Anatomy of Hebrew Words
By Jeff A. Benner

Root System of Hebrew Words
Hebrew Nouns
Hebrew Verbs
Pronunciation of Hebrew Words

Root System of Hebrew Words

Hebrew words are derived out of the many Hebrew root words (parent, child and adopted roots), as demonstrated in the graphic below.

The parent root L-K and its derivatives
(Note: The letter kaph is written as ך when at the end of a word and as כ everywhere else)

Derived from the parent root לך (LK) are two child roots, הלך (HLK) and לאך (LAK), and one adopted root, מלך (MLK). The child הלך is formed by adding the letter ה (H) to the beginning of the parent, the child לאך by adding the letter א (A) in the middle and the adopted by adding the letter מ (M) to the beginning.

Hebrew roots can be used as a verb or a noun. In English, a verb is a word of "action" and a noun is a "person, place or thing," something void of action. In Hebrew, a verb is a word for the "action" of "a persona, place or thing," and a noun is a word for "a person, place or thing" in "action." As an example, the root מלך (MLK) can mean "the rule of the king" as a verb, or "the king who rules" as a noun.

Other words are derived out of the child and parent roots by adding specific letters to the roots. As an example, the noun מלכה (MLKH) is formed by adding the letter ה (H) to the end of the root and means "the female king who rules" or "queen," and the noun מלכות (MLKUT) is formed by adding the letters ות (UT) to the end of the root and means "the region ruled by the king" or "kingdom."

Once we understand how to properly interpret and define Hebrew words based on their relationships to their roots and the culture in which the words were used, we can then properly interpret Biblical passages from a Hebraic perspective.

And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:6)

Our normal understanding of the word "keep" within this verse is to "obey," however this is not the case. The Hebrew verb used here is שמר (shamar), which literally means "to guard" or "to protect."

They will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. (Deuteronomy 31:20)

Similarly, our normal understanding of "break" within this verse is to "disobey," but again this is not the case. The Hebrew verb here is פרר (parar) and means "to trample underfoot."

The "keeping" or "breaking" of the commandments of God is not about obedience and disobedience; it is about one's attitude toward them. Will we guard and protect them as we would our family, or will we throw them on the ground and trample them as we would garbage?

Hebrew Nouns

The most common noun form is the use of the two or three letter root. The parent root אב (AB) is a noun and means "father." The child root אור (A.W.R), can be a verb meaning to "enlighten," but is also used as a noun meaning "light." The adopted root פתח (P.T.Hh), can be a verb meaning to "open," but is also used as a noun meaning a "door" (pronounced pe'tahh).

Noun Derivatives

Additional nouns are formed out of the root by adding specific letters in specific places within the root. The noun derivative מפתח (maph'tach), meaning a key, is formed by adding the letter מ (m) to the front of the root פתח (P.T.Hh). The most common noun derivatives are formed by placing a מ (m) or ת (t) in front of the root or by placing a י (i) or ו (o or u) inside the root.

Feminine Derivatives

In Hebrew all nouns are either masculine or feminine. In most cases a feminine noun is formed by adding ה (ah), ת (et) or ית (iyt) to the end of a noun.

Plural Nouns

Masculine nouns are made plural by adding the suffix ים (iym) and Feminine nouns are made by adding the suffix ות (ot). In some cases masculine words, usually very ancient words, will use the ות (ot) suffix. For example, the Hebrew words אב (av - father) and אור (or - light) are masculine words but are written as אבות (avot) and אורות ('orot) in the plural.

Grammatical Tools

Hebrew uses nouns for other functions within the sentence. They can be used as adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjuctions, etc. The noun עקב (eqev) is a noun meaning the "heel" of the foot, but it can also be used as a particle and is translated as "because," in the sense of "what has been said" is on the "heel" of what is "about to be said."

Hebrew Verbs

Because the Hebrew language is an action oriented language rather than descriptive, it is prolific with verbs. When a Hebrew verb is conjugated in a sentence it identifies person, number, gender, tense, mood and voice. Understanding these different aspects of a verb, while not essential for proper Biblical interpretation, it is very helpful when learning how to translate the Hebrew text.


Each verb identifies the subject of the verb as first (I), second (you) or third (he/she) person.


Each verb also indicates the subject of the verb as singular or plural (we, you or they).


Each verb also indicates the subject of the verb as masculine or feminine.


There are four tenses in Hebrew verbs, perfect, imperfect, participle and imperative. In the English language the verb tenses are related to time; past, present and future, while the Hebrew verbs are all related to action. The perfect tense is a completed action and in most cases is related to the English past tense (he cut). The imperfect tense is an incomplete action and is closely related to the English present and future tenses (he cuts or he will cut).

When a Hebrew verb is prefixed with the letter vav it means "and," but it also reverses the tense of the verb. For example, the verb אמר (amar) means "he said," and is in the perfect tense, but when it is written as ואמר (v'amar) it means "and he will say."


Each verb also includes voice of which there are three; active, passive or reflexive. The active voice identifies the action of the verb as coming from the subject (he cut). The passive voice does not identify the origin of action placed on the subject of the verb (he was cut). The reflexive voice places the action of the verb onto the subject (he cut himself).


Each verb also includes mood of which there are three; simple, intensive or causative. The simple mood is simple action of the verb (he cut). The intensive mood implies force or emphasis on the verb (he slashed or hacked). The causative mood expresses causation to the verb (he casued a cut).

The voice and mood of a verb are identified by seven different names as shown in the table below.

Paal (Qal) Simple Active He cut
Niphal Simple Passive He was cut
Piel Intensive Active He slashed
Pual Intensive Passive He was slashed
Hiphil Causative Active He made cut
Hophal Causative Passive He was made cut
Hitpael Intensive Reflexive He slashed himself

Here are a few examples of the conjugated verb אבד (ABD), meaning "to perish."

Verse Exodus 10:7
Hebrew אָבְדָה
Transliteration av'dah
Person 3rd
Number Singular
Gender Feminine
Tense Perfect
Voice Simple
Mood Active
Translation she perished

Verse Leviticus 23:30
Hebrew וְהַאֲבַדְתִּי
Transliteration v'ha'vad'tiy
Person 1st
Number Singular
Gender Common
Tense Perfect
Voice Causative
Mood Active
Translation and he I will cause to perish (I will destroy)

Verse Numbers 16:33
Hebrew וַיֹּאבְדוּ
Transliteration vai'yov'du
Person 3rd
Number Plural
Gender Masculine
Tense Imperfect
Voice Simple
Mood Active
Translation and they perished

Verse Numbers 33:52
Hebrew וְאִבַּדְתֶּם
Transliteration v'iy'bad'tem
Person 2nd
Number plural
Gender Masculine
Tense Perfect
Voice Intensive
Mood Active
Translation and you will utterly destroyed

Pronunciation of Hebrew Words

The following rules will assist the reader with pronouncing the Hebrew words without relying on the nikkud (vowel pointings) as found in modern Hebrew Bibles, lexicons and dictionaries.

Spirants and Stops

Three Hebrew letters, the beyt, kaph and pey, have more than one pronunciation, one called a "spirant" and the other a "stop." A spirant is a letter whose sound can be prolonged. Some examples of this from the English language are the v, z, f, and sh. A stop is a letter whose sound ends abruptly such as the b, p, d and t. A few of the Hebrew letters will have a different pronunciation depending on their position within the word. The letter ב (beyt) will usually be pronounced as a stop (b) when at the beginning of the word and as a spirant (v) when it is anywhere else in the word. For example the word בר begins with the letter beyt, which is pronounced with a "b" so the word is pronounced "bar." The word רב has the letter beyt at the end of the word so it is pronounced with a "v" and the word is pronounced “rav”.


Four Hebrew letters double as consonants and vowels. These are the א (aleph), ה (hey), ו (vav) and י (yud). As a consonant, the aleph is a glottal stop (silent pause) and as a vowel it is pronounced “ah” or "eh." The hey is a “h” as a consonant or an “eh” as a vowel. The vav (waw in Ancient Hebrew) is a “w” as a consonant or an “ow” or “uw” as a vowel. The yud is a “y” as a consonant or an “iy’ as a vowel.

Besides the four vowels mentioned previously, there is another type of vowel, the implied vowel. This means that the vowel is not written but is necessary in order to pronounce the word. An example of this is the word בר (meaning "grain"), which consists of the two consonants with the sounds "B" and "R" and cannot be pronounced without a vowel between them. In most cases the implied vowel will be an “a” or an “e”. In this case the implied vowel is the "a" and the word בר is pronounced “BaR”.


There are two types of syllables, open and closed. A closed syllable will include a consonant-vowel-consonant combination while an open syllable will have a vowel-consonant combination. The vowel may be one of the four consonant/vowel letters, usually the yud (I) or the waw (O or U) or an implied vowel. In most cases the final syllable will be a closed syllable. The word ברית (covenant) will have two syllables. The first is ב, an open syllable pronounced “be”, and the second is רית, a closed syllable pronounced “riyt”.

Generally a word with three consonants will be divided as Cv-CvC. A word with four consonants will be divided as Cv-Cv-CvC or CvC-CvC. When a word includes five consonants the breakdown is usually Cv-Cv-Cv-CvC or CvC-Cv-CvC.

If the word includes one of the four consonant/vowel letters, its position within the word will determine if it is used as a consonant or a vowel. Generally, when the consonant/vowel is placed at the beginning of a syllable or the end of a closed syllable it will take on the consonantal sound. When it is in the middle of a closed syllable or the end of an open syllable it will take on the vowel sound.

Masoretic Vowels

The Hebrew text of the Bible was originally written with only the twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. About one thousand years ago a group called the Masorites created a system of dots and dashes called "nikkud" (nikkudot in the plural) and placed them above and below the Hebrew letters to represent vowel sounds. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered it was found that the four Hebrew letters, א (aleph), ה (hey), ו (vav) and י (yud), were used as vowels. The Masorites removed many of these vowels (usually the waw and yud) and replaced them with the nikkudot. In the table below are some examples of Hebrew spellings of some Hebrew words in the Masoretic text compared to how they are written in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dead Sea Scroll
Isaiah 2:2 All כָּל כול
Isaiah 2:3 God of Jacob אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב אלוהי יעקוב
Isaiah 2:4 And not וְלֹא ולוא

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