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Hebrew Family Vocabulary: Part 3 Posted by on Dec 27, 2021 in Vocabulary

Photo by Huskyherz from Pixabay, CCO

Welcome to our third part of the Hebrew Family Vocabulary. In part one we’ve learned all the words for parents. In part two we’ve discussed all the grammar related to the words for siblings. Today we will learn the Hebrew words for grandparents.

The Hebrew word for grandfather is סַבָּא, pronounced as sa-ba.

The Hebrew word for grandmother is סָבְתָא, pronounced as sav-ta.

The two words, originated in Aramaic, share a similarity in pronunciation. Both start with the syllable sa, and end with the sound a. In the middle, both use the same consonant, with the difference of an appearance of a tonal emphasis in the word for grandpa. The emphasized consonant b receives the sound a, and creates the word סַבָּא (sa-ba). The un-emphasized consonant v in the other noun is followed by the consonant t, which gets the sound a, and creates the word סָבְתָא (sav-ta).

The original Hebrew words are very similar in pronunciation as well: סָב (sav) for grandfather and סָבָה (sa-va) for grandmother. They are, however, less common than their Aramaic antonyms, and rarely used in Israel. So rare that if you’ll use them in a conversation, most listeners will probably correct you to say סַבָּא or סָבְתָא. I must admit that I never used the original Hebrew words myself or heard someone use them. I will therefore refer in this post to the common words used in Hebrew for grandparents.

The words סַבָּא and סָבְתָא can refer either to a specific person, someone’s own grandparent, or to any person who has grandchildren and bears the title grandparent. For example:

לְסַבָּא מְעֹורָב יֵשׁ הַשְׁפָּעָה גְּדוֺלָה עַל נֶכְדָּיו.

An involved grandfather has a great impact on his grandchildren.

סַבָּא שֶׁלוֺ הִשְׁפִּיעַ עָלָיו רַבּוֹת.

His grandfather greatly influenced him.

לִהְיוֹת סָבְתָא צְעׅירָה זֶה כֵּיף.

Being a young grandmother is fun.

סָבְתָא שֶׁלּׅי דֵי צְעׅירָה.

My grandmother is quite young.

 

As in English, both Hebrew nouns don’t distinguish between the two sides of the family. The noun סַבָּא can refer to the father’s father, as well as to the mother’s father. The same is true with the Hebrew noun for grandma. The noun סָבְתָא can refer to the father’s mother, as well as to the mother’s mother. The only way to figure this out is by the context, or if the speaker explicitly tells it.

For example:

סָבְתָא שֶׁלּׅי הׅיא אִישָׁה מְאוֹד עַצְמָאִית.

My grandmother is a very independent woman.

סָבְתָא שֶׁלּׅי גִּדְּלָה שְׁלוֹשָׁה יְלָדׅים לְבַדָּה: אֶת אַבָּא שֶׁלּׅי וְאֶת שְׁתֵּי אֲחְיּוֹתָיו.

My grandma raised three children by herself: my father and his two sisters.

סַבָּא, אֵיךְ אַתָּה מַרְגּׅישׁ?

Grandpa, how are you feeling?

סַבָּא, אֵיךְ אׅמָּא הָיְתָה כְּיַלְדָּה?

Grandpa, how was mom as a child?

 

Both nouns decline to plural in accordance to their grammatical gender without exception:

The female plural form is, however, considered a mistake by the Academy of the Hebrew Language. The Academy refers to the word סָבָה as the correct word for grandmother, and to its plural form סָבוֹת (sa-vot) as the correct word for grandmothers. We will use only the modern prevalent terms for grandparents in our examples:

שְׁתֵּי הַסַּבְתּוֺת שֶׁלּׅי גָרוֺת קָרוֹב.

Both my grandmothers live nearby.

סֶקֶר חָדָשׁ מְגַלֶּה שֶׁ-70% מֵהַסָּבִים מְסַיְּעִים בְּגּידוּל הַנְּכָדׅים.

A new survey reveals that 70% of grandfathers help raise their grandchildren.

 

There is no one term in Hebrew for grandfather and grandmother together. There is no Hebrew equivalent for the word grandparent or grandparents. Some use the plural form of grandfather – סָבִים when referring to both, but most mention both the grandpa and the grandma. For example:

סַבָּא וְסָבְתָא שֶׁלּׅי בָּאוּ לְבַקֵּר.

My grandpa and grandma came to visit.

כָּל הַסָּבִים וְהַסַּבְתּוֺת מוּזְמָנׅים לַמְּסׅיבָּה.

All the grandmothers and grandfathers are welcome to the party.

 

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