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In this article, we’re going to look at a part of Hebrew grammar that beginning students often want to know. There’s a particle in Hebrew (אֵת) that isn’t translated into English. This particle indicates that a ‘direct object’ is ahead in that sentence. A direct object answers the ‘what’ or ‘whom’ in a sentence (for our readers who are familiar with linguistic terms, this is also known as the accusative case):
What are you writing? I’m writing a letter.
Whom do you see? I see a waiter.
In Hebrew direct objects can be either indefinite (a waiter, a letter) or definite (the waiter). In this article we are focusing on the definite direct object. A definite direct object is always preceded by the particle אֵת (pronounced like the ‘et’ part of bet).
I see the waiter – אני רוֹאֶה אֵת המֶלְצַר
I see the book – אני רוֹאֶה אֵת הסֵפֶר
Since proper nouns are by nature definite, they too are preceded by אֵת
I see Moshe אני רוֹאֶה אֵת מֹשֶׁה
As I mentioned above, Hebrew also has an indefinite direct object. To talk about that, you simply omit אֵת.
I see a waiter – אני רוֹאֶה מֶלְצַר
I see a book – אני רוֹאֶה סֵפֶר
Think of the indefinite article “a” in English: this word has no meaning by itself, it’s simply an indefinite marker. As there is no indefinite articles in Hebrew, this word is simply ignored while translating from English to Hebrew.
Which of these sentences are definite?