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The Hebrew preposition עַל (pronounced as al) means “on”, “about”, or “regarding”. It’s a short word – only one syllable – but extremely important when forming grammatically correct sentences. Let’s delve into its many purposes.
1) The most common usage of עַל is as a location word. עַל means “above” or “on top of” when referring to physical location. It is used to describe the presence of a person, an animal, or an object on something. A sentence without verb is simple: X is/was עַל Y, and it means that X is/was in an upper position relative to Y. For example:
הַסֵּפֶר עַל הַמַּדָּף.
The book is on the shelf.
הַשַּׂחְקָנׅים עַל הַבָּמָה.
The actors are on the stage.
הַמַּפְתֵּחַ הָיָה עַל הַשֻּׁלְחָן.
The key was on the table.
A sentence with a verb to describe the action’s location is pretty simple as well, because עַל is always attached to the location, and always precedes it. No matter how long the sentence is, it is quite easy to place the preposition עַל into it.
הַכֶּלֶב רָבַץ עַל הַשָּׁטִיחַ בּׅזְמַן שֶׁנׅיקּׅיתׅי.
The dog laid on the rug while I was cleaning.
שׂׅים לֵב, הַיֶּלֶד הַקָּטָן אוֺהֵב לׅקְפּוֺץ עַל הַמִּיטָּה.
Pay attention, the little kid loves to jump on the bed.
From here it becomes a little more complex. עַל is a biblical word and we inherited it from the bible with its variety meanings. There aren’t distinguish patterns and rules for every usage of the preposition. The main way to identify the exact meaning of עַל in every sentence is to understand the context.
2) עַל means “about”, “concerning” or “regarding”. In this context עַל is usually preceding intangible issues, from old events to future plans. For example:
הַמּוֺרֶה סׅיפֵּר לַתַּלְמׅידׅים עַל תְּקוּפַת הַצֶּנַע.
The teacher told the students about the austerity in Israel.
אֲנׅי כּוֺתֶבֶת עַל מׅילַּת הַקּׅישׁוּר ” עַל “.
I’m writing about the preposition “on”.
הָעִתּוֹנַאי לֹא מַרְבֵּה לְדַבֵּר עַל מְקוֺרוֺתָיו.
The journalist doesn’t talk much about his sources.
עַל can also be attached to concrete objects and still means “about”, “concerning” (and not “above”). It is usually following depicting verbs, like: to write, to tell, to describe, to talk. In sentences from this kind, we understand from the context the meaning of עַל as “about”. For example:
הוּא מְדַבֵּר עַל הַסַּפְסָל שֶׁבַּגִּינָּה הַצִּיבּוּרִית.
He is talking about the bench in the public garden.
הוּא כָּתַב סִיפּוּר עַל אוֹפַנּוֹעַ.
He wrote a story about a motorcycle.
3) עַל also means “because of”, or “due to”, mostly – but not only – when preceding full clauses. For examples:
הַשַּׂר נִידּוֹן לׅשְׁנָתַיּׅים בְּכֶּלֶא עַל חֶלְקוֺ בְּפָּרָשַׁת הַשֹּׁוחַד.
The minister was sentenced to two years in prison for his part in the bribery affair.
אֲנׅי חַיָּב לְךָ עַל כָּל מָה שֶׁעָשׂׅיתָ בִּשְׁבִילׅי.
I owe you for everything you did for me.
אֲנׅי חַיָּב לְךָ עַל כָּךְ.
I owe you for that.
4) When the preposition עַל is attached to a person or a pronoun it means that this person is in charge of something or has some responsibility. The duty in question is imposed on the subject of the sentence. The conjugations of עַל with pronouns are: עָלַי (on me), עָלֶיךָ (on you when addressing a male), עָלַיׅךְ (on you when addressing a female), עֲלֵיכֶם (on you when addressing more than one people).
עַל הַמּוֺרֶה לׅהְיוֺת סַבְלָנִי וְאָדִיב.
The teacher must be patient and courteous.
אַל תּׅדְאֲגׅי, הָאֲרוּחָה עָלַי.
Don’t worry, the meal is on me.
עָלֶיךָ לְהַצּׅיג תְּעוּדָה מְזַהָה.
You must present an ID.
5) As we’ve seen, the preposition עַל connects the verb to its object. In case the object is people, the preposition עַל indicates the verb is directed towards these people and affects them. For example:
הַמְּפַקֵּד צׅיוָּוה עַל חַיָּלָיו לַעֲצוֺר.
The commander ordered his soldiers to stop.
הַמְּנַהֵל צָעַק עַל הַתַּלְמִיד שֶׁשָּׁבַר אֶת הַשֻּׁלְחָן.
The principal shouted at the student who had broken the table.
הׅיא כָּעְסָה עַל חֲבֶרְתָּהּ שֶׁחַשְׂפָה אֶת הַסּוֺד.
She was angry with her friend for revealing the secret.
6) Another meaning of עַל is “overall”, or “included”. This usage is more literary, and not used often in spoken language. In this pattern the preposition עַל precedes a noun: עַל + noun, and indicates that this noun is included. For example:
אֲנׅי אוֺהֶבֶת אֶת כּוּלוֺ, עַל הַטּוֺב וְעַל הָרַע שֶׁבּוֺ.
I love all of him, the good and the bad.
7) As a prefix or a suffix עַל indicates that this noun is supreme, sublime.
לְכָל גִּבּוֹר-עָל יֵשׁ אֶת כּוֺחוֺת-הָעָל הַמְּיוּחָדׅים שֶׁלוֺ.
Every super–hero has its own special super–powers.
הׅתְנַהֲגוּתָם הָעַל-אֱנוֹשִׁית שֶׁל חֲסִידֵי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם הׅצּׅילָה יְהוּדִים רַבּׅים בְּמַהֲלָךְ מִלְחֶמֶת הָעוֹלָם הַשְּׁנִיָּה.
The superhuman behavior of Righteous Among the Nations saved many Jews during World War II.
Feel free to leave me questions in the comments below. Until next time – keep calm and keep practicing!
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