Hieroglyphic Vowels

Before you start to learn any hieroglyphs you first need to understand that when writing, the Egyptians didn’t actually write vowels.

Vowels, (A, E, I, O and U) help to “stick” words together, and make pronouncing them easy. Its likely that the Egyptians simply added the vowels when inscriptions were read aloud – this probably saved a lot of time on carving and writing at the time but leaves modern Egyptologists with a conundrum!

Because we don’t have the vowel sounds, we can’t be exactly sure how many Egyptian words would have sounded – we can make a pretty good guess, but there’s some room for interpretation.

While this might seem difficult to work with, you can quickly get your head around the problem by practicing in English – and on the flip side, writing hieroglyphic messages is quicker without having to do vowels!


In English

Here’s some examples in English –


Explain, without any vowels, becomes – xpln .

That might seem odd to you, but it also might not – after all if you sound out the word it still sounds an awful lot like “explain”!


A simple one – cat ­ bcomes ct.

The word is still clearly cat, and, what’s more, I bet when you read “ct” the voice in your head still says “cat”! This is exactly how hieroglyphs would be read – with the reader adding the vowels as necessary.


Another example – Hurricane becomes hurrcn.  

This one looks a little more different. What’s more theres a good bet you read that in your head as something like “hurricun” – which is another way people with certain dialects pronounce “hurricane”. Since is clear what the meaning of the word is either way, the difference in pronunciation does not really matter for understanding.


In fact, this whole thing isn’t too different to text language when you think about it!


In Egyptian

Ok, now for some Egyptian examples:

Lets start with the Egyptian word “yew” – it means “are”. The hieroglyph looks like:

Sound out the hieroglyphs – we have a single reed (i) and a baby chick (which can be a u or a w).

We have iw – lets add an e to make it easy to read, for iew.

In English we write this as “yew” because it’s a more sensible way to represent the sound “iew”, but to write “iew” would be equally valid.


Up next, the Egyptian word “ren” which means “name”. The hieroglyph looks like:


This time we have the mouth symbol (r ) and the water symbol (n) – this gives us “rn” – which I bet you already pronounced “ren”!


Lets finish with a more complex one –  the Egyptian word “Heru” – it means “day”. The hieroglyph looks like:

We can start by sounding out the hieroglyphs – remember higher comes before lower, so in order we have the reed shelter (h) the mouth (r  ) and the baby chick, (which can be a u or a w).

This gives us “hru” – to make the word easy to say, we add an e, to get heru.

But wait, what about the sun hieroglyph? In this instance, it’s a determinative – well discuss these in a minute. Essentially, its there to help us understand the meaning of the word, you can imagine that it says “I’m a little picture of the sun, to help you understand that the last word was day”.


A note

Using our translator, and using many charts you will find approximations of our vowel sounds – we go with the nearest Egyptian sound which would make sense, but if you really want to write your name like an Egyptian, don’t write the vowels!