Now I’m going to get into the verb system for two reasons. The big reason is so you can look them up in dictionaries. The other has to do with a later subject very important in the Bible and also affecting later Jewish literature.
It’s fairly easy to look up nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and pronouns in a Hebrew dictionary. Take off the definite article if there is one. Then aside from number suffixes and a couple of internal changes, you look up the first letter and then the second, and you try to find a dictionary entry matching the vowels.
Verbs are different. Very different. And they work very differently from Indo-European languages.
Hebrew is described as having a triliteral verb root system. Most of the verbs have three root letters which the language manipulates in various ways to achieve different meanings. The few verbs with two or four root letters sometimes are based on verbs with three root letters.
The Hebrew verb for “do, act” has the root letters peh ayin lamed. This is used as a paradigm for classifying verbs: peh stands for the first letter of the root; ayin stands for the second letter; lamed stands for the third letter.
- A peh alef verb has alef as the first letter of its root: alef mem resh for “say” is an example.
- An ayin vav verb has vav as its middle root, such as qof vav mem for “get up.”
- A lamed heh verb, which will be very important in some later lessons, has heh as its third root letter and heh yod heh is the most important example because it means “be”.
Hebrew also has, as I said long ago, a system of regularized changes to verbs that achieve the various meanings. They are called binyanim, singular binyan.
Hebrew verbs can incorporate their subject and object pronouns. Given a sentence in the middle of a paragraph, it might have only one word, a verb with the appropriate prefixes and suffixes for person, gender, and number of the subject, and a suffix indicating an object. When the verb incorporates the pronouns, it will often add nun and then the pronominal ending. (The technical term for this nun is “energic” because it shows that the ending is the object of an action verb.)
Hebrew verbs also have three forms which I have been calling past, future/aorist, and present, because those are familiar verb terms and have historically been used to describe them. Soon I’ll show why they are inaccurate. But for now, we’re just trying to get you to the dictionary.
Next time I’ll remind you of a conjugation we already did and show how these definitions apply.
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