Modern Hebrew grammar

Modern Hebrew grammar is partly analytic, expressing such forms as dative, ablative, and accusative using prepositional particles rather than morphological cases.

On the other hand, Modern Hebrew grammar is also fusional synthetic:[1] inflection plays a role in the formation of verbs and nouns (using non-concatenative discontinuous morphemes realised by vowel infixation) and the declension of prepositions (i.e. with pronominal suffixes). That said, Israeli Hebrew is much more analytic than (Biblical/Mishnaic) Hebrew. For example, whereas the ancient Hebrew phrase for "my grandfather" was sav-í "grandfather-1stPerson.Singular.Possessive", in Israeli Hebrew it is sába shel-ì "grandfather of-me".[1]

Note on the representation of Hebrew examples

Because this article is intended to be useful to non-Hebrew speakers, all examples of Hebrew are represented using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). IPA is a system of phonetic notation that provides a standardized, accurate, and unique way of representing the sounds of any spoken language. However, since the phonemes /ħ, ʕ/ are pronounced by a limited number speakers - and although most speakers collapse them into the phonemes /χ, ʔ/,[2][3] - they will be indicated here for maximum coverage. In the transcriptions, /r/ is used for the rhotic, which is more commonly a lax voiced uvular approximant[2] [ʁ]. What is etymologically transcribed with /q/ is pronounced as a voiceless velar plosive [k] in Modern Hebrew.

The IPA transcriptions used here have been slightly modified to incorporate some punctuation — hyphens, commas, and so on — to indicate the structure of the example. Further, since the Hebrew writing system (its alphabet and niqqud) reflects not only phonology but also some grammar, Hebrew text is provided alongside IPA transcriptions in those cases where appropriate. The Hebrew text may appear with or without niqqud, as the example requires.

For further information about the phonology, refer to Modern Hebrew phonology.


Every Hebrew sentence must contain at least one subject, at least one predicate, usually but not always a verb, and possibly other arguments and complements.

Word order in Modern Hebrew is somewhat similar to that in English: as opposed to Biblical Hebrew, where the word order Verb-Subject-Object, the usual word order in Modern Hebrew is Subject-Verb-Object. Thus, if there is no case marking, one can resort to the word order. Modern Hebrew is characterized by an asymmetry between definite Objects and indefinite Objects. There is an accusative marker, et, only before a definite Object (mostly a definite noun or personal name). Et-ha is currently undergoing fusion and reduction to become ta.[1] Consider taví l-i et ha-séfer "give:2ndPerson.Masculine.Singular.Imperative (puristically: Future) to-me ACCUSATIVE the-book" (i.e. "Give me the book!"), where et, albeit syntactically a case-marker, is a preposition and ha is a definite article. This sentence is realised phonetically as taví li ta-séfer.[1]

Sentences with finite verbs

In sentences where the predicate is a verb, the word order is usually subject–verb–object (SVO), as in English. However, word order can change in the following instances:

Generally, Hebrew marks every noun in a sentence with some sort of preposition, with the exception of subjects and semantically indefinite direct objects. Unlike English, indirect objects require prepositions (Hebrew "הוא נתן לי את הכדור" /hu naˈtan li ʔet ha-kaˈd:ur/ (literally "he gave to-me direct-object-marker the ball) in contrast to English "He gave me the ball") and semantically definite direct objects are introduced by the preposition את /et/ (Hebrew "הוא נתן לי את הכדור" /hu naˈtan li ʔet ha-kaˈdːur/ (literally "he gave to-me direct-object-marker the ball) in contrast to English "He gave me the ball").

Nominal sentences

Hebrew also produces sentences where the predicate is not a finite verb. A sentence of this type is called משפט שמני /miʃˈpat ʃemaˈni/, a nominal sentence. These sentences contain a subject, a non-verbal predicate, and an optional copula. Types of copulae include:

  1. The verb היה /haˈja/ (to be):
While the verb to be does have present-tense forms, they are used only in exceptional circumstances. The following structures are used instead:
  1. While the past and future tenses follow the structure [sometimes-optional subject]-[form of to be]-[noun complement] (analogous to English, except that in English the subject is always mandatory), the present tense follows [optional subject]-[subject pronoun]-[noun complement].
    1. אבא שלי היה שוטר בצעירותו. /ˈʔaba ʃeˈlːi haˈja ʃoˈter bi-t͡sʕiruˈto/ (my father was a policeman when he was young.)
    2. הבן שלו הוא האבא שלה. /ha-ˈben ʃeˈlːo hu ha-ˈʔaba ʃeˈlah/ (literally "the-son of-his he the-father of-hers", his son is her father.)
    3. יוסי יהיה כימאי. /ˈjosi jihˈje χimaˈʔi/ (Yossi will be a chemist)

While לא /lo/ ("not") precedes the copula in the past and future tenses, it follows the copula (a subject pronoun) in the present tense.

  1. Where the past and future tenses are structured as [optional subject]-[form of to be]-[adjective complement] (analogous to English, except that in English the subject is mandatory), the present tense is simply [subject]-[adjective complement]. For example, הדלת סגורה /ha-ˈdelet sɡuˈra/, literally "the-door closed", means "the door is closed." That said, additional subject pronouns are sometimes used, as with noun complements, especially with complicated subjects. Example: זה מוזר שהוא אמר כך /ze muˈzːar ʃe-hu ʔaˈmar kaχ/, literally " it strange that-he said thus", means "that he said that is strange," i.e. "it's strange that he said that."
  1. The verbs הפך /haˈfaχ/, נהפך /neheˈfaχ/ and נהיה /nihˈja/ (to become):
When the sentence implies progression or change, the said verbs are used and considered copulae between the nominal subject and the non-verbal predicate. For instance:
  1. הכלב נהיה עצבני יותר מרגע לרגע haˈkelev nihˈja ʕat͡sbaˈni joˈter me-ˈregaʕ lə-ˈregaʕ/ (The dog became more angry with every passing moment)
  2. חבר שלי נהפך למפלצת! /ħaˈver ʃeˈlːi neheˈfaχ le-mifˈlet͡set!/ (My friend has become a monster!)
  1. Possession / existence: יש/אין /jeʃ/en/:
Possession in Hebrew is constructed indefinitely. There is no Hebrew translation to the English verb "to have," common in many Indo-European languages to express possession as well as to serve as a helping verb. To express the English sentence "I have a dog" in Hebrew is "יש לי כלב", literally meaning "there exists to me a dog." The word יש /jeʃ/ expresses existence in the present tense, and is unique in the Hebrew language as a verb-like form with no inflected qualities at all. Dispossession in the present tense in Hebrew is expressed with the antithesis to יש, which is אין /en/ -- "אין לי כלב" /en li ˈkelev/ means "I do not have a dog." Possession in the past and the future in Hebrew is also expressed impersonally, but uses conjugated forms of the Hebrew copula, להיות [lihiyot]. For example, the same sentence "I do not have a dog" would in the past tense become "לא היה לי כלב" /lo haja li kelev/, literally meaning "there was not to me a dog."

Sentence types

Sentences are generally divided into three types:

Simple sentence

A simple sentence is a sentence that contains one subject, one verb, and optional objects. As the name implies, it is the simplest type of sentence.

Compound sentences

Two or more sentences that do not share common parts and can be separated by comma are called משפט מחבר /miʃˈpat meħuˈbar/, a compound sentence. In many cases, the second sentence uses a pronoun that stands for the other's subject; they are generally interconnected. The two sentences are linked with a coordinating conjunction (מילת חיבור /miˈlat ħiˈbur/). The conjunction is a stand-alone word that serves as a connection between both parts of the sentence, belonging to neither part.

Both parts of the sentence can be separated by a period and stand alone as grammatically correct sentences, which makes the sentence a compound sentence (and not a complex sentence):
לא אכלתי כל היום. בסוף היום הייתי מותש. /lo ʔaˈχalti kol ha-ˈjːom. be-ˈsof ha-ˈjːom haˈjiti muˈtːaʃ./ (I haven't eaten all day. By the end of the day I was exhausted.)

Complex sentences

Like English, Hebrew allows clauses, פסוקיות /pəsuqiˈjot/ (sing. פסוקית /pəsuˈqit/), to serve as parts of a sentence. A sentence containing a subordinate clause is called משפט מרכב /miʃˈpat murˈkav/, or a complex sentence. Subordinate clauses almost always begin with the subordinating conjunction/ʃe-/ (usually that), which attaches as a prefix to the word that follows it. For example, in the sentence יוסי אומר שהוא אוכל /ˈjosi ʔoˈmer ʃe-ˈhu ʔoˈχel/ (Yossi says that he is eating), the subordinate clause שהוא אוכל /ʃe-ˈhu ʔoˈχel/ (that he is eating) serves as the direct object of the verb אומר /ʔoˈmer/ (says). Unlike English, Hebrew does not have a large number of subordinating conjunctions; rather, subordinate clauses almost always act as nouns and can be introduced by prepositions in order to serve as adverbs. For example, the English As I said, there's nothing we can do in Hebrew is כפי שאמרתי, אין מה לעשות /keˈfi ʃe-ʔaˈmarti, ʔen ma laʕaˈsot/ (literally As that-I-said, there-isn't what to-do).

That said, relative clauses, which act as adjectives, are also formed using -ש /ʃe-/. For example, English Yosi sees the man who is eating apples is in Hebrew יוסי רואה את האיש שאוכל תפוחים /ˈjosi roˈʔe ʔet ha-ˈʔiʃ ʃe-ʔoˈχel tapuˈħim/ (literally Yosi sees [et] the-man that-eats apples). In this use ש /ʃe-/ sometimes acts as a relativizer rather than as a relative pronoun; that is, sometimes the pronoun remains behind in the clause: היא מכירה את האיש שדברתי עליו /hi makiˈra ʔet ha-ˈʔiʃ ʃe-diˈbarti ʕaˈlav/, which translates to She knows the man I talked about, literally means She knows [et] the-man that-I-talked about him. This is because in Hebrew, a preposition (in this case על /ʕal/) cannot appear without its object, so the him יו- (/-av/) could not be dropped. However, some sentences, such as the above example, can be written both with relativizers and with relative pronouns. The sentence can also be rearranged into היא מכירה את האיש עליו דיברתי /hi makiˈra ʔet ha-ˈʔiʃ ʕaˈlav diˈbarti/, literally She knows [et] the-man about him I-talked., and translates into the same meaning. In that example, the preposition and its object עליו /ʕaˈlav/ also act as a relative pronoun, without use of -ש /ʃe-/.

Impersonal sentences

A sentence may lack a determinate subject, then it is called משפט סתמי /miʃˈpat staˈmi/, an indefinite or impersonal sentence. These are used in order to put emphasis on the action, and not on the agent of the action. Usually the verb is of the 3rd person plural form.

Collective sentences

When a sentence contains multiple parts of the same grammatical function and relate to the same part of the sentence, they are called collective parts. They are usually separated with the preposition ו- /ve-/ (and), and if there are more than two, they are separated with commas while the last pair with the preposition, as in English. Collective parts can have any grammatical function in the sentence, for instance:

  1. Subject: אדם, איה ואני אכלנו יחד במסעדה. /ʔaˈdam, ʔaˈja va-ʔani ʔaˈχalnu ˈjaħad be-misʕaˈda./ (Adam, Aya and I ate at a restaurant together.)
  2. Predicate: מיכל אכלה ושתתה הרבה אתמול. /miˈχal ʔaχəˈla ve-ʃateˈta harˈbe ʔetˈmol/ (Michal ate and drank a lot yesterday.)
  3. Direct object: בשלתי את הגזר, את הבטטה ואת תפוח האדמה שקניתם שבוע שעבר לארוחת הערב היום. /biˈʃːalti ʔet ha-ˈgezer, ʔet ha-baˈtata ve-ʔet taˈpu.aħ ha-ʔadaˈma ʃe-qːəniˈtem ʃaˈvu.aʕ ʃe-ʕaˈvar la-ʔaruˈħat ha-ˈʕerev ha'jːom./ (I cooked the carrots, the sweet potatoes and the potatoes you bought last week for dinner today.)
  4. Indirect object: המורה תתן לתומר ולי אישור. /ha-moˈra tiˈtːen le-toˈmer ve-li ʔiˈʃːur/ (The teacher will give Tomer and me permission.)

When a collective part is preceded by a preposition, the preposition must be copied onto all parts of the collective.


The Hebrew verb (פועל /ˈpoʕal/) serves essentially the same functions as the English verb, but is constructed very differently. Hebrew verbs have much more internal structure. Every Hebrew verb is formed by casting a three- or four-consonant root (שורש /ˈʃoreʃ/) into one of seven /binjaˈnim/ (בניינים, meaning buildings or constructions; the singular is בניין /binˈjan/, written henceforth as binyan). Most roots can be cast into more than one binyan, meaning more than one verb can be formed from a typical root. When this is the case, the different verbs are usually related in meaning, typically differing in voice, valency, semantic intensity, aspect, or a combination of these features. The "concept" of the Hebrew verb's meaning is defined by the identity of the triliteral root. The "concept" of the Hebrew verb assumes verbal meaning by taking on vowel-structure as dictated by the binyan's rules.


Each binyan has a certain pattern of conjugation and verbs in the same binyan are conjugated similarly. Conjugation patterns within a binyan alter somewhat depending on certain phonological qualities of the verb's root; the alterations (called גזרה [ɡizra], meaning "form") are defined by the presence of certain letters composing the root. For example, three-letter roots (triliterals) whose second letter is ו /vav/ or י /jud/ are so-called hollow or weak roots, losing their second letter in binyan /hifˈʕil/, in /hufˈʕal/, and in much of /paʕal/. The feature of being conjugated differently because the second root-letter is ו or י is an example of a gizra. It is important to note that these verbs are not strictly irregular verbs, because all Hebrew verbs that possess the same feature of the gizra are conjugated in accordance with the gizra's particular set of rules.

Every verb has a past tense, a present tense, and a future tense, with the present tense doubling as a present participle. Other forms also exist for certain verbs: verbs in five of the binyanim have an imperative mood and an infinitive, verbs in four of the binyanim have gerunds, and verbs in one of the binyanim have a past participle. Finally, a very small number of fixed expressions include verbs in the jussive mood, which is essentially an extension of the imperative into the third person. Except for the infinitive and gerund, these forms are conjugated to reflect the number (singular or plural), person (first, second, or third) and gender (masculine or feminine) of its subject, depending on the form. Modern Hebrew also has an analytic conditional~past-habitual mood expressed with the auxiliary haya.

In listings such as dictionaries, Hebrew verbs are sorted by their third-person masculine singular past tense form. This differs from English verbs, which are identified by their infinitives. (Nonetheless, the Hebrew term for infinitive is shem poʕal, which means verb name.) Further, each of the seven binyanim is identified by the third-person masculine singular past tense form of the root פ-ע-ל (P-ʕ-L, meaning doing, action, etc.) cast into that binyan: /ˈpaʕal/, /nifˈʕal/, /piˈʕel/, /puˈʕal/, /hifˈʕil/, /hufˈʕal/, and /hitpaˈʕel/.

Binyan paʕal

Binyan paʕal, also called binyan קל or qal /qal/ (light), is the most common binyan. Paʕal verbs are in the active voice, and can be either transitive or intransitive. This means that they may or may not take direct objects. Paʕal verbs are never formed from four-letter roots.

Binyan paʕal is the only binyan in which a given root can have both an active and a passive participle. For example, רצוי /raˈt͡suj/ (desirable) is the passive participle of רצה /raˈt͡sa/ (want).

Binyan paʕal has the most diverse number of gzarot (pl. of gizra), and the small number of Hebrew verbs that are strictly irregular (about six to ten) are generally considered to be part of the pa'al binyan, as they have some conjugation features similar to paʕal.

Binyan nifʕal

Verbs in binyan nifʕal are always intransitive, but beyond that there is little restriction on their range of meanings.

The nifʕal is the passive-voice counterpart of paʕal. In principle, any transitive paʕal verb can be rendered passive by taking its root and casting it into nifʕal. Nonetheless, this is not nifʕal's main use, as the passive voice is fairly rare in ordinary Modern Hebrew.

More commonly, it is paʕal's middle- or reflexive-voice counterpart. Ergative verbs in English often translate into Hebrew as a paʕalnifʕal pair. For example, English he broke the plate corresponds to Hebrew הוא שבר את הצלחת /hu ʃaˈvar et ha-t͡saˈlaħat/, using paʕal; but English the plate broke corresponds to Hebrew הצלחת נשברה /ha-t͡saˈlaħat niʃˈbera/, using nifʕal. The difference is that in the first case, there is an agent doing the breaking (active), while in the second case, the agent is ignored (although the object is acted upon; passive). (Nonetheless, as in English, it can still be made clear that there was an ultimate agent: הוא הפיל את הצלחת והיא נשברה /hu hiˈpil ʔet ha-t͡saˈlaħat və-hi niʃˈbera/, he dropped the plate and it broke, uses nif'al.) Other examples of this kind include פתח /paˈtaħ//נפתח /nifˈtaħ/ (to open, transitive/intransitive) and גמר /ɡaˈmar//נגמר /niɡˈmar/ (to end, transitive/intransitive).

Other relationships between a paʕal verb and its nifʕal counterpart can exist as well. One example is זכר /zaˈχar/ and נזכר /nizˈkar/: both mean to remember, but the latter implies that one had previously forgotten, rather like English to suddenly remember. Another is פגש /paˈɡaʃ/ and נפגש /nifˈɡaʃ/: both mean to meet, but the latter implies an intentional meeting, while the former often means an accidental meeting.

Finally, sometimes a nifʕal verb has no paʕal counterpart, or at least is much more common than its paʕal counterpart; נדבק /nidˈbaq/ (to stick, intransitive) is a fairly common verb, but דבק /daˈvaq/ (to cling) is all but non-existent by comparison. (Indeed, נדבק /nidˈbaq/'s transitive counterpart is הדביק /hidˈbiq/, of binyan hifʕil; see below.)

Like paʕal verbs, nifʕal verbs are never formed from four-letter roots.

Nifʕal verbs, unlike verbs in the other passive binyanim (puʕal and hufʕal, described below), do have gerunds, infinitives and imperatives.

Binyan piʕel

Binyan piʕel, like binyan paʕal, consists of transitive and intransitive verbs in the active voice, though there is perhaps a greater tendency for piʕel verbs to be transitive.

Most roots with a paʕal verb do not have a piʕel verb, and vice versa, but even so, there are many roots that do have both. Sometimes the piʕel verb is a more intense version of the paʕal verb; for example, קִפֵּץ /qiˈpet͡s/ (to spring) is a more intense version of קָפַץ /qaˈfat͡s/ (to jump), and שִׁבֵּר /ʃiˈber/ (to smash, to shatter, transitive) is a more intense version of שָׁבַר /ʃaˈvar/ (to break, transitive). In other cases, a piʕel verb acts as a causative counterpart to the paʕal verb with the same root; for example, לִמֵּד /liˈmed/ (to teach) is essentially the causative of לָמַד /laˈmad/ (to learn). And in yet other cases, the nature of the relationship is less obvious; for example, סִפֵּר /siˈper/ means to tell / to narrate or to cut hair, while סָפַר /saˈfar/ means to count, and פִּתֵּחַ /piˈte.aħ/ means to develop (transitive verb), while פָּתַח /paˈtaħ/ means to open (transitive verb).

Binyan puʕal

Binyan puʕal is the passive-voice counterpart of binyan piʕel. Unlike binyan nifʕal, it is used only for the passive voice. It is therefore not very commonly used in ordinary speech, except that the present participles of a number of puʕal verbs are used as ordinary adjectives: מְבֻלְבָּל /mevulˈbal/ means mixed-up (from בֻּלְבַּל /bulˈbal/, the passive of בִּלְבֵּל /bilˈbel/, to confuse), מְעֻנְיָן /meunˈjan/ means interested, מְפֻרְסָם /mefurˈsam/ means famous (from פֻּרְסַם /purˈsam/, the passive of פִּרְסֵם /pirˈsem/, to publicize), and so on. Indeed, the same is true of many piʕel verbs, including the piʕel counterparts of two of the above examples: מְבַלְבֵּל /mevalˈbel/, confusing, and מְעַנְיֵן /meʕanˈjen/, interesting. The difference is that piʕel verbs are also frequently used as verbs, whereas puʕal is much less common.

Puʕal verbs do not have gerunds, imperatives, or infinitives.

Binyan hifʕil

Binyan hifʕil is another active binyan. Hifʕil verbs are often causative counterparts of verbs in other binyanim; examples include הכתיב /hiχˈtiv/ (to dictate; the causative of כתב /kaˈtav/, to write), הדליק /hidˈliq/ (to turn on (a light), transitive; the causative of נדלק /nidˈlaq/, (for a light) to turn on, intransitive), and הרשים /hirˈʃim/ (to impress; the causative of התרשם /hitraˈʃem/, to be impressed). Nonetheless, not all are causatives of other verbs; for example, הבטיח /hivˈtiaħ/ (to promise).

Binyan hufʕal

Binyan hufʕal is much like binyan puʕal, except that it corresponds to hifʕil instead of to piʕel. Like puʕal, it is not commonly used in ordinary speech, except in present participles that have become adjectives, such as מֻכָּר /muˈkar/ (familiar, from הֻכָּר /huˈkar/, the passive of הכִּיר /hiˈkir/, to know (a person)) and מֻגְזָם /muɡˈzam/ (excessive, from /huɡˈzam/, the passive of הִגְזִים /hiɡˈzim/, to exaggerate). Like puʕal verbs, hufʕal verbs do not have gerunds, imperatives, or infinitives.

Binyan hitpaʕel

Binyan hitpaʕel is rather like binyan nifʕal, in that all hitpaʕel verbs are intransitive, and most have a reflexive sense. Indeed, many hitpaʕel verbs are reflexive counterparts to other verbs with the same root; for example, התרחץ /hitraˈħet͡s/ (to wash oneself) is the reflexive of רחץ /raˈħat͡s/ (to wash, transitive), and התגלח /hitɡaˈleaħ/ (to shave oneself, i.e. to shave, intransitive) is the reflexive of גלח /ɡiˈleaħ/ (to shave, transitive). Some hitpaʕel verbs are a combination of causative and reflexive; for example,הסתפר /histaˈper/ (to get one's hair cut) is the causative reflexive of ספר /siˈper/ (to cut (hair)), and הצטלם /hit͡staˈlem/ (to get one's picture taken) is the causative reflexive of צלם /t͡siˈlem/ (to take a picture (of someone or something)).

Hitpaʕel verbs can also be reciprocal; for example, התכתב /hitkaˈtev/ (to write to each other, i.e. to correspond) is the reciprocal of כתב /kaˈtav/ (to write).

In all of the above uses, the hitpaʕel verb contrasts with a puʕal or hufʕal verb in two ways: firstly, the subject of the hitpaʕel verb is generally either performing the action, or at least complicit in it, whereas the subject of the puʕal or hufʕal verb is generally not; and secondly, puʕal and hufʕal verbs often convey a sense of completeness, which hitpaʕel verbs generally do not. So whereas the sentence אני מצלם /aˈni mət͡suˈlam/ (I am photographed, using puʕal) means something like there exists a photo of me, implying that the photo already exists, and not specifying whether the speaker caused the photo to be taken, the sentence אני מצטלם /aˈni mit͡staˈlem/ (I am photographed, using hitpaʕel) means something like I'm having my picture taken, implying that the picture does not exist yet, and that the speaker is causing the picture to be taken.

In other cases, hitpaʕel verbs are ordinary intransitive verbs; for example, התנהג /hitnaˈheɡ/ (to behave), structurally is the reciprocal of נהג /naˈhaɡ/ (to act), as in נהג בחכמה /neˈhag be-ħoχˈma/ (act wisely). However, it is used sparsely, only in sayings as such, and the more common meaning of nahaɡ is to drive; for that meaning, התנהג /hitnaˈheɡ/ is not a reciprocal form, but a separate verb in effect. For example: in talking about a car that drives itself, one would say מכונית שנוהגת את עצמה /meχoˈnit ʃe-noˈheɡet ʔet ʕat͡sˈmah/ (a car that drives itself, using nahag), not מכונית שמתנהגת /meχoˈnit ʃe-mitnaˈheɡet/ (a car that behaves, using hitnaheg).


The Hebrew noun (שם עצם /ʃem ʕet͡sem/) is inflected for number and state, but not for case and therefore Hebrew nominal structure is normally not considered to be strictly declensional. Nouns are generally related to verbs (by shared roots), but their formation is not as systematic, often due to loanwords from foreign languages. Hebrew nouns are also inflected for definiteness by application of the prefix ה (ha) before the given noun. Semantically, the prefix "ha" corresponds roughly to the English word "the".

Gender: masculine and feminine

Every noun in Hebrew has a gender, either masculine or feminine (or both); for example, ספר /ˈsefer/ (book) is masculine, while דלת /ˈdelet/ (door) is feminine. There is no strict system of formal gender, but there is a tendency for nouns ending in ת (/-t/) or ה (usually /-a/) to be feminine and for nouns ending in other letters to be masculine. There is a very strong tendency toward natural gender for nouns referring to people and some animals. Such nouns generally come in pairs, one masculine and one feminine; for example, איש /iʃ/ means man and אשה /iˈʃːa/ means woman. (When discussing mixed-sex groups, the plural of the masculine noun is used.)

Number: singular, plural, and dual

Hebrew nouns are inflected for grammatical number; as in English, count nouns have a singular form for referring to one object and a plural form for referring to more than one. Unlike in English, some count nouns also have separate dual forms, for referring to two objects; see below.

Masculine nouns generally form their plural by adding the suffix ים /-im/:

The addition of the extra syllable usually causes the vowel in the first syllable to shorten if it is Kamatz:

Many common two-syllable masculine nouns accented on the penultimate syllable (often called segolates, because many (but not all) of them have the vowel /seˈɡol/ (/-e-/) in the last syllable), undergo more drastic characteristic vowel changes in the plural:[4]

Feminine nouns ending in /-a/ or /-at/ generally drop this ending and add /-ot/, usually without any vowel changes:

Nouns ending in /-e-et/ also replace this ending with /-ot/, with an /-e-/ in the preceding syllable usually changing to /-a-/:

Nouns ending in /-ut/ and /-it/ replace these endings with /-ujot/ and /-ijot/, respectively:

Plural exceptions

A large number of masculine nouns take the usually feminine ending /-ot/ in the plural:

A small number of feminine nouns take the usually masculine ending /-im/:

Many plurals are completely irregular:

Some forms, like אחות ← אחיות (sister) or חמות ← חמיות (mother-in-law) reflect the historical broken plurals of Proto-Semitic, which have been preserved in other Semitic languages (most notably Arabic).[5][6]


Hebrew also has a dual number, expressed in the ending /-ajim/, but even in ancient times its use was very restricted. In modern times, it is usually used in expressions of time and number, or items that are inherently dual. These nouns have plurals as well, which are used for numbers higher than two, for example:

Singular Double Triple
פעם אחת /ˈpaʕam aˈħat/ (once) פעמים /paʕaˈmajim/ (twice) שלוש פעמים /ʃaˈloʃ pəʕaˈmim/ (thrice)
שבוע אחד /ʃaˈvuaʕ eˈħad/ (one week) שבועים /ʃəvuˈʕajim/ (two weeks) שלושה שבועות /ʃəloˈʃa ʃavuˈʕot/ (three weeks)
מאה /ˈmeʔa/ (one hundred) מאתים /maˈtajim/ (two hundred) שלוש מאות /ˈʃloʃ meʔot/ (three hundred)

The dual is also used for some body parts, for instance:

In this case, even if there are more than two, the dual is still used, for instance /leˈχelev jeʃ ˈarbaʕ raɡˈlajim/ ("a dog has four legs").

The dual is also used for certain objects that are "inherently" dual. These words have no singular, for instance משקפים /miʃqaˈfajim/ (eyeglasses) and מספרים /mispaˈrajim/ (scissors). As in the English "two pairs of pants", the plural of these words uses the word זוג /zuɡ/ (pair), e.g. /ʃne zuˈɡot mispaˈrajim/ ("two pairs-of scissors-DUAL").

The name of the city גבעתים /Givʕaˈtajim/ (Тwo Peaks, or Twin Peaks) is an atypical use of the dual number. But it also refers to the two hills of the landscape on which the city is built, keeping with the grammatical rule of natural pairs.

Noun construct

In Hebrew, as in English, a noun can modify another noun. This is achieved by placing the modifier immediately after what it modifies, in a construction called סמיכות /smiˈχut/. The noun being modified appears in its construct form, or status constructus. For most nouns, the construct form is derived fairly easily from the normal (indefinite) form:

There are many words (usually ancient ones) that have changes in vocalization in the construct form. For example, the construct form of /ˈbajit/ (house) is /bet/.

In addition, the definite article is never placed on the first noun (the one in the construct form).

However, this rule is not always adhered to in informal or colloquial speech; one finds, for example, העורך דין /ha-ˈoʁeχ din/ (literally the law organiser, i.e. lawyer).


Possession is generally indicated using the preposition של /ʃel/, of or belonging to:

In literary style, nouns are inflected to show possession through noun declension; a personal suffix is added to the construct form of the noun (discussed above). So, ספרֶי /sifˈre/ (books of) can be inflected to form סְפָרָי /səfaˈraj/ (my books),ספריך /səfaˈre)χa/ (your books), ספרינו /səfaˈrenu/ (our books), and so forth, while דירת /diˈrat/ (apartment of) gives דירתי /diraˈti/ (my apartment), דירתך /diratəˈχa/ (your apartment),דירתנו /diraˈtenu/ (our apartment), etc.

While the use of these forms is mostly restricted to formal and literary speech, they are in regular use in some colloquial phrases, such as ?מה שלומך /ma ʃːəloməˈχa?/ (literally "what peace-of-you?", i.e. "what is your peace?", i.e. "how are you?") or לדעתי /ledaʕaˈti/ (in my opinion).

In addition, the inflected possessive is commonly used for terms of kinship; for instance, בני /bni/ (my son), בתם /biˈtːam/ (their daughter), and אשתו /iʃˈto/ (his wife) are preferred to הבן שלי /ha-ˈben ʃelːi/, הבת שלהם /ha-ˈbat ʃelːahem/, and האשה שלו /ha-ʔiˈʃa ʃelːo/. However, usage differs for different registers and sociolects: In general, the colloquial will use more analytic constructs in place of noun declensions.

Noun derivation

In the same way that Hebrew verbs are conjugated by applying various prefixes, suffixes and internal vowel combinations, Hebrew nouns can be formed by applying various "meters" (Hebrew /miʃkaˈlim/) and suffixes to the same roots. Gerunds are one example (see above).

Many abstract nouns are derived from another noun, or from a verb (usually one in binyan hitpaʕel) using the suffix /-ut/:

The קָטְלָן /katˈlan/ meter applied to a root, and the /-an/ suffix applied to a noun, indicate an agent or job:

The suffix /-on/ usually denotes a diminutive:

Though occasionally this same suffix can denote an augmentative:

Repeating the last two letters of a noun or adjective can also denote a diminutive:

The קָטֶּלֶת/qaˈtːelet/ meter commonly used to name diseases:

However, it can have various different meanings as well:

New nouns are also often formed by the combination of two existing stems:

רמזור /ramˈzor/ uses more strictly recent compound conventions, as the א aleph (today usually silent but historically very specifically a glottal stop) is dropped entirely from spelling and pronunciation of the compound.

Some nouns use a combination of methods of derivation:


In Hebrew, an adjective (שם תואר /ʃem toar/) comes after the noun and agrees in gender, number, and definiteness with the noun which it modifies:

Adjectives ending in -i have slightly different forms:

Masculine nouns that take the feminine plural ending /-ot/ still take masculine plural adjectives, e.g. מקומות יפים /meqoˈmot jaˈfim/ (beautiful places). The reverse goes for feminine plural nouns ending in /-im/, e.g. מלים ארכות /miˈlːim ʔaruˈkot/ (long words).

Note also that many adjectives, like segolate nouns, change their vowel structure in the feminine and plural.

Use of the definite article with adjectives

In Hebrew, unlike in English, each attributive adjective follows the noun and takes the definite article if it modifies a definite noun (either a proper noun, or a definite common noun):

The case of a proper noun highlights the fact that all Hebrew adjectives can be interpreted as appositive nouns. For example, contrast the following:

Adjectives derived from verbs

Many adjectives in Hebrew are derived from the present tense of verbs. These adjectives are inflected the same way as the verbs they are derived from:


The Hebrew term for adverb is תואר הפועל /ˈtoʔar ha-ˈpoʕal/.

Hebrew forms adverbs in several different ways.

Some adjectives have corresponding one-word adverbs. In many cases, the adverb is simply the adjective's masculine singular form:

In other cases, the adverb has a distinct form:

In some cases, an adverb is derived from an adjective using its singular feminine form or (mostly in poetic or archaic usage) its plural feminine form:

Most adjectives, however, do not have corresponding one-word adverbs; rather, they have corresponding adverb phrases, formed using one of the following approaches:

The use of one of these methods does not necessarily preclude the use of the others; for example, slowly may be either לאט /leˈʔat/ (a one-word adverb), באטיות /beʔitiˈjːut/ (literally "in slowness", a somewhat more elegant way of expressing the same thing) or באופן אטי /beˈʔofen ʔiˈtːi/ ("in slow fashion"), as mentioned above.

Finally, as in English, there are various adverbs that do not have corresponding adjectives at all:


Like English, Hebrew is primarily a prepositional language, with a large number of prepositions. Several of Hebrew's most common prepositions, however, unlike any in English, are prefixes rather than separate words; for example, English in the room is Hebrew בחדר /ba-ˈħeder/.

Direct objects

The preposition את /ʔet/ plays an important role in Hebrew grammar. Its most common use is to introduce a direct object; for example, English I see the book is in Hebrew אני רואה את הספר /aˈni roˈʔe ʔet ha-ˈsefer/ (literally I see /ʔet/ the-book). However, את /ʔet/ is used only with semantically definite direct objects, such as nouns with the, proper nouns, and personal pronouns; with semantically indefinite direct objects, it is simply omitted: אני רואה ספר ani roʔe sefer (I see a book) does not use את /ʔet/. This has no direct translation into English, and is best described as an object particle — that is, it denotes that the word it precedes is the direct object of the verb.

Finally, את /ʔet/ has a number of special uses; for example, when the adjective צריך /t͡saˈriχ/ (in need (of)) takes a definite noun complement, it uses the preposition את /ʔet/: הייתי צריך את זה /haˈjiti t͡saˈriχ ʔet ze/ (literally I-was in-need-of /ʔet/ this, i.e. I needed this). Here as elsewhere, the את /ʔet/ is dropped with an indefinite complement: היו צריכים יותר /haˈju t͡sriˈχim joˈter/ (literally they-were in-need-of more, i.e. they needed more). This is perhaps related to the verb-like fashion in which the adjective is used.

In Biblical Hebrew, there is possibly another use of /ʔet/. Waltke and O'Connor (pp. 177–178) make the point: "...(1) ...sign of the accusative ... (2) More recent grammarians regard it as a marker of emphasis used most often with definite nouns in the accusative role. The apparent occurrences with the nominative are most problematic ... AM Wilson late in the nineteenth century concluded from his exhaustive study of all the occurrences of the debated particle that it had an intensive or reflexive force in some of its occurrences. Many grammarians have followed his lead. (reference lists studies of 1955, 1964, 1964, 1973, 1965, 1909, 1976.) On such a view, /ʔet/ is a weakened emphatic particle corresponding to the English pronoun 'self' ... It resembles Greek 'autos' and Latin 'ipse' both sometimes used for emphasis, and like them it can be omitted from the text, without obscuring the grammar. This explanation of the particle's meaning harmonizes well with the facts that the particle is used in Mishnaic Hebrew as a demonstrative and is found almost exclusively with determinate nouns."

Pronominal suffix

There is a form called the verbal pronominal suffix, in which a direct object can be rendered as an additional suffix onto the verb. This form allows for a high degree of word economy, as the single fully conjugated verb expresses the verb, its voice, its subject, its object, and its tense.

In modern usage, the verbal pronominal suffixes are rarely used, in favor of expression of direct objects as the inflected form of the separate word et. It is used more commonly in biblical and poetic Hebrew (for instance, in prayers).

Indirect objects

Indirect objects are objects requiring a preposition other than את /ʔet/. The preposition used depends on the verb, and these can be very different from the one used in English. A good dictionary is required to look these up. In the case of definite indirect objects, the preposition will replace את /ʔet/.

The Hebrew grammar distinguishes between various kinds of indirect objects, according to what they specify. Thus, there is a division between objects for time תיאור זמן (/teˈʔur zman/), objects for place תיאור מקום (/teʔur maˈqom/), objects for reason תיאור סבה (/teˈʔur siˈba/) and many others.

In Hebrew, there are no distinct prepositional pronouns; if the object of a preposition is a pronoun, but the preposition contracts with the object, and the inflected preposition thus formed can be considered the indirect object of the sentence.

The preposition עם /ʕim/ (with) in everyday speech is not inflected, rather a different, more archaic pronoun את /ʔet/ with the same meaning, unrelated to the direct object marker, is used instead.

As mentioned above, the direct object is often rendered with the word את /ʔet/. /ʔet/ is excluded only when the direct object is a non-definite noun.

הסגר /hesˈɡer/ for disclosing the opinion of another party using direct speech (e.g. לדעת הרופא, העשון מזיק לבריאות /ləˈdaʕat ha-roˈfe, ha-ʕiˈʃun maˈzik la-bəriˈʔut/ (in the doctor's opinion, smoking is harmful to health).-->

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2006), Complement Clause Types in Israeli, Complementation: A Cross-Linguistic Typology (RMW Dixon & AY Aikhenvald, eds), Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 72–92.
  2. 1 2 Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad (2005), “Abba, why was Professor Higgins trying to teach Eliza to speak like our cleaning lady?”: Mizrahim, Ashkenazim, Prescriptivism and the Real Sounds of the Israeli Language, Australian Journal of Jewish Studies 19, pp. 210-31.
  3. Laufer (1999:96–98)
  4.  Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, §84a
  5. "Ge'ez (Axum)" by Gene Gragg in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages edited by Roger D. Woodard (2004) ISBN 0-521-56256-2, p. 440.
  6. "Hebrew" by P. Kyle McCarter Jr. in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages edited by Roger D. Woodard (2004) ISBN 0-521-56256-2, p. 342.


Modern Hebrew
Biblical Hebrew
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