Hebrew Language Blog

3 Hebrew Mistakes that Even Native Speakers Make: Part 2 Posted by on Dec 8, 2020 in Grammar

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Hebrew is an old language with a long history and lots of rules and exceptions. In Hebrew, for example, every word has a gender. Adjectives are conjugated according to this gender, in addition to conjugation according to the noun in its singular or plural form. Verbs are conjugated according to the pronoun, gender, tense, passive or active. In Hebrew, even letters act differently, when formative letters and guttural letters change their vowelization, or the vowelization of letters in their proximity. No wonder even native speakers slip their tongue every now and then. Below are 3 more common mistakes even native speakers make (click here for part 1).

גֶּרֶב: is sock masculine or feminine?

Most of the masculine Hebrew nouns end with a consonant, as we’ve already learned. So is the noun גֶּרֶב, meaning sock. Although the word obeys the gender rules, it still stirs confusion. For some reason, many native Hebrew speakers address the noun as feminine, attributing feminine verbs and adjectives to גֶּרֶב. Read the dialogue and notice the masculine adjectives and verbs referring to the word גֶּרֶב:

אֵיפֹה הַגֶּרֶב הָאֲדוּם?

Where is the red sock?

הַגֶּרֶב נָפַל ואָבַד.

The sock fell and got lost.

לֹא נוֹרָא, קָנׅיתׅי גַּרְבַּיִם חֲדָשִׁים.

Never mind, I bought new socks.


Making a construct state definite

In Hebrew linguistics, a construct state is a phrase of two nouns that connect to each other. Without using an adjective, construct state is a way to describe a noun and characterize it. For example: the president’s house, the evening news, a school yard, an autumn smell, Shabbat candles, etc. When a construct state is made definite, the definite article prefix hey hayedia is used with the absolute noun only, which is the second noun in the phrase, the noun that is unpossessed. For example:

חָדְשִׁי הַחֹרֶף (The winter months)

סְגָן הָנָּשִׂיא (The vice president)

תַּחֲנַת הָאוֹטוֹבּוּס (The bus stop)

הוֺרֵי הָתַּלְמִיד (The student’s parents)

Hebrew speakers are probably so used to the appearance of the definite article prefix hey hayedia before the noun that it makes definite – for example: הָיֶּלֶד (the kid), הָשֻּׁלְחָן (the table). So when they come to specify a construct state, a structure they see as one unit, as definite, they add the prefix to the first noun in the phrase. It is a very common mistake. For some it even sounds natural to say: הארגז חול נמצא שם (the sand box is over there, while the correct sentence is: אַרְגַּז הַחוֹל נִמְצָא שָׁם); or to say מסיבת היום הולדת היתה נהדרת (the birthday party was great, while the correct sentence is: מְסִבַּת יוֹם הַהֻלֶּדֶת הָיְתָה נֶהֱדֶרֶת).


Spelling of the conjunction letter vav

ו (vav), the sixth letter in the Hebrew aleph-bet, serves as a grammatical conjunction meaning and. It connects between words and parts of a sentence. The usual vowelization of the vav conjunctive is the Hebrew vowel sign Shva. This indicates the phoneme /ə/. Vav conjunctive with Shva is pronounced as ve. But this rule, though, has many exceptions. Vav conjunctive is added to words and affected by their spelling. If vav, for example, is added to a word that already begins with a letter dotted with Shva, vav will receive a different sign.

When vav is added to a word that begins with a labial consonant, for another example, vav will also be dotted differently. The Hebrew labial consonants are formed with the letters ב, ו, מ, פ. Before any word that begins with one of these letters, the vav conjunctive will receive the vowel sign Shuruk that represent the sign [u], and will be pronounced as wu. For example:

שָׁלוֹם וּבְרָכָה (Hello and welcome)

בָּנׅים וּבָנוֹת (Boys and girls)

יְרָקוֹת וּפֵרוֹת Vegetables and fruits))

The vav conjunctive vowelization has many exceptions, and native speakers often fail to remember them all. Many speakers tend to forget to change the vav pronunciation, especially before the labial consonant, and make mistakes like גיטרה וְפּסנתר (guitar and piano, instead of גִּיטָרָה וּפְסַנְתֵּר), עגבניה וְמלפפון (tomato and cucumber, instead of עַגְבָנִיָּה וּמְלָפְפוֹן).

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  1. Gary:

    I have been receiving your postings for a couple of years now and always find something new and interesting to help improve my Ivrit. Thank you.
    I just wish to point out an error in the introductory section of today’s blog. It says “Adjectives are conjugated according to this gender, in addition to conjugation according to the noun in its singular or plural form. ” In English, we use the verb “to conjugate” for verbs only; whereas, for nouns, pronouns, articles and adjectives, the correct verb is “to decline.” This is an innocent mistake that I’ve noticed a few Ivrit teachers make, I assume because the verb “להטות” is used for both groups. Thanks for reading.

    • Ayana:

      @Gary Thank you so much for your comment! I’m always glad to hear from my readers, and it really makes me happy to know someone found my sharing helpful. And I always wish to improve my English 🙂 Thank you for reaching out and helping me with my language learning.

  2. Jonathan Katz:

    These are indeed the rules that are followed by TV broadcasters, but I think if you spoke to an Israeli in the street and followed these rules they would either laugh or find it pretentious (especially if you said something like “וּפְסַנְתֵּר”). This is just not the way Israelis speak.

  3. Yakov Levey:

    As a Rosh Kollel here told me, the Israelis have put together a language that in many ways resembles Hebrew.