Verbs in Action: The Seven Binyanim Posted by Sean Young on Jan 27, 2014 in Conversation, Grammar, Learning Hebrew
Hebrew vocabulary is quite flexible when you think about it. This is because Hebrew words are based on roots consisting of 3 consonants; you may find some with 2 or 4 consonants, but you won’t find them very often. From these roots you can modify them by changing the vowels, or adding certain prefixes, suffixes or infixes (changes made inside the word). These modifications can increase your vocabulary greatly. I wrote details about this in an article about roots and patterns earlier in this blog.
A request was made to me recently about Hebrew verbs and if I can help explain them a little bit more so they can be understood. I have a series of articles that I’ll be putting up to help explain the different forms of the Hebrew verb, or as they are called – בניינים “binyanim”. There are seven of them, so I’ll be going over them one at a time and keep it as simple to understand as possible.
Don’t let the dictionary fool you
When you look up a word in a language dictionary, the verb forms you see are usually in the infinitive form – the most basic form of the verb you need on which to build. In a Hebrew-English-Hebrew dictionary, you may find something a little different.
For example, I’m going to use the root שׁ-מ-ר. This root gives the concept of guarding, watching, supervising, etc. Looking this up in my dictionary, I see שָׁמַר, which says it translates as “to guard, to supervise”. In reality, שָׁמַר is not a true infinitive; it is the base form of the verb. It is what’s called in the linguistic world the 3rd person masculine singular of the perfect (past) tense. In other words, שָׁמַר actually means “he guarded” or “he has guarded”. This is the form you start with and is called פָּעַל “pa’al”.
In tomorrow’s article we’ll look more at the פָּעַל form and how it’s used. Get out your notebooks! 😀