Modern Hebrew grammar

Modern Hebrew grammar

Modern Hebrew grammar is the grammar of the Modern Hebrew language. It is partly analytical, expressing such forms as dative, ablative, and accusative using prepositional particles rather than morphological cases. However, inflection plays a decisive role in the formation of the verbs, the declension of prepositions (i.e. with pronominal suffixes), and the genitive construct of nouns as well as the formation of the plural of nouns and adjectives.


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 some speakers, while others collapse them into the phonemes /χ, ʔ/,[1] they will be indicated here for maximum coverage. In the transcriptions, /r/ is used for the rhotic which is more commonly a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ]. What is etymologically transcribed with /q/ is modernly pronounced as a voiceless velar plosive [k].

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 more about the phonology, refer to Modern Hebrew phonology.

Sentence structure

Sentence structure in Hebrew is somewhat similar to that in English, but there are a number of differences. For example, the verb to be is not used in the present tense, resulting in a number of special present-tense structures.

Sentences with action verbs

Most but not all Hebrew sentences have a subject as well as a verb, and possibly other arguments and complements. In this case, the word order is usually subject–verb–object (SVO), as in English. However, word order can change in the following instances:

  • An object can typically be topicalized by moving it to the front of the sentence. When the object is a question word, this topicalization is almost mandatory. Example : ?למי הוא אמר /leˈmi hu aˈmar?/, literally "To-whom he told?", means "Whom did he tell?" In other cases, this topicalization can be used for emphasis. (See dislocation (syntax).)
  • Hebrew is a pro-drop language. This means that subject pronouns are sometimes omitted when verb conjugations reflect gender, number, and person.
  • Indefinite subjects (like English's a boy, a book, and so on) are often postponed, giving the sentence some of the sense of "there exists [subject]" in addition to the verb's normal meaning. For example, פנה אליי איזשהו אדם שביקש שאעזור לו עם דבר-מה /paˈna eˈlaj ˈezeʃehu aˈdam, ʃe-biˈkeʃ ʃe-ʕeˈzor lo ʕim dvar-ˈma/, literally "Turned to-me some man that-asked that-[I]-will-help to-him with something", means "A man came to me wanting me to help him with something." This serves a purpose somewhat analogous to English's narrative use of this with a semantically indefinite subject: "So, I'm at work, and this man comes up to me and asks me to help him." Indeed, outside of the present tense, mere existence is expressed using the verb to be with a postponed indefinite subject. Example: הייתה סיבה שביקשתי /hajˈta siˈba ʃe-biˈkaʃti/, literally "Was reason that-[I]-asked", means "There was a reason I asked."
  • Definite subjects can be postponed for a number of reasons.
    • In some cases, a postponed subject can be used to sound formal or archaic. This is because historically, Hebrew was typically verb–subject–object (VSO). The Bible and other religious texts are predominantly written in VSO word order.
    • Sometimes, postponing a subject can give it emphasis. One response to התחל /hatˈħel!/ ("Start") might be התחל אתה /hatˈħel aˈta!/ ("You start!").
    • A subject might initially be omitted and then added later as an afterthought, such as נעשה את זה ביחד אתה ואני /naʕaˈse et ˈze beˈjaħad, aˈta vaʔani/, literally "[We]'ll-do it together, you and-I", means "You and I will do it together" or "We'll do it together, you and I".

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 (as in "He gave me the ball"), and semantically definite direct objects are introduced by the preposition את /et/.

Sentences with linking verbs

While the verb to be does have present-tense forms, they are used only in exceptional circumstances. The following structures are used instead:

  • Where 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].(הבן שלו הוא האבא שלה /haˈben ʃeˈlo hu ha-ˈaba ʃeˈlah/, literally "the-son of-his he the-father of-hers", means "his son is her father.") While לא /lo/ ("not") precedes the copula (form of to be) in the past and future tenses, it follows the copula (a subject pronoun) in the present tense.
  • 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, like with noun complements, especially with complicated subjects. Example: זה מוזר שהוא אמר כך /ze muˈzar ʃe-hu aˈmar kaχ/, literally " it strange that-he said thus", means "that he said that is strange," i.e. "it's strange that he said that."
  • 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 /e(j)n/ -- "אין לי כלב" /e(j)n 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."


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 /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 gizrot (pl. of gizrah), 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 niʃbeˈra/, using nifʕal. The difference is that in the first case, there is an agent doing the breaking, while in the second case, the agent is ignored. (Nonetheless, as in English, it can still be made clear that there was an ultimate agent: הוא הפיל את הצלחת והיא נשברה /hu hiˈpil et ha-t͡saˈlaħat vehi niʃbeˈra/, 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 /nidˈbak/ (to stick, intransitive) is a fairly common verb, but דבק /daˈvak/ (to cling) is all but non-existent by comparison. (Indeed, נדבק /nidˈbak/'s transitive counterpart is הדביק /hidˈbik/, of binyan hifʕil; see below.)

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

Nifʕal verbs, like verbs in the other passive binyanim (puʕal and hufʕal, described below), do not have gerunds but they do have 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, קיפץ /kiˈpet͡s/ (to spring) is a more intense version of קפץ /kaˈfat͡s/ (to jump), and שיבר /ʃiˈber/ (to smash, to shatter, transitive) is a more intense version of שבר /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, לימד /liˈmed/ (to teach) is essentially the causative of למד /laˈmad/ (to learn). And in yet other cases, the nature of the relationship is less obvious; for example, ספר /saˈfar/ means to count, while סיפר /siˈper/ means to narrate (or to cut (hair)), and פתח /paˈtaħ/ means to open (transitive), while פיתח /piˈteaħ/ means to develop (transitive).

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: מבולבל /mevulˈbal/ means mixed-up (from בולבל /bulˈbal/, the passive of בלבל /bilˈbel/, to confuse), מעוניין /meunˈjan/ means interested, מפורסם /mefurˈsam/ means famous (from פורסם /purˈsam/, the passive of פרסם /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: מבלבל /mevalˈbel/, confusing, and מעניין /meanˈjen/, 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 /hidˈlik/ (to turn on (a light), transitive; the causative of נדלק /nidˈlak/, (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 מוכר /muˈkar/ (familiar, from הוכר /huˈkar/, the passive of הכיר /hiˈkir/, to know (a person)) and מוגזם /muɡˈzam/ (excessive, from /huɡˈzam/, the passive of הגזים /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 גילח /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 סיפר /siˈper/ (to cut (hair)), and הצטלם /hit͡staˈlem/ (to get one's picture taken) is the causative reflexive of צילם /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 מצולם /aˈni met͡suˈlam/ (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), while structurally the reciprocal of נהג /naˈhaɡ/ (to drive), is essentially a separate verb; in talking about a car that drove itself, one would say מכונית שנוהגת עצמה /meχoˈnit ʃe-noˈheɡet ʕat͡sˈma/ (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; 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 אישה /iˈʃa/ 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/:

  • מחשב /maħˈʃev/ (computer) → מחשבים /maħʃeˈvim/ (computers)

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

  • דָּבָר /daˈvar/ (thing) → דְּבָרִים /dvaˈrim/ (things)

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:[2]

  • יֶלֶד /ˈjeled/ (boy) → יְלָדִים /jelaˈdim/ (boys, children)
  • בֹּקֶר /ˈboker/ (morning) → בְּקָרִים /bkaˈrim/ (mornings)
  • חֶדֶר /ˈħeder/ (room) → חֲדָרִים /ħadaˈrim/ (rooms)

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

  • מיטה /miˈta/ (bed) → מיטות /miˈtot/ (beds)
  • מסעדה /misʕaˈda/ (restaurant) → מסעדות /misʕaˈdot/ (restaurants)
  • צלחת /t͡saˈlaħat/ (plate) → צלחות /t͡salaˈħot/ (plates)

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

  • מחברת /maħˈberet/ (notebook) → מחברות /maħbaˈrot/ (notebooks)

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

  • חנות /ħaˈnut/ (store) → חנויות /ħanuˈjot/ (stores)
  • אשכולית /eʃkoˈlit/ (grapefruit) → אשכוליות /eʃkoliˈjot/ (grapefruits)

Plural exceptions

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

  • מקום /maˈkom/ (place) → מקומות /mekoˈmot/ (places)
  • חלון /ħaˈlon/ (window) → חלונות /ħaloˈnot/ (windows)

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

  • מילה /miˈla/ (word) → מילים /miˈlim/ (words)
  • שנה /ʃaˈna/ (year) → שנים /ʃaˈnim/ (years)

Many plurals are completely irregular:

  • עיר /ʕir/ (city) → ערים /aˈʁim/ (cities)
  • עפרון /ʕipaˈron/ (pencil) → עפרונות /efʁoˈnot/ (pencils)
  • איש /iʃ/ (man) → אנשים /anaˈʃim/ (men, people)

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).[3][4]


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) פעמיים /paʕaˈmajim/ (twice) שלוש פעמים /ʃaˈloʃ peʕaˈmim/ (thrice)
שבוע אחד /ʃaˈvuaʕ eˈħad/ (one week) שבועיים /ʃvuˈʕajim/ (two weeks) שלושה שבועות /ʃloˈʃa ʃavuˈʕot/ (three weeks)
מאה /ˈmeʔa/ (one hundred) מאתיים /maˈtajim/ (two hundred) שלוש מאות /ʃloʃ meʔot/ (three hundred)

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

  • רגל /ˈreɡel/ (leg) → רגליים /raɡˈlajim/ (legs)
  • אוזן /ʔozen/ (ear) → אוזניים /ozˈnajim/ (ears)
  • עין /ʕajin/ (eye) → עיניים /e(j)ˈnajim/ (eyes)
  • יד /ˈjad/ (hand) → ידיים /jaˈdajim/ (hands)

In this case, even if there are more than two, the dual is still used, for instance /leˈkelev 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 משקפיים /miʃkaˈfajim/ (eyeglasses) and מספריים /mispaˈrajim/ (scissors). As in the English "two pairs of pants", the plural of these words uses the word זוג /zuɡ/ (pair), e.g. /ʃne(j) zuˈɡot mispaˈrajim/ ("two pairs-of scissors-DUAL").

The name of the city גבעתיים Giv'ʕatayim (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:

  • The singular of a masculine noun typically does not change form.
  • The plural of a masculine noun typically replaces the suffix ים- /-im/ with the suffix י- /-e(j)/.
  • The singular of a feminine noun ending in ה- /-a/ typically replaces that ה with a ת /-at/.
  • The plural of a feminine noun typically does not change 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 /be(j)t/.

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

  • בית ספר /be(j)t ˈsefer/ (literally, house-of book or bookhouse, i.e. school)
  • בית הספר /be(j)t ha-ˈsefer/ (literally, house-of the-book, i.e. the school)
  • בתי חולים /baˈte(j) ħoˈlim/ (literally, houses-of sick-people, i.e. hospitals)
  • עוגת השוקולד /ʕuɡat ha-ʃokolad/ (the chocolate cake)
  • דואר אוויר /ˈdoʔar aˈvir/ (air mail)
  • כלב רחוב /ˈkelev reˈħov/ (street dog)
  • בקבוק החלב /bakˈbuk he-ħaˈlav/ (the bottle of milk)

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


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

  • הספר שלי /ha-ˈsefer ʃeˈli/ (literally the-book of-me, i.e. my book)
  • הדירה שלך /ha-diˈra ʃelˈχa/ (literally the-apartment of-you, i.e. your apartment)
  • המשחק של אנדר /ha-misˈħak ʃel ˈender/ (literally the-game of-Ender, i.e. Ender's Game)

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, ספרי /sifˈre(j)/ (books of) can be inflected to form ספריי /sfaˈraj/ (my books),ספריך /sfaˈre(j)χa/ (your books), ספרינו /sfaˈrenu/ (our books), and so forth, while דירת /diˈrat/ (apartment of) gives דירתי /diraˈti/ (my apartment), דירתך /diratˈχa/ (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 ʃlomˈχa?/ (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 /biˈtam/ (their daughter), and אשתו /iʃˈto/ (his wife) are preferred to הבן שלי /ha-ˈben ʃeli/, הבת שלהם /ha-ˈbat ʃelahem/, and האישה שלו /ha-iˈʃa ʃelo/. 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/) 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/:

  • ספר /ˈsefer/ (book) → ספרות /sifˈrut/ (literature)
  • התייעץ /hitjaˈʕet͡s/ (to consult) → התייעצות /hitjaʕaˈt͡sut/ (consultation)
  • התרגש /hitraˈɡeʃ/ (to get excited) → התרגשות /hitraɡˈʃut/ (excitement)

The /katˈlan/ meter, applied to a verb, indicates "someone who does this":

  • שיקר /ʃiˈker/ (to lie) → שקרן /ʃakˈran/ (liar)
  • פחד /paˈħad/ (to be afraid) → פחדן /paħˈdan/ (coward)

The suffix /-on/ denotes a smaller version of something:

  • ספר /ˈsefer/ (book) → ספרון /sifˈron/ (booklet)
  • מחשב /maħˈʃev/ (computer) → מחשבון /maħʃeˈvon/ (calculator)

Repeating the last two letters of a noun or adjective can also denote a smaller or lesser version:

  • כלב /ˈkelev/ (dog) → כלבלב /klavˈlav/ (puppy)
  • קצר /kaˈt͡sar/ (short) → קצרצר /kt͡sarˈt͡sar/ (very short)

The /kaˈtelet/ mishkal can have a variety of meanings:

  • אדום /aˈdom/ (red) → אדמת /aˈdemet/ (measles)
  • כלב /ˈkelev/ (dog) → כלבת /kaˈlevet/ (rabies)
  • נייר /niˈjar/ (paper) → ניירת /naˈjeret/ (paperwork)
  • כסף /ˈkesef/ (money) → כספת /kaˈsefet/ (a safe)

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

  • קול /kol/ (sound) + נוע /ˈnoʕa/ (motion) → קולנוע /kolˈnoʕa/ (cinema)
  • רמז /ˈremez/ (hint) + אור /or/ (light) → רמזור /ramˈzor/ (traffic light)

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

A combination of methods (the example has the katʕlan meter plus the ending /-ut/):

  • תועלת /toʕelet/ (benefit) → תועלתנות /toʕaltaˈnut/ (utilitarianism)


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

  • ספר קטן /ˈsefeʁ kaˈtan/ (a small book)
  • ספרים קטנים /sfaˈʁim ktaˈnim/ ( small books)
  • בובה קטנה /buˈba ktaˈna/ (a small doll)
  • בובות קטנות /buˈbot ktaˈnot/ (small dolls)

Adjectives ending in -i have slightly different forms:

  • איש מקומי /iʃ mkoˈmi/ (a local man)
  • אישה מקומית /iˈʃa mkoˈmit/ (a local woman)
  • אנשים מקומיים /anaˈʃim mkomiˈjim/ (local people)
  • נשים מקומיות /naˈʃim mkomiˈjot/ (local women)

Masculine nouns that take the feminine plural ending /-ot/ still take masculine plural adjectives, e.g. מקומות יפים /mkoˈmot jaˈfim/ (beautiful places). The reverse goes for feminine plural nouns ending in /-im/, e.g. מילים ארוכות /miˈlim aruˈkot/ (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):

  • המכונית החדשה האדומה המהירה /ha-meχonit ha-χadaʃa ha-aduma ha-mehira/ (The new red fast car, lit. The car the new the red the fast (f.sing.))

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

  • דוד הגדול /daˈvid ha-ɡaˈdol/ (David the Great, lit. David the-great (m.sing.))
  • דוד המלך /daˈvid ha-ˈmeleχ/ (David the King, lit. David the-king)

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:

  • סוער /soʕer/ (stormy, paʕal) → סוערת /soʕeret/, סוערים /soʕaˈrim/, סוערות /soʕaˈrot/
  • מנותק /menuˈtak/ (alienated, puʕal) → מנותקת /menuˈteket/, מנותקים /menutaˈkim/, מנותקות /menutaˈkot/
  • מרשים /marˈʃim/ (impressive, hifʕil) → מרשימה /marʃiˈma/, מרשימים /marʃiˈmim/, מרשימות /marʃiˈmot/


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:

  • חזק /ħaˈzaq/ (strong or strongly)
  • ברור /baˈrur/ (clear or clearly)

In other cases, the adverb has a distinct form:

  • מהר /maˈher/ (quickly; from the adjective מהיר /maˈhir/, quick)
  • לאט /leʔat/ (slowly; from the adjective איטי /iˈti/, slow)
  • היטב well; from the adjective טוב /tov/, good

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:

  • אוטומטית /otoˈmatit/ (automatically)
  • מעדנות /maʕadaˈnot/ (finely)

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

  • using the prepositional prefix ב /be-/ (in) with the adjective's corresponding abstract noun:
    • בִּזְהִירוּת /bizhiˈrut/ ("in carefulness": carefully)
    • בַּעֲדִינוּת /baʕadiˈnut/ ("in fineness": finely)
  • using the same prefix, but with the noun אופן /ˈofen/ (means/fashion), and modifying the noun with the adjective's masculine singular form:
    • באופן אטי /beˈofen iˈti/ ("in slow fashion": slowwise).
  • similarly, but with the noun צורה /t͡suˈra/ (like/shape), and using the adjective's feminine singular form:
    • בצורה אופיינית /bet͡suˈra ofˈjanit/ ("in characteristic form": characteristiclike).

The use of one of these methods does not necessarily preclude the use of the others; for example, slowly may be either לאט /leʔat/ (a one-word adverb), or באטיות /beʔitijut/ (literally in slowness, a somewhat more elegant way of expressing the same thing), בלאט /beleʔat/ (aslow, an even more elegant way of rendering the same), or באופן אטי /beʔofen ʔiˈti/ (slowwise), as mentioned above.

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

  • לכן /laˈχen/ (therefore)
  • ככה /ˈkaχa/ (thus)


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 /et/ 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 roˈe et ha-ˈsefer/ (literally I see /et/ the-book). However, את /et/ 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 /et/. 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 /et/ 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 /et/: היית צריך את זה /haˈjiti t͡saˈriχ et ze/ (literally I-was in-need-of /et/ this, i.e. I needed this). Here as elsewhere, the את /et/ is dropped with an indefinite complement: היו צריכים יותר /haˈju t͡sriˈχim joˈter/ (literally 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 et. Waltke and O'Connor (pp177–178) 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, eth 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."

Indirect objects

Indirect objects are objects requiring a preposition other than את /et/. 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 /et/.

  • אני שכחתי מהבחירות /ani ʃaˈχaħti me-ha-bħiˈrot/ (I forgot about the election)

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 (/teʔur zman/), objects for place תיאור מקום (/teʔur maˈkom/), objects for reason תיאור סיבה (/teʔur 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.

We spoke to David = דברנו עם דוד
We spoke to him = דברנו איתו

As mentioned above, the direct object is often rendered with the word את (et). Et is excluded only when the direct object is a non-definite noun.

We protected David (shmarnu et David) = שמרנו את דוד
We protected him (shmarnu oto) = שמרנו אותו


Pronominal suffix

There is a form called the verbal pronominal suffix, in which a pronoun direct object can be rendered as an additional suffix onto the verb-form. 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.

We protected him (shmarnuhu) = שמרנוהו

In modern usage, the verbal pronominal suffices 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).

Impersonal sentences

A sentence may lack a subject. In this case it is called סתמי /staˈmi/, or indefinite. If several parts of the sentence have the same function and are attached to the same word, they are called כולל /koˈlel/, or collective. Two or more sentences that do not share common parts and are separated by comma are called משפט מחובר /miʃˈpat meħuˈbar/, or joined sentences. In many cases, the second sentence uses a pronoun that stands for the other's subject; they are generally interconnected.

Subordinate clauses

Like English, Hebrew allows clauses פסוקיות (/psukiˈjot/) to serve as parts of a sentence. A sentence containing a subordinate clause is called a משפט מורכב /miʃˈpat murˈkav/. Subordinate clauses almost always begin with the conjunction ש /ʃe-/ (usually that), which attaches as a prefix to the word that follows it. For example, in the sentence יוסי אומר שהוא אוכל /ˈjosi oˈmer ʃe-ˈhu oˈχel/ (Yosi says that he is eating), the subordinate clause שהוא אוכל /ʃe-ˈhu oˈχel/ (that he is eating) serves as the direct object of the verb אומר /oˈmer/ (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-ʔaˈmaʁti, e(j)n ma laʕaˈsot/ (literally Like 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 roˈe et ha-ˈiʃ ʃe-oˈχel 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 שדיברתי עליו /hi makiˈra et 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.

See also


  1. ^ Laufer (1999:96–98)
  2. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, §84a
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ "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
  • Laufer, Asher (1999), "Hebrew", Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: 96–99 
  • Bolozky, Shmuel, 501 Hebrew Verbs, Barron's Educational Series, Inc., ISBN 0-8120-9468-9 
  • Glinert, Lewis, Modern Hebrew: An Essential Grammar (3rd ed.), Routledge UK, ISBN 0-415-70082-5 
Biblical Hebrew
  • Waltke, Bruce K.; M. O'Connor (1990), An introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake Indiana, pp. 177–178, ISBN 0931464315 
  • Duane A. Garrett and Jason S. DeRouchie, A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew 

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