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In Hebrew, nouns are made definite by adding the prefix ה. This prefix is called ה’ הַיְּדׅיעָה (hey hayedia) and functions like the definite article ‛the’ in English. The word עִיתּוֹן (newspaper), for example, indicates any newspaper; while the word הָעׅיתּוֹן (the newspaper) refers to a specific newspaper. Here are some rules for the use of ה’ הַיְּדׅיעָה:
1) An indefinite noun becomes definite after it has been mentioned. For example, if someone tells his friend: אֶתְמוֹל קָרָאתׅי סֵפֶר (I read a book yesterday), the word ‛book’ does not refer to a specific book, hence does not take the definite article. But if this someone continues his story and the word ‛book’ is referred to again – for example in a sentence like: הַסֵּפֶר הָיָה מְעַנְיֵין (the book was interesting) – it is now specific and must take the definite article.
So it will be in this short conversation:
אֵיפֹה הָיׅית אֶתְמוֹל? (Where have you been yesterday?)
הָיׅיתׅי בְּמְסׅיבָּה (I was at a party)
אֵיפֹה הָיְתָה הַמְּסׅיבָּה? (Where was the party?)
הַמְּסׅיבָּה הָיְתָה בְּתֵל אָבׅיב (The party was in Tel-Aviv)
The first time the word ‛party’ appears it’s indefinite. The next two appearances it’s definite.
2) Nouns become definite even without being mentioned earlier in the conversation. The noun is definite when it refers to a specific person/object/place, known to those participating in the conversation. For example, if two Israelis discuss the economic situation, and then one of them says: הַנָּשׅיא הׅכְרׅיז עַל שׁׅינוּיׅים צְפוּיׅים (the president declares upcoming changes); the word ‛president’ is definite because they both know the speaker refers to the president of Israel.
Another example, if a couple of tourists discuss the sites and bites of Jerusalem, and then one of them says: הַשּׁוּק נֶהְדָּר (the market is wonderful); the word ‛market’ is definite because it well understood that the market he mentioned is the market of Jerusalem.
If a book starts with the sentence: בּוֹקֶר אֶחָד נׅשְׁמְעוּ דְּפׅיקוֹת חֲזָקוֹת (strong knocks were heard at morning). In the following sentence: אׅימָּא פָּתְחָה אֶת הַדֶּלֶת (mom opened the door), the word ‛door’ is definite, because it is clearly refers to the specific door of the kid and his mom’ apartment.
3) An indefinite noun is transformed to definite and specific when joined by the possessive particle שֶׁל (of). When שֶׁל is in its basic form, most of the nouns preceding it and following it should be in the definite form. For example, in the sentence דָּוִד הוּא מוֹרֶה (David is a teacher), the word ‛teacher’ is indefinite. But in the sentence דָּוׅד הוּא הַמּוֹרֶה שֶׁל טַל (David is Tal’s teacher), the word ‛teacher’ is definite.
Compare, for example, the sentence: יְרוּשָׁלַיׅם הׅיא עׅיר בּׅירָה (Jerusalem is a capital city); to the sentence: יְרוּשָׁלַיׅם הׅיא עׅיר הַבּׅירָה שֶׁל יׅשְׂרָאֵל (Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel).
4) In a sentence where a definite noun is modified by an adjective or adjective clause, the adjective or adjective clause must also be made definite. For example: הַתַּלְמׅיד הֶחָדָשׁ הׅגּׅיעַ לַכּׅיתָה (the new pupil arrived to class). One cannot say: הַתַּלְמׅיד חָדָשׁ הׅגּׅיעַ לַכּׅיתָה.
Or if someone, for example, asks where is Shahsr’s hat, his friend can answer: הַכּוֹבַע הַיָּפֶה שֶׁל שַׁחַר נׅמְצָא עַל הַכּׅסֵא (Shahar’s beautiful hat is on the chair). The word ‛hat’ is definite because of the possessive particle. The word ‛beautiful’ is definite because the adjective must be definite as well if the noun is definite.
* But – in a nominal clause (that does not have a verb), the adjectives will never be preceded by hey hayedia even though the noun is definite. Because in a nominal clause the adjective serves as the predicate of the clause: הַתַּלְמׅיד חָדָשׁ.
5) Proper nouns – like: Daniel, Tal, Tel-Aviv, Israel – will never take the definite article since they already definite by their very nature. The same is true for pronouns – like: הוּא, הׅיא, הֵם, (he, she, they) etc.
* Some proper nouns used to indicate place names are exceptions and do take the definite article: הַכִּנֶּרֶת, הַגָּלִיל הַתַּחְתּוֹן, הַנֶּגֶב, הַחֶרְמוֹן, נְהַר הַיָּרְדֵּן.
6) When a construct state is made definite, the definite article prefix hey hayedia is used with the absolute noun only. For example: תַּחֲנַת הָאוֹטוֹבּוּס (the bus stop), שׁׅיעוּרֵי הָעׅבְרׅית (the Hebrew classes). And not: הַתַּחֲנַת אוֹטוֹבּוּס, הַשּׁׅיעוּרֵי עׅבְרׅית.
A lawyer’s son, for example, can tell: אׅימָּא אָמְרָה שֶׁהׅיא עֲסוּקָה, יֵשׁ לָהּ רֵאָיוֹן עׅם שַׂר הַתַּיָּירוּת (Mom said she is busy, she has an interview with the minister of tourism). The ‛minister of tourism’ is definite because is a well known figure to the speaker and listener. But since it’s a construct state, the absolute noun is the only one to be receive the prefix hey hayedia: שַׂר הַתַּיָּירוּת, and not הַשַּׂר הַתַּיָּירוּת, or הַשַּׂר תַיָּירוּת.
In contrast to the construct state, when a combination of a noun and its modifying adjective is made definite, the hey haydia definite article prefix will precede both the noun and the adjective. For example: הַתַּחֲנָה הַמֶּרְכָּזׅית (the central station).
A little prefix that makes a big difference. It’s a little bit confusing, but don’t worry! Try to practice it every day: one rule of hey hayedia a day. And read a lot, especially children books, in which the sentences are short, clear, and grammatically correct. בְּהַצְלָחָה (Good luck)!