Language formalities
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Hebrew - Verb forms - introduction

The normal verb root has 3 consonants in its simplest root form (usually Qal perfect). The first syllable is open, with vowel â. The second syllable is closed with vowel a, unless it ends with ’ or h in which case it is open with â. Typical examples are ’âkhal (he ate), or hâyâh (he was).

Exceptions are:

  1. Stative verbs (describing a condition or state of being), in which the second vowel may be a, ê or ô, eg. zâqên (he was old), qâtôn (he was small),
  2. Some monosyllabic verbs which originally had y or v as the middle consonant, over time contracted to make a diphthong with the preceding vowel. These are called hollow verbs and are listed in a lexicon under the Qal infinitive construct rather than Qal perfect. Examples are bô’ (to go), mûth (to die). Some verbs ending in h or ch have kept the middle consonant and so have avoided becoming hollow (eg hâyâh).

Strong and weak verbs

Strong verbs show no irregular consonantal changes with tense etc. Weak verbs show a variety of changes. Classes of weak verbs are: hollow verbs, verbs with gutturals in one or more places, verbs with any of the letters r, y, v, or n in one or more places, or geminate verbs. Nomenclature has changed regarding these: traditionally the designation was pased on the verb pâ‘al (he did/made), and used the letters thereof, whereas the modern trend is to use the consonant place index to specify. Classes of weak verbs are:
TraditionalModern
Pe gutturalI guttural
‘ayin gutturalII guttural
Lamed gutturalIII guttural
Pe ’alephI aleph
Lamed ’alephIII aleph
Pe nunI nun
‘ayin vav/‘ayin yodII vav/II yod/Hollow
Pe vav/Pe yodI vav/I yod
Double ‘ayinGeminate
Some verbs exhibit doubly weak behaviour, with peculiarities from both sources, eg hâyâh.

Stages in identification of perfect forms

  1. Are there any prefixes other than ve or û?
    • No - must be one of Qal, Pi‘êl or Pu‘al
    • Yes - must be one of Niph‘al, Hithpa‘êl, Hiph‘îyl, Hoph‘al - use the prefix to identify which
  2. Is there doubling in the middle of the stem?
    • Yes - must be one of Pi‘êl, Pu‘al or Hithpa‘êl
  3. Identify the suffix to specify person and number
  4. Reconstruct the verb root remaining.
With weak verbs this is usually a less straightforward process.
Language formalities