Lesson 8 – Adjectives
This lesson is divided into two sections:
1. The forms that adjectives take (20.1-20.3)
2. The functions that adjectives have (21 and 22). In this case, there are two functions:
a. Adjectives can directly describe nouns (Attributive Use – 21)
b. Adjectives can describe nouns by completing simple sentences (Predicative
Use – 22)
So, let's take a look how adjectives "look"....the forms that they take...
20. Adjectives: Gender and Number
The list of adjectives that Kelley provides in 20.1 is basically the same as your vocabulary
list. Go ahead and pull your vocabulary cards for this list and look through them a few times and
become familiar with them. You'll see them throughout this chapter.
If you remember from the last chapter on "Nouns" there are basically five different
"numbers" for nouns in Hebrew:
1. Masculine Singular (no suffix) 2. Masculine Plural (suffix: ~y i)
3. Feminine Singular (suffix: h ') 4. Feminine Plural (suffix: tA)
[Dual Singular – No such category logically; 5. Dual (suffix: ~yI ;ä)
these are mostly feminine]
These "number suffixes" will mostly be present on the ending of adjectives as well. For the
forms of adjectives, however, you will only have to worry about the first four; adjectives on dual
nouns will simply take (usually feminine) plural suffixes.
Okeydokey....here the basic rule of adjectives:
Adjectives will always agree with the gender and number of the noun(s) that they modify.
A good word that you should know (and for some reason one that often "sticks" in people's heads
easily) is the Hebrew word for "horse": sWs. Go ahead and pull the card for this word (#533)
and put it in your ever-growing pile. The word sWs is helpful because it appears in all genders
and numbers (except the dual, since horses don't naturally come in pairs) and serves as a good
"paradigm word" since it doesn't have any internal changes throughout the different forms. So,
the four basic noun forms for this word would be:
1. Masculine Singular: sWs ("a horse") 2. Masculine Plural ~ysiWs ("horses")
3. Feminine Singular: hs'Ws ("a mare") 4. Feminine Plural: tAsWs ("mares")
For this word, if we were to add a modifying adjective (bAj) to the words, we would simply
slap the appropriate suffix in each case onto the end of each adjectives as well as each noun.
Note that adjectives usually follow the nouns they directly modify, unlike in English:
1. Masc. Sing.: bAj sWs ("a good horse") 2. Masc. Pl.: ~ybiAj ~ysiWs ("good
3. Fem. Sing.: hb'Aj hs'Ws ("a good mare") 4. Fem. Pl.: tAbAj tAsWs ("good
This rule hold even in cases that break other rules. For example, the word ~ae is obviously
feminine but doesn't have the usual h ' ending. If we want to say "a good mother" this fact is
unimportant; we still slap on the feminine singular suffix onto the end of the adjective, even if
the noun doesn't have it: hb'Aj ~ae. This explains why certain vocabulary words are listed
as "feminine" (f.): they consistently appear with feminine forms of their modifying adjectives.
For example, you know that #r,a, is feminine. Consistently in Deuteronomy this noun is
accompanied by the adjective in the form: hb'Aj #r,a,. This is the only indication that we
have that #r,a, is a feminine noun.
Unfortunately, most adjectives are not as simple as bAj ....just like, as you will see, most
nouns are not as simple as sWs. What both of these words have in common is the singular
vowel sign that happens to have a matres lectionis...a vav in both cases. This means that the
vowel sign usually doesn't change, no matter what else happens to the word. (Remember the
reason for the furtive patah is that gutterals cannot change vowel signs that have matres
lectionis.) Most vowel signs (i.e., sounds) are not unchangable; they will be affected when we
put endings onto the noun or adjective. Let's talk a little about how vowels change in nouns and
adjectives. In order to do this, let's step back and take a look at the language in general.
Remember on the first day of class, I talked a little about how Hebrew and Semitic languages
in general are organized according to a pattern of "Roots". Roots are the three consonant bases
upon which almost all Hebrew words are formed. Most of the time these roots are, almost, self-
evident. The root (the sign for "root" is √) of the word ~d"a' is obviously √~da. For the
word rv,a] , the root is √rva.
Some of the words you are memorizing in these initial chapters are very small and so the
three-consonant root is not as evident, which is why you will want to just know what these words
are. You don't want to have to start "guessing" right away what the third consonant is in order to
look up the word. It is always better to know than to look up. Don't fool yourself into not
spending time memorizing vocabulary because "I can always look it up later." People who
say that NEVER look things up later because they have to look everything up. They stop
reading Hebrew. OK...enough sermonizing.
You already know that there are certain things we can stick onto the beginning of a root:
definite article, conjunction, inseparable preposition, etc. And now you know that there are
things we can stick onto the end of a root: feminine singular and the two plural endings. It is
important that you become very, very familiar with these prefixes and suffixes so that, when you
see them on the page, you can mentally take them both off and be able to see what the root is.
Warning: there will be other things we put onto the end of nouns....so please KNOW the gender
and plural suffixes.
OK. Let's talk about adjectives...
There are two different types of adjectives that you know: monosyllabic (one syllable,
consisting of two consonants with a vowel in the middle) and bisyllabic (two syllables,
consisting of three consonants with two vowels interspaced between them).
Principles of Monosyllabic adjectives (and, very often, nouns):
Most of the time when you see a monosyllabic word, the root is a "geminate" (JEM-in-ate).
This word comes from the same Latin root as our word "geminii": the twins. The missing
consonant in many monosyllabic words is another example of the second consonant. For
example, the root of the adjective br; is √bbr. The word yx; = √yyx. The word [r; =
√[[r. Here's the principle: When there are suffixes on monosyllabic adjectives, very often the
third consonant of the root will pop back in ... usually as a dagesh.
In English, this occurs in words like "run" = "running"; "sip" = "sipping". Of course, in
Hebrew immediately doubled letters like this are represented with a doubling-dagesh, a "dagesh
This explains Kelley's examples under (b) on page 44.
When the second consonant is a gutteral...what do you think happens? Remember the rules
of gutterals? They can't take dagesh forte. And, I can tell you, if the consonant is a h or a x,
there will be no lengthening of the preceding vowel. If the consonant is a a, [, or r, then the
preceding short vowel will be made into a long vowel. Look at Kelley's examples under (c) on
page 44. Notice THEY ARE IDENTICAL TO (b); THEY ARE NOT EXCEPTIONS! As long
as you know the wacky ways of gutterals, you won't have to know a lot of other rules.
Principles of Bisyllabic adjectives (and, very often, nouns):
Words in Hebrew are like little balance scales. If you load things onto one end of the words,
things on the other end will shorten up. This means that when suffixes appear on the end of
words, the vowel sound (and, therefore, vowel sign) at the beginning of the word will shorten
up...as much as possible. Practically, this means that when suffixes appear on the end of words,
the initial vowel sign will very, very often be a sheva. This explains Kelley's examples at the top
of page 45.
When the initial consonant of a bisyllabic adjective (or noun) is a gutteral....what do you
think happens? Of course!! The gutteral cannot take a simple, vocal sheva and so must take a
composite sheva....usually a hatef-patah ( ]). This explains Kelley's examples under (ii) on the
same page. These are not separate examples!!! They are just making a little allowance for the
gutterals. These are not exceptions!! I can tell you, furthermore, that if the initial gutteral of a
word is a, and the word has a suffix, the composite sheva will often be a hatef-segol ( / ). But
you already know this, because you just know the word ~yhiOla/.
Kelley's examples under (b) and (c) are rather rare. Under (c) it would be good for you to
notice that a final h will often disappear when suffixes are added. We've seen this before when
we looked at adding the feminine plural ending (top of page 39). But if you don't remember it
here, we'll see ample examples of this little principle in many other places in the language.
OK...let's talk about how these things are used....
We've already covered the usual way these adjectives occur. They appear after the nouns
that they modify and agree in number and gender. In this position they also agree in
definiteness....which means if the noun is definite, the adjective will have the definite article. So,
going back to our horse farm, we can now talk...not just about horses in general...but specific,
definite horses and mares:
1. Masc. Sing.: bAJh; sWSh; ("the good horse")
2. Masc. Pl.: ~ybiAJh; ~ysiWSh; ("the good horses")
3. Fem. Sing.: hb'AJh; hs'WSh; ("the good mare")
4. Fem. Pl.: tAbAJh; tAsWSh; (" the good mares")
And, because we know the principles of how these adjectives (and nouns) appear, we can also
easily read other combinations:
1. Masc. Sing.: rv'Y"h; rb'D'h; ("the right word")
2. Masc. Pl.: ~yrIv'Y>h; ~yrIb'D.h; ("the right words")
3. Fem. Sing.: hv'Q'h; hn"V'h; ("the difficult year")
4. Fem. Pl.: tAvQ'h; tAnV'h; ("the difficult years")
This is the basic way that adjectives are used.
Another way that adjectives are used is that they can makes small sentences; they can stand
as a predicate to a sentence. I can say "the smart girl"—which isn't a sentence. But I can also
say "The girl is smart"—which is a sentence. In Hebrew small sentences like this will very often
occur without any explicit verb. The way these sentences appear is that the noun (very often
definite) and the adjective (always indefinite) will not agree in definiteness. In these cases, the
adjective will very often be the first element in a sentence (as opposed to occurring after the
noun in the attributive usage above). See Kelley's examples on page 46 and 47. Don't get hung
up on things you don't recognize or know in Kelley's examples. Just focus on the way that the
adjectives appear and are used.