⲦϢⲦO [djt sdrMEg,LEg / št(r)LEg, Dem]- cause/make sleep; lie down, which is then shortened to ϢⲦO or ϪⲦOS.A.A2
  21. ⲚⲀϨⲦⲈ / ⲚⲈϨϮF. [nḥty - trust; in Demotic starts to be used for 'believe' and 'trust']
  22. ⲈⲒⲚⲈ [ynDem] - be like, resemble.
  23. ⲰⲖ [(j)ꜥr - ascend; in Greo-Roman times also lift up, pick up, bring] - contain, hold, enclose.
  24. A whole article titled Color Terms in Ancient Egyptian and Coptic by Wolfgang Schenkel explains these terms in more detail ... http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/propylaeumdok/1577/1/Schenkel_Color_terms_2007.pdf
  25. in Crumm's dictionary [pg 432] we have a shifted syllable position:ⲦⲢOϢ-ⲢⲈϢ, which undeniably shows the original CaCaC vocalization.
  26. OⲨⲰϨ [wꜢḥ] - put, set, lay.
  27. ⲔⲰ, ⲔOⲨA.A2F., ⲔⲰⲈA2 - place, appoint, set down, make ... ḫꜢꜥMEg, ḫꜢ(ꜥ)LEg - throw, place, abandon.
  28. OⲨⲰⲚ [wn] - open ~ OⲨⲈⲚ, OⲨⲎⲚ, ⲈOⲨⲈⲚ are other A. Coptic spellings of this stem.
  29. ϨⲢⲀⲒ (ḥry = ḥurǐj)- upwards, upper part.
  30. ϩⲢⲀⲒ - beneath (hryMEg = hurǐj).
  31. ϩH - front beginning (ḥuɜīt - front, beginning).
  32. In Ancient Egyptian, right (side/hand) and west utilized identical stems: jmnt(t) - the west; jmnty - right hand, western, the west, by the time of Demotic/Coptic Ⲉ(Ⲓ)ⲘⲚⲦ(Ⲉ) was solely used for 'the west'; by the time of Demotic/Coptic OⲨⲚⲀⲘ, OⲨⲚⲈ(Ⲓ)Ⲙ (wnmLEg) began to be used for 'the right hand/side'.
  33. In Ancient Egyptian east and the left hand/side utilized the same stem: jꜢby - left (hand), east, eastern; by the time of Demotic/Coptic ⲈⲒⲈⲂⲦ began to be used for 'the east' and ϬⲂOⲨⲢS.F.,ϨⲂOⲨⲢA2, ϬⲂⲒⲢA from the stem gbyrDem began to be used for 'the left (hand/side)'.
  34. In Coptic we have, ⲈⲒ, Ⲓ , ⲈⲒⲨ.
  35. ϢⲈS. / ϢⲈⲒS. / ϢⲀⲒS. / ϢⲎS.SaF.O. [šmMEg - walk; šm r - go to ] - go... ⲂⲰⲔS.A.A2B. (unknown origin?! ... בואAncient Hebrew [bo] - as a verb, Come, To move toward something; approach; enter. This can be understood as to come or to go. The hiphil (causative) form means "bring.") - go... Sahidic Coptic typically will use ⲂⲰⲔ, Bohairic uses ϢⲈ and Fayyumic uses ⲠⲰⲦ.
  36. In Coptic we have ⲚOⲨ [nꜥMEg - travel in a boat; it is not until Late Egyptian this stem means go; there is also another Coptic form of this stem Ⲛ(Ⲛ)Ⲁ which comes from nꜥy also meaning traveling in a boat- the only difference between the two is that ⲚOⲨ appears to be a substituted masculine infinitive version of Ⲛ(Ⲛ)Ⲁ according to the book Coptic Etymology by J. Cerny pg 102-106, but there are generally not distinguishable from each other otherwise.].
  37. The verb šm “to go” is regularly followed by an adverbial phrase introduced by the preposition r for expressing direction. If this adverbial extension is lacking, the meaning of the verb is deeply modified (“to go” > “to walk”)... A new dictionary of Ancient Egyptian Jean Winand pg 4
  38. Another interesting Egyptian root is prj - go, come out, escape (from), be renowned of (name), burst forth (of storm); go up, ascend (to), subtracted (mathematics) ~ ⲠⲈⲒⲢⲒ [ⲠⲢⲢⲈS.,ⲠⲢⲢ(Ⲉ)ⲒⲈA.A2] - come forth of light, blossom... The word ⲠⲢⲰS.A.A2 - winter comes from this root (prtMEg).
  39. https://books.google.com/books?id=o8K5BQAAQBAJ&pg=PA674&lpg=PA674&dq=location/directional+verbs&source=bl&ots=i6_D0x8Dxj&sig=YdaDcmHvwvMJSyrFPJykADdfp_s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjN1pjj0OrRAhVKRCYKHUuqCK0Q6AEIIjAC#v=onepage&q=location%2Fdirectional%20verbs&f=false pg 675
  40. Excerpt taken from: https://books.google.com/books?id=Yi11BgAAQBAJ&pg=PA446&lpg=PA446&dq=ancient+egyptian+language+unergative+unaccusative+verbs&source=bl&ots=zIsIMO3ZuY&sig=DZHbs-vhNXuiQUCIEQ3lMc2wIcU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiIgeqboKrSAhUOfiYKHU7JAk8Q6AEIKDAC#v=onepage&q=ancient%20egyptian%20language%20unergative%20unaccusative%20verbs&f=false ..pg 446.