Modern Hebrew verb conjugation

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Main article: Modern Hebrew grammar

In Modern Hebrew, verbs, taking the form of derived stems, are conjugated to reflect their tense and mood, as well as to agree with their subjects in gender, number, and person. Each verb has an inherent voice, though a verb in one voice typically has counterparts in other voices.

Classification of roots[edit]

A root that contains at least one of the weak letters, א alef, ה hei, ח het, י yod, נ nun, and ע ayin, is called a weak root. Each pairing of a weak letter with a position results in a slightly different conjugation pattern. The largest group of these are the ones that end with ה hei. Examples of weak roots: שתה /ʃaˈta/ (drank), עלה /ʕaˈla/(went up), ירד /jaˈʁad/ (went down), נפל /naˈfal/ (fell).

A root that contains a ו vav or a י yod as the second letter is called a hollow root. The ו vav and the י yod are written as part of the root, even though they are absent from many of the conjugated forms. Examples of hollow roots are the following: שר /ˈʃaʁ/ (sang), גר /ˈɡaʁ/ (lived), דן /ˈdan/ (discussed), דג /ˈdaɡ/ (fished).

Roots without weak letters are called strong or complete roots.

Binyanim or derived stems[edit]

Hebrew verbs are conjugated according to specific patterns, derived stems, called בִּנְיָנִים (binyanim - "constructions") where vowels and affixes are slotted into the (mostly) three-letter שורשים (shorashim - roots) from which the majority of Hebrew words are built.

There are seven basic binyanim. The traditional demonstration root is פ.ע.ל which has the basic meaning of "action" or "doing":

root :               פעל
active reflexive passive
פָּעַל
pa'al
פִּעֵל
pi'el
הִפְעִיל
hif'il
הִתְפַּעֵל
hitpa'el
הֻפְעַל
huf'al
פֻּעַל
pu'al
נִפְעַל
nif'al
      causative      
  intensive  
  simple  

This chart's menorah-like shape is sometimes invoked in teaching the binyanim to help students remember which binyanim are active voice (left side) vs. passive voice (right side) and which binyanim are simple (outer-most menorah branches), intensive (second-outer-most) and causative (third-outer-most), and which binyan is reflexive (center).

Present tense[edit]

A verb in the present tense (הוֹוֶה, hove) agrees with its subject in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural), such that each verb has four present-tense forms:

Form Root Singular Plural Translation
M F M F
pa'al שׁמר שׁוֹמֵר שׁוֹמֶ֫רֶת שׁוֹמְרִים שׁוֹמְרוֹת Guards
sh-m-r ʃoˈmeʁ ʃoˈmeʁet ʃomˈʁim ʃomˈʁot
pi'el גדל מְגַדֵּל מְגַדֶּלֶת מְגַדְּלִים מְגַדְּלוֹת Raises, grows (something)
g-d-l meɡaˈdel meɡaˈdelet meɡadˈlim meɡadˈlot
hif'il קטנ מַקְטִין מַקְטִינָה מַקְטִינִים מַקְטִינוֹת Shrinks (something)
q-t-n makˈtin maktiˈna maktiˈnim maktiˈnot
hitpa'el בטל מִתְבַּטֵּל מִתְבַּטֶּלֶת מִתְבַּטְּלִים מִתְבַּטְּלוֹת Belittles oneself, loafs
b-t-l mitbaˈtel mitbaˈtelet mitbatˈlim mitbatˈlot
huf'al קטנ מֻקְטָן מֻקְטֶנֶת מֻקְטָנִים מֻקְטָנוֹת Is shrunken by
q-t-n mukˈtan mukˈtenet muktaˈnim muktaˈnot
pu'al גדל מְגֻדָּל מְגֻדֶּלֶת מְגֻדָּלִים מְגֻדָּלוֹת Is raised
g-d-l meɡuˈdal meɡuˈdelet meɡudaˈlim meɡudaˈlot
nif'al שׁמר נִשְׁמָר נִשְׁמֶרֶת נִשְׁמָרִים נִשְמָרוֹת Is guarded
sh-m-r niʃˈmaʁ niʃˈmeʁet niʃmaˈʁim niʃmaˈʁot
Example conjugations in the present tense.

The present tense doesn't inflect by first, second, or third person because its use as a present tense is a relatively recent trend, as this form was originally used as the participle. The ancient language didn't have strictly defined past, present, or future tenses, but merely perfective and imperfective aspects, with past, present, or future connotation depending on context. Later the perfective and imperfective aspects were explicitly refashioned as the past and future tenses respectively, with the participle standing in as the present tense. (This also happened to the Aramaic language around the same time.) The modern present tense verb is still used as the present participle; see further down.

Past tense (Perfect)[edit]

A verb in the past tense (עָבַר 'avar) agrees with its subject in person (first, second, or third) and number, and in the second-person singular and plural and third-person singular, gender.

Note that the past/perfect and the present/participle inflections of the third-person singular nif'al were historically pronounced with different vowels in the final syllable—the past/perfect with a paˈtaħַ  = /ɐː/), and the present/participle with a kaˈmat͡s ɡaˈdolָ  = /ɔː/). In Modern Hebrew, both of these vowels have merged to /a/, and the two verb forms now are pronounced the same. For example, the past tense נִשְׁמַר niʃˈmaʁ means "he was guarded" (or in old-fashioned perfective "he is/was guarded"), whereas the present tense נִשְׁמָר niʃˈmaʁ means "he is being guarded".

Form Root Singular Plural
He She Thou (or You in Modern English) I They Ye (or You in Modern English) We
M F M F
pa'al שׁמר שָׁמַר שָֽמְרָה שָׁמַרְתָּ שָׁמַרְתְּ שָׁמַרְתִּי שָֽמְרוּ שְׁמַרְתֶּם שְׁמַרְתֶּן שָׁמַרְנוּ
sh-m-r ʃaˈmaʁ ʃamˈʁa ʃaˈmaʁta ʃaˈmaʁt ʃaˈmaʁti ʃamˈʁu ʃmaʁˈtem ʃmaʁˈten ʃaˈmaʁnu
pi'el גדל גִּדֵּל גִּדְּלָה גִּדַּלְתָּ גִּדַּלְתְּ גִּדַּלְתִּי גִּדְּלוּ גִּדַּלְתֶּם גִּדַּלְתֶּן גִּדַּלְנוּ
g-d-l ɡiˈdel ɡidˈla ɡiˈdalta ɡiˈdalt ɡiˈdalti ɡidˈlu ɡidalˈtem ɡidalˈten ɡiˈdalnu
hif'il קטנ הִקְטִין הִקְטִינָה הִקְטַנְתָּ הִקְטַנְתְּ הִקְטַנְתִּי הִקְטִינוּ הִקְטַנְתֶּם הִקְטַנְתֶּן הִקְטַנּוּ
q-t-n hikˈtin hiktiˈna hikˈtanta hikˈtant hikˈtanti hikˈtinu hiktanˈtem hiktanˈten hikˈtanu
hitpa'el בטל הִתְבַּטֵּל הִתְבַּטְּלָה הִתְבַּטַּלְתָּ הִתְבַּטַּלְתְּ הִתְבַּטַּלְתִּי הִתְבַּטְּלוּ הִתְבַּטַּלְתֶּם הִתְבַּטַּלְתֶּן הִתְבַּטַּלְנוּ
b-t-l hitbaˈtel hitbatˈla hitbaˈtalta hitbaˈtalt hitbaˈtalti hitbatˈlu hitbatalˈtem hitbatalˈten hitbaˈtalnu
huf'al קטנ הֻקְטַן הֻקְטְנָה הֻקְטַנְתָּ הֻקְטַנְתְּ הֻקְטַנְתִּי הֻקְטְנוּ הֻקְטַנְתֶּם הֻקְטַנְתֶּן הֻקְטַנּוּ
q-t-n hukˈtan hukteˈna hukˈtanta hukˈtant hukˈtanti hukteˈnu huktanˈtem huktanˈten hukˈtanu
pu'al גדל גֻּדַּל גֻּדְּלָה גֻּדַּלְתָּ גֻּדַּלְתְּ גֻּדַּלְתִּי גֻּדְּלוּ גֻּדַּלְתֶּם גֻּדַּלְתֶּן גֻּדַּלְנוּ
g-d-l ɡuˈdal ɡudˈla ɡuˈdalta ɡuˈdalt ɡuˈdalti ɡudˈlu ɡudalˈtem ɡudalˈten ɡuˈdalnu
nif'al שׁמר נִשְׁמַר נִשְׁמְרָה נִשְׁמַרְתָּ נִשְׁמַרְתְּ נִשְׁמַרְתִּי נִשְׁמְרוּ נִשְׁמַרְתֶּם נִשְׁמַרְתֶּן נִשְׁמַרְנוּ
sh-m-r niʃˈmaʁ niʃmeˈʁa niʃˈmaʁta niʃˈmaʁt niʃˈmaʁti niʃmeˈʁu niʃmaʁˈtem niʃmaʁˈten niʃˈmaʁnu
Example conjugations in the past tense.

Future Tense (Imperfect)[edit]

A verb in the future tense (עָתִיד 'atid) agrees with its subject in person and number, and in the second- and third-person singular, gender. The second-person singular masculine and third-person singular feminine forms are identical for all verbs in the future tense. Historically, there have been separate feminine forms for the second- and third-person plural (shown in parentheses on the table). These are still occasionally used today (most often in formal settings), and could be seen as the 'correct' forms. However, in everyday speech, most Israelis use the historically male form for both genders.

Form Root Singular Plural
He She You I They You We
M F M (F) M (F)
pa'al שׁמר יִשְׁמוֹר תִּשְׁמוֹר תִּשְׁמוֹר תִּשְׁמְרִי אֶשְׁמוֹר יִשְׁמְרוּ תִּשְׁמוֹרנָה תִּשְׁמְרוּ תִּשְׁמוֹרנָה נִשְׁמוֹר
sh-m-r jiʃˈmoʁ tiʃˈmoʁ tiʃˈmoʁ tiʃmeˈʁi eʃˈmoʁ jiʃmeˈʁu tiʃˈmoʁna tiʃˈmeʁu tiʃˈmoʁna niʃˈmoʁ
pi'el גדל יְגַדֵּל תְּגַדֵּל תְּגַדֵּל תְּגַדְּלִי אֲגַדֵּל יְגַדְּלוּ תְּגַדֵּלְנָה תְּגַדְּלוּ תְּגַדֵּלְנָה נְגַדֵּל
g-d-l jeɡaˈdel teɡaˈdel teɡaˈdel teɡadˈli aɡaˈdel jeɡadˈlu teɡaˈdelna teɡadˈlu teɡaˈdelna neɡaˈdel
hif'il קטנ יַקְטִין תַּקְטִין תַּקְטִין תַּקְטִ֫ינִי אַקְטִין יַקְטִינּוּ תַּקְטֵנָּה תַּקְטִינּוּ תַּקְטֵנָּה נַקְטִין
q-t-n jakˈtin takˈtin takˈtin takˈtini akˈtin jakˈtinu takˈte(n)na takˈtinu takˈte(n)na nakˈtin
hitpa'el בטל יִתְבַּטֵּל תִּתְבַּטֵּל תִּתְבַּטֵּל תִּתְבַּטְּלִי אֶתְבַּטֵּל יִתְבַּטְּלוּ תִּתְבַּטֵּלְנָה תִּתְבַּטְּלוּ תִּתְבַּטֵּלְנָה נִתְבַּטֵּל
b-t-l jitbaˈtel titbaˈtel titbaˈtel titbatˈli etbaˈtel jitbatˈlu titbaˈtelna titbatˈlu titbaˈtelna nitbaˈtel
huf'al קטנ יֻקְטַן תֻּקְטַן תֻּקְטַן תֻּקְטְנִי אֻקְטַן יֻקְטְנּוּ תֻּקְטַנָּה תֻּקְטְנּוּ תֻּקְטַנָּה נֻקְטַן
q-t-n jukˈtan tukˈtan tukˈtan tukteˈni ukˈtan jukteˈnu tukˈta(n)na tukteˈnu tukˈta(n)na nukˈtan
pu'al גדל יְגֻדַּל תְּגֻדַּל תְּגֻדַּל תְּגֻדְּלִי אֲגֻדַּל יְגֻדְּלוּ תְּגֻדַּלְנָה תְּגֻדְּלוּ תְּגֻדַּלְנָה נְגֻדַּל
g-d-l jeɡuˈdal teɡuˈdal teɡuˈdal teɡudˈli aɡuˈdal jeɡudˈlu teɡuˈdalna teɡudˈlu teɡuˈdalna neɡuˈdal
nif'al שׁמר יִשָּׁמֵר תִּשָּׁמֵר תִּשָּׁמֵר תִּשָּׁמְרִי אֶשָּׁמֵר יִשָּׁמְרוּ תִּשַּׁמֵּרְנָה תִּשָּׁמְרוּ תִּשַּׁמֵּרְנָה נִשָּׁמֵר
sh-m-r jiʃaˈmeʁ tiʃaˈmeʁ tiʃaˈmeʁ tiʃamˈʁi eʃaˈmeʁ jiʃamˈʁu tiʃaˈmeʁna tiʃamˈʁu tiʃaˈmeʁna niʃaˈmeʁ
Example conjugations in the future tense.

As in the past tense, personal pronouns are not strictly necessary in the future tense, as the verb forms are sufficient to identify the subject, but they are frequently used.

Imperative[edit]

Form Root Singular Plural Translation
M F M F
pa'al שׁמר שְׁמוֹר שִׁמְרִי שִׁמְרוּ שְׁמוֹרְנָה Guard
sh-m-r ʃmoʁ ʃimˈʁi ʃimˈʁu ˈʃmoʁna
pi'el גדל גַּדֵּל גַּדְּלִי גַּדְּלוּ גַּדֵּלְנָה Raise, grow (it)
g-d-l ɡaˈdel ɡadˈli gadˈlu ɡaˈdelna
hif'il קטנ הַקְטֵן הַקְטִינִי הַקְטִינוּ הַקְטֵנָּה Shrink (it)
q-t-n hakˈten hakˈtini hakˈtinu hakˈte(n)na
hitpa'el בטל הִתְבַּטֵּל הִתְבַּטְּלִי הִתְבַּטְּלוּ הִתְבַּטֵּלְנָה Belittle yourself, loaf
b-t-l hitbaˈtel hitbatˈli hitbatˈlu hitbaˈtelna
huf'al -
pu'al -
nif'al הִשָּׁמֵר הִשָּׁמֵר הִשָּׁמְרִי הִשָּׁמְרוּ הִשָּׁמֵרנָה Be guarded
sh-m-r hiʃaˈmeʁ hiʃamˈʁi hiʃamˈʁu hiʃaˈmeʁna
Example conjugations in the imperative.

Except for the strictly passive binyaním (pu'al and huf'al), each binyan has distinct imperative forms in the second person. This imperative form is only used for affirmative commands. The pa'al, nif'al, pi'el and hif'il form their imperatives by dropping the initial ת tav of the future-tense form (e.g., תפתח /tifˈtaħ/ (singular, masc.) → פתח /ˈptaħ/ "open!", תשמרי /tiʃmeˈʁi/ (singular, fem.) → שמרי /ʃimˈʁi/ "guard!"); the fifth, hitpa'el, forms its imperative by replacing this initial ת with ה (/titbaˈtel//hitbaˈtel/ "do nothing!"). (Note that the dropping of the initial ת often results in a change in vocalization, as can be seen in the instance of /tiʃmeˈʁi/ vs. imˈʁi/).

Negative commands use the particle אל /ˈal/ followed by the future-tense form. For example, אל תדאג /ˈal tidˈaɡ/ means "don't worry" (masculine, singular).

In informal speech, the future tense is commonly used for affirmative commands when making requests. Thus for example, תפתח /tifˈtaħ/ can mean either "you will open" or "would you open" (masculine, singular). (Similarly in English one might say "would you open" or "could you open" in lieu of simply "open".) In Hebrew, as in English, the more formal way to avoid the implication of commanding is to use the word "please" (בבקשה /be-vakaʃa/) with the imperative.

The infinitive can be used as a "general imperative" when addressing nobody in particular (e.g., on signs, or when giving general instructions to children or large groups), so that for example, נא לא לפתוח /ˈna ˈlo lifˈtoaħ/ means "please do not open". This might be more literally be rendered as "it is requested that [this] not be opened", avoiding the question of address by using a passive voice.

Participles[edit]

Present participles are identical to present tense forms (the modern present tense actually having been derived from the ancient present participle): נרות בוערים /neˈʁot boʕaˈʁim/ (burning candles), ילדה מקסימה /jalˈda maksiˈma/ (charming girl).

Only the pa'al binyan has a true past participle: from כתב k-t-b we have כתוב /kaˈtuv/, (writ, written). For verbs that have a pa'al form and a nif'al form serving as its passive, this provides a means to distinguish between a completed and a continuing action. The pa'al past participle indicates completion:

  • הספרים כתובים /ha-sfaˈʁim ktuˈvim/ (the books have been written)

while the present tense of nif'al indicates that the action continues:

  • הספרים נכתבים /ha-sfaˈʁim niχtaˈvim/ (the books are being written)

The passive participle is commonly used as an adjective, as in הפקודה הכתובה /ha-pkuˈda ha-ktuˈva/ (the written order).

The present tense of the pu'al and huf'al are used as passive participles for the pi'el and hif'il respectively. For example, from hif'il האיר /heˈiʁ/ (lit) we get חדר מואר /ˈħedeʁ muˈaʁ/ (lit room).

Infinitives (Prospectives)[edit]

Infinitives (ˈʃmot ha-poˈʕal) in Hebrew are primarily formed by adding the letter lamed (ל) to the front of the base form (t͡suˈʁat ha-maˈkoʁ). The vowels change systematically according to the binyan.

  • כתב /kaˈtav/ (wrote, pa'al) → לכתוב /liχˈtov/ (to write)
  • מדבר /medaˈbeʁ/ (speak, pi'el) → לדבר /ledaˈbeʁ/ (to speak)
  • התחיל /hitˈħil/ (started, hif'il) → להתחיל /lehatˈħil/ (to start)
  • התפלל /hitpaˈlel/ (prayed, hitpa'el) → להתפלל /lehitpaˈlel/ (to pray)
  • נפגש /nifˈɡaʃ/ (met with, nif'al) → להיפגש /lehipaˈɡeʃ/ (to meet with)

Note that pu'al and huf'al verbs do not have infinitives.

Gerunds[edit]

Gerunds (ˈʃmot peʕuˈla) are nouns expressing an action. Gerunds are created in Hebrew by putting the root of a verb into a miʃˈkal, a noun pattern (see Modern Hebrew grammar#Noun derivation). Five of the binyanim have gerunds: pa'al, pi'el, hif'il, hitpa'el, and nif'al. For example:

  • שמר /ʃaˈmaʁ/ (guarded — pa'al) → שמירה /ʃmiˈʁa/ (guarding)
    • שב /ˈʃav/ (returned — hollow pa'al) → שיבה /ʃiˈva/ (returning, a return)
    • שתה /ʃaˈta/ (drank — weak pa'al) → שתייה /ʃtiˈja/ (drinking, a drink)
  • נכנס /niχˈnas/ (enter — nif'al) → היכנסות /hikanˈsut/ (entering)
  • ביקר /biˈkeʁ/ (visited — pi'el) → ביקור /biˈkuʁ/ (visiting, a visit)
  • הפתיע /hifˈtiaʕ/ (surprised — hif'il) → הפתעה /hafteˈʕa/ (surprising, a surprise)
  • התחמם /hitħaˈmem/ (warmed — hitpa'el) → התחממות /hitħameˈmut/ (warming)

Note that unlike in English (where gerunds and present participles share the same form but different etymology), Hebrew gerunds cannot be used as adjectives.

Conditional[edit]

Modern Hebrew has an analytic conditional~past-habitual mood expressed with the auxiliary /haˈja/:

"לו היה לי זמן, הייתי הולך."

lu haˈja ˈli ˈzman, haˈjiti hoˈleχ.
if was to-me time, I-was go.
If I had the time, I would go.

"לו מישהו היה טורח לספר לי, הייתי יודע."

lu ˈmiʃehu haˈja toˈʁeaħ lesaˈpeʁ ˈli, haˈjiti joˈdeaʕ.
if someone was bother to-tell me, I-was know.
If someone had bothered to tell me, I'd have known.

"פעם הייתי הולך המון לקולנוע."

ˈpaʕam haˈjiti hoˈleχ haˈmon lakolˈnoaʕ.
once I-was go a-lot to-the-cinema.
I used to go a lot to the cinema.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]