The Participle

A recent question was sent our way: Why do we introduce the Participle so late in our textbook (lesson 42)?

One might be tempted to think that our rationale was simply that not everything can be first. However, there is a specific strategy to presenting the Participle much later than the Perfect and Imperfect forms (lessons 16, 19, 23, and 27). The relatively late introduction is especially noticeable if one compares our grammar with Modern Hebrew grammars, which tend to introduce the Participle prior to the Perfect and Imperfect conjugations. This contrast is significant, since the predicative Participle is thought of as the typical present-tense verb in Modern Hebrew grammar.

By contrast, although the Participle regularly expresses progressive aspect in Biblical, it is neither fully integrated in the verbal “system” of oppositions nor limited to predicatively expressing progressive aspect. Rather, it is properly classified as an adjective (see John A. Cook, “The Participle and Stative in Typological Perspective,” Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 34/1 [2008]: 1–19), a lexical class that some linguists simply define in the negative as neither noun nor verb (e.g., Mark C. Baker, Lexical Categories: Verbs, Nouns, and Adjectives, Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 102 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003]).

As neither nouns nor verbs, adjectives may exhibit varying degrees of features like one or the other: the most productive classes of adjectives (e.g., qāṭol pattern גָּדוֹל) is very noun-like, whereas the stative adjective is very verb-like (i.e., they can be inflected nominally or verbally). The Participle stands between these extremes, participating in the binyanim system but being inflected with nominal agreement features. Most importantly, however, for our placement of the Participle in lesson 42, its participation in the system of verbal oppositions is only partial and emerging in the biblical period of the language. Thus, as a marginal “verbal” conjugation, it makes sense that it is taught only after grammatical components closer to the core.

Use of את and the תמונות exercises

This post addresses the third of three questions about the textbook one reader sent us recently. The first post is here; the second post is here.


The captions in the boxes in which to draw pictures confuse me.  Just one example of several: On page r-37, the middle box reads, יצחק נשא עיני אברהם. Does this mean to say, “Isaac lifted the (where is the את here and often?) eyes of Abraham.” But this is not the biblical idiom. No one ever “lifts up” someone else’s eyes.



On the presence and absence of את for complements: the pattern for the use of את is far from clear in BH. And since we do not try to mimic modern Hebrew in our examples, we often leave את out, just as the biblical writers do. For the latest (and best) work on the BH use of את, we refer you to the 2012 Hebrew Union College phd thesis by Peter Bekins. It shows how את behaves in somewhat expected patterns within the context of “differential direct object marking”.

On the nonsense phrase יצחק נשׂא עיני אברהם: the תמונות exercises are intended to request absurd pictures in order to test comprehension and add a laugh in class. They are often the most enjoyable exercises for my students, since they are indeed nonsense and bring some levity to the hard task of learning language. We make this explicit in the free instructor’s manual (IM) that Baker provides for instructors teaching with the textbook (the picture below shows the first time the תמונות exercise is used and our IM comment.


אחרי + Verb

We recently fielded three questions on grammatical descriptions in our textbook along with one concerning a type of exercise in the Reader.  In this and the next two posts we summarize the question and follow with our answers.


On page r-55, bottom line, the sentence begins as follows:  אחרי אכלו האנשים….  But while English can say, “After the men ate…” can biblical Hebrew use אחרי followed by a verb? (This applies also to the first  fill-in-the-blank exercise on page r-39:   אחרי___ בניתי.)



On אחרי + finite verb: Lev 25.48, 1 Sam 5.9. And with אחר (not אחרי) + finite verb: about a dozen more examples (where אחר is not “afterwards” but “after verb-ing”). The explanation is that אחר functions like a preposition and so takes a nominal complement; in these cases, the following finite verbal clause has been nominalized and so functions as the complement (and clitic host) of אחר/אחרי. This is why the construction can also have an אשׁר (or in post-biblical Hebrew, שׁ) between אחר and the finite verbal clause. Waltke and O’Connor (IBHS 1990) mention this in §38.7. 

We recognize that the Hebrew Bible has only 2 examples of אחרי + bare nominalized clause and about a dozen examples with אחר. But syntactically, this is equivalent to אחרי + אשׁר + nominalized clause, for which there are many more examples. Just like relative clauses, the אשׁר or שׁ is not always there to signal the nominalized clause.  

We thought very carefully about the pedagogy of teaching rarer constructions and often drew the following conclusions. First, students want to be able to express “after I verb-ed, I verb-ed”. And so, we gave them a legitimate BH construction for this. Second, we are embedding in introductory students the basic patterns what will serve them as they read texts and progress to the intermediate and advanced levels. In this case, we are subtly teaching them that not all nominalized clauses need an אשׁר or even כי to function in the place of nouns. So what they learn here goes for למען, מפני, עד, יען and a few other items that may stand before an אשׁר marked nominalized clause or a bare nominalized clause. Thus, we advocate inculcating the students with a vision for the whole forest rather than getting hung up on the individual trees.  

So our pedagogy is built on embedding the deeper patterns of Hebrew grammar rather than focusing solely on numerically dominant constructions. Of course, the vast majority of what we teach is also numerically dominant, but especially in the writing exercises of the Illustrated Reader, we occasionally teach a less frequent but very useful structure like אחרי + nominalized verbal clause.

On Word Stress

An eagle-eyed instructor asked us recently about our use of stress-marking (the ‘oleh  א֫) we use for unexpected word stress, such as a non-final syllable (i.e., the penultima) in nouns or a final syllable (i.e., the ultima) in the Irreal Perfect (weqataltí). He noted what he thought was an incorrect marking of the Irreal Perfect forms on p. 67 and r-20, 23. In other words, he rightly understand that we intended the forms as Irreal Perfects, but since we had not marked the stress on the ultima, it would naturally be read as a Real Perfect. 


My response is that the lack of ultima stress-marking on weqatalti forms is intentional. E. J. Revell (Professor emeritus, NMC, University of Toronto), published a number of studies in the mid-80s on this issue. He concluded that the position of the stress on the so-called waw-consecutive form was not tied to the semantics of the form, but to phrasal prosody. We find his argument compelling. Thus, in our textbook we chose not to perpetuate what we think to be a ghost phenomenon.

The non-paradigmatic stress-marking in the textbook follows this principle: when copying an exact biblical text, we add stress-marking on any non-paradigmatic syllable (e.g., the ultima in weqataltí) IF it is so placed in the Masoretic Text. Otherwise, we maintain the paradigm marking (weqatálti) throughout, regardless of verbal semantics. 

We recommend the following scholarship on this issue:

Revell, E.J. 

1984. Stress and the Waw “Consecutive” in Biblical Hebrew. Journal of the American Oriental Society 104 (3): 437-44.

1985. The Conditioning of Stress Position in Waw Consecutive Perfect Forms in Biblical Hebrew. Hebrew Annual Review 9 277-300.

1987. Stress Position in Hebrew Verb Forms with Vocalic Affix. Journal of Semitic Studies 32 (2): 249-71.