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.
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.
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:
|Simple||קָטַל Qal||נִקְטַל Nifal|
|he killed||he killed himself; he was killed|
|Intensive||קִטֵּל Piel||קֻטַּל Pual||הִתְקַטֵּל Hitpael|
|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.
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”
Preposition בְּ “in, at”
Preposition כְּ “like”
Preposition מִן “from”
|3||מִמֶּנָּה||מִמֶּנּוּ||מֵהֶן ,מֵהֵנָּה||מֵהֶם ,מֵהֵמָּה|
Preposition עַל “upon, over, above”
Preposition אֶל “towards, in, into”
Preposition אֵת “with”