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 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]

European languages had a large stock of prefixes for technical terminology mostly taken from Greek and Latin. While Hebrew traditionally didn't use this kind of prefixes, professionals in the Yishuv who started to teach and work in Hebrew were used to this terminology, and incorporated most of these prefixes into Hebrew. Meanwhile people working on revitalising the language coined some Hebrew parallels, so today those foreign and Hebrew prefixes are used interchangeably.

Prefix Origin Hebrew Meaning Examples
ex-
אֶקְס-
Latin - former
  • אֶקְסְפּוֹזִיצְיָהeqspozitzya exposition
un-/non-
אַנ-‎/נוֹנ-
English/ Latin אִי-i[11]
אָל-al
negation
  • אִי-אַלִּימוּתi-alimut non-violence
  • נוֹנְקוֹנְפוֹרְמִיזְםnonqonformizm nonconformism
  • אָל-מַתֶּכֶתal-mathechet Nonmetal
in-/il-/im-/ir- Latin אִי-i not, opposite of
  • אִירַצְיוֹנָלִיiratzyonali irrational
a-
אָ-
Greek - lacking in, lack of
  • אָפּוֹלִיטִיapoliti apolitical
  • אָ-מִינִיa-mini asexual
prae-
פְּרֵ-
Latin טְרוֹם-trom
קְדַם-qdam
before
  • פְּרֵהִיסְטוֹרִיprehistori prehistoric
  • טְרוֹם-לֵידָתִיterom-ledati (pre-birth/delivery of a baby) prenatal
  • קְדַם-סוֹקְרָטִיתqedam-soqratit Pre-Socratic
post-
פּוֹסְט-
Latin אַחַרְ-aḥar
בָּתַר-batar
after
  • בָּתַר-מִקְרָאִיbatar-miqra'i post-old-testamental
pro-
פְּרוֹ-
Greek - for, on the side of
  • פְּרוֹגְנוֹזָהprognoza prognosis
inter-
אִינְטֶר-
Latin בֵּין-ben between, among
  • אִינְטֶרְנַצְיוֹנָלinternatzyonal international
  • בֵּינְלְאֻמִּיbenle'umi international
intra-
אִינְטְרָ-
Latin תּוֹךְ-tokh
פְּנִים-pnim
inside
  • אִינְטְרָנֶטintranet intranet
  • אִינְטֶרְנֶטinternet internet
para-
פָּרָ-
Greek - beside, beyond
  • פָּרַפְּלֶגparapleg paraplegic
homo-
הוֹמוֹ-
Greek - same
  • הוֹמוֹסֶקְסוּאָלִיּוּתhomoseqsualiyut homosexuality
hetero-
הֵטֵרוֹ-
(often shortened hetro)
Greek - different
  • הֵטֵרוֹסֶקְסוּאָלִיּוּתheteroseqsualiyut heterosexuality
di-/bi-
-/בּי
Greek/Latin דּוּ-du two
  • דּוּ-תַּחְמֹצֶתdu-tachmotzet (means: di-oxide) dioxide
  • דּוּ-לְשׁוֹנִיdu-leshoni (means: bi-lingual) bilingual
  • בִּיסֶקְסוּאָלbi-sexual (means: bi-sexual) bisexual
geo-
גֵּאוֹ-
Greek - relating to the earth or its surface
  • גֵּאוֹתֶרְמִיgeotermi geothermal
retro-
רֶטְרוֹ-
Latin - backwards
  • רֶטְרוֹאַקְטִיבִיretroaqtivi retroactive
semi-
סֶמִי-
Latin דְמוּי-dmui-
חַצִי-ḥatsi-
half, similar to-
  • סֶמִיטְרֵיְלֶרsemitreiler semitrailer
hemi-
הֶמִי-
Greek - half
  • הֶמִיסְפֶרָהhemisfera hemisphere
electro-
אֶלֶקְטְרוֹ-
Greek - electric, electricity
  • אֶלֶקְטְרוֹאֶנְצֶפָלוֹגְרָףeleqtroentzfalograf electroencephalograph (EEG)
anti-
אַנְטִי-
Greek - opposite
  • אַנְטִיכְּרִיסְטantikrist Antichrist
  • אַנְטִי-חֹמֶרanti-chomer antimatter
infra-
אִינְפְרָה-
Latin תַּת-tat below, beneath
  • אִינְפְרָה-אָדֹםinfra-adom infrared
mono-
מוֹנוֹ-
Greek חַד-chad one, sole, only
  • מוֹנוֹלוֹגmonolog monologue
  • חַד-לְשׁוֹנִיchad-leshoni monolingual
uni-
אוּנִי-
Latin חַד-chad one, whole
  • חַד-אוֹפַןchad-ofan (lit. uni-wheel) unicycle
poly-
פּוֹלִי-
Greek רַב-rav many
  • פּוֹלִיגַמְיָהpoligamya polygamy
multi-
מוּלְטִי-
Latin רַב-rav many
  • מוּלְטִימֶדְיָהmultimedya multimedia
  • רַב-לְשׁוֹנִיrav-leshoni multilingual
tele-
טֶלֶ-
Greek - at a distance
  • טֶלֶסְקוֹפּtelesqop telescope
super-
סוּפֶּר-
Latin עַל-al- over, above, more than, better
  • סוּפֶּרְנוֹבָהsupernova supernova
  • עַל-טִבְעִיal-tiv'i supernatural
hyper-
הִיפֶּר-‎ (soft i)
Greek - extra specially, over, high
  • הִיפֶּרְאַקְטִיבִיhiperaqtivi hyperactive
tri-
טְרִי-‎ (soft i)
Greek תְּלַתthlat three
  • טְרִיאַתְלוֹןtriatlon triathlon
  • תְּלַת אוֹפַןthlat-Ofan (lit. three-wheel) tricycle
re-
רֶ-
Latin - again, back
  • רֶאוֹרְגָּנִיזַצְיָהreorganizatzya reorganization
  • רֶה-אִרְגּוּןre-irgun reorganization
  • רֶבִיזְיָהrevizya revision
sub-סַאבּ- Latin תַּת-tat under, lower than, less than
  • תַּת-מוּדָעtat-muda subconscious
extra-
אֶקְסְטְרָ-
Latin חוּץ-chutz outside
  • חוּץ-תָּאִיchutz-tai extracellular
  • אֶקְסְטְרָטֶרִיטוֹרְיָאלִיeqstrateritoryali extraterritorial
neo-
נֵאוֹ-
Greek - new
  • נֵאוֹלוֹגִיזְםneologizm neologism
proto- Greek אָב-av
קְדַם-qedam
first, original, father
  • אַבְטִיפּוּסavtipus prototype
socio-
סוֹצְיוֹ-sots'io
French - society, social, sociological
  • סוֹצְיוֹלִינְגְּוִיסְטִיקָהsotzyolingvistiqa sociolinguistics
hydro-
הִידְרוֹ-
Greek - relating to water, or using water
  • הִידְרוֹאֶלֶקְטְרִיhidroeleqtri hydroelectric
hypo-
הִיפּוֹ-
Greek - under or below something, low
  • הִיפּוֹגְלִיקֶמְיָהhipogliqemya hypoglycemia
iso-
אִיזוֹ-‎/אִיסוֹ-izo/iso
Greek - equal
  • אִיזוֹטוֹפּizotop isotope
meta-
מֶטָ-
Greek - after, along with, beyond, among
  • מֶטָבּוֹלִיזְםmetabolizm metabolism
mega-
מֶגָ-
Greek - very large, million
  • מֶגָהֶרְץmegahertz megahertz
micro-
מִיקְרוֹ-
Greek - minute size, 1/1,000,000
  • מִיקְרוֹסְקוֹפּmiqrosqop microscope
trans-
טְרַנְס-
Latin - across
  • טְרַנְסְאַטְלַנְטִיtransatlanti transatlantic
idio-
אִידְיוֹ-
Greek - individual, personal, unique
  • אִידְיוֹמָטִיidyomati idiomatic
pyro-
פִּירוֹ-
Greek - fire
  • פִּירוֹמֶטֶרpirometer pyrometer
  • פִּירוֹמָןpiroman pyromaniac
re- שִׁ-she again
  • שִׁכְתוּבshechtuv rewrite
auto-
אוֹטוֹ-
Greek - 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]