Pre-Late Egyptian Reconstruction/The Egyptian ''Ser'' VS ''Estar'' Theory

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“Ser” and “estar” are two Spanish copulative verbs standing for two different concepts: “ser” is the fruit of an “absolute concept” i. e. it has general meaning and it is used to make statements without specific time or situation, whereas “estar” is the fruit of a “relative concept” i. e. it has a referential meaning and it expresses statements related to a specific time or situation. The functions of “ser” and “estar” can be found also in constructions of Earlier Egyptian, in an indirect manner, where adjectival and nominal sentences have a similar function as “ser”, and the pseudoparticiple of adjectival verbs and adverbial sentences with m of predication have a similar function as “estar”.[1] Though these syntactic constructions have been heavily debated in recent times and will be discussed further in this article.

We will start off by learning about Nominal Sentences as mentioned below:

Nominal Sentences[edit]

Nominal sentences (predicates) have three types with the following patterns:

A pw
A pw B

A B nominal sentences with pronouns[edit]

In Middle Egyptian, the A B pattern is mostly used when A or B is a pronoun. In such sentences, A is normally an independent pronoun, and B is a noun or noun phrase: for example;

  • jnk ḥqɜ - I am the ruler
  • jnk wr jr šsp.f - I am the great one who made his light
  • jnk wḥmw jqr - I am an excellent herald

where A is the independent pronoun jnk and B is the noun phrase wḥmw jqr (literally, “I an excellent herald”).

A can be an interrogative pronoun, eg pw-tr, ptr later variant pty - who? what? In this case B is commonly a dependent pronoun,

  • pty rf sw - who then is he?

A can be a name and B is rn.f, rn.s, ect,

  • N(y)-s(w)-Ptḫ rn.f - Nisu-Ptḫ is his name

A is rn and B specifies the name,

  • rn n(y) mr pn Wn-tɜ-Wɜt - the name of the canal is 'Opening the Way'

Occasionally, A can be a noun or noun phrase if B is the neutral form of a demonstrative pronoun such as nn “this”[2]: for example;

  • dpt m(w)t nn - This is the taste of death

Note that the independent pronouns are always first (jnk B “I am B”) and the demonstratives are always second (A nn “This is A”). Under normal circumstances, the demonstrative stands as close to the beginning of the sentence as possible. In the example given above, it is last because the two elements of the direct genitive dpt m(w)t cannot be separated.

With an indirect genitive, however, the demonstrative can move farther forward:

  • st nfɜ nt ḫnt - That is a place of landing

(i.e., a place one can land in). This is possible because the indirect genitive is actually an adjective, and like other adjectives that modify nouns it actually stands in apposition to the noun it follows: thus, the sentence just cited literally means “That is a place, one belonging to landing.”

A B nominal sentences with nouns[edit]

The A B pattern was originally the normal one for all nominal sentences, and could be used when A and B were both nouns or noun phrases. In Middle Egyptian, however, its use with two nouns or noun phrases is mostly limited to the following circumstances.

1) A or B contains a noun of kinship or the noun rn “name”; for example,

  • mjwt.j nwt - My mother is Nut

where A is the noun phrase mjwt.j and B is the proper name nwt; and

  • rn n (j)t(j).s ywjɜ - The name of her father is Yuia

where A is the noun phrase rn n (j)t(j).s and B is the proper name ywjɜ. Nouns such as mjwt “mother” and rn “name” are known as “inalienables,” because they designate relationships that are normally unbreakable: a person cannot choose to have a different biological mother, for example.

2) A and B contain the same noun in two different noun phrases: for example,

  • mkt.t mkt rꜥ[3] - Your (2fs) protection is the protection of Re

where A is the noun mkt.t and B is the noun phrase mkt rꜥ. Such constructions are known as “balanced sentences.” They are fairly common in Egyptian, and can be found in other languages as well: for example, modern colloquial Arabic beiti beitak “My house is your house.”

Using Pw in sentences[edit]

The demonstrative pronoun pw - this, in the following instances, is used invariably (i.e. it does not agree in gender and number). In the construction A pw, for example, the meaning can be translated as it is A, this is A or he / she / it is A (they are A). Most importantly, pw - it, takes position B, and A is what it said about B. Some scholars may refer to pw as the copula but it is not actually a copula its use is almost identical to the French ce in the sentence c'est moi.

Notes on Pw[edit]

The form of the 3rd person sg.m. was probably /fi/, for this form is certainly related to /pi / 'this/[4]. Coincidentally, the independent personal pronouns of the 3rd person is used as a demonstrative in East Semitic, Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic, ancient South Arabian and West Gurage. The distinction between the personal pronoun is here not formal but functional. For comparison, the Egyptian "known" adjectival demonstratives, manifestly correlated (the followed a similar pattern to that of Tuareg language; sing mas wu-/wa-, sing fem tu-/ta-, pl masc win-, fem pl tin-). Their p- and w- elements are probably related to the demonstrative and and pronominal b-prefix of Bedja and of West Cushitic (Omotic), apparently of Wolof and Bantu languages (Niger-Congo) as well, but have no direct correspondence in Semitic.[5]

The Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy agrees that the Spanish fulano is from Arabic, but mentions the (Ancient) Egyptian words pw rn for this man as a possible ultimate source (though admittedly the Ptolomeys and Alexandria were Greek):

"fulano, na. (Del ár. hisp. fulán, este del ár. clás. fulān, y este quizá del egipcio pw rn, este hombre)."[6]

Egyptian pw from Proto-Celtic *kʷēs, (compare Breton piv, Cornish piw, Old Irish cía), from Proto-Indo-European *kʷis[7]

One of the most noticeable changes in later Egyptian is that it has a definite article, developed from (and formally identical to) the lesser-used pɜ series of demonstratives in earlier Egyptian. The exact point at which the series became more broadly used as definite articles, and not demonstratives, is uncertain. It is highly likely that the shift had begun already in at least some informal varieties of Middle Egyptian.

The proxal demonstrative series with pn from earlier Egyptian is not retained. Instead, a new series of proxal demonstratives is derived by adding a –j suffix to the definite article: p3j ‘this (masc. sing.),’ tɜj ‘this (fem. sing.)’ and nɜj ‘this (pl.).’ This series persists into Coptic as ⲠⲈⲒ [pei], ⲦⲈⲒ [tei], and ⲚⲈⲒ [nei] & In Late Egyptian and Demotic, pɜj combined with a suffix pronoun indicated possession before a nominal, e.g., pɜj=s hj ‘her husband (=hj)’ (Johnson 2000:49). The demonstrative portion agrees in gender and number with the possessum (in this example, masculine singular). In Coptic, the possessive articles are still in use, although generally reduced to ⲠⲈ [pe], ⲦⲈ [te], and ⲚⲈ [ne] with a following suffix pronoun, e.g., ⲦⲈ-Ϥ-ⲘⲀⲀⲨ [te-f-maau] ‘his mother’, the exception is the first person singular series which is ⲠⲀ [pa], ⲦⲀ [ta], and ⲚⲀ [na]). Coptic also has a separate series of possessive pronouns (mine, yours, ours, etc.) which combine ⲠⲰ/ⲦⲰ/ⲚⲰ [pō/tō/nou] with a suffix pronoun, e.g., ⲠⲰ-Ⲕ [pō-k] ‘yours’ where the possessum is masculine singular and the possessor is second person masculine singular. The distal demonstrative series with pf is also lost from earlier Egyptian. By the time of Demotic, a periphrastic relative clause expression was used to express distal deixis. A noun phrase like ‘that man’ is literally expressed as ‘the man who is there’ (in Demotic, pɜ rmt nt n-jm=w)[8]

Adjective Singular
Adjective Singular
Adjective Plural
Adjective Plural
Adverbs Notes
pn - this tn jpn jptn nn ꜥn n for closeness (rmt pn "this man
pf - that tf jpf jptf nf ꜥf f for distance (ḥjm.t tf "that woman")
pj > pw > pwy - this tj > tw > twy jpw jptw nw ... w (originally j) also for closeness (ntr.w jpw "those gods")
pɜ - the said ... ... ... ꜥɜ ɜ for vocative reference (pɜ mrjj "0 beloved one)
  • The attested duals are: jpwj - masc and jtwj - fem.

A pw nominal sentence[edit]

Consists of two parts:

The first part, A, can be any noun or noun phrase, or a pronoun
and B is the demonstrative pronoun

zɜ.j pw - he is my son

1- when it is used to modify a noun, pw is always masculine singular, but in the A pw sentence it is neutral, and can have a masculine singular, feminine singular, or plural referent. Depending on the context, A pw can mean “He is A,” “She is A,” “They are A,” “It is A,” “This is A,” “That is A,” “These are A,” or “Those are A”: for example:

  • rꜥ pw - it is ra
  • ḥjmt wꜥb pw - she is a priest's wife
  • ḥwrw pw - they are miserable ones

2 - A can also be an independent or demonstrative pronoun:

  • ntf pw - it is he
  • pɜ pw - it is this

3 - Like demonstratives in the A B nominal sentence, pw stands as close to the beginning of the sentence as possible. In the examples cited above, pw is last because A is either a noun (zɜj, rꜥ, ḥwrw) or a direct genitive (ḥjmt wꜥb), which cannot be separated. If the noun phrase in A has an indirect genitive or a modifying adjective, however, pw comes after the noun and before any modifiers (including the indirect genitive):

  • sḫtj pw n sḫt-ḥmɜt[9] - He is a peasant of the Wadi Natrun
  • tɜ pw nfr - It is a good land
  • ḥw pw ḥnꜥ sjɜ - They are (the gods) Hu and Sia

literally, “He is a peasant, one belonging to the Wadi Natrun”, “It is a land, a good one”; and “It is Hu, together with Sia”

A pw B nominal sentences[edit]

There are only a few instances in which the A B nominal sentence can be used if both A and B are nouns or noun phrases. Middle Egyptian normally uses a different nominal sentence pattern, A pw B, if both A and B are nouns or noun phrases: for example,

  • phrt pw ꜥnḫ - Life is a cycle

As this example shows, A pw B often has to be translated “B is A”. This pattern can also be used even if A or B is a noun of kinship: for instance, snt.f pw tfnt - His sister is (the goddess) Tefnut.” In the A pw B sentence, pw always comes before B; but, as in the A pw sentence, it also comes as close to the front of the sentence as possible. This means that, in some cases, pw can stand “inside” A if A is a noun phrase with parts that can be separated: for example,

  • mnw pw n z(j) nfrw.f - The monument of a man is his goodness

instead of *mnw n z(j) pw nfrw.f. If A is a direct genitive, of course, it cannot be separated, hzrw dwt pw sr(j)w - Officials are dispellers of evil

More examples of A pw B:

  • jnk šwtj pw - as for me, a merchant it is
  • wdɜ.t pw nw - this is an intact garment
  • jnk pw šw - Shu is I
The demonstrative pronoun is pw if the subject is not a personal pronoun.

Adverbial Sentences[edit]

In the Egyptian adverbial sentence the subject normally comes first and the predicate is second (SUBJECT-PREDICATE). The predicate is an adverb or prepositional phrase.

  • hrwt[10].k m pr.k - your possessions are in your house (hrwt.k = SUBJECT, m pr.k = PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE)
  • m.k tw ꜥɜ - look, you are here

Occasionally the order of subject and predicate is reversed, mostly when the predicate is a prepositional phrase with n “to, for”:

  • n kɜ.k jnw n sḫt - for your ka is the produce of the field (jnw n sḫt = SUBJECT, n kɜ.k = PREDICATE)

These type of sentences do not indicate tense:

  • pꜥt m jmw - the elite were in mourning (from a story)
  • wrrt.j n.s - my crown shall be for her

Unlike sentences with nominal or adjectival predicate, those with an adverbial predicate can express wishes or commands as well as statements of fact:

  • bɜw.k r.f - may your impressiveness be against him! (a wish)
  • ḥr.k m hrw[11] - let your face be down! (a command)

-m of Predication[edit]

In studies of Egyptian grammar, Egyptologists have long believed that the m of predication indicates temporary, acquired or secondary qualities when used to characterize identity. In this function, the m of predication has been contrasted with nominal predication, which Egyptologists have believed indicates permanent or inherent qualities when used to characterize identity.

-m of Predication VS Nominal Sentences[edit]

James P. Allen speaks about the m of predication being used in Adverbial sentences of identity:[12]

One of the most common kinds of adverbial sentence is used to identify the subject with something by means of the preposition m: for example,

m.k tw m mnjw - You are a herdsman (lit: Behold, you [are] in a herdsman)

For this kind of sentence we do not normally translate the preposition m. In Egyptian, however, it indicated that the subject was “in” the capacity or identity of something, in this example, the subject tw “you” is “in” the function of “a hersdman”.

James P. Allen continues by comparing m of predication with nominal sentences:

The existence of this kind of sentence means that Egyptian had two ways of expressing identity: with a nominal sentence or with an adverbial sentence using the preposition m. English forces us to translate both kinds of sentence in the same way: for example,

ntk r' - You are Ra
m.k tw m mnjw - You are a herdsman

In Egyptian, however, the two constructions mean two different things. The nominal sentence is used when the identity is thought of as natural or unchangeable, and the adverbial sentence with m is used when the identification is seen as acquired or temporary. Thus ntk r' identifies who the subject is (Ra) while m.k tw m mnjw identifies the subject's occupation (which is not necessarily permanent). In the same way, the sentence ntk z3.j “You are my son” implies that the speaker is talking to his real son, while jw.k m z3.j “You are my son” indicates that the person being addressed is acting as a son (whether he is the speaker’s real son or not).

However, these long-standing assumptions have rarely been questioned. Upon closer examination, the data seem to challenge this dichotomy between the m of predication and nominal predication as the same descriptive qualities appear in both grammatical constructions. Rather than the nature of the descriptive quality involved, the use of the m of predication may be based on the syntactic environment in which it occurs[13]. The m of predication occurs in all stages of the Egyptian language. The present article focuses on Late Old Egyptian and Middle Egyptian, where it most frequently occurs. However, examples are also discussed of so-called Neo-Middle Egyptian, or the Middle Egyptian employed in higher register texts after the Middle Kingdom. Examples from Late Egyptian, Demotic and Coptic are discussed further below.

The terminology "m of predication" or "m of equivalence" refers to the usage of the preposition m "in" to associate two entities, with the meaning "in the capacity of."

The paradigmatic example given by Alan H. Gardiner was iw=k m sš and has been understood to mean "You are in (the capacity of) a scribe." The basic grammatical function of the m of predication has long been known in Egyptology, but it was Gardiner who attempted to refine our understanding of the construction. In a very brief observation of his magisterial Egyptian Grammar, Gardiner states: "The predicate here usually, if not always, expresses what in logic is termed an 'accident,' an acquired attribute rather than a permanent 'property."

Every significant grammar written since the time of Gardiner has not only accepted this notion, but has expanded upon it in great detail. Taking the preceding descriptions of the two types of predication in statements of identity as a foundation, we would expect an examination of the use of the m of predication, in contrast to the use of nominal predication, to demonstrate which descriptive qualities were considered permanent and which were considered secondary, temporary or acquired. As an example of an "accidental" attribute, an occupation, sš "scribe," was provided in the example iw=k m sš "You are a scribe." Again this idea has been generalized by subsequent scholars, such as John Callender: "This is usual for the expression of acquired professions or occupations, since these imply change." However, the most common, one might say typical, construction for this expression uses nominal predication ink sš. The examples below are only a few selected examples from an otherwise very large corpus (in rough chronological order from Old Egyptian to Neo-Middle Egyptian).

jnk ḥry-sšt3 - I am a master of secrets
jnk ḥm w'bw n ntr njwty r3=f rdjw snd - Indeed, I am a wab-priest of the local god whose speech causes fear...
jnk Hnqw d nfr bnr[14] - I am Henqu, who speaks well and sweetly
jnk hry-ḥ3b.t - I am a lector priest ...
jnk sš md3.t-ntr s3 jmy-r3 3ḥ.t jnk sš sm3y.t dfdf.w qn m db'.w=f ḥmww n wnw.t=f jnk gr hry-ḥb.t jqr ḥmww m wp ḫ3y.t - I am a scribe of the divine book (and) son of the overseer of the field. I am a scribe of the collected (writings) of secretions, who was capable with his fingers, a craftsman of his craft. I am, moreover, an excellent lector-priest, a craftsman in the discernment of disease.
jnk sš jqr - I am an excellent scribe
jnk ḫtmw jqr ḥsy n nb=f - I am an excellent seal-bearer, one praised of his lord
jnk wḥmw jqr n mrw.t rḫ wd'.t - I am a herald, excellent of love, one who knows the judgement
jnk jmy-r3 w'b.w sḫm.ty jmy-r3 ḥk3.w wr snw n ny-sw.t - I am the overseer of wab-priests of the double crown, overseer of magicians, great one of the royal doctors...
jnk b3k mdd-mtn '3-qd bnr-mrw.t - I am a servant who is faithful, great of character (and) well-loved
jnk s'ḥ mnḫ n j3m n=f ' - I am a beneficent noble, for whom the hand is extended...
jnk s'ḥ jqr n js.t bjty - I am an excellent noble of the crew of the king of Lower Egypt ...
jnk w'b 'q n jp.t-sw.wt - I am a wab-priest, who enters into Karnak

From the very outset then, we find that the paradigmatic example itself does not actually reflect the construction employed for acquired descriptions since associations with occupation are actually more often expressed in clauses consisting of nominal predication. Furthermore, apart from other acquired characteristics expressed through nominal predication, the matter is further complicated by the fact that such expressions can employ either nominal predication or a verbal construction with the m of predication. The below examples demonstrate that nominal predication, as well as the verb wn plus the m of predication, can be used to describe the acquisition of the state of adulthood.

jnk jd tz mdḥ ḫr ḥm n ny-sw.t bjty mry-r' - was a youth who tied the filet under the majesty of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Meryre
jnk jd tz mdḥ ḫr ḥm=f - I was a youth who tied the fillet under his majesty...
mn(=j) m ḥwn tz mdḥ m rk ttj - I was as a youth who tied on the fillet in the time of king Teti

The expression clearly refers to an acquired state or characteristic, namely that the child ties on the fillet as an act signifying his entry into manhood. As these examples show, both nominal predication and a verb with the m of predication can be used to convey this attribute and that so-called acquired, temporary or secondary associations can be used in clauses with nominal predicates, contrary to the traditional interpretation. Additional evidence contradicts the standard interpretations as so-called permanent or essential characteristics can occur in clauses with adverbial predicates, specifically using the m of predication. A selection of such constructions is given below. They have been chosen because the attributes (e.g. jm3ḫy "venerated one" and ny-sw.t "king") used after the m of predication have traditionally been interpreted as inherent or eternal characteristics.

jnk ny-sw.t ddw jrrw - I am a king who says and does
jnk jm3ḫy - I am a venerated one
ntk ny-sw.t jr m '.wy=j - You are a strong king who acts with his arms

However, it should be noted that examples with other attributes following the m of predication can be cited such as nb (lord), ḥq3 (ruler), R' (Ra), s (man), s3.t n ny-sw.t (king's daughter), s3 (son), ntr (god), among others.

jw ___ m nn ḫ' ḫ' - ___ is this one, who appears and appears, who lasts and lasts
n ḫpr mjt.t n b3k..w p3.n nb=sn ḥs.t st rḫ.n=f s.t-ns=j nḫ qm3=j jw=j m im3ḫy n ḫr ny-sw.t ḥs.t=j ḫr šn.wt=f j3m.t=j m b3ḥ smr.w=f r-p' ḥ3ty-' nḥrj s3 hnm-ḥtp nb im3ḫ - The like did not happen for the servants whose lord had ever praised them. It was while my form was small that he knew my speech, I being as a venerated one by the king, my praise being with his entourage, my charm being in the presence of his friends, the prince, high official, Nehri's son, Khnumhotep, possessor of veneration

Upon looking at such constructions, we must ask ourselves why non-essential characteristics appear in nominal constructions and essential characteristics appear in adverbial constructions contrary to the standard interpretation. Explaining any of the examples presented above according to the traditional understanding of the m of predication becomes exceedingly convoluted.

The answer to this conundrum may lie not in semantics (is the linguistic and philosophical study of meaning) but in syntax (is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of sentences in a given language, usually including word order). That is to say, the m of predication in a circumstantial clause is restricted only by the main clause on which it depends, not on the nature of the predicate employed. In a main clause, it is the syntactical elements used to create the clause which condition the use of the m of predication. Thus the m of predication is used for syntactic reasons, not semantic ones. To conclude, it is not the nature of the predicate, but the syntax of the clause as well as its components which condition the use of the m of predication. A good example is found in a text in the tomb of Hezi at Saqqara where uses of both nominal and adverbial predicates are used to associate himself with specific characteristics but the characteristic are repeated in each case so that we can see where he is using nominal predication and where he is using adverbial predication with the very same predicate. As the example below shows, he begins his biographical inscription with nominal predication. It is not until later after a context has been established that the m of predication is used in clauses subordinated by the particle sk.

1) dd=f jnk z3b zš n rk jzzj jnk z3b sḥd zš.w n rk wnjs jn ttj nb(=j) (w)d(j) wj m z3b 'd-mr
... as he says: I was a dignitary and scribe during the reign of Isesi. I was a dignitary and inspector of scribes during the reign of Unis. It was Teti, (my) lord, who appointed me as dignitary and 'd-mr official.
2) (w)d(j) wj m hry-tp ny-sw.t rdj.n ḥm=f jr.t(j) n(=j) n rḫ ḥm=f rn(=j) m jt.t(=j) zš n '.wy=f(y) ny wnt ḥ3(w) nb sḫ3.w n=f dd n=f s3j
and who appointed me royal chamberlain[15]. His majesty caused that (it) be done for me because his majesty was aware of (my) name when I took over the role of scribe from (lit. of) his hands, there not being any supporter who is called to mind (or remembered by) to him, (nor) one of whom it is said: 'Wise (one)!"
3) jr.n(=j) zš ḫr ḥm=f m ḥ3.t zš.w jr.n(=j) sr ḫr ḥm=f m ḥ3.t sr.w
I performed the role of scribe under his majesty at the front of the scribes. I performed the role of an official under his majesty at the front of officials.
4) wn rdj ḥm=f m ḥ3j(=j) r wj3 '3 stp(=j) z3 jwt(=j) r w3.wt jrj.t(j) 3w.t(=j) mj m hy-tp ny-sw.t sk w(j) m z3b 'd-mr ny wnt jry.t(w) mjt.t n mjt(y=j) nb wn ḥm=f nd=f ḫt m-'(=j) m r3-'(=j)
His majesty used to cause that I descend to the great sacred bark, that I might perform escort duty; that I come to the ways; and that my gifts be made just as a royal chamberlain, when I was a dignitary and 'd-mr official, the like was not done for any equal of mine. His majesty asked advice from me because of my activity.
5) m-m sr.w sk wj m z3b sḥd zš.w n rḫ ḥm=f rn(=j) tny r b3b nb
among the officials, when I was a dignitary and inspector of scribes, because his majesty knew my name, it being more distinguished than (that of) any scribe.[16]

What is obvious in these examples is the use of the m of predication in circumstantial clauses. The m of predication is being used here with the same meaning as the phrase jnk sš, except the clause is subordinated.

jw (in relation to Non-Verbal Sentences)[edit]

'jw' is deemed a particle in Middle Egyptian, and it's predominant function is to mark independent statements but in one common formation it is already frequently subordinate (begins with a subordinate conjunction[17] or a relative pronoun and will contain both a subject and a verb, this combination of words will not form a complete sentence, it will instead make a reader want additional information to finish the thought).

Another one of the uses of jw that does seem clear has to do with the difference between statements that are generally valid and those that are only temporarily true. English does not make this distinction: we use the same kind of sentence for both kinds of statements—for example, The Eiffel Tower is in Paris (always true) and The President is in Paris (temporarily true). Middle Egyptian, however, often does show the difference: in sentences with an adverbial predicate, jw generally marks a statement that is only temporarily true or one that is true in specific circumstances.

'jw' is especially very common in Middle Egyptian adverbial sentences, and it usually can not be translated into English. In fact, Egyptologists still debate about the exact meaning of jw, and no one has yet come up with a full explanation of why Egyptian uses it in some cases but not in others. The standard grammars have regarded 'jw' as a "defective verb" or perhaps Hebrew וו‎, ו״ו‎, ויו‎ (waw/vav - a connection with the Semitic conjunction has also been suggested). However more and more grammarians are coming to regard it as a particle which may never have been verbal. Callender has suggested that it was originally a nominal with some such meaning as "situation", which might illuminate some of its uses, including that in impersonal sentences.

jw with Adverbial Sentences[edit]

Adverbial sentences that consist of just a subject and an adverbial predicate, such as those cited in the preceding section, are not very common in Middle Egyptian. Normally Middle Egyptian prefers to introduce adverbial sentences with one of a group of small words known as particles. Besides serving as an introductory word, each particle also adds a particular nuance to the sentence. The most important Middle Egyptian particle is jw. This word is used before a nominal subject or a demonstrative pronoun, or with the suffix form of a personal pronoun, for example,

  • 1) jw m(w)t m ḥr.j mjn - death is in my sight today
  • 2) jw nɜ m sb(ɜ)yt - this is an instruction
  • 3) jw.f m ꜥt - It is in a room
  • 4) jw jtj.j m wꜥw - my father was a soldier

Example #1, w m(w)t m ḥr.j mjn - death is in my sight today, is true when it is spoken (“today”) but is not always true. Similarly example #3, jw.f m ꜥt - It is in a room, refers to the present location of something, not to its permanent location.

Example #4 deserves some special attention because it is an adverbial sentence that expresses identity. This is done through a construction that uses location as a means to indirectly refer to identity. For example, when one says that he is "in a father" in Middle Egyptian, he is basically saying that he is a father. Middle Egyptian, or least what has survived in writing, routinely uses this construction to denote identity... (This whole sentence describes the 'm-predication'...

jw with Adjectival Sentences[edit]

Besides adverbial sentences, jw occasionally appears in sentences with an adjectival predicate. In such cases jw seems to have the same kind of meaning that it does in adverbial sentences: that is, to indicate that the adjectival statement is true only temporarily or in a specific circumstance; for example,

  • jw nfr sw m pɜ hrw r sf - he is better today than yesterday (lit: he is good in this day with respect to yesterday)

In Middle Egyptian, jw is almost never used with nominal sentences. This is evidently because such sentences describe identifications that are not restricted to a particular time: zɜ.j pw “He is my son”.

jw Patterns & Formulas (in relation to Non-Verbal Sentences)[edit]

There are two main patterns which non-verbal sentences fall under with jw:

  • 1) jw + suffix-pronoun + adverbial = is NEUTRAL with respect to independence/subordination and is perhaps the point from which the subordinating use "took over" by analogy in later phases of the language.
Independent adverbial sentences are, as a rule, ”introduced” by what is usually labelled the ”particle jw”. This applies both to sentences with adverbs and prepositional expressions in the predicate slot and to those whose predicate is an adverbial verbform.
  • 2) jw + noun + adverbial = is normally an independent statement, while bare noun + adverbial is normally subordinate.

The relationship between these two patterns illustrates the most important and central function of jw in Middle Egyptian, as discovered by Polotsky: it "supports" adverbials, so that the resulting construction is an independent, indicative statement. This has important ramifications:

  • 1) Most of the indicative verbal constructions of Middle Egyptian consist of jw + a circumstantial formal broadly speaking, the "equation" JW + CIRCUMSTANTIAL = INDICATIVE is valid for Middle Egyptian syntax. One example of this is:
jw wn - there is/are
in which wn is the "CIRCUMSTANTIAL SDM.F" of the verb wnn, and the constructions jw wm + noun is a specialized application of jw sdm.f (a compound verbal construction which makes a gnomic statement). Some compound forms of this type begin with auxiliary elements other than jw.
  • 2) jw can make a sentence out of ANY adverbial capable of serving as a predicate, NOT ONLY a clause-level expression!! Thus we have "impersonal sentences" such as: jw mj sḫr ntr - it was like the counsel/plan of the god (jw + prepositional phrase). Such sentences with no explicit subject ("0 subject") are not uncommon in Egyptian and can be accounted for by various deep structure analyses (deletion of a deep pronominal; presence of a deep "dummy" or impersonal subject variously diagrammed as "Δ" or "0" or "PRO"). In the case of the pattern with jw, we can suggest that:
1) the "impersonal" sentence is appropriate to the general/abstract meaning;
2) a sentence with expressed suffix-pronoun subject would not be unambiguously independent and would be avoided if the independence of the statement were a high priority;
3) as is the case with pw and independent pronouns and nominals, jw has itself the ability to mark adverbials as sentence-level constructions.

NOTE: The above patterns also work for prepositional phrases in lieu of adverbials:

jw + noun + prepositional phrase
jw ḫrw ḥꜥw m ḫrt-ntr - the sound of rejoicing is in the necropolis
jw + suffix-pronoun + prepositional phrase
( r pt m bjkw) jw.j ḥr dnḥ - (when they ascend to the sky as falcons,) I am on their wings
jw.f r smr - he shall be a companion

NOTE #2: The above patterns also work for an indefinite noun as a subject. When the theme is an indefinite noun the meaning of the sentence with initial jw has a character that is notably different as it is an expression of existence (”there is…”), rather than location, or the like.

jw + indefinite noun + adverbial
jw jt ḥnꜥ bdt - there was barely together with emmer
jw dpt r jjt m hnw sqdw jm.s rḫ.n.k - there will be a ship from the residency in which there are sailors whom you know

NOTE #3:

jw + indefinite noun

It seems reasonable to assume that Old and Middle Egyptian had not only the expanded type jw + indefinite noun + adverbial mentioned above, but also a plain existential sentence: jw + indefinite noun:

jw hr-ḥb ꜥɜ n Bɜst(t), jty, nb.n, Nfrj rn.f, nds pw qn [n] gɜb.f, sš pw jqr n dbꜥw.f ... hwj-ɜ jn.[tw?].f mɜɜ (sw) ḥm.f - There is a great lector-priest of Bastet, O king, our lord, Neferti by


jw sšp, dd NN.; jw knḥ, dd NN - There is light, says NN.; there is darkness, says NN.[18]


  2. This is basically another version of a A pw (B) sentence where another pronoun is used other than pw, in this case nn - this, is used which is the most common and in these instances nn retains the demonstrative force this rather than it, she, he ect which would be used to translate pw.
  3. The in mkt is taken from the word or m.k “behold!,” originally mj.k.
  4. .. pg 767
  8. 25
  9. sḫt-ḥmɜt, literally Field of Salt
  10. is a feminine plural reverse nisbe: literally, “those which you are under”.
  11. an abstract noun formed from the preposition hr “under”
  12. Jame P. Allen Middle Egyptian Grammar pg 116
  14. This is a unique example in which it appears that the speaker identifies himself using independent pronoun + name (Grunert 2008: 132, note a).
  15. Note the use of the m of predication with the verb di in Hezi's appointments by the king.
  16. Note the addition of "only" to the published translations in an attempt to bring out the "nuance" of the m of predication in accordance with the accepted view
  17. The main function of coordinating conjunctions is to join words, phrases, and clauses together, which are usually grammatically equal. Aside from that, this type of conjunctions is placed in between the words or groups of words that it links together, and not at the beginning or at the end; i.e., Pizza and burgers are my favorite snacks...
  18. This is the translation of Loprieno Egyptian 122 and 167 bottom. My analysis, however, is obviously different from Loprieno’s who sees here a tripartite iw construction the subject of which is zero. If sšp and knḥ were predicates they should be adverbial, not nominal...