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Hebrew Grammar: Consonantal Roots Posted by on Jul 19, 2016 in Grammar

Like Arabic, Aramaic and Amharic, Hebrew also belongs to the Semitic language family. Semitic languages share similar features, such as grammatical conjugation, word order, and so on.  All of the Semitic languages exhibit a unique pattern of stems called Semitic roots. These roots are sequence of consonants, usually composed of three consonants. Two- and four-consonant Semitic roots exist, but rather rarely. In fact, study implies a change in the Semitic language over the years: originally most of the roots were pairs of consonants, but the language developed to tri-consonantal root.

Meir Park, Tel-Aviv

Meir Park, Tel-Aviv (photo by Ayana)

From these roots, we form actual words by adding or emitting vowels and consonants, following specific patterns. For example: the root כ-ת-ב (k-t-v) is a tri-consonantal root. The first consonant is כ. The second consonant is ת. The third consonant is ב. In Hebrew terminology, the designated model of the roots is פ-ע-ל, from the word פּוֺעַל, which means a verb in Hebrew grammar. This model helps us distinguish between the three consonants: the first consonant called פ’ הַפּוֺעַל. The second – ע’ הַפּוֺעַל. The third – ל’ הַפּוֺעַל.

The infinitive of the root כ-ת-ב is לִכְתּוֺב, which means “to write“. The chart below demonstrates how a typical tri-consonantal root without irregulars, like כ-ת-ב, should be conjugated in the past, present, and future tenses:

Pronouns Past Present Future
I (masculine)

אֲנׅי

כָּתַבְתִּי כּוֺתֵב אֶכְתּוֺב
I (feminine)

אֲנִי

כָּתַבְתִּי כּוֺתֶבֶת אֶכְתּוֺב
We

אֲנַחְנוּ

כָּתַבְנוּ כּוֺתְבִים נִכְתּוֺב
You (masculine)

אַתָּה

כָּתַבְתָּ כּוֺתֵב תִּכְתּוֺב
You (feminine)

אַתְּ

כָּתַבְתְּ כּוֺתֶבֶת תִּכְתְּבִי
You (plural, masculine)

אַתֶּם

כְּתַבְתֶּם כּוֺתְבִים תִּכְתְּבוּ
You (plural, feminine)

אַתֶּן

כְּתַבְתֶּן כּוֺתְבוֺת תִּכְתּוֺבְנָה, תִּכְתְּבוּ
He

הוּא

כָּתַב כּוֺתֵב יִכְתּוֺב
She

הׅיא

כָּתְבָה כּוֺתֶבֶת תִּכְתּוֺב
They (masculine)

הֵם

כָּתְבוּ כּוֺתְבִים יִכְתְּבוּ
They (feminine)

הֵן

כָּתְבוּ כּוֺתְבוֺת תִּכְתּוֺבְנָה, יִכְתְּבוּ

 

As we saw, roots can be conjugated into verbs. But roots can also be conjugated into nouns. The root כ-ת-ב is the morphologic unit from which nouns can be derived. For examples: address = כְּתוֺבֶת, reporter = כַּתָּב, letter = מִכְתָּב.

Notice how the same root is used to form the verb and the noun in the same sentence:

אֲנׅי כּוֺתֵב אֶת הַמִּכְתָּב

A-ni ko-tev et ha-mich-tav

I’m writing the letter

 

הׅיא כָּתְבָה אֶת הַכְּתוֺבֶת

Hi kat-va et ha-keto-vet

She wrote down the address

 

עִבְרִית שָֺפָה קָשָׁה is a well known phrase in Hebrew, and it means “Hebrew is a difficult language“. Grammar must be the most difficult part of it. Don’t worry: practice makes perfect. Persistence is the key: dedicate 10 minutes a day for Hebrew grammar and you will see results in no time. Good luck!

 

 

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Comments:

  1. Rivka:

    Excellent explanation on verbs and nouns roots!

    • Ayana:

      @Rivka Thanks Rivka! I’m glad you liked it 🙂

  2. Rivka:

    Excellente explanation on verbs and nouns roots!