Hebrew - Nouns and the construct state
There are two main ways in which Hebrew nouns are used. The absolute state is the 'normal' form and (in the masculine singular form) is how the noun is listed. The construct state expresses one of a number of relationships amplifying a noun in the absolute state and forms a chain of nouns (usually two or three) of which the last is in the absolute state and is the main focus of the phrase. The construct-state nouns are shortened as far as possible, and are pronounced as a single speech unit, with the accent of the whole on the final (absolute) noun. This inevitably leads to changes in vocalisation, chiefly by the shortening of any long vowels except for unchangeably long ones (êy, îy, ô, û). The relationships expressed are:
- The location or origin of a person or thing, eg. 'the men of Jerusalem'.
- An amplified description of a person or thing, eg. 'a day of darkness'.
- (Most commonly) acknowledging possession or ownership, eg. 'the word of God'.
Rules for the construct chain are:
- A noun in the construct state never takes the definite article: the definiteness or not is determined from the absolute noun to which it is linked. It will be definite if the absolute noun has the definite artile or is a proper name.
- Nothing is allowed to interpose between the construct and absolute nouns (not even prepositions or conjunctions). Any modifying adjectives are placed after the absolute noun, which can in some cases lead to ambiguity.
The Plural form
Construct nouns in the plural are easy to classify:
- Nouns ending in -îym (usually but not always masculine)
- -îym -> êy
- Changeable long vowels in prior syllables are reduced to vocal sheva, eg.
bânîym -> benêy, but
çûçîym -> çûçêy
- If this change would lead to two vocal shevas in succession, the first is raised again to a full vowel, eg.
’anâshîym -> ’aneshêy -> ’aneshêy, or
debârîym -> deberêy -> diberêy
- The dual form is the same as the plural
- Nouns ending in -ôwth (usually but not always feminine)
- -ôwth remains the same, since ô is unchangeably long.
- Otherwise the same principles as for -îym apply:
’âbôwth -> ’abôwth,
’arâtsôwth -> ’aretsôwth -> ’aretsôwth, or
qôwlôwth -> qôwlôwth
The Singular form
Construct nouns in the singular are much more varied and in many cases cannot be safely guessed. The most common patterns are:
- Monosyllabic nouns with short vowels or unchangeably long vowels
- These are the same in the construct as the absolute form, eg.
’îysh -> ’îysh,
bath -> bath
- Monosyllabic nouns with changeably long vowels
- The vowel will be shortened, eg
bên -> ben
- ’âb and ’âch
- These are irregular: ’âb -> ’abîy and ’âch -> ’achîy
- Bisyllabic nouns with the first syllable open and the second closed
- The first vowel is reduced to vocal sheva and the second is shortened, except where either is unchangeably long, eg.
dâbâr -> debar,
mâqôwn -> maqôwn,
kôwkâb -> kôwkab
- Bisyllabic nouns with both syllables closed
- These shorten the long vowel in the second syllable, eg. midbâr -> midbar
- The construct is the same as the absolute state
- Feminine nouns ending -âh in the singular absolute
- The singula construct ends -ath (the older feminine ending), eg malkâh -> malkath
- Words on the pattern of bayith in the absolute
- These follw the pattern bêyth in the construct