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All About Hebrew Grammar

All About Hebrew Grammar

Grammar can be an intimidating or boring subject, depending on your perspective, so when it comes to Hebrew grammar, let’s get one thing straight – Hebrew grammar is simply about the roots and structure of the Hebrew language.

So if grammar is all about roots and structure, let’s begin with an overview of Hebrew word root structure.

Hebrew roots:

  • Hebrew words are divided into families, called roots
  • Usually a root is made of three consonants, strong letters (also known as radicals), that give the idea of something
  • A root of three consonants is called trilateral
  • In most dictionaries words should be looked up according to their root, NOT alphabetically
  • By adding letters and vowels to the beginning, middle or end of the root, new words are created, all related to the basic idea

Isolated

Form

Final

Form

Numerical

Value

Meaning

Sound/Phonetic Symbol

א *

 

   1

ox

aleph /a/ (Amish)

בּ **

 

   2

house

beth /b/ (boat)

ב ***

 

 

house

veth /v/ (vet)

ג **

 

   3

camel

gee-mel /g/ (good)

ד **

 

   4

door

dah-let /d/ (door)

ה

 

   5

window

heh /h/ (house)

ו

 

   6

hook

vahv /v/ (victory)

ז

 

   7

weapon

zah-yin /z/ (zoo)

ח

 

   8

fence

heht /h/ (Pesah)

ט

 

   9

snake

teth /t/ (toy)

י

 

10

hand

yohd /j/ (yet) --- /i/ (meet)

כּ **

 

20

palm (hand)

kahf /k/ (key)

כ ***

ך

 

palm (hand)

khahf /kh/ (chutzpah)

ל

 

30

ox-goad

lah-med /l/ (low)

מ

ם

40

water

mem /m/ (month)

נ

ן

50

fish

nun /n/ (nose)

ס

 

60

prop

sah-mekh /s/ (sun)

ע

 

70

eye

ah-yin /'/ (law officer)

פּ **

 

80

mouth

peh /p/ (poor)

פ ***

ף

mouth

feh /f/ (faith)

צ

ץ

90

fish-hook

tsah-dee /ts/ (pots)

ק

 

100

back of head

kof /q/ (coke)

ר

 

200

head

rehsh /r/ (rose)

שׁ ***

 

300

tooth

sheen /ŝ/ (shoe)

שׂ

 

 

tooth

seen /s/ (sun)

ת **

תּ

400

sign

tav /t/ (toy)

*Always silent at the end of a word; at the beginning or in the middle of a word, it can be pronounced as /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, or /u/, depending on the vowel sign that accompanies it (see below)

**These consonants, ת, פּ, כּ,   בּ, ג, ד also known as BeGaD KeFaT can also be written without a dot, known as the dagesh; however, when they occur at the beginning of a word, they retain the dagesh; in contemporary spoken Hebrew, gee-mel גּand dah-let דּ (with or without a dot ג and ד) are pronounced as if they did not have the dot; the other consonants, though, are pronounced more harshly when accompanied by the dot: b, k, p, t without the dot become v, kh, f, th; in modern Standard Hebrew, ת and תּ are pronounced as t /t/

***Derived form


Of course, all of is separate and apart from the basics of Hebrew nouns. In Hebrew, most nouns are stressed on the last syllable. Feminine nouns are generally formed by adding the suffix ה to the masculine noun: תַּלְמִיד "student" (m.); תַּלְמִידָה "student" (f.) There is no special form to indicate a masculine noun, but words indicating males are always masculine: אָב "father". 

Within Hebrew grammar, Hebrew pronouns are pretty straight forward. Below is a list of Hebrew personal subject pronouns:

I                                                       אֲנִי

You (male, singular)                   אַתָּה

You (female, singular)                   אַתְּ

He                                                      הוּא    

She                                                      הִיא

It (male, singular)                  הוּא**      

It (female, singular)                  הִיא**

We                                                      אֲנַחְנוּ

You (m, plural)                                    אַתֶּם

You (female)                                     אַתֶּן

They (male, plural)                  הֵם

They (female)                                     הֵן or הֵנָּה*

(*) The feminine plural forms אַתֶּן ("you" f. pl.) and הֵן or הֵנָּה ("they" f.) are commonly used in formal speech, being substituted by their masculine counterparts in colloquial speech.

(**) Used to refer back to a particular noun: הַפִּיצָה? נוּ אֵיפֹה הִיא? "the pizza (f.)? where is it (f. s.)?" הַסְּוֶדֶר? נוּ אֵיפֹה הוּא? "the sweater (m.)? where is it?"

Within Hebrew grammar, Hebrew verbs are also fairly straight forward, albeit with some wrinkles. For example, the verb “to be” is not used after personal pronouns. (For example: §                  "I am a rabbi" → אֲנִי רַב "I rabbi".)

Hebrew verbs are conjugated in a way that is similar to the creation of new words adding letters and vowels to the root – prefixes, infixes and suffixes determine the tense, person and gender of the verb form:

  • The basic form of the verb is the third person masculine singular of the simple past, which is found in dictionaries next to the meaning
  • Only a few verbs (e.g., קוּם "to exist"; בִין "to understand") are listed in the infinitive form

Understanding Hebrew grammar is essential if you want to learn how to speak Hebrew