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Did you know that Hebrew and Arabic have a unique feature when it comes to building vocabulary? They use roots and patterns (called מִשְׁקָלִים – meesh-ka-leem) to build more words. Most often, a root consists of three consonant letters. Sometimes there are four, rarely two.
Let’s take an example. I’m going to take a common root, כ.ת.ב, which gives a basic concept of writing. Combine it with different patterns (prefixes, suffixes, or changes in vowels), and you get words like כְּתִיבָה -“writing”, כְּתִיב -“spelling”, כָּתַב – “to write / compose”, הִכְתִּיב – “to dictate (a letter)”, כַּתָּב – “reporter”, etc. Look closely and you’ll see the root letters are there, always in the same order, but the vowels change and maybe a prefix or suffix is added on to give the root new meaning.
As you can imagine, this is a very powerful tool in learning Hebrew. Patterns by themselves usually carry some meaning too; knowledge of roots and patterns can give you a hint to understanding a word, even if you’ve never read it before.
Patterns are what turns the root into a living word. The root gives a general meaning of something, whereas the pattern turns that abstract idea into a well-defined word.
Let’s take an example with the root ל.מ.ד. This root has the concept, or idea, of learning. Then we take the pattern of vowels here: וֹ.ֵ, which will give the root a more definite meaning of who is learning. In this case, we’ll take the root and combine it with the pattern to make the word לוֹמֵד – lo-med, meaning “I am learning”. Can you see how it all fits in together? The original root is still there, but now the vowel pattern gives it a whole new meaning. This word, לוֹמֵד, can also mean, “He is learning” and “You (masc) are learning”. Take a look at how this works in a sentence:
אני לוֹמֵד עִבְרִית – I am learning Hebrew
אתה לוֹמֵד עִבְרִית – You are learning Hebrew
דוד לוֹמֵד עִבְרִית – David is learning Hebrew
Isn’t that cool? I wish English had this concept of roots and patterns. It would be so much easier. Now, the pattern we just saw (וֹ.ֵ) is not going to work if you’re a woman, or if you’ll be talking about a woman doing something. There’s a different vowel pattern for that. and it is: וֹ.ֶ.ֶ.ת. So the examples we used will be like this for a woman:
אני לוֹמֶדֶת עִבְרִית – I am learning Hebrew
את לוֹמֶדֶת עִבְרִית – You are learning Hebrew
רָחֵל לוֹמֶדֶת עִבְרִית – Rachel is learning Hebrew
Let’s see how well we understand by constructing a few words. Using the patterns shown, take the roots and make them into Hebrew words.
כ.ת.ב – write
ח.שׁ.ב – think
ע.ב.ד – work
ה.ל.כ – go, walk
Try it – Translate the following sentences into Hebrew:
1. I am writing in Hebrew (in Hebrew = בּעִבְרִית – beh-eev-reet)
2. He is working
3. Rachel is walking to the store (to the store = לְחֲנוּת – l’-kha-noot)
4. You are thinking (to a woman)
5. You are writing (to a man)
6. I am going
When it comes to these patterns with verbs, there are seven types of patterns, depending on the root and the letters making up the root. This one we learned today is the first one (also known as “Group 1”). I’ll be posting more information about these different patterns – one at a time – so you can be a little more comfortable with Hebrew verbs.
Here’s a listing of prefixes and suffixes used to change the meanings of words in Hebrew.
ו – meaning “and” or “but”. וְהוּא – veh-hoo (and he)
בּ – meaning in, on, with or by: בְּרֵאשִׁית – In the beginning, וּבַיוֹם – oo-vah-yom (and on the day: note that the ve (on) combines with the ha (the) to become va (on the))
ה – meaning “the”: הָעוֹלָם – ha-o-lam (the universe), וּבַיוֹם – oo-va-yom (and on the day)
כ – meaning “like” or “as”: וּמִי כְּעַמְךָ? – oo-mee k‘-ahm-eh khah? (and who is like your nation?)
ל – meaning “to” or “for”: לַאָרֶץ – lah ‘ah-rets (to the land)
מ – meaning “from”: מִמִּצְרַיִם – mee-meets-rah-yeem (from Egypt)
There are many suffixes, but for now we’ll look at a few so as not to discourage you. We’ll look at more in a future post.
ִים – –eem: indicator of a masculine plural noun: יָמִים – yah-meem (days)
וֹת – –ot: indicator of a feminine plural noun: מִצְווֹת meets-vot (commandments)
ךָ – –kha: your (masculine): מַה שְׁלוֹמְךָ? – mah shlom-kha? (How is your welfare?)
ֵךְ – –ekh: your (feminine): מַה שְׁלוֹמֵךְ? – mah shlom-ekh? (How is your welfare?)
נוּ – –noo: we (both fem and masc): כָּתַבְנוּ – kah-tahv-noo (we wrote)