Possibly one of the most misunderstood elements of Biblical Hebrew – now that we understand the vav prefix – is the particle et. It seems to show up randomly. As I keep saying, a language doesn’t invent or use things randomly. It always means something by what it uses.
In Biblical Hebrew, direct objects of transitive action verbs, when they are definite nouns – they either start with the definite article or are in the construct state – sometimes are preceded by et, spelled alef tav, with either tseire or segol under the alef. Not all definite direct objects are marked with this particle and a lot of ink has been spilled trying to figure out what’s going on.
Here are the easy rules for et that I have worked out so far.
Rule 1: et only appears after a transitive verb.
Rule 2: et only appears with definite nouns.
Rule 3: et only appears with nouns that are the direct object of a transitive verb AND are not governed by a preposition.
Rule 4: et which is marked with tseire always has a conjunctive trop connecting it to the other words in the accusative phrase, and follows a word marked with a disjunctive trop. (I’ll say more on trop later.)
Rule 5: et which is marked with segol never has trop with it and always connects to its accusative phrase with a hyphen.
I think I have found two more rules.
Rule 6. The tseire version appears in et sarah ishto and some similar phrases; with kal meaning “all”; with asher and a collective noun phrase, and with something that is being considered as a whole.
Rule 7. The segol version appears in et achiv et hevel and some similar phrases; with kal meaning “every”; and with something considered as a part, in contrast to or distinction with with something else. This includes situations with the demonstrative ha-zeh/ha-zot, “this”; ha-hu/ha-hi, “that”; or ha-eleh, “these, those”. metimes the restrictive modifier is not expressed, such as in cases where the Holy Land is obvious.
Absorb the last two rules over the week and then I’ll show you some examples.
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