I am researching the 12 hours of the ancient Egyptian night, and the spiritual journey through the duat. I have been able to find the ordinal numbers for the first hour through tenth hour online, tpj (𓁶𓊪𓏭) wnwt (tepi wenut) "first or head/lead hour" to mḥ-mḏw (𓎔𓎆) wnwt (meh medju wenut) "tenth hour". The mḥ (meh) means completing. I can not find the word for eleventh or twelfth. The numeric system goes straight from ten to twenty. There are ways to write 11th (𓎔𓎆𓏺) and twelfth (𓎔𓎆𓏻) numerically, but I can't find the word to express it, or the pronunciation. I used Bibalex.org and Wiktionary to gather this information. Any help with finding these words would be greatly appreciated.

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    This kind of question exists in an unfortunate middle ground between linguistics and History which always seems to tempt people on both sites to assert that it really belongs on the other site. Personally, I think its on-topic here, but I don't know how many users we have who have the expertise to answer it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 18:39
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    Just a remark: no one know how they actually said anything, since ancient Egyptian came to us only in written form. The claims about how they said this or that word are based on reconstruction using phonetic laws and the related languages that are spoken today.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 5:35
  • @T.E.D. thank you for your response. You are right. I may have to duplicate this question in a different stack.
    – Walter
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 15:48
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    @RogerVadim you are both correct and wrong. Our understanding of hieroglyphs is based on the Rosetta stone which had three written languages, Hieroglyphic, Demotic and ancient Greek, on it. Demotic was a descendent writing system of Hieroglyphic, based on the same spoken language, but used by the common people. More modern research has used descendent spoken language to refine the knowledgeof the words. But our understanding is based on reconstruction.
    – Walter
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 16:04
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    You should try posting this at r/Hieroglyphics and r/AncientEgyptian where there are users, like u/zsl454 that read and translate hieroglyphics quite well. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 14:50

3 Answers 3


Support for "mh" prefix below ordinal prefix after number 9. From bibalex.org. hieroglyphics.

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Support for twelve as mdt swj ( mudat sinnuaj)

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enter image description here mdw/mdt and snwj from Wikipedia hieroglyphic numerals. mh mdt swj

mh "completing" muh

mdt ten

snwj sinnuwaj two

muh mudat sinnuaj

  • Your answer is the closest one to being correct. I found the answer through Reddit. The "ten" mdw stays masculine with the 'w" ending in the compound and the "two" is feminine with the sntj, so the full answer is 'wnwt mh mdw sntj nt grh'. I found the answer here: ia801405.us.archive.org/28/items/… pages 126 and page 130. 130 explains that the hours of night are considered feminine. I'm going to chose your answer.
    – Walter
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 15:14

It's possible there wasn't one.

The only reason English has words for 11 and 12 that aren't compound words is likely because we have vestiges of the Babylonian base 12/60 number system in our culture still in our time units (2 12 hour periods in a day1).

The ancient Egyptians had their own numbering system, which every source I've been able to dig up insists is base ten. If that's how they thought about numbers, it seems likely that any words they had for numbers past 9 would be compound words (unless all but one of their digits were zero). Looking around the net, I found a mnemonic glyph for 7, but that's the highest I found. This site claims they didn't even have a word for "nine".

There wasn't a symbol for every number, so multiples of values were expressed by repeating a symbol as much as it was needed to get to the total the Ancient Egyptians required.

For example, the Egyptians didn't have a symbol for the number nine. In this situation, if they wanted to write down that number, they wrote the number one symbol nine times.

If they didn't even bother with a "nine", and their number system didn't even have digits higher than that, it seems highly unlikely that they had unique words for "eleven" or "twelve".

The numbers glyph combos you included for 11 and 12, well they are very difficult to see in my browser, but according to this handy-dandy Unicode interpreter I pasted them into, the first is Hieroglyphic (Gardiners) V022 V020 Z015, and the second V022 V020 Z015A. Those are in fact the Hieroglyphic glyphs for 10's digit 1, and 10's digit 2 respectively, with a "whip" on the front. See the attached table:

Ancient Egyptian numeric glyphs The columns on this image appear to be Hieroglyphic, Hieratic, and Demotic

The whip is apparently often used in the context of taking measurements (arms or cubits). So to my barely-educated eye, it looks to me a lot like what you've found there is the Hieroglyphic representation of "11 cubits" and "12 cubits".

1 - To be fair, it appears that the Egyptians also had 12 months in a year (or rather 3 seasons with 4 months each), and 12 hours in a day on their sundials. So they weren't Napoleonic about base 10. The former of course is a fairly hard limit if you want to try to use lunar cycles for "months"

  • Thank you for your answer. I have been able to find adjectives for first through tenth, and listed the websites that I was able to find them on. You might be right that there is no single word like eleventh or twelfth. Tenth is mḥ-mḏw. The glyph is U+13395, and stands for mḥ and forms ordinal numbers greater than nine from cardinal numbers.
    – Walter
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 6:31
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    They definitely did have a word for nine. psḏw (masc.) pronounced pesedju psḏt (fem.) pronounced pesedjet. The Pesedjet was what the greeks called The Ennead, nine gods worshipped at Heliopolis: Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Nut, Geb, Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. psḏt (9) was very important, religiously, to them.
    – Walter
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 6:51

Not sure this will help you but perhaps if you can interpret the hierogliphs in the Book of the Am-Tuat by Budge you might get an idea. From looking at his (Budge) Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary I see no entries for eleven or twelve; perhaps they used 'ten and 1', 'ten and 2' syntax?


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