Prefixes in Hebrew

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There are several prefixes in the Hebrew language which are appended to regular words to introduce a new meaning. In Hebrew, the letters that form those 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 איתן משה וכלב (Eitan, Moshe, v'Kalev), which translates to "Ethan, Moses, 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.
  • וְהוּאv'hu[1] (and he)
  • וּבַיוֹםuvayom[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. לְמֶלֶךְl'melekh (to a king)
  2. לִמְלָכִיםlim'lokhim (to kings)
  3. לִיהוּדָהlihudah (to Judah)
  4. לַאֲרִיla'ari (to a lion)
  5. לֵאלֹהִיםlelohim (to God)
ב‬ (Bet) in, with, by
  1. בְּמֶלֶךְb'melekh (in a king)
  2. בִּמְלָכִיםbim'lokhim (in kings)
  3. בִּיהוּדָהbihudah (in Judah)
  4. בַּאֲרִיba'ari (in a lion)
  5. בֵּאלֹהִיםbelohim (in God)
כ‬ (Kaf) as, like
  1. כְּמֶלֶךְk'melekh (as a king)
  2. כִּמְלָכִיםkim'lokhim (as kings)
  3. כִּיהוּדָהkihudah (as Judah)
  4. כַּאֲרִיka'ari (as a lion)
  5. כֵּאלֹהִיםkelohim (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 definite article (ה‬) it is מֵ‬ as in 2, and the article remains intact; or it becomes מִן‬ plus ה‬.
  1. מִמֶּלֶךְmimelekh (from a king)
  2. מֵאָדָםme'adam (from a man)
  3. מֵהַמֶּלֶךְmehamelekh (from the king), or
    מִן הַמֶּלֶךְmin hamelekh

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.
  • הַמֶּלֶךְhamelekh (the king)
Before the weaker gutturals א‬ and ע‬, as well as ר‬, it is הָ‬.
  • הָאוֹרha'or (the light)
  • הָעַיִןha'ayin (the eye)
  • הָרֹאשׁharosh (the head)
Before the harsh gutturals ה‬ and ח‬ it is הַ‬.
  • הַהוֹדhahod (the glory)
  • הַחֹשֶׁךְhachoshekh (the darkness)
Before an unaccented הָ‬ and עָ‬ and always before חָ‬ it is הֶ‬.
  • הֶהָרִיםheharim (the mountains)
  • הֶעָפָרhe'afar (the dust)
  • הֶחָכָםhechakham (the wise)
Before an accented הָ‬ and עָ‬ it is הָ‬.
  • הָהָרhahar (the mountain)
  • הָעָזha'az (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.
  • וּבַיוֹםuvayom[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 yaqir 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.
  • יֺאמַרyomar (he will say)
  • יֺאמְרוּyomru (they will say)
נ‬ (Nun) When prefixed to a verb stem, indicates first person, plural, future tense. We will.
  • נֺאמַרnomar (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
  • תֹּאמַרtomar (she/you will say, )
  • תֹּאמְרוּtomru (you (pl.) will say)
  • תֹּאמַרְנָה שָׂרוֹתtomarna sarot[5] (the women of the nobility will say)

Other uses[edit]

Prefix Meaning Comments Examples
שׁ‬ (Shin) that, which, who, whom
  • שֶׁקָּרָהsheqara (which happened)
  • שֶׁעָשׂוּshe'asu [6] (who performed)
ו‬ (Vav (letter)) changes past tense to future tense and vice versa Used mostly in Biblical Hebrew as vav-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.
  • וַיֹּאמֶרvayomer [7] (he said)

(compare yomar [8] (he will say)

  • וְאָהַבְתָּve'ahavta [9] (you shall love)

(compare ahavta [10] (you loved)

Non Otiyot HaShimush[edit]

These prefixes (Hebrew: תְּחִלִּית t'chilit) 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-eqs former
  • אֶקְסְפּוֹזִיצְיָהeqspozitzya exposition
un-/non- English/ Latin אִי-i
נוֹן-non
negation
  • אִי-אַלִּימוּתi-alimut non-violence
  • נוֹנְקוֹנְפוֹרְמִיזְםnonqonformizm nonconformism
in-/il-/im-/ir- Latin/ Biblical Hebrew[11] אִי-i not, opposite of
  • אִירַצְיוֹנָלִיiratzyonali irrational
a- Greek אָ-a lacking in, lack of
  • אָפּוֹלִיטִיapoliti apolitical
  • אָ-מִינִיa-mini asexual
prae- Latin פְּרֵה-pre
טְרוֹם-trom
קְדַם-qedam
before
  • פְּרֵהִיסְטוֹרִיprehistori prehistoric
  • טְרוֹם-לֵדָתִיterom-ledati (pre-birth/delivery of a baby) prenatal
  • קְדַם-סוֹקְרָטִיתqedam-soqratit Pre-Socratic
pro- Greek פְּרוֹ-pro for, on the side of
  • פְּרוֹגְנוֹזָהprognoza prognosis
inter- Latin אִינְטֶר-inter
בֵּין-ben
between, among
  • אִינְטֶרְנַצְיוֹנָלinternatzyonal international
  • בֵּינְלְאֻמִּיbenle'umi international
intra- Latin אִינְטְרָה-intra
תּוֹךְ-tokh
פְּנִים-pnim
inside
  • אִינְטְרָנֶטintranet intranet
para- Greek פָּרָה-para beside, beyond
  • פָּרַפְּלֶגparapaleg paraplegic
homo- English
(from Greek homos)
הוֹמוֹ-homo same
  • הוֹמוֹסֶקְסוּאָלִיּוּתhomoseqsualiyut homosexuality
hetero- English
(from Greek heteros)
הֵטֵרוֹ-hetero
הֶטְרוֹ-hetro
different
  • הֵטֵרוֹסֶקְסוּאָלִיּוּתheteroseqsualiyut heterosexuality
di-/bi- Greek/English דּוּ-du two
  • דּוּ-תַּחְמֹצֶתdu-tachmotzet (means: di-oxide) dioxide
  • דּוּ-לְשׁוֹנִיdu-leshoni (means: bi-lingual) bilingual
geo- Greek גֵּאוֹ-geo relating to the earth or its surface
  • גֵּאוֹתֶרְמִיgeotermi geothermal
retro- Latin רֶטְרוֹ-retro backwards
  • רֶטְרוֹאַקְטִיבִיretroaqtivi retroactive
semi- Latin סֶמִי-semi half
  • סֶמִיטְרֵיְלֶרsemitreiler semitrailer
hemi- Greek הֶמִי-hemi half
  • הֶמִיסְפֶרָהhemisfera hemisphere
electro- English אֶלֶקְטְרוֹ-eleqtro electric, electricity
  • אֶלֶקְטְרוֹאֶנְצֶפָלוֹגְרָףeleqtroentzfalograf electroencephalograph (EEG)
anti- Greek אַנְטִי-anti opposite
  • אַנְטִיכְּרִיסְטantikrist Antichrist
  • אַנְטִי-חֹמֶרanti-chomer antimatter
infra- Latin אִינְפְרָה-infra below, beneath
  • אִינְפְרָה-אָדֹםinfra-adom infrared
mono- English
(from Greek monos)
מוֹנוֹ-mono
חַד-chad
one, sole, only
  • מוֹנוֹלוֹגmonolog monologue
  • חַד-לְשׁוֹנִיchad-leshoni monolingual
uni- Latin חַד-chad one
  • חַד-אוֹפַןchad-ofan (lit. uni-wheel) unicycle
poly- Greek פּוֹלִי-poli many
  • פּוֹלִיגַמְיָהpoligamya polygamy
multi- Latin מוּלְטִי-multi
רַב-rav
many
  • מוּלְטִימֶדְיָהmultimedya multimedia
  • רַב-לְשׁוֹנִיrav-leshoni multilingual
tele- Greek טֶלֶ-tele at a distance
  • טֶלֶסְקוֹפּtelesqop telescope
super- Latin סוּפֶּר-super
עַל-al-
-עָל-al
over, above, more than, better
  • סוּפֶּרְנוֹבָהsupernova supernova
  • עַל-טִבְעִיal-tivi supernatural
  • מַחְשֵׁב-עָלmachshav-al supercomputer
hyper- Greek הִיפֶּר-hiper extra specially, over, high
  • הִיפֶּרְאַקְטִיבִיhiperaqtivi hyperactive
tri- Greek טְרִי-tri three
  • טְרִיאַתְלוֹןtriatlon triathlon
re- Latin רֶ-re again, back
  • רֶאוֹרְגָּנִיזַצְיָהreorganizatzya reorganization
  • רֶה-אִרְגּוּןre-irgun reorganization
  • רֶבִיזְיָהrevizya revision
sub- Latin תַּת-tat under, lower than, less than
  • תַּת-מוּדָעtat-muda subconscious
extra- Latin אֶקְסְטְרָ-eqstra
חוּץ-chutz
outside
  • חוּץ-תָּאִיchutz-tai extracellular
  • אֶקְסְטְרָטֶרִיטוֹרְיָאלִיeqstrateritoryali extraterritorial
neo- Greek נֵאוֹ-neo new
  • נֵאוֹלוֹגִיזְםneologizm neologism
proto- Greek אָב-av first, original, father
  • אַבְטִיפּוּסavtipus prototype
socio- French סוֹצְיוֹ-sotzyo society, social, sociological
  • סוֹצְיוֹלִינְגְּוִיסְטִיקָהsotzyolingvistiqa sociolinguistics
hydro- Greek הִידְרוֹ-hidro relating to water, or using water
  • הִידְרוֹאֶלֶקְטְרִיhidroeleqtri hydroelectric
hypo- Greek הִיפּוֹ-hipo under or below something, low
  • הִיפּוֹגְלִיקֶמְיָהhipogliqemya hypoglycemia
iso- English
(from Greek isos)
אִיזוֹ-izo equal
  • אִיזוֹטוֹפּizotop isotope
meta- Greek מֶטָ-meta after, along with, beyond, among
  • מֶטָבּוֹלִיזְםmetabolizm metabolism
mega- English
(from Greek megas)
מֶגָה-mega very large, million
  • מֶגָהֶרְץmegahertz megahertz
micro- English
(from Greek micros)
מִיקְרוֹ-miqro minute size, 1/1,000,000
  • מִיקְרוֹסְקוֹפּmiqrosqop microscope
trans- Latin טְרַנְס-trans across
  • טְרַנְסְאַטְלַנְטִיtransatlanti transatlantic
idio- English
(from Greek idios)
אִידְיוֹ-idyo individual, personal, unique
  • אִידְיוֹמָטִיidyomati idiomatic
pyro- Greek פִּירוֹ-piro fire
  • פִּירוֹמֶטֶרpirometer pyrometer
  • פִּירוֹמָןpiroman pyromaniac
auto- Greek אוֹטוֹ-oto self
  • אוֹטוֹמָטִיotomati 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]