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Conjunction - Grammar of Biblical Hebrew

Summary

Conjunctions connect words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. The most common conjunctions in English are “and,” “or,” “but,” and “for.” Some particles in Biblical Hebrew are closely related to conjunctions.

Article

Biblical Hebrew contains only one primary conjunction (the prefix וְ), but a whole family of other words also function as conjunctions. A conjunction is a word that shows a relationship between two different words, phrases, sentences, or even entire paragraphs. In Biblical Hebrew, particles and conjunctions are often combined with each other to form compound conjunctions. Compound conjunctions should not be considered merely as the sum of the components, but rather as a single grammatical entity with its own range of meanings which may or may not be different than the individual component words.

Generally, there are eight different kinds of conjunctions in Biblical Hebrew: conjunctive (“and”); alternative (“or”); contrastive (“but”); causal (“for”); conditional (“if”); concessive (“except”); affirmative (“surely”); restrictive (“only”). Many conjunctions in Biblical Hebrew have potential to function in multiple categories.

Sentences in Biblical Hebrew often begin with the conjunction ו (as either a consonant or a shureq vowel). This conjunction וְ (“and”) cannot stand alone as an independent word but must be connected to another word as a prefix. This can be added to a noun, a verb, a pronoun, or a particle. The shewa in וְ can lengthen to a vowel, usually pathah (when paired with the definite article) or qamets (when paired with both the article and a ה prefix), but others are also possible.

Note

The conjunction וְ is often left untranslated when it begins a sentence or clause, or when it appears within the sequential verbal forms (Verb Sequential Perfect and Verb Sequential Imperfect). Also, the conjunction is often added between every item of a list in Biblical Hebrew; but in English the וְ is not translated for each item.

-וְ

Form

The conjunction וְ can appear either as a prefix to a word or particle, or as part of a sequential verbal form.

Example: ZEC 3:3 –– as a prefix to a separate word
וְעֹמֵ֖ד לִפְנֵ֥י הַמַּלְאָֽךְ‬
we’omed lifne hammal’akh‬
and-he-was-standing to-face-of the-angel
and he was standing in front of the angel
Example: GEN 1:13 –– as part of a sequential verbal form
וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם שְׁלִישִֽׁי׃
wayehi-‘erev wayehivoqer yom shelishi
And-there-was_evening, and-there-was_morning, day
third.
This was evening and morning, the third day.

Function

The conjunction וְ can express any of the following connective relationships:

Conjunctive

A conjunctive conjunction simply joins two words/phrases/sentences together and is usually translated as “and” in English. This kind of conjunction can be used either comparatively (joining similar ideas) or contrastively (joining dissimilar ideas).

Example: GEN 2:17
וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ ט֣וֹב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ
ume’ets hadda’ath tov wara’ lo thokhal mimmennu
But-from-tree-of the-knowledge-of good and-evil not you-shall-eat
from-it
But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not
eat

In Biblical Hebrew, when a conjunctive conjunction connects two events that happen at the same time, it has a similar meaning to a conditional conjunction expressing an actual condition. In these cases, the conjunction can be translated as “while” or “when” in English.

Example: GEN 1:5
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ לָאוֹר֙ י֔וֹם וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ קָ֣רָא
לָ֑יְלָה
wayyiqra ‘elohim la’or yom welahoshekh qara laylah
And-he-called God to-the-light day and-to-the-darkness he-called
night
He named the light “day,” and he named the darkness “night.”
Example: GEN 45:14
וַיִּפֹּ֛ל עַל־צַוְּארֵ֥י בִנְיָמִֽן־אָחִ֖יו וַיֵּ֑בְךְּ
וּבִנְיָמִ֔ן בָּכָ֖ה עַל־צַוָּארָֽיו׃
wayyippol ‘al-tsawwere vinyamin-‘ahiw wayyevk uvinyamin bakhah
‘al-tsawwarayw
And-he-fell on_neck-of Benjamin_his-brother and-he-wept
and-Benjamin wept on_his-neck.
He hugged his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin
wept on his neck.
Alternative

An alternative conjunction compares two words/phrases/sentences as alternates and is usually translated as “or” in English.

Example: EXO 20:10
לֹֽ֣א־תַעֲשֶׂ֨ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֜ה אַתָּ֣ה ׀ וּבִנְךָֽ֣־וּבִתֶּ֗ךָ עַבְדְּךָ֤ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ֙ וּבְהֶמְתֶּ֔ךָ וְגֵרְךָ֖ אֲשֶׁ֥ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃
lo-tha’aseh khol-melakhah ‘attah uvinkha-wwvittekha ‘avdekha
wa’amathekha uvehemtekha wegerekha ‘asher bish’areykha
Not_you-shall-do any_work you nor-your-son_nor-your-daughter
your-male-servant nor-your-female-servant nor-your-cattle nor-foreigner who in-your-gates.
On it you must not do any work, you,
or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the foreigner who is within your gates.
Contrastive

A contrastive conjunction contrasts two words/phrases/sentences as different in some way and is usually translated as “but” in English.

Example: GEN 6:8
וְנֹ֕חַ מָ֥צָא חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃
wenoah matsa hen be’ene yehwah
But-Noah found favor in-eyes-of Yahweh.
But Noah found favor in the eyes of Yahweh.
Explicative

An affirmative conjunction connects two words/phrases/sentences in such a way that the second restates the first, sometimes with a nuance of either strengthening or adding to the first. This kind of conjunction is often translated “even” (or is sometimes left untranslated) in English.

Example: GEN 4:4
וְהֶ֨בֶל הֵבִ֥יא גַם־ה֛וּא מִבְּכֹר֥וֹת צֹאנ֖וֹ וּמֵֽחֶלְבֵהֶ֑ן
wehevel hevi gam-hu mibbekhoroth tsono umehelvehen
And-Abel brought also_he from-firstborn-of his-flock even-from-fat
As for Abel, he brought some of the firstborn of his flock and some of the fat

ֹאו

The word אוֹ is the standard alternative conjunction in Biblical Hebrew, usually translated as “or” in English.

Example: EXO 21:32
אִם־עֶ֛בֶד יִגַּ֥ח הַשּׁ֖וֹר א֣וֹ אָמָ֑ה׃
‘im-‘eved yiggah hashor ‘o ‘amah
If_male-servant gores the-ox or female-servant
If a bull attacks and gores a male or female slave

כִּי

Note

כִּי is one of the most flexible words in Biblical Hebrew in terms of its meaning. It can function either as a conjunction or as a particle, with many different potential meanings. If in doubt, it is recommended to always consult a dictionary or lexicon to confirm how the word is being used in any specific instance.

The word כִּי is the standard causal conjunction in Biblical Hebrew, and is usually translated as “for” in English. However, it is also commonly used as a conditional conjunction (usually translated, “if”). Often, כִּי is conditional when it occurs at the beginning of a sentence and causal when it occurs in the middle (or toward the end) of a sentence, but there are notable exceptions to this general rule.

Causal

This is the most common use of the word כִּי. However, sometimes it is extremely difficult to distinguish between a causal conjunction that expresses purpose and one that expresses result. When כִּי functions as a causal conjunction, it is often translated into English simply as “for”, which can express either purpose or result.

expresses purpose

This means to express the purpose, reason, or cause for an action/event. In English, this kind of causal conjunction is usually translated as “for” or “because”.

Example: GEN 3:14
וַיֹּאמֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֥ים ׀ אֶֽל־הַנָּחָשׁ֮ כִּ֣י עָשִׂ֣יתָ
זֹּאת֒ אָר֤וּר אַתָּה֙׃
wayyomer yehowah ‘elohim ‘el-hannahash ki ‘asitha zoth ‘arur
‘attah
And-he-said Yahweh God to_the-serpent because you-have-done this
cursed you
Then Yahweh God said to the snake, “Because you did this, I will
curse you.”
expresses result

This means to express the result or intended outcome of an action/event. In English, this kind of causal conjunction is usually translated as “for” or “so that”.

Example: GEN 20:10
מָ֣ה רָאִ֔יתָ כִּ֥י עָשִׂ֖יתָ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃
mah ra’itha ki ‘asitha ‘eth-haddavar hazzeh
What did-you-see so-that you-did [dir.obj]_the-thing the-this?
What prompted you to do this thing?

Conditional

This is also a very common use of the word כִּי in Biblical Hebrew. This conjunction can describe either a hypothetical condition or an actual condition, as determined by the context.

expresses a hypothetical condition

A hypothetical condition expresses an imaginary action or event that has not actually happened in reality. This kind of conditional conjunction is usually translated as “if” in English. Hypothetical conditions have potential to convey many different nuances of possibility and/or desirability.

Example: 2KI 4:29
כִּֽי־תִמְצָ֥א אִישׁ֙ לֹ֣א תְבָרְכֶ֔נּוּ וְכִֽי־יְבָרֶכְךָ֥
אִ֖ישׁ לֹ֣א תַעֲנֶנּ֑וּ
ki-thimtsa ‘ish lo thevorkhennu wekhi-yevarekhkha ‘ish lo
tha’anennu
If_you-meet man not_greet-him and-if_greets-you man
not answer-him.
If you meet any man, do not greet him, and if anyone greets
you, do not answer him.
expresses an actual condition

An actual condition expresses an action or event that has actually happened in reality, and is usually translated as “when” or “while” in English. Usually, this kind of condition indicates something that is happening concurrently with the main action/event being described, or something that has happened in the past in certain circumstances.

Example: GEN 27:1
וַיְהִי֙ כִּֽי־זָקֵ֣ן יִצְחָ֔ק וַתִּכְהֶ֥יןָ עֵינָ֖יו מֵרְאֹ֑ת
wayhiy ki-zaqen yitshaq wattikhheyna ‘enayw mere’oth
And-it-happened when_old Isaac and-were-dim his-eyes
from-seeing
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see

Other uses

The word כִּי can also express other conjunctive meanings, often as an contrastive following a negated statement. If in doubt, it is recommended to always consult a dictionary or lexicon for the exact meaning of the word in any specific instance.

Example: GEN 17:15
שָׂרַ֣י אִשְׁתְּךָ֔ לֹא־תִקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמָ֖הּ שָׂרָ֑י כִּ֥י
שָׂרָ֖ה שְׁמָֽהּ׃
saray ‘ishtekha lo-thiqra ‘eth-shemah saray ki sarah shemah
Sarai your-wife not_call [dir.obj]_her-name Sarai but Sarah
her-name.
As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai any more. Instead,
her name will be Sarah.

אִם

Note

Like the word כִּי, the word אִם in Biblical Hebrew is also extremely flexible in its meaning. If in doubt, it is recommended to always consult a dictionary or lexicon for the exact meaning of the word in any specific instance.

Conditional

The word אִם is the standard conditional conjunction in Biblical Hebrew. It is most often used to describe a hypothetical condition and translated as “if” in English. However, this term can can be nuanced and translated in a variety of specific ways, and it can be joined with various other particles to form different compound conjunctions. Therefore, this word must be translated always with senstivity to the context to express the correct nuance.

expresses a hypothetical condition

A hypothetical condition expresses an imaginary action or event that has not actually happened in reality. This kind of conditional conjunction is usually translated as “if” in English. Hypothetical conditions have potential to convey many different nuances of possibility and/or desirability.

Example: GEN 18:26
אִם־אֶמְצָ֥א בִסְדֹ֛ם חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים צַדִּיקִ֖ם בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֑יר
‘im-‘emtsa visdom hamishim tsaddiqim bethokh ha’ir
If_I-find in-Sodom fifty righteous in-place the-city
If I find fifty people in Sodom who have done nothing wrong

The following example is a hypothetical condition as an affirmation of an actual condition.

Example: JER 15:1
אִם־יַעֲמֹ֨ד מֹשֶׁ֤ה וּשְׁמוּאֵל֙ לְפָנַ֔י
‘im-ya’amod mosheh ushemu’el lefanay
Though_stood Moses and-Samuel before-me
Even if Moses or Samuel were standing in front of me
expresses an actual condition

An actual condition expresses an action or event that has actually happened in reality, and is usually translated as “when” or “while” in English. Usually, this kind of condition indicates something that is happening concurrently with the main action/event being described, or something that has happened in the past in certain circumstances.

Example: NUM 21:9
וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־נָשַׁ֤ךְ הַנָּחָשׁ֙ אֶת־אִ֔ישׁ וְהִבִּ֛יט
אֶל־נְחַ֥שׁ הַנְּחֹ֖שֶׁת וָחָֽי׃
wehayah ‘im-nashakh hannahash ‘eth-‘ish wehibbit ‘el-nehash
hannehosheth wahay
And-it-happened when_he-had-bitten the-serpent [dir.obj]_man
and-he-looked to_serpent-of the-bronze and-he-lived
When a snake bit any person, if he looked at the bronze snake, he
survived.
Example: GEN 31:8
אִם־כֹּ֣ה יֹאמַ֗ר נְקֻדִּים֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה שְׂכָרֶ֔ךָ וְיָלְד֥וּ
כָל־הַצֹּ֖אן נְקֻדִּ֑ים
‘im-koh yomar nequddim yihyeh sekharekha weyoldu khol-hatson
nequddim
When_thus he-said speckled-ones it-will-be your-wages
and-they-bore all_the-flock speckled-ones
If he said, ‘The speckled animals will be your wages,’ then all
the flock bore speckled young.

Alternative

This use of the conjunction אִם is often found in a question and is usually translated as “or” in English.

Example: JOS 5:13
הֲלָ֥נוּ אַתָּ֖ה אִם־לְצָרֵֽינוּ׃
halanu ‘attah ‘im-letsarenu
Are-for-us you or_for-our-enemies?
Are you for us or for our enemies?

וְעַתָּה

The word עַתָּה (“now”) in Biblical Hebrew often functions as a temporal adverb in a sentence. However, when עַתָּה appears at the beginning of a sentence or clause, it usually functions not as an adverb but as a conjunction, either standing alone or as a compound conjunction (when paired with the prefix וְ or with particles such as גַּם or כִּי). In either case, the term functions as a type of causal conjunction, indicating that what follows is based upon what has come before. This conjunction must be translated always with great sensitivity to the context to express the correct nuance; in English, this conjunction can be translated as “now”, “so”, “so now”, “and now”, “therefore”, and others. A dictionary or lexicon will indicate the specific nuance of this term in individual contexts.

Example: GEN 31:13 –– as a stand-alone conjunction
עַתָּ֗ה ק֥וּם צֵא֙ מִן־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את
‘attah qum tse’ min-ha’arets hazzoth
Now rise-up go-out from_the-land the-this
Now rise up and leave this land
Example: 1KI 8:26 –– with prefix וְ
וְעַתָּ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יֵאָ֤מֶן נָא֙ דְּבָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁ֣ר
דִּבַּ֔רְתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ֖ דָּוִ֥ד אָבִֽי
we’attah ‘elohe yisra’el ye’amen na’ devareykha ‘asher dibbarta
le’avdekha dawid ‘avi
And-now God-of Israel let-it-be-true [exh.prtc] your-words that
you-spoke to-your-servant David my-father
Now then, God of Israel, I pray that the promise you made to your
servant David my father, will come true.
Example: GEN 44:10 –– in compound conjunction with גַּם
וַיֹּ֕אמֶר גַּם־עַתָּ֥ה כְדִבְרֵיכֶ֖ם כֶּן־ה֑וּא
wayyomer gam-‘attah khedivrekhem ken-hu
And-he-said also_now as-your-words thus_it
Now also let it be according to your words.
Example: 1SA 13:13 –– in compound conjunction with כִּי
כִּ֣י עַתָּ֗ה הֵכִ֨ין יְהוָ֧ה אֶת־מַֽמְלַכְתְּךָ֛
ki ‘attah hekhin yehwah ‘eth-mamelakhtekha
For now he-established Yahweh [dir.obj]_your-reign
For then Yahweh would have established your rule

לֽוּ

This term is a conditional conjunction, similar to אִם but used only to express hypothetical conditions. The word can also appear in the alternate forms לוּא and לֻא. This conjunction either: 1) expresses a condition that cannot (or probably will not) happen, usually translated “if” in English; or 2) conveys a strong desire for something to happen that cannot (or probably will not) be realized, usually translated “if only” in English.

Example: JDG 13:23
לוּ֩ חָפֵ֨ץ יְהוָ֤ה לַהֲמִיתֵ֙נוּ֙
lu hafets yehwah lahamithenu
If he-wanted Yahweh to-kill-us
If Yahweh intended to kill us
Example: NUM 14:2
לוּ֩־מַ֙תְנוּ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם
lu-mathnu be’erets mitsrayim
If-only we-had-died in-the-land-of Egypt
We wish we had died in the land of Egypt

פֶּן

This term is also a conditional conjunction, and it expresses a certain kind of hypothetical condition. The word can be used in two different ways: either 1) in warnings to express a potential condition that will take place if the warning is not heeded, usually translated “lest” in English; or 2) to express the reason for a certain action to prevent a possible condition from taking place, usually translated as “so that…not” (or similar phrasing) in English.

Example: GEN 3:3
וְלֹ֥א תִגְּע֖וּ בּ֑וֹ פֶּן־תְּמֻתֽוּן׃
welo thigge’u bo pen-temuthun
and-not you-will-touch in-it so-that-not_you-will-die
nor may you touch it, or you will die.
Example: GEN 31:24
הִשָּׁ֧מֶר לְךָ֛ פֶּן־תְּדַבֵּ֥ר עִֽם־יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִטּ֥וֹב
עַד־רָֽע
hishamer lekha pen-tedabber ‘im-ya’aqov mittov ‘ad-ra’
Be-guarded to-you so-that-not_you-speak with_Jacob from-good
until_bad.
Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.

רַק

The word רַק is the standard restrictive conjunction in Biblical Hebrew. A restrictive conjunction sets apart a clause or phrase as unique within its context. Sometimes this restrictive function emphasizes a particular item as the most important or most prominent; in these cases, the conjunction is similar in meaning to an affirmative conjunction. At other times, however, this restrictive function introduces a particular limitation to something previously expressed; in these cases, this conjunction is similar in meaning to a concessive conjunction.

Compound conjunctions

Note

Sometimes multiple conjunctions or particles appear together but do NOT form a compound conjunction; in such cases, each word retains its individual range of meanings. These instances must be determined from the context. If in doubt, consult a dictionary or lexicon for the exact meaning of any specific occurrence.

כִּי אִם

Sometimes the words כִּי and אִם are paired together to form a compound conjunction that functions most often as a strong contrastive or a strong concessive (“except”). In English, it is usually translated as “but”, “but if”, or “except”. It is recommended to always consult a dictionary or lexicon for the exact meaning of any specific occurrence of this compound conjunction.

Example: 2KI 23:9
כִּ֛י אִם־אָכְל֥וּ מַצֹּ֖ות בְּתֹ֥וךְ אֲחֵיהֶֽם׃
ki ‘im-‘okhlu matsowth bethowkh ‘ahehem
but if_they-ate unleavened-bread in-midst-of their-brothers.
but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers.

אַף כִּי

Sometimes the words אַף and כִּי are paired together to form a compound conjunction that functions as a strong affirmative. This compound conjunction can appear with or without the prefix conjunction וְ (“and”).

Example: GEN 3:1
אַ֚ף כִּֽי־אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֔ים
‘af ki-‘amar ‘elohim
indeed he-has-said God
Has God really said
Example: EZK 23:40
וְאַ֗ף כִּ֤י־אַחֲרֵ֥י מוֹתִֽי׃
we’af ki-‘ahare mothi
and-more after my-death
how much more after my death?

Grammar of Biblical Hebrew