Bibles

Particle Definite Article - Grammar of Biblical Hebrew

Summary

In Biblical Hebrew, the definite article (the prefix הַ) is added to a term either to make that term definite, or to match that term to the noun it describes, or both.

Article

The use of the definite article is one of the ways that a word can be made definite in Biblical Hebrew. The definite article is not an independent word but the prefix הַ (he with pathah), usually accompanied by a daghesh in the next consonant. The definite article normally takes the pathah vowel, but that vowel can shift (usually either lengthening to qamets or shortening to seghol) depending on the placement of the accent and/or gutteral consonants within the word. The definite article serves an additional function to match a noun, adjective or participle the word it describes.

The definite article is usually translated as “the” in English. However, the rules governing the definiteness of words vary in different languages, so this particle must always be translated according to the conventions of the target language.

Note

The definite article is only rarely found in Hebrew poetry. This may have been done for the sake of rhythmic meter, since the article almost always adds a syllable to a word. In Hebrew poetry, words can be in the determined state even without the definite article. Therefore, in Hebrew poetry, often the state (construct, absolute, or determined) of a particular word must be determined by the context.

Form

Standard form, with pathah vowel and daghesh in the following consonant
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
noun סוּס sus a horse
noun + definite article הַסּוּס hassus the horse
Alternate form with pathah vowel, no daghesh in gutteral consonant
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
noun חֹשֶׁק hosheq darkness
noun + definite article הַחֹשֶׁק hahosheq the darkness
Alternate form with qamets vowel, no daghesh in gutteral consonant
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
noun אִישׁ ‘ish a man
noun + definite article הָאִישׁ ha’ish the man
Alternate form with seghol vowel, no daghesh in gutteral consonant
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
noun עָפָר ‘afar dust
noun + definite article הֶעָפָר he’afar the dust

Function

Makes a term definite

One way that a term can be made definite in Biblical Hebrew is to add the definite article prefix.

Example: DEU 1:23
וַיִּיטַ֥ב בְּעֵינַ֖י הַדָּבָ֑ר
wayyitav be’enay haddavar
And-it-seemed-good in-my-eyes the-thing
The advice pleased me well
Example: ISA 5:11
הֹ֛וי מַשְׁכִּימֵ֥י בַבֹּ֖קֶר
howy mashkime vabboqer
Woe who-rise-up in-the-morning
Woe to those who rise up early in the morning

Matches an adjective to a noun

In Biblical Hebrew, when a definite common noun is followed by a definite attributive adjective, an adjectival participle, or a noun in apposition, the definite article on both terms shows that they belong together. In other words, that particular adjective is describing that particular noun.

Example: JOS 21:45
מִכֹּל֙ הַדָּבָ֣ר הַטֹּ֔וב
mikkol haddavar hattowv
of-all the-word the-good
among all the good promises
Example: DEU 7:19
הַמַּסֹּ֨ת הַגְּדֹלֹ֜ת אֲשֶׁר־רָא֣וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ
hammassoth haggedoloth ‘asher-ra’u ‘eneykha
the-sufferings the-great which_saw your-eyes
the great sufferings that your eyes saw

Grammar of Biblical Hebrew