Hebrew Language Blog

Hebrew Vehicles Vocabulary: Part 1 Posted by on Nov 9, 2020 in Uncategorized

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There are three Hebrew words for vehicle: רֶכֶב, כְּלִי רֶכֶב, כְּלִי תַּחְבּוּרָה. רֶכֶב is the most common among them. Although it means vehicle, in spoken language it usually refers to a car. For example:

אֵיפֹה הֶחֱנֵיתָ אֶת הָרֶכֶב?

Where did you park the vehicle?

קָנׅינוּ לָהּ רֶכֶב חָדָשׁ.

We bought her a new vehicle.

When the modern car was invented at the end of the 19th century, it received the name automobile in many languages. Hebrew journals in Europe adapted the new word, writing it as אוֹטוֹמוֹבִּיל. One editor, though, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, refused to use a foreign word. In his newspaper, he named the new wheeled motor vehicle עֲגָלָה מְכוֹנִית. The phrase is a combination of the Hebrew word for cart (עֲגָלָה) with a new conjugation of the Hebrew word for machine (מְכוֹנָה) as an adjective. About a decade later, after Ben-Yehuda’s son assumed the post of editor, the phrase was shortened to מְכוֹנִית. In the newspaper he edited there were no עֲגָלָה מְכוֹנִית anymore, but only מְכוֹנִית.

There were very few cars in Israel at that time. People called them אוֹטוֹמוֹבִּיל, sometimes shortened it to אוֹטוֹ; some people called it מְכוֹנִית. Eventually, the use of the word מְכוֹנִית spread, and it overcame the use of the foreign word אוֹטוֹמוֹבִּיל. The shortening of the word automobile, though, is still very popular. Popular Hebrew nurseries prefer the word אוֹטוֹ, and it’s very common among children. The song הָאוֺטוֺ שֶׁלָּנוּ, for example, was written in the 1940s, about a green truck that collected agricultural products from kibbutzim in north of Israel, transporting them to the dairy in Haifa. Listen to the short catchy song every toddler in Israel know (Hebrew subtitles on screen):

Israelis, nowadays, use two words to describe car: מְכוֹנִית and אוֹטוֹ. Adults use both words when referring a car. Formal broadcasts favor the word מְכוֹנִית.

Mashina is one of Israel’s most influential rock band. In one of their hits, מְכוֹנִית, they sing: אֲנׅי רוֺצֶה לׅקְנוֺת מְכוֺנׅית (I want to buy a car), and drive out of Tel-Aviv, away from city traffic lights and trash in the streets:

The suffix ִית has many usages. One of them was formed according to the innovation of the word מְכוֹנִית. It became a suffix for vehicles. For example:

Truck = מַשָּׂאִית

Fire truck = כַּבָּאִית

Cab = מוֹנִית

Tanker = מְכָלִית

Pickup truck = מִטְעָנִית

Shuttle = הֶסֵּעִית

Sailboat = מִפְרָשִׂית

Spaceship = חֲלָלִית

Not all of the Hebrew names for vehicles end with this suffix. אוֹפַנּוֹעַ (motorbike) and אוֹפַנַּיִם (bicycle), for example, end differently. These two words are both compound words. In linguistics, compounding occurs when two or more words are joined to make a longer word.

The Hebrew word for motorbike was created by compounding the old word for wheel (אוֹפַן) with the flowery word for movement (נוֹעַ). The two short words in this case maintain their original vowel form, and the word אוֹפַנּוֹעַ is pronounced as o-fa-nu-a. Many native speakers, though, pronounce it improperly, and omit the a sound in the second syllable.

The Hebrew word for bicycle, a pedal-driven vehicle of two wheels, is the dual plural form of the old word for wheels. One wheel is אוֹפַן; many wheels are אוֹפַנִּים; two wheels are אוֹפַנַּיִם (pronounced as o-fa-na-im). The word אוֹפַנַּיִם also causes native speakers confusion, referring the word gender. Although it is obvious the singular form is masculine due to its ending with a consonant, still many refer the plural form as feminine. Remember: when talking about אוֹפַנַּיִם, all the adjectives and verbs should be conjugated as masculine. For example:

קָנׅיתׅי אוֹפַנַּיִם חֲדָשׁׅים.

I bought a new bicycle.      

To practice the new vocabulary, listen to the full reading out aloud of the Hebrew children’s book Mom and Dad’s Car:


Related post:

The Many Drivers of Israel’s Streets

Keep Calm and Drive Safely!

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