Prefixes and suffixes in Hebrew

Prefixes and suffixes in Hebrew

There are several prefixes and suffixes in Hebrew which are appended to regular words to introduce a new meaning. In Hebrew, the letters which form these prefixes and suffixes are called "Utility Letters" (Hebrew: אותיות השימוש, Otiyot HaShimush). Ten of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are considered Otiyot HaShimush.

Prefixes

Prefixes in Hebrew serve multiple purposes. A prefix can serve as a conjunction, preposition, definite article or interrogative. Prefixes are also used when conjugating verbs in the future tense and for various other purposes.

Conjunctions

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
(Vav) and, but Vav used as a conjunction can make the "v" sound (/v/) or the "u" sound (/u/). If it's used with other prefixes, this is always the first prefix.
  • v'hu (and he)
  • u'vayom (and on the day)

Prepositions

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
(Bet) in, on, with, by, etc. Bet used as a prefix makes a "b" sound (/b/), the hard sound, though sometimes makes the "v" sound (/v/), the soft sound.

  • bereishit (in the beginning)
  • u'vayom (and on the day)

(Kaf) like, as

  • mi k'amkha (who is like your nation?)

(Lamed) to, for

  • l'eretz (to a land)

(Mem) from

  • mimitzrayim (from Egypt)

Definite Article

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
(He) the If He is used with other prefixes, the He is always the last prefix before the root. When used with the Bet or Lamed prepositional prefix it is omitted; instead the vowel on the preposition is changed. (see second example).

  • haolam (the universe)
  • u'vayom (and on the day: note that the v' (on) combines with the ha (the) to become va (on the)).

Interrogative

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
(He) Used to indicate a question Can be distinguished from the definite article because it is vowelized with a chataf patach

  • haven yakir li? (Is he my most precious son?)

Conjugation of Verbs

Prefix Meaning Examples
(Alef) When prefixed to a verb stem, indicates first person, singular, future tense. I will
(Yud) When prefixed to a verb stem, indicates third person, future tense. (Number and gender depend on suffixes.) He will or They will
(Nun) When prefixed to a verb stem, indicates first person, plural, future tense. We will
(Tav) When prefixed to a verb stem, indicates one of the following:
  • third person, singular, feminine, future tense. She will
  • second person, future tense. (Number and gender depend on suffixes.) You will
  • In biblical Hebrew, third person, plural, feminine, future tense. They (f.) will

Other uses

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
(Shin) that, which, who, whom

  • shekarah (that he read)
  • sheasah (who performed)

(Vav) changes past tense to future tense and vice versa Used mostly in Biblical Hebrew. Pronounced "va" when changing future tense to past tense. Usually pronouced "v'" or "u" when changing past tense to future tense.

  • vayomer (he said)

(compare yomer-he will say)

  • v'ahavta (you shall love)

(compare ahavta-you loved)

Suffixes

Suffixes in Hebrew are used to form plurals of nouns and adjectives, in verb conjugation of all tenses, and to indicate possession and direct objects. They are also used for the construct noun form.

Plurals

Due to noun-adjective agreement rules, plurals also apply to a noun's adjectival modifiers.
Suffix Meaning Examples
(Yud and Mem) masculine plural

  • yamim (days)

(Vav and Tav) feminine plural

  • mitvot (commandments)

Conjugation of Verbs

Suffix Meaning Examples
(Nun and Vav with shuruk) When attached to a verb stem, indicates first person, plural, past tense. We did

  • ashamnu (we have been guilty)

Possessives and Direct objects

Suffix Meaning Examples
(Final Kaf with kamatz) Second person, singular, masculine direct object or possessive. You, '''Your
  • yivarech'cha (He will bless you)
  • b'khol l'vavikha uv'khol naf'shikha uv'khol m'odekha (with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your means)

(Nun and Vav with shuruk) First person, plural direct object or possessive. Us, Our

  • asher kidishanu (who has sanctified us)
  • avinu malkenu (our Father, our King)

Construct form

Suffix Meaning Examples
(Tav) Changes a singular feminine noun to the construct form. of

  • torat Moshe (Torah of Moses)

(Yud) Changes a plural masculine noun to the construct form. of

  • sifrei kedushah (Books of holiness)

References

See also

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