The essential rules of hieroglyphic writing are as follows: A hieroglyph is written in an imagined "square." From top to bottom, a hieroglyph is inscribed. Hieroglyphs are written from left to right. Within each column, the horizontal strokes of the sign are always written from left to right, while the vertical strokes can be either ascending or descending.
In general terms, this means that each glyph has two parts, called "ligatures" which are used to write words together. For example, the letter "a" can be combined with several other signs to form words; sometimes these combinations are obvious, such as "pan" for bread, but often not. The choice of signs used in any given word is known as its "signature". Words written in this way are known as hieroglyphics.
Hieroglyphs were originally pictures designed to convey ideas. They still serve this purpose today. However, since they are used as a shorthand method of writing, many letters have multiple meanings. It is up to the reader to understand the context and assign correct meanings to the signs.
There are about 2700 hieroglyphs in use today. They are found in ancient languages including Egyptian, Hittite, and Sumerian. In addition, some hieroglyphs have been discovered in North America (Mexico) and Europe.
Hieroglyphs were written from top to bottom, in long lines from right to left, without spaces or punctuation. The hieroglyphic system had between 700 and 800 basic symbols, called glyphs. Hieroglyphic writing is phonetic. When writing in hieroglyphs, silent letters are left out and are not given symbols. Only sounds are represented by signs.
Each individual symbol could be used to represent one sound. But which sound it represented depended on its position within the word. So if you did not know the meaning of a particular word, you could still read it by guessing at which positions contained the relevant sounds. This method would eventually lead to identifying patterns in the language that allow words to be grouped together by similarity of meaning.
Words in ancient Egyptian were composed of multiple characters. Some words were even made up of several sequences of characters. This is because the ancient Egyptians didn't use spaces between sentences or paragraphs. They found this habit distracting. Also, some characters had different meanings when used alone as opposed to within a word or phrase. For example, the character for "house" was used as a prefix, a root, or a suffix depending on the context in which it was placed.
Knowing how to write words in hieroglyphs was therefore important for someone wishing to communicate effectively with others.
Hieroglyphs are written in rows or columns and may be read either from left to right or right to left. The person or animal representations always face the beginning of the line, indicating the direction in which the text should be read. For example, a bird might be used as an indicator that the text should be read toward the bird; a fish would indicate that the text should be read away from the fish.
In English, letters usually appear in alphabetical order, but some older texts or texts prepared for special purposes (such as maps) may use a different ordering called "boustrophedon" (meaning "ox turning", because the ancient Greeks used oxen to turn writing tablets). In this arrangement, the letters are presented on consecutive lines (or pages) of the text, but in reversed order: A appears on page 1, B on page 2, C on page 3, and so forth. This allows the reader to know how many lines there are until he reaches a line containing the first letter of the next section of text. He can then reverse direction and start reading from that point.
In English words, the usual order is from top to bottom and left to right, but this is not true for all languages. For example, Chinese characters are normally printed from top to bottom, but sometimes they are printed vertically, from left to right.