Watch the video or read the post. Or both. Whichever you prefer.
In the English language, we use two types of signs when writing: the 26 letters of our alphabet, and punctuation.
Letters give us the basic words and punctuation helps us to organise and make clear strings of words (sentences).
In ancient Egyptian, there were three types of sign.
Phonograms are sound signs - they represent a sound, like the letters of our alphabet - and are the basic building-blocks of words.
For example, in Egyptian, the hieroglyph of a quail chick has the sound w and the hieroglyph of a horned viper has the sound f.
(The letters in the middle, including the 'h' with the smiley mouth under it, is called transliteration. Transliteration is the subject of The Basics lesson #2.)
Ideograms are picture signs - a 'say what you see' thing. The word for 'house' is the hieroglyph of a house. The word for 'owl' is the hieroglyph of an owl.
Determinatives don't have a sound or any translatable value. They're used to help show the meaning of a word. For example, the word for 'man' has a picture of a man at the end. The word for 'woman' has a picture of a woman after it.
If we were to do this with English, you might see something like this:
Many hieroglyphs could be more than one type of sign; for example, the mouth hieroglyph represents the word r, meaning 'mouth'. But because of this 'r' sound, it's also used to make the sound 'r' in other words.
In some instances, a hieroglyph could be all three. The tongue hieroglyph could be an ideogram for the word 'tongue', a phonogram ns, or a determinative for words relating to the tongue, such as 'taste'.
This may seem confusing; how do you tell whether a sign's being used as a phonogram, ideogram or determinative?
When a sign was being used as an ideogram, they'd put a short vertical line next to or under it, and determinatives always come at the end of the word (in the example below, the word 'dp' has two determinatives - the tongue and the man with his hand to his mouth):
You see how the determinative helps to clarify the meaning of the word.
Also, the Egyptians didn't put spaces between their words, so not only can determinatives be handy for helping identify the meaning of a word, but they can help us see word breaks.
But a lot of it is just getting the hang of it; the more you practice translating, the more you get used to telling the difference.
You already do this with English - you just know the difference between taking a bow and tying a bow.
Now take the quiz ... see how much you remembered :-)