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Hebrew Words That Don’t Have a Direct Translation in English: Part 2 Posted by on Sep 27, 2021 in Vocabulary

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In part 1 of this post we discussed three daily words in Hebrew with no direct translation in English. Today we’ll add one more word for the list: חֲבָל.

The Hebrew word חֲבָל (pronounced as ha-val) is a useful word to express a variety of emotions. It’s a short word that utters sorrow, disappointment, pity, regret, disagreement, and controversy over actions or conditions. It can be used in a sentence to indicate the speaker’s feelings about a specific event or situation. For example:

חֲבָל שֶׁלֺּא בָּאתָ אִיתָּנוּ לַיָּם, הָיָה מַמָּשׁ כֵּיף.

Too bad you didn’t come with us to the sea, it was really fun.

חֲבָל שֶׁהֵם לֺא מַסְכִּימִים לְהִתְאָחֵד.

It’s a pity that they don’t agree to unite.

הָיִיתִי צָרִיךְ לְהַקְשִׁיב לְךָ, חֲבָל שֶׁהִתְנָהַגְתִּי בּׅפְּזִיזוּת.

I should have listened to you, it’s a shame I behaved so recklessly.

חֲבָל שֶׁאֵין מַנְהִיג אֲמִתִּי בַּמִּפְלָגָה הַזֺּאת.

It is unfortunate there’s no real leader in this party.

חֲבָל שֶׁשִּׁיקַּרְתָּ לוֺ, מַגִּיעַ לוֺ לָדַעַת אֶת הָאֱמֶת.

It’s a pity that you lied to him, he deserves to know the truth.

חֲבָל שֶׁבִּזְבַּזְנוּ אֶת הַכֶּסֶף שֶׁלָּנוּ עַל זֶה.

It’s a shame we spent our money on this.

חֲבָל שֶׁהָלַכְתִּי לַמְּסִיבָּה, יוֺתֵר טוֺב אׅם הָיִיתִי נִשְׁאַר אִיתְּךָ.

Too bad I went to the party, it would have been better if I had stayed with you.

 

In the sentences above, חֲבָל is always followed by the prefix שֶׁ (pronounced as she). שֶׁ means that, which and it indicates what the word חֲבָל is refers to. It is not the only particle that can appear after חֲבָל. Another particle that can follow חֲבָל and indicate that reason the speaker feel so is עַל (pronounced as al, and means about, regarding). For example:

חֲבָל עַל הַמַּאֲמָץ שָׁלָךְ, תַּשְׁאִיר לׅי אֶת זֶה.

It doesn’t worth your effort, leave it to me.

חֲבָל עַל רׅיב מְיוּתָּר, הַלְוַאי שֶׁהָיִיתֶם מְדַבְּרִים וּמַגִּיעִים לְהַסְכָּמָה.

An unnecessary quarrel it’s a pity, I wish you would talk and come to an agreement.

There’s a short famous Hebrew nursery rhyme about an apple in the orchard that the wind blew down. Every little child in Israel knows the rhyme:

אוֹי כַּמָּה חֲבָל עַל תַּפּוּחַ שֶׁנָּפַל

Woe, what a shame, over an apple that fell

 

The word חֲבָל can also be used as itself, within a clear context, when the thing the speaker refers to is well understood. For example, when the speaker’s shirt got stained. The speaker doesn’t need to explain what he is referring to, and the word חֲבָל expresses his sorrow over it:

חֲבָל, זוֺ חֻלְצָה חֲדָשָׁה.

Bummer, it’s a new shirt.

Or, for another example, when the remote control battery is dead. The speaker holds the remote and utters:

אוף, חֲבָל.

Oh, damn.

  

חֲבָל can also be used as a response. When someone tells you something and you wish to express your sorrow about it. For example:

הׅיא לֺא מוּכָנָהּ לְהַגִּישׁ מָעֳמָדוּת לַעֲבוֹדָה הַזּוֺ.

חֲבָל, אֲנִי חוֹשֵׁב שֶׁהׅיא מַתְאִימָה לַתַּפְקִיד.

גַּם אֲנִי, אֲבָל הׅיא מְסָרֶבֶת.

מַמָּשׁ חֲבָל.

She is not willing to apply for this job.

Too bad, I think she is suitable for the position.

I think so, too, but she refuses.

It’s a real shame.

When you wish to emphasize your feelings you can add one of the adverbs: מַמָּשׁ ; בֶּאֱמֶת, מְאוֹד, or כָּל כָּךְ, before the word חֲבָל.

 

Try to use חֲבָל in your daily conversations. Short words with many uses are maybe hard to define, but pretty handy when describing a variety of feelings and situations. If you have any question leave me a comment below.

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