Prefixes in Hebrew

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For more details on Hebrew grammar, see Hebrew grammar and Hebrew verb conjugation.

There are several prefixes in the Hebrew language which are appended to regular words to introduce a new meaning. In Hebrew, the letters which form these prefixes are called "formative letters" (Hebrew: אוֹתִיּוֹת הַשִּׁמּוּשׁ, Otiyot HaShimush). Eleven of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are considered Otiyot HaShimush. These letters are Aleph (א), Bet (ב), He (ה), Vav (ו), Yud (י), Kaf (כ), Lamed (ל), Mem (מ), Nun (נ), Shin (ש), and Tav (ת). A mnemonic to remember these letters is "Eitan, Moshe, v'Kalev" (Hebrew: אית"ן מש"ה וכל"ב) which translates to "Eitan, Moshe, and Caleb."

Otiyot haShimush[edit]

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[edit]

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
ו (Vav) and, but Vav-conjunctive, cf. Vav-consecutive can make the "v" sound (/v/) or the "u" sound (/u/). If it is used with other prefixes, this is always the first prefix.
  • וְהוּא vahu[1] (and he)
  • וּבַיוֹם uvayom[2] (and on the day)

Inseparable prepositions[edit]

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
ל (Lamed) to, for The Inseparable Prepositions are pointed:
  1. Normally with Sheva.
  2. Before a Sheva they take Chirik.
  3. Before יְ they take Chirik, but the Sheva under the י falls away.
  4. Before a T'nua Chatufa they assume the corresponding short vowel.
  5. Before אֶלֹהִים they take Tzere and the T'nua Chatufa under the א disappears.
  1. לְמֶלֶךְ l'melech (to a king)
  2. לִמְלָכִים lim'lochim (to kings)
  3. לִיהוּדָה lihudah (to Judah)
  4. לַאֲרִי la'ari (to a lion)
  5. לֵאלֹהִים lelohim (to God)
ב (Bet) in, with, by
  1. בְּמֶלֶךְ b'melech (in a king)
  2. בִּמְלָכִים bim'lochim (in kings)
  3. בִּיהוּדָה bihudah (in Judah)
  4. בַּאֲרִי ba'ari (in a lion)
  5. בֵּאלֹהִים belohim (in God)
כ (Kaf) as, like
  1. כְּמֶלֶךְ k'melech (as a king)
  2. כִּמְלָכִים kim'lochim (as kings)
  3. כִּיהוּדָה kihudah (as Judah)
  4. כַּאֲרִי ka'ari (as a lion)
  5. כֵּאלֹהִים kelohim (as God)

Other prepositions[edit]

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
מ (Mem) from
  1. Before ordinary letters (excluding the gutturals and ר) it is מִ followed by a Dagesh Chazak.
  2. Before gutturals and ר it is מֵ.
  3. Before the article it is מֵ as in 2, and the article remains intact.
  1. מִמֶּלֶךְ mimelech (from a king)
  2. מֵאָדָם meadam (from a man)
  3. מֵהַמֶּלֶךְ mehamelech (from the king)

Definite article[edit]

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
ה (He) the Before ordinary letters (i.e. excluding gutturals and ר) it is הַ followed by a Dagesh Chazak.
  • הַמֶּלֶךְ hamelech (the king)
Before the weaker gutturals עא and ר it is הָ.
  • הָאוֹר haor (the light)
  • הָעַיִן haayin (the eye)
  • הָרֹאשׁ harosh (the head)
Before the harsh gutturals חה it is הַ.
  • הַהוֹד hahod (the glory)
  • הַחֹשֶׁךְ hachoshech (the darkness)
Before an unaccented הָ and עָ and always before חָ it is הֶ.
  • הֶהָרִים heharim (the mountains)
  • הֶעָפָר heafar (the dust)
  • הֶחָכָם hechacham (the wise)
Before an accented הָ and עָ it is הָ.
  • הָהָר hahar (the mountain)
  • הָעָז haaz (the strong)
  • When used with the Bet, Kaf or Lamed prepositional prefix it is omitted; instead the vowel on the preposition is changed.
  • If He is used with other prefixes, the He is always the last prefix before the root.
  • וּבַיוֹם uvayom[3] (and on the day: note that the ve (on) combines with the ha (the) to become va (on the)).

Interrogative[edit]

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
ה (He) Used to indicate a question Can usually be distinguished from the definite article because it is vowelized with a chataf patach
  • הֲבֵן יַקִּיר לִי? haven yakir li?[4] (Is he my most precious son?)

Conjugation of verbs[edit]

Prefix Meaning Examples
א (Alef) When prefixed to a verb stem, indicates first person, singular, future tense. I will.
  • אֹמַר omar (I will say)
י (Yud) When prefixed to a verb stem, indicates third person, future tense. (Number and gender depend on suffixes.) He will or They will.
  • יֺאמַר yomar (he will say)
  • יֺאמְרוּ yomru (they will say)
נ (Nun) When prefixed to a verb stem, indicates first person, plural, future tense. We will.
  • נֺאמַר nomar (we will say)
ת (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 will
  • תֹּאמַר tomar (she will say)
  • תֹּאמַר tomar (you will say)
  • תֹּאמַרְנָה שָׂרוֹת tomarna sarot[5] (the women of the nobility will say)

Other uses[edit]

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
שׁ (Shin) that, which, who, whom
  • שֶׁקָּרָה shekara (which happened)
  • שֶׁעָשׂוּ sheasu'[6] (who performed)
ו (Vav (letter)) changes past tense to future tense and vice versa Used mostly in Biblical Hebrew as waw-consecutive (compare vav-conjunctive). Pronounced "va" when changing future tense to past tense. Usually pronounced "v'" or "u" when changing past tense to future tense.
  • וַיֹּאמֶר vayomer'[7]' (he said)

(compare yomar[8]-he will say)

  • וְאָהַבְתָּ veahavta[9] (you shall love)

(compare ahavta[10]-you loved)

Non Otiyot HaShimush[edit]

These prefixes (Hebrew: תְּחִלִּית t'hilit) often come from loanwords from English (Latin, Greek, etc...) which are especially prevalent with technical and academic terms. Other prefixes are native to Hebrew (ex. rav). When the Hebrew prefix does not line up in similarity to the English, Greek, or Latin one that is because it is of Hebrew origin.

Prefix Origin Hebrew Meaning Examples
ex- Latin אֶקְס- eks former
  • אֶקְסְפּוֹזִיצְיָה ekspozitzya exposition
un-/non- English/ Latin אִי- i/נוֹן- non negation
  • אִי-אַלִּימוּת i-alimut non-violence
  • נוֹנְקוֹנְפוֹרְמִיזְם nonkonformizm nonconformism
in-/il-/im-/ir- Latin/ Biblical Hebrew[11] אִי- i not, opposite of
  • אִירַצְיוֹנָלִי iratzyonali irrational
a- Greek אָ- a lacking in, lack of
  • אָפּוֹלִיטִי apoliti apolitical
  • אָ-מִינִי a-mini (means: a-sexual) asexual
prae- Latin פְּרֵה- pre/טְרוֹם- trom/קְדַם- kedam before
  • פְּרֵהִיסְטוֹרִי prehistori prehistoric
  • טְרוֹם-לֵדָתִי terom-ledati (means: pre-birth/pre-delivery (of a baby)) prenatal
  • קְדַם-סוֹקְרָטִית kedam-sokratit (means: Pre-Socratic) Pre-Socratic
pro- Greek פְּרוֹ- pro for, on the side of
  • פְּרוֹגְנוֹזָה prognoza prognosis
inter- Latin אִינְטֶר- inter/בֵּין- ben between, among
  • אִינְטֶרְנַצְיוֹנָל internatzyonal international
  • בֵּינְלְאֻמִּי benleumi (means: international) international
intra- Latin אִינְטְרָה- intra/תּוֹךְ- tokh/פְּנִים- pnim inside
  • אִינְטְרָנֶט intranet intranet
para- Greek פָּרָה- para beside, beyond
  • פָּרַפְּלֶג parapaleg paraplegic
homo- English
(from Greek homos)
הוֹמוֹ- homo same
  • הוֹמוֹסֶקְסוּאָלִיּוּת homoseksualiyut homosexuality
hetero- English
(from Greek heteros)
הֵטֵרוֹ- hetero, הֶטְרוֹ- hetro different
  • הֵטֵרוֹסֶקְסוּאָלִיּוּת heteroseksualiyut heterosexuality
di-/bi- Greek/English דּוּ- du two
  • דּוּ-תַּחְמֹצֶת du-tahmotzet (means: di-oxide) dioxide
  • דּוּ-לְשׁוֹנִי du-leshoni (means: bi-lingual) bilingual
geo- Greek גֵּאוֹ- geo relating to the earth or its surface
  • גֵּאוֹתֶרְמִי geotermi geothermal
retro- Latin רֶטְרוֹ- retro backwards
  • רֶטְרוֹאַקְטִיבִי retroaktivi retroactive
semi- Latin סֶמִי- semi half
  • סֶמִיטְרֵיְלֶר semitreiler semitrailer
hemi- Greek הֶמִי- hemi half
  • הֶמִיסְפֶרָה hemisfera hemisphere
electro- English אֶלֶקְטְרוֹ- elektro electric, electricity
  • אֶלֶקְטְרוֹאֶנְצֶפָלוֹגְרָף elektroentzfalograf electroencephalograph (EEG)
anti- Greek אַנְטִי- anti opposite
  • אַנְטִיכְּרִיסְט antikrist Antichrist
  • אַנְטִי-חֹמֶר anti-homer antimatter
infra- Latin אִינְפְרָה- infra below, beneath
  • אִינְפְרָה-אָדֹם infra-adom infrared
mono- English
(from Greek monos)
מוֹנוֹ- mono/חַד- had one, sole, only
  • מוֹנוֹלוֹג monolog monologue
  • חַד-לְשׁוֹנִי had-leshoni monolingual
uni- Latin חַד- had one
  • חַד-אוֹפַן had-ofan (lit. uni-wheel) unicycle
poly- Greek פּוֹלִי- poli many
  • פּוֹלִיגַמְיָה poligamya polygamy
multi- Latin מוּלְטִי- multi/רַב- rav many
  • מוּלְטִימֶדְיָה multimedya multimedia
  • רַב-לְשׁוֹנִי rav-leshoni multilingual
tele- Greek טֶלֶ- tele at a distance
  • טֶלֶסְקוֹפּ teleskop telescope
super- Latin סוּפֶּר- super/עַל- al/-עָל al over, above, more than, better
  • סוּפֶּרְנוֹבָה supernova supernova
  • עַל-טִבְעִי al-tivi supernatural
  • מַחְשֵׁב-עָל makhshav-al supercomputer
hyper- Greek הִיפֶּר- hiper extra specially, over, high
  • הִיפֶּרְאַקְטִיבִי hiperaktivi hyperactive
tri- Greek טְרִי- tri three
  • טְרִיאַתְלוֹן triatlon triathlon
re- Latin רֶ- re again, back
  • רֶאוֹרְגָּנִיזַצְיָה reorganizatzya reorganization
  • רֶה-אִרְגּוּן re-irgun reorganization
  • רֶבִיזְיָה revizya revision
sub- Latin תַּת- tat under, lower than, less than
  • תַּת-מוּדָע tat-muda subconscious
extra- Latin אֶקְסְטְרָ- ekstra/חוּץ- hutz outside
  • חוּץ-תָּאִי hutz-tai extracellular
  • אֶקְסְטְרָטֶרִיטוֹרְיָאלִי ekstrateritoryali extraterritorial
neo- Greek נֵאוֹ- neo new
  • נֵאוֹלוֹגִיזְם neologizm neologism
proto- Greek אָב- av first, original, father
  • אַבְטִיפּוּס avtipus prototype
socio- French סוֹצְיוֹ- sotzyo society, social, sociological
  • סוֹצְיוֹלִינְגְּוִיסְטִיקָה sotzyolingvistika sociolinguistics
hydro- Greek הִידְרוֹ- hidro relating to water, or using water
  • הִידְרוֹאֶלֶקְטְרִי hidroelektri hydroelectric
hypo- Greek הִיפּוֹ- hipo under or below something, low
  • הִיפּוֹגְלִיקֶמְיָה hipoglikemya hypoglycemia
iso- English
(from Greek isos)
אִיזוֹ- izo equal
  • אִיזוֹטוֹפּ izotop isotope
meta- Greek מֶטָ- meta after, along with, beyond, among
  • מֶטָבּוֹלִיזְם metabolizm metabolism
mega- English
(from Greek megas)
מֶגָה- mega very large, million
  • מֶגָהֶרְץ megahertz megahertz
micro- English
(from Greek micros)
מִיקְרוֹ- mikro minute size, 1/1,000,000
  • מִיקְרוֹסְקוֹפּ mikroskop microscope
trans- Latin טְרַנְס- trans across
  • טְרַנְסְאַטְלַנְטִי transatlanti transatlantic
idio- English
(from Greek idios)
אִידְיוֹ- idyo individual, personal, unique
  • אִידְיוֹמָטִי idyomati idiomatic
pyro- Greek פִּירוֹ- piro fire
  • פִּירוֹמֶטֶר pirometer pyrometer
  • פִּירוֹמָן piroman (means: pyro-maniac) pyromaniac
auto- Greek אוֹטוֹ- oto self
  • אוֹטוֹמָטִי otomati automatic

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Genesis 3:16.
  2. ^ Exodus 12:16.
  3. ^ Exodus 12:16.
  4. ^ Jeremiah 31:19.
  5. ^ Esther 1:18.
  6. ^ Ecclesiastes 2:11.
  7. ^ Genesis 1:6.
  8. ^ Genesis 31:8.
  9. ^ Leviticus 19:18.
  10. ^ Genesis 22:2.
  11. ^ 1 Samuel, 4:21

External links[edit]