I am working on a post on real and irreal mood.  It is really long, so I think I’m going to cut it into further parts. Besides, Jason reminded me that “No one knows what real and irreal moods are!” So, that’s what this post is for.

Real and irreal mood is more or less the same thing as the indicative and subjunctive moods in English. Real mood (indicative) is a statement grounded in reality.  Most often, this is a simple statement.

Irreal (subjunctive) mood includes sentences or statements that are one step removed from reality, i.e., something that may or may not have happened. “Irreal” is a linguistic description derived from the Latin irrealis. Irreal mood may also be called “unreal” mood.

Since more and more grammarians are looking at Biblical Hebrew from a linguistical standpoint, some grammarians have opted to change the name by which they categorize verbs.  I have adapted the views of John Cook and Holmstedt (their blog is available here) as presented in their grammar, available here. They classify the traditional wayyiqtol or waw-consecutive imperfect form as Past Narrative, while they call the traditional waw-consecutive perfect as the “irreal perfect.”

In addition to the irreal perfect, irreal mood is also expressed by:

  • Commands (imperatives, jussives [third-, second-, and first-person]): “Study for the test!” “Do not cheat on the test!” “I and my fellow students may study for the test.”
  • Conditional statements: “If you study, then you will ace the test.”
  • Prohibitions (אַל or לֹא particles: “You shall not steal.”
  • Purpose clauses (לְמַעַן): “I studied for the test so that I’d get an “A”.
  • Habitual or repeated actions: “I study for the test every day.”

In Hebrew, statements in irreal mood trigger inverted SVO word order.  While this has been considered (and is still very much considered by a majority of scholars) to be standard word order, it has been so considered only because VS is the most common word order type. However, this doesn’t mean that SV is the “default” word order.

In the next post, we will consider passages and sentences which affect and invert default word order to verb-subject.

3 thoughts on “Word order in Biblical Hebrew, pt. 2: Real and Irreal Mood (a)

  1. Margret Pegg says:

    Wow, this sounds almost unintelligible to me, so much like Greek analytical thinking. I admire your level of intellect!
    I am only at a very simple level of Hebrew learning and understanding, my main objective being, to use Hebrew in prayer, song and reading of the Scriptures. I do not have the time to learn all the complicated intricacies of the Grammar, but enjoy learning like a child, slowly accumulating words and sentences.
    I do admire the amazing scope of your many years of learning and also your readiness to share it with others. Thanks for that! 🙂

    • Shalom, Margret! It’s just fantastic to have an encouraging response like yours on the blog post. I know that it’s Jonathan’s post, but I want to jump in here and thank you for you comment.

      Are you studying Hebrew in any type of formal setting? I mean, are you studying through a textbook, with a teacher, in some registered course? How are you learning?

      Nothing can substitute the experience you get from using Hebrew in prayer and devotional reading, if that is your goal and where you find meaning. Do you worship as part of a congregation?


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