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Biblical Hebrew: 05. Verbs and Prepositions

In this lesson, we begin to gradually study Hebrew verb system. We start with general overview first. In next lessons, we will gradually look on each verbal stem. We will also look at prepositions in this lesson.

Verbs

The Hebrew verb is a little bit different than an English one. Verbal root is formed by three consonants (radix) which are further developed by joining suffixes or prefixes. Two types of verbs are recognized: strong and weak. Strong verbs are regular verbs without any consonant change in their root. However, weak verbs are irregular since they are vulnerable to consonant changes. At first, we will focus on strong verbs and later on weak verbs in the course.

In English, we are used to conjugate verbs in terms of time (tense). However, in Hebrew, it is different with time. Here, the aspect of an action is of primary concern from which the relation to time is drawn.

Tense and Aspect

The temporal notion of a tense is not conveyed by a particular form of a verb as we are normally used to in English. Verbs are expressing the aspect of an action. Action in Hebrew can be:

  • perfect: action as a whole is viewed as complete (perfective aspect)
  • imperfect: action is viewed as incomplete (imperfective aspect)

Therefore, usually, we translate perfect verbs with past tense (complete) and imperfect verbs with present or future (incomplete). To properly translate verb tense we need to listen to other aspects of syntax or context.

Inflection

In Biblical Hebrew, we have seven stems divided by degrees of intensity: simple, intensive, and causative. They are also further divided according to verbal voice to active, passive, and reflexive. This is shown in the table below:

  Active Passive Reflexive
Simple קָטַל Qal    נִקְטַל Nifal
  he killed   he killed himselfhe was killed
Intensive קִטֵּל Piel קֻטַּל Pual הִתְקַטֵּל Hitpael
  he killed
intensely
he was killed intensely he killed himself intensely
Causative הִקְטִיל Hifil הָקְטַל Hofal  
  he made kill one has caused him to kill  

Word קטל (to kill) in the perfect form which is used here, is usually adopted to designate Hebrew verb conjugations.

Every stem can be further specified by certain categories. We have already mentioned perfect and imperfect aspects. These two aspects provide basic forms for other verbal categories. Among these categories are cohortative, jussive, imperative, infinitive, participle, and narrative. Verbs can be also suffixed with pronominal suffixes.

This is enough for the general overview of the Hebrew verb. We will deal with all what was mentioned here more specifically in next lessons.

Prepositions

The most frequent Hebrew prepositions are אֵת ,אֶל ,עַל ,מִן ,כְּ ,בְּ ,לְ. You can learn them, among others, in this lesson’s exercises. It is just vocabulary to learn.

However, prepositions can be further modified by pronominal suffixes as we presented in the previous lesson. The function of pronominal suffixes is to denote a direct object. We will now enlist examples of the prepositions mentioned above with pronominal suffixes. There is no need to learn it by heart. Once you know pronominal suffixes form, you will be able to recognize any of its uses.

Preposition לְ “to”

  Sg. Pl.
  f m f m
1 לִי לָ֫נוּ
2 לָךְ לְךָ לָכֶן לָכֶם
3 לָהּ לוֹ לָהֶן לָהֶם

Preposition בְּ “in, at”

  Sg. Pl.
  f m f m
1 בִּי בָּ֫נוּ
2 בָּךְ בְּךָ בָּכֶן בָּכֶם
3 בָּהּ בּוֹ בָּהֵן בָּם

Preposition כְּ “like”

  Sg. Pl.
  f m f m
1 כָּמ֫וֹנִי כָּמ֫וֹנוּ
2 כָּמוֹךְ כָּמוֹךָ כָּכֶן כָּכֶם
3 כָּמ֫וֹהָ כָּמ֫וֹהוּ כָּהֵן ,כָּהֵ֫נָּה כָּהֵם

Preposition מִן “from”

  Sg. Pl.
  f m f m
1 מִמֶּנִּי מִמֶּנּוּ
2 מִמֵּךְ מִמְּךָ מִכֶּן מִכֶּם
3 מִמֶּנָּה מִמֶּנּוּ מֵהֶן ,מֵהֵנָּה מֵהֶם ,מֵהֵמָּה

Preposition עַל “upon, over, above”

  Sg. Pl.
  f m f m
1 עָלַי עָלֵ֫ינוּ
2 עָלַ֫יִךְ עָלֶ֫יךָ עֲלֵיכֶן עֲלֵיכֶם
3 עָלֶ֫יהָ עָלָיו עֲלֵיהֶן עֲליהֶם

Preposition אֶל “towards, in, into”

  Sg. Pl.
  f m f m
1 אֵלַי אֵלֵ֫יוּ
2 אֵלַ֫יִךְ אֵלֶ֫יךָ   אֲלֶיכֶם
3 אֵלֶ֫יהָ אֵלָיו אֲלֵיהֶן אֲלֵיהֶם

Preposition אֵת “with”

  Sg. Pl.
  f m f m
1 אִתִּי אִתָּנוּ
2 אִתָּךְ אִתְּךָ אִתְּכֶן אִתְּכֶם
3 אִתָּהּ אִתּוֹ אִתָּן אִתָּם

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