Learning the Uni-literal (Alphabetic) Signs

Each of the twenty-five uni-literal hieroglyphs represents a single consonant. Although we sometimes think of them as an "alphabet," Egyptian hieroglyphic writing is not an alphabetic system, which we'll explain further in the Vocabulary section of this website. The uni-literals each appear on the following pages in the same order as the one devised by modern scholars. It is very important to memorize this order, because all hieroglyphic dictionaries use it.

Each lesson introduces a few hieroglyphs, followed by a short quiz on what you have learned. You can check your answers by clicking on the "answers" button at the bottom of each quiz. Each answer includes a link back to the appropriate page for review, in case you answered incorrectly. After the second lesson, there are also cumulative quizzes that will test your knowledge of multiple lessons.

A few of the hieroglyphs in the following section can be transliterated in alternate ways, depending on the system of transliteration used. In this class, we use the English/French system. However, one of the reference grammars for this course, James Allen's Middle Egyptian Grammar, uses the German system of transliteration. Therefore, whenever there is a difference between the two systems, we note it on the page for that hieroglyph. We also note a third system of transliteration, called Manuel de Codage. It is used for encoding hieroglyphic texts on the computer, as well as online, and does not require any special characters. It is important to be aware of the various transliteration systems, so that you will be able to communicate online, consult dictionaries, and read articles and books about Egyptian language and writing.

The suggested pronunciations on the following pages are those customarily used by American Egyptologists, but they do not necessarily reflect the actual sounds used by the people in ancient times. Despite some comparative studies with Coptic, there is still much uncertainty as to how Middle Egyptian was actually pronounced.

To begin the first lesson on the uni-literal hieroglyphs, click on the following link: Lesson 1a.