Learn to Read Biblical Hebrew - Lesson 14
By: Jeff A. Benner
Learn Hebrew Nouns - Introduction
A Noun is defined as a person, place or thing and is the most common type of word in the Biblical text. Some common examples of nouns in the Biblical text are בן (ben - son), מלך (melek - king), ארץ (erets - land), יד (yad - hand), חי (hhai - life) and עץ (eyts - tree). Proper nouns are names of specific persons and places such as יעקב (Ya'aqov - Jacob) and מצרים (Mitsrayim - Egypt).
Every noun is either masculine or feminine. An obvious masculine noun is אישׁ (iysh - man) and an obvious feminine noun would be אשׁה (iyshah - woman). As can be seen in this example the suffix ה (ah) can be added to a masculine noun to make it feminine. Another example is the word מלך (melek - king), a masculine noun whereas מלכה (mal'khah - queen) is the feminine form. However, some nouns cannot be identified as masculine or feminine by any suffix, or lack of it. The word עץ (eyts - tree) is a masculine while רוּח (ru'ahh - wind) is feminine. The gender of a noun is important as will become evident in later lessons.
A simple noun is composed of the two or three letters of its root such as מלך (melek - king) which comes from the root מ-ל-ך (M-L-K). Also coming from the root מ-ל-ך is the verb מלך (malak - to reign). Other nouns are derived from this root by placing specific letters as fixes (prefixes, infixes or suffixes) to the root such as we saw with the word מלכה (mal'khah - Queen). Other nouns derived from מ-ל-ך are מלכוּת (mal'khut - Kingdom), ממלכוּת (mam'lekhut - Reign) and מלוּכה (melukhah - Royal).
Below is a list of the most common "fixes" added to a root for developing additional nouns. By recognizing these "fixes", one can easily uncover the original root word assisting the reader with identifying the meaning of the word.
A construct is where two nouns are put together to form one idea. A common Biblical example of this is the construct "messenger of God." In Hebrew this is written as מַלְאַךְ אֱלֹהִים (the "of" is implied in the Hebrew). If the first word in this construct is a feminine word ending with the letter ה, the ה is changed to a ת. For instance, when the word תוֹרָה (teachings) is used in the construct with the word אֱלֹהִים it becomes תוֹרָת אֱלֹהִים (teachings of God).
This PDF file is a list of the 100 most frequent Biblical Hebrew nouns. I recommend making flash cards for each of these. Write the Hebrew on one side and the English on the other. Take them with you everywhere and when you have time pull them out and go through them to build your Hebrew vocabulary.
Learn Hebrew Nouns - Prefixes
Certain letters are used for the article, conjunction and prepositions. These letters can then be prefixed to a noun. For example, when the letter ה (hey) is prefixed to the noun it means "the." So, while עץ (eyts) means "tree," העץ (ha'eyts) means "the tree." Below is a list of all of the prefixes used in the Biblical text and their meanings.
The prefix כ is not used very often and the שׁ is used only rarely.
Sometimes these prefixes can be used together. For instance, the first word in Genesis 1:2 is וְהָאָרֶץ (veha'arets) meaning "and the land." In other cases they are combined such as in the following example. The word בְּאֶרֶץ (be'eretz) means "in a land" and you would expect "in the land" to be written as בְּהָאָרֶץ (beha'arets) but, The sh'va vowel (under the beyt) and the letter hey are dropped (בּ ָאָרֶץ) then the qamats vowel is shifted under the letter beyt forming the word בָּאָרֶץ (ba'arets) meaning "in the land."
Learn Hebrew Nouns - Plurals
Masculine nouns are made plural by adding the suffix ים (iym) to the noun. Feminine nouns are made plural by adding the suffix וֹת (ot) to the noun. As an example, the masculine noun עץ (eyts) means "tree" while עץים (eytsiym) means "trees." The feminine noun רוּח (ru'ahh) means "wind" while רוּחוֹת (ruhhot) means "winds."
There are a few exceptions to these gender specific suffixes. For example, אב (av - father) and אוֹר (or - light) are both masculine nouns yet are written in the plural as אב וֹת and אוֹר וֹת. While they use the feminine suffix, they still remain masculine.
There is one other type of plural called a "dual plural." This plural form also uses the ים suffix but instead of being pronounced as iym it is pronounced yim. Generally, dual plurals are used for things that come in pairs such as יָדַיִם (hands) and עַינַיִם (eyes).
Some nouns are always written in the plural form. The three most common are פָּנִים (face), שָׁמַיִם (sky, interestingly a dual plural) and אֱלֹהִים (God).
If the first word in a construct is a masculine plural word the letter ם is dropped. A Biblical example of this would be the construct "sons of Jacob." The Hebrew word for "sons" is בֵּנִים but, when used in the construct it becomes בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב (sons of Jacob).
Learn Hebrew Nouns - Pronouns
The following is a list of Hebrew pronouns.
אֲנִי and אָנֹכִי
נוּ and אֲנָחְנוּ
You (masc, sing)
You (fem, sing)
You (masc, plural)
You (fem, plural)
Possessive pronouns are written as suffixes to a noun. For instance, the word יָדוֹ is the word יָד (hand) with the possessive pronoun וֹ (of him). So, יָדוֹ means "hand of him" or, in proper English grammar, "his hand." Below is a list of the possessive pronoun suffixes.
of you (masc, sing)
of you (fem, sing)
of you (masc, plural)
of you (fem, plural)
of them (masc)
of them (fem)
These pronoun suffixes can also be used in conjunction with the prefixes previously discussed. The word בּוֹ is a combination of the prefix בּ meaning "in" and the pronoun suffix וֹ meaning "him" - "in him." Another common Biblical example is לְךָ meaning "to you."
When a plural noun is suffixed by a possessive pronoun some changes occur within the word. Let's start with the noun בֵּן meaning "son." When the suffix וֹ is added this noun becomes בֵּנוֹ meaning "son of him" or "his son." Now let's make the noun בֵּן plural by adding the suffix ים and we have בֵּנִים meaning "sons." If we wanted to say "his sons" we would add the possessive pronoun ו (of him) but we drop the ם and we have the word בֵּנָיו (bey-nav) meaning "his sons."
Learn Hebrew Nouns - Biblical Application
At this point we have a basic understanding of verbs and nouns so let's put some of this to practice with some Biblical passages.
This is the verb root קרא meaning "to call." The prefix י identifies the subject of the verb as masculine singular (he) and the tense of the verb as imperfect (he will call). The prefix ו, meaning "and," also reverses the tense of the verb (and he called).
This is the noun meaning "God" and is the subject of the previous verb (and God called).
The prefix לָ is a combination of the prefix לְ (le) and the prefix הָ (ha). So, לָ means "to the." This prefix is attached to the noun אוֹר meaning "light" (to the light).
This is the noun meaning "day."
The noun is חֹשֶׁךְ. The prefix לַ means "to the." The prefix וְ means "and" (and to the night).
This is again the verb root קרא meaning "to call." Because of the lack of any prefixes or suffixes to the root the subject is being identified as masculine singular and the tense of the verb is perfect (he called).
This is the noun meaning "night."
This is the verb root היה meaning "to exist" or "to be." Also notice that when a verb ending with the letter ה is conjugated with a prefix (or suffix) the ה is dropped. The prefix י identifies the subject of the verb as masculine singular (he) and the tense of the verb as imperfect (he will exist/be). The prefix ו, meaning "and," also reverses the tense of the verb (and he existed/was).
This is the noun meaning "evening" and is the subject of the previous verb (and evening existed/was).
This is same verb as above meaning "and he existed/was."
This is the noun meaning "morning" and is the subject of the previous verb (and morning existed/was).
This is the verb root אמר meaning "to say." The prefix ת identifies the subject of the verb as feminine singular (she) and the tense of the verb as imperfect (she will say). The prefix ו, meaning "and," also reverses the tense of the verb (and she said).
This is the noun אִשָּׁה meaning "woman" with the prefix ה meaning "the" (the woman). This is the subject of the previous verb (and the woman said).
This is a word meaning "to."
This is the noun נָּחָשׁ meaning "serpent" with the prefix ה meaning "the" (the serpent).
This is the noun פְּרִי meaning "fruit" with the prefix מ meaning "from" (from the fruit).
This is the noun meaning "tree."
This is the noun גָּן meaning "garden" with the prefix ה meaning "the" (the garden).
This is the verb root אכל meaning "to eat." The prefix נ identifies the subject of the verb as plural (we) and the tense of the verb as imperfect (we will/may eat).