Being a Hebrew teacher for over 4 decades I ran across repeated questions about my beloved language. In this article, I will be giving you the basics of the basics.
- Hebrew does not have: ‘a’, an; ‘am’, ‘are’, ‘is’ or ‘it’.
- Sounds such as: ‘ch’ as in Charlie; ‘g’ – as in George; ‘g’ – as in corsage; ‘th’ as in Theo, do NOT exist in Hebrew. Yet we do have the sound ‘kh’ (ch) as in the composer’s name: Bach. And we do have the sound: ‘tz’ or ‘ts’ as in the word: pizza.
- The accent of the words is usually at the last or second to last syllable.
- Nothing is neuter in Hebrew, i.e., a word is either male or female.
- Nouns, adjectives, and verbs have gender
- There are 4 main tenses. Present, Past, Future, Imperative. I wrote I’ve written, I was writing, I had written = one tense in Hebrew which is the Past Tense. I am writing, I write = One tense in Hebrew which is Present Tense. I will write, I will be writing = one tense in Hebrew which is Future Tense. Write! = Imperative Tense (Command).
- Subjunctive tense does exist in Hebrew (but is not considered a main tense): expressing an action in the mind but not a fact. Expressing wishes, doubts, possibilities; etc. examples: I would buy it if I had the money. If I had a job like this I would have been happier. Had I known I would not have sent her the letter. I doubt he would make that mistake twice. The subjunctive tense is usually taught to more advanced students but you should know that there IS such a tense of expressing one’s thought, wishes, hopes, doubts, possibilities and there are special rules as to how to construct them in Hebrew. Here is an example of how one sentence is expressed differently: a) I doubt he would make that mistake twice (subjunctive) b) He won’t (will not) make that mistake twice (future) c) Do not make that mistake twice (imperative/command). He made that mistake twice (past).
- A sentence will never end with a preposition: Do you know where he’s going to? אתה יודע לאן הוא הולך
- Adjectives go AFTER the noun. Good morning = morning good = בֹּקֶר טוֹב
- Prepositions are combined with Pronouns in one word: To you; at him; after me = לְךָ, בּוֹ, אֲחַרַי etc.
- When asking a question, in English you switch the location of the verb i.e., You are hungry – Are you hungry? She will be here soon – Will she be here soon? The way you ask questions in Hebrew is the same way you construct a statement. The only difference is that when you ask a question you have to go up in pitch when saying the last word. Yes, there IS a question word in Hebrew that you can put in the beginning of any question asked but it is quite formal – הֲאִם.
- These rules apply to ANY language. Remember that one word can have more than just one definition. And one word in your language can have several in another language. Examples: One word in Hebrew = two words in English – לְהַזְמִין = to order AND to invite. Another example: The word ‘here’ in English has three different words in Hebrew: פֹּה; הִנֵּה; הֵנָה.
I hope this article was beneficial to you. If you have any question, feel free to write back.
Stay tuned for an upcoming book: Hebrew, When to Say What