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Number Plural - Grammar of Biblical Hebrew

Summary

The plural form of a term refers to two or more of that item.

Article

In Biblical Hebrew, a term with plural form usually refers to multiple persons or objects. However, Biblical Hebrew can use the plural form of a word to express many different meanings about a singular entity.

Form

Nouns and adjectives

Feminine plural nouns and adjectives usually end in וֹת- (holem waw + taw).

Masculine plural nouns and adjectives usually end in ־ִים (hireq-yod + final mem).

Plural Noun Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine plural absolute סוּסִים susim stallions
masculine plural construct סוּסֵי suse stallions of
feminine plural absolute סוּסוֹת susoth mares
feminine plural construct סוּסוֹת susoth mares of
Plural Adjective Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine plural absolute טוֹבִים tovim good
masculine plural construct טוֹבֵי tove good
feminine plural absolute טוֹבוֹת tovoth good
feminine plural construct טוֹבוֹת tovoth good

Other terms

Besides nouns, a plural term can be recognized by a variety of changes to the form. These changes differ greatly from each other and are hard to sum up in a simple, helpful way. This paradigm shows a sample of the kinds of changes that signal a plural form for verbs, independent personal pronouns, the direct object marker with a pronominal suffix, and pronominal suffixes.

Qal Suffix Conjugation Plural Forms
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
common plural first person קָטַלְנוּ qatalnu we killed
second person masculine plural קְטַלְתֶּם qetaltem you killed
second person feminine plural קְטַלְתֶּן qetalten you killed
common plural third person קָטְלוּ qatlu they killed
common plural first person נִקְטֹל niqtol we will kill
second person masculine plural תִּקְטְל tiqtelu you will kill
second person feminine plural תִּקְטֹלְנָה tiqtolenah you will kill
third person masculine plural יִקְטְלוּ yiqtelu they will kill
third person feminine plural תִּקְטֹלְנָה tiqtolenah they will kill
Independent Personal Pronoun Plural Forms
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
second person masculine plural אַתֶּם ‘attem you
second person feminine plural אַתֵּנָה ‘attenah you
third person masculine plural הֵם / הֵמָּה hem / hemmah they
third person feminine plural הֵן / הֵנָּה hen / hennah they
Direct Object Marker with Pronominal Suffix Plural Forms
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
second person masculine plural אֹתְכֶֶם ‘othekhem you
second person feminine plural אֹתְכֶֶן ‘thekhem you
third person masculine plural אֶתְהֶם / אֹתָם ‘ethhem / ‘otham them
third person feminine plural אֶתְהֶן / אֹתָן ‘ethhen / ‘othan them
Pronominal Suffix Plural Forms
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
second person masculine plural לָכֶם / -כֶם lakhem / -khem (to) you
second person feminine plural לָכֶן / -כֶן lakhen / -khen (to) you
third person masculine plural לָהֶם / -הֶם / - ָם lahem / -hem / -am (to) them
third person feminine plural לָהֶן / -הֶן / - ָן lahen / -hen / -an (to) them

Function

Nouns marked as plural

Common Plural

The common plural expresses more than one of a thing.

Example: ECC 10:7
רָאִ֥יתִי עֲבָדִ֖ים עַל־סוּסִ֑ים
ra’ithi ‘avadim ‘al-susim
I-have-seen servants on_horses.
I have seen servants on horses.

The term אֲלֹהִים can function as a common plural, but it most often functions as a majestic plural (see example below).

Example: JDG 5:8
יִבְחַר֙ אֱלֹהִ֣ים חֲדָשִׁ֔ים
yivhar ‘elohim hadashim
And-they-chose gods new
When they chose new gods
Complex Plural

Some nouns can be singular or plural even though they appear in plural form. For example, the term שָׁמַיִם can be translated into English as “heaven” or “heavens”, and the term מַיִם can be translated in English as “water” or waters”, depending on the context.

Example: GEN 1:1
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם
bereshith bara ‘elohim ‘eth hashamayim
In-beginning he-created God [dir.obj] the-heavens
In the beginning God created the heavens
Example: GEN 1:2
וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
weruah ‘elohim merahefeth ‘al-pene hammayim
and-the-Spirit-of God was-moving on_the-face-of the-waters.
The Spirit of God was moving on the surface of the waters.

Biblical Hebrew can use the plural form for actions that have multiple processes or an action involving a collective noun (see example Gen 4:10 below, “bloods” = “bloodshed”).

Example: GEN 50:3
כִּ֛י כֵּ֥ן יִמְלְא֖וּ יְמֵ֣י הַחֲנֻטִ֑ים
ki ken yimle’u yeme hahanutim
for so are-filled days-of the-embalmings.
for that was the full time for embalming.
Example: JER 13:27
נִֽאֻפַ֤יִךְ וּמִצְהֲלוֹתַ֙יִךְ֙ … רָאִ֖יתִי
ni’ufayikh umitshalothayikh … ra’ithi
Your-adulteries and-your-neighings … I-have-seen
I have seen your adultery and neighing
Majestic Plural

The plural form can also express a collective, intensive or superlative sense of a singular item (or kind of item). For example, the noun אֲלֹהִים (God) appears in the plural form but usually refers to the singular entity “God”.

Example: GEN 1:1
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים
insert transliteration
In-beginning he-created God
In the beginning God created
Example: Job 40:15
הִנֵּה־נָ֣א בְ֭הֵמוֹת אֲשֶׁר־עָשִׂ֣יתִי  
insert transliteration  
[dem.part]_[exh.part] behemoth [rel.part]_I-made  
Look now at the behemoth which I made
Abstract Plural

Some plural nouns in Biblical Hebrew are translated as singular in other languages. In English, abstract plurals are often singular and have endings like -ness, -hood, and -ship.

Example: GEN 19:11
הִכּוּ֙ בַּסַּנְוֵרִ֔ים
hikku bassanwerim
they-hit with-the-blindnesses
they struck them with blindness
Example: GEN 21:7
כִּֽי־יָלַ֥דְתִּי בֵ֖ן לִזְקֻנָֽיו׃
ki-yaladti ven lizqunayw
for_I-bore son to-his-old-ages
yet I have borne him a son in his old age!

Adjectives marked as plural

Generally, plural adjectives (also active and passive adjectival participles) use the common plural.

Example: DEU 8:12 –– attributive adjective with common plural
וּבָתִּ֥ים טֹובִ֛ים תִּבְנֶ֖ה וְיָשָֽׁבְתָּ׃
uvottim towvim tivneh weyashavetta
and-houses good you-will-built and-you-will-live
and when you build good houses and live in them
Example: JER 33:22 –– adjectival participle with common plural
וְאֶת־הַלְוִיִּ֖ם מְשָׁרְתֵ֥י אֹתִֽי
insert transliteration
and-[dir.obj]_[def.art]-Levites who-serve [dir.obj]-me
and the Levites who serve before me

Verbs marked as plural

A finite verb and/or verbal participle in plural form indicates that the subject of the verb is plural.

Example: JER 43:7 –– finite verb with common plural
כִּ֛י לֹ֥א שָׁמְע֖וּ בְּק֣וֹל יְהוָ֑ה
ki lo shom’u beqol yehwah
for not they-listened to-voice-of Yahweh.
because they did not listen to Yahweh’s voice.
Example: ??? ??:? –– verbal participle with common plural
כִּ֛י לֹ֥א שָׁמְע֖וּ בְּק֣וֹל יְהוָ֑ה
insert transliteration [VERBAL PARTICIPLE]
for not they-listened to-voice-of Yahweh.
because they did not listen to Yahweh’s voice.

Participles marked as plural

Participles in plural form can generally use the common plural, but not always. A verbal participle in plural form indicates that the subject of the participle is plural.

Example: SNG 3:8 –– nominal participle with common plural
כֻּלָּם֙ אֲחֻ֣זֵי חֶ֔רֶב
insert transliteration
all-them holders-of sword
All of them are skilled with a sword
Example: Job 35:10 –– adjectival participle with majestic plural
אַ֭יֵּה אֱל֣וֹהַּ עֹשָׂ֑י
insert transliteration
where God makers-of-me
Where is God my Maker
Example: GEN 4:10 –– verbal participle participle with complex plural [“bloods” = “bloodshed”]
דְּמֵ֣י אָחִ֔יךָ צֹעֲקִ֥ים אֵלַ֖י
insert transliteration
bloods-of your-brother crying-out to-me
Your brother’s blood is calling out to me

Personal pronouns and suffixes marked as plural

Generally, pronouns and suffixes use the common plural.

Example: JOS 2:18 –– independent personal pronoun with common plural
הִנֵּ֛ה אֲנַ֥חְנוּ בָאִ֖ים בָּאָ֑רֶץ
hinneh ‘anahnu va’im ba’arets
behold we coming-in in-the-land
behold, when we come into the land
Example: EZR 9:12 –– pronominal suffixes with common plural
וְ֠עַתָּה בְּֽנֹותֵיכֶ֞ם אַל־תִּתְּנ֣וּ לִבְנֵיהֶ֗ם וּבְנֹֽתֵיהֶם֙ אַל־תִּשְׂא֣וּ לִבְנֵיכֶ֔ם
we’attah benowthekhem ‘al-tittenu livnehem uvenothehem ‘al-tis’u livnekhem
And-now your-daughters not_give to-their-sons and-their-daughters not_take for-your-sons
So now, do not give your daughters to their sons; do not take their daughters for your sons

Grammar of Biblical Hebrew