Biblical Hebrew: 03. Nouns and Adjectives
In this lesson, we will learn how the nouns and the adjectives are formed and how to inflect them.
Nouns and adjectives are not inflected in the Hebrew, we only discern number, gender, and state, there is no case to inflect. Both nouns and adjectives are equal in number, gender, and state when they are related. This lesson will deal with all the essential specifics of both nouns and adjectives.
The absolute and construct states
Every noun in the Hebrew can be in two states: absolute (status absolutus) or construct (status constructus). This state basically determines whether a word is depended on another word. Thus the construct state indicates a word which is depended. Every word standing alone is in the absolute state or could be a part of a words with associated meaning linked with sign maqqef.
Take for example these words into consideration:
אִישׁ־אְֶלֹהִים means "man of God":
- אִישׁ: this word is in the construct state
- אְֶלֹהִים: the last word is main and in the absolute state translated by genitive
or אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ meaning "everything, what [belonged] to him", where all the words but לוֹ are in the construct state.
Such words are grammatically regarded as one unit. Words in the construct state are losing their accents and their vocalization is changed (shortened) because of hurrying, while a word in the absolute state retains the accent.
These words are linked with the sign maqqef ( ־ ) or continuation accents. There are different ending forms depending on the noun number and gender for both states (see below), in order to determine in what state a word is.
Remember, that a word in the construct state never takes the article הַ. Some words might have special forms for both states. In this case, you will have to consult a dictionary.
When determining noun categories in Hebrew, we can designate gender: masculine and feminine (no neuter); number: singular, dual, and plural; and state: absolute and construct. Endings (terminations) for these categories would be as follows:
|Abs.||סוּס + ִים||סוּס + ַיִם||סוּס|
|Cons.||סוּס + ֵי|
|Abs.||סוּס + וֹת||סוּס + תַיִם||סוּס + ָה|
|Cons.||סוּס + תֵם||סוּס + ַת|
Nouns usually have ה ָ ending to designate feminine gender. However, in some special cases, different words might be used to denoted gender like אִישׁ "man" and אִשָּׁה "woman" or בֵּן "son" and בַּת "daughter".
In small number of cases, some words might also end with ה ָhowever designating different thing. In such cases, this ending depicts direction: מִצְרַיְמָה "to Egypt". You will easily discern this by a particular instance.
Some words in the Hebrew have dual number. You will recognize dual number by יִם ַ termination. The dual number denotes a pair or simply plural number. Here are some examples: יָדַ֛יִם "hands", שְׁנַיִם "two" (typical for two numerals), שָׁמַיִם "heaven" (kind of a special case).
Changes in Vocalization
In the chart above, there was no change in the vocalization of the word סוּס, because this word is one syllable word. However, words having more syllables usually take changes in vocalization. The idea for the change is to speed up the pronunciation. When a word is extended with termination, thus the length of vocalization is shortened. Here are some examples:
- two syllable word with qamec דָּבָר "a word": דָּבָר + ִים becomes דְּבָרִים "words" (qamec changes into sheva)
- two syllable word with guttural אָסִיר "a prisoner": אָסִיר + ִים becomes אֲסִירִים "a prisoners" (qamec changes into qamec chatuf)
- two syllable word with a full vowel (e.g., וֹ) is without the change
When you read a text in the Old Testament, you will always encounter final forms of words. These information hare are just to inform you what actually happened with a word.
As we mentioned above both nouns and adjectives agree in gender and number when an adjective qualifies a noun. Adjectives are always placed after nouns. There are two usages: attributive and predicative.
This usage is identified by that both members have the article:
- הַדָּבָר הַטּוֹב "the good word"
- הַדְּבָרִים הַטּוֹבִים "the good words" (notice the number agreement)
The noun here has the article therefore adjective must also employ it.
This usage is identified by that one of the members has the article. In translation verb "to be" is supplied to express the quality of the noun. There are two options how this case could be employed:
- דָּבָר הַטּוֹב "the word [is] good"
- הַדָּבָר טּוֹב "the word [is] good"
The only difference here is the position of the article.