Verbs are certainly one of the hardest parts of modern Hebrew. This article starts a series of articles on the פְּעָלִים that are the nightmare of any Hebrew learner, not only for beginners. This introductory post will discuss the basic characteristics of Hebrew verbs; while in the following articles, we will dig deeper into each one of the בִּנְיָינִים.

All verbs in Hebrew consist of two things:

  1. Pattern (בִּנְיָין): this is the “body” or the “structure” of the verb, what gives each פֹּ֫עַל (verb) its form. 
  2. Root (שׁ֫וֹרֶשׁ): this is the three- or four-letter system that gives meaning to each פֹּ֫עַל.

1. PATTERN (בִּנְיָין)

There are seven verb patterns (בִּנְיָינִים) in Hebrew, the name of each being derived from the lexical/basic form (third-person masculine singular in the past).

1-  Paal (פָּעַל) – active. This בִּנְיָין represents the simplest form of a verb, without any “additional letters” in its basic form (only the שׁ֫וֹרֶשׁ appears).

Common verbs from this בִּנְיָין include:

אָכַל – ate
לָמַד – learned 
כָּתַב – wrote 

2- Piel (פִּיעֵל) – active. This בִּנְיָין generally represents a verb in its “causative” mode (you cause someone to do something) and it features a “י” between the first and second letter of the root.

Common verbs from this בִּנְיָין include:

לִימֵּד – taught 
דִּיבֵּר – spoke 
סִיפֵּר – told

3- Hifil (הִפְעִיל) – active. This בִּנְיָין generally involves “more than one person” and it has a “ה” as a prefix and a “י” between the second and 3rd letter of the root.

Common verbs from this בִּנְיָין include:

הִרְגִּישׁ – felt
הֶחְזִיר – brought back 
הִזְכִּיר – made (someone) to remember

4- Hitpael (הִתְפַּעֵל) – passive and reflexive:. This בִּנְיָין is usually used to describe reflexive actions  and also some passive ones. It features a prefix “הִתְ” before the root.

Common verbs from this בִּנְיָין include:

הִתְקַבֵּל – was accepted
הִתְקַלֵּח – bathed (oneself)
הִתְגַלֶח – shaved (oneself)

5- Nifal (נִפְעַל) – active/ passive. It is usually the passive voice of בִּנְיָין פָּעַל when you simply put a נ in front of the root of the פָּעַל verb. But some verbs from this בִּנְיָין have an active meaning such as:

נִכְנַס – entered
נִשְׁמַר – was kept
נוֹלַד – was born 

6- Pual (פּוּעַל) and 7- Hufal (הוּפְעַל) are simply the passive forms of פּיִעֵל and הִפְעִיל.

Some common verbs of פּוּעַל are:

דּוּבַּר = was spoken
סוּפַּר = was told

A common verb of הוּפְעַל is:

הוּרְגַּשׁ – was felt 

2. ROOT (שׁוֹרֶשׁ)

The roots that give meaning to a verb in Hebrew are usually formed by a sequence of three letters such as in: 

כ.ת.ב – meaning related to “writing”
ש.מ.ע – meaning related to “listening”

However, some others have a four-letter-root to convey meaning and these are only present in the בִּנְיָינִים פּיִעֵל and הִתְפַּעֵל, such as:

ב.ז.ב.ז = meaning of “spend” something in great amount 
ב.ל.ב.ל = meaning related to “confusion”

VERBAL GENDER

Another important feature of verbs in Hebrew is about gender. Unlike in English, there is usually a differentiation between  feminine and masculine in the verbs you use. So, for instance, if you are a man and wants to say “I speak Hebrew” you say: 

אֲנִי מְדַבֵּר עִבְרִית

And if you are a woman, you should say:

אֲנִי מְדַבֶּ֫רֶת עִבְרִית

TENSES

I know that these ideas of pattern, root and verbal gender may be new to all of you, but tenses are something that are present in English as well. And unlike in English, where you have perfect and continuous tenses, in Hebrew there are only three: present , past and future

So, I hope this text gave you all a good introduction on Hebrew verbs. See you in the next article where we will explore more of the verb פעל in all its tenses and forms! 

Sources:

Menorah with the בִּנְיָינִים: https://br.pinterest.com/pin/283304632797751768/

Basic explanations of the בִּנְיָינִים: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNMoeShT-3g

2 thoughts on “Verbs in Modern Hebrew (Introduction)

  1. This is a great way to start introducing people to verbs in Hebrew and their terminology. People often get kinda lost in how the verb is presented, so it’s nice to have everything presented in a sort of digest like this.

    I’m not sure about the connection you made about הִפְעִיל involving more than one person in some way that the קַל does not. There are tons of examples of verbs in the הִפְעִיל that have nothing to do with person other than the speaker. For example, לְהַאֲכִיל ləhaʾăḵîl “to feed” might refer to what you do to your pets far more frequently than what we do to another person. לְהַאֲזִין ləhaʾăzîn “to listen” doesn’t have another agent in mind at all, and it would function just like לִשְׁמוֹעַ lišmôaʿ “to hear.”

    I know it’s difficult to create a summary like this that takes everything into account. We try to draw conclusions based on generalizations, but sometimes those generalizations can be misleading. I’m still unsure how to compare between the various binyānîm without making generalizations that cover a wide range of verbs in the specific stems. It’s a difficult topic that you’ve brought up. I’m sure it can be the springboard for some great conversations!

    • mariana ferreira says:

      Thank you for the comment. I certainly agree with you that in terms of “meaning of each בניין ” these generalizations can be misleading , but as I tried to write an introduction I think it is ok to “generalize” and put things in a more broader sense. I’ll try to explore these things further in the next articles

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