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Verb Perfect - Grammar of Biblical Hebrew

Summary

A Perfect verb usually expresses a completed action in the past. However, the Perfect conjugation can also be used to describe other kinds of actions.

Article

In Biblical Hebrew a Perfect verb is normally used to describe actions that have occurred in the past or actions that are seen as completed (even in present or future time). However, the Perfect conjugation is also used to describe a variety of other kinds of actions. Thus, a Perfect verb has the potential to be translated with the past tense, the present tense, or even the future tense. The context must determine the proper meaning for each instance of a Perfect verb.

When the conjunction waw (וְ “and”) is added to the Perfect conjugation as a prefix, this can indicate either the Perfect copulative or the Sequential Perfect. The meaning of the verb is different in either case, and the context must be carefully considered to determine if it is a Perfect copulative verb or a Sequential Perfect verb.

Form

Qal Perfect Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine singular third person קָטַל qatal he killed
feminine singular third person קָטְלָה qatlah she killed
masculine singular second person קָטַלְתָּ qatalta you killed
feminine singular second person קָטַלְתְּ qatalt you killed
common singular first person קָטַלְתִּי qatalti I killed
common plural third person קָטְלוּ qatlu they killed
masculine plural second person קְטַלְתֶּם qetaltem you killed
feminine plural second person קְטַלְתֶּן qetalten you killed
common plural first person קָטַלְנוּ qatalnu we killed
Niphal Perfect Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine singular third person נִקְטַל niqtal he was killed
feminine singular third person נִקְטְלָה niqtelah she was killed
masculine singular second person נִקְטַלְתָּ niqtalta you were killed
feminine singular second person נִקְטַלְתְּ niqtalt you were killed
common singular first person נִקְטַלְתִּי niqtalti I was killed
common plural third person נִקְטְלוּ niqtelu they were killed
masculine plural second person נִקְטַלְתֶּם niqtaltem you were killed
feminine plural second person נִקְטַלְתֶּן niqtalten you were killed
common plural first person נִקְטַלְתֶּנוּ niqtaltenu we were killed
Hiphil Perfect Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine singular third person הִקְטִיל hiqtil he caused to kill
feminine singular third person הִקְטִילָה hiqtilah she caused to kill
masculine singular second person הִקְטַלְתָּ hiqtalta you caused to kill
feminine singular second person הִקְטַלְתְּ hiqtalt you caused to kill
common singular first person הִקְטַלְתִּי hiqtalti I caused to kill
common plural third person הִקְטִילוּ hiqtilu they caused to kill
masculine plural second person הִקְטַלְתֶּם hiqtaltem you caused to kill
feminine plural second person הִקְטַלְתֶּן hiqtalten you caused to kill
common plural first person הִקְטַלְנוּ hiqtalnu we caused to kill
Hophal Perfect Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine singular third person הָקְטַל hoqtal he was caused to kill
feminine singular third person הָקְטְלָה hoqtelah she was caused to kill
masculine singular second person הָקְטַלְתָּ hoqtalta you were caused to kill
feminine singular second person הָקְטַלְתְּ hoqtalt you were caused to kill
common singular first person הָקְטַלְתִּי hoqtalti I was caused to kill
common plural third person הָקְטְלוּ hoqtelu they were caused to kill
masculine plural second person הָקְטַלְתֶּם hoqtaltem you were caused to kill
feminine plural second person הָקְטַלְתֶּן hoqtalten you were caused to kill
common plural first person הָקְטַלְנוּ hoqtalnu we were caused to kill
Piel Perfect Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine singular third person קִטֵּל / קִטַּל qittel / qittal he slaughtered
feminine singular third person קִטְּלָה qittelah she slaughtered
masculine singular second person קִטַּלְתָּ qittalta you slaughtered
feminine singular second person קִטַּלְתְּ qittalt you slaughtered
common singular first person קִטַּלְתִּי qittalti I slaughtered
common plural third person קִטְּלוּ qittelu they slaughtered
masculine plural second person קִטַּלְתֶּם qittaltem you slaughtered
feminine plural second person קִטַּלְתֶּן qittalten you slaughtered
common plural first person קִטַּלְנוּ qittalnu we slaughtered
Pual Perfect Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine singular third person קֻטַּל quttal he was slaughtered
feminine singular third person קֻטְּלָה quttelah she was slaughtered
masculine singular second person קֻטַּלְתָּ quttalta you were slaughtered
feminine singular second person קֻטַּלְתְּ quttalt you were slaughtered
common singular first person קֻטַּלְתִּי quttalti I was slaughtered
common plural third person קֻטְּלוּ quttelu they were slaughtered
masculine plural second person קֻטַּלְתֶּם quttaltem you were slaughtered
feminine plural second person קֻטַּלְתֶּן quttalten you were slaughtered
common plural first person קֻטַּלְנוּ quttalnu we were slaughtered
Hithpael Perfect Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine singular third person הִתְקַטֵּל hithqattal he killed himself
feminine singular third person הִתְקַטְּלָה hithqattelah she killed herself
masculine singular second person הִתְקַטַּלְתָּ hithqattalta you killed yourself
feminine singular second person הִתְקַטַּלְתְּ hithqattalt you killed yourself
common singular first person הִתְקַטַּלְתִּי hithqattalti I killed myself
common plural third person הִתְקַטְּלוּ hithqattelu they killed themselves
masculine plural second person הִתְקַטַּלְתֶּם hithqattaltem you killed yourselves
feminine plural second person הִתְקַטַּלְתֶּן hithqattalten you killed yourselves
common plural first person הִתְקַטַּלְנוּ hithqattalnu we killed ourselves

Function

The Perfect conjugation can indicate any of the following kinds of actions:

Completed actions in past time

The Perfect conjugation can be translated as simple past action (“he did”), present completed action (“he has done”), or past completed action (“he had done”).

Example: JER 43:7 — Perfect conjugation translated as simple past action
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: JER 43:10 — Perfect conjugation translated as present completed action
מִמַּ֛עַל לָאֲבָנִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֣ר טָמָ֑נְתִּי
mimma’al la’avanim ha’elleh ‘asher tamanti
from-over to-the-stones the-these that you-buried.
over these stones that you have buried.
Example: JER 43:5 — Perfect conjugation translated as past completed action
כָּל־שְׁאֵרִ֣ית יְהוּדָ֑ה אֲשֶׁר־שָׁ֗בוּ מִכָּל־הַגּוֹיִם֙
kol-she’erith yehudah ‘asher-shavu mikkol-haggoyim
whole_remnant-of Judah that_they-returned
from-all_the-nations
all the remnant of Judah who had returned from all the nations

Completed actions in present/future time

Example: GEN 28:15
עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִם־עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי לָֽךְ
‘ad ‘asher ‘im-‘asithi ‘eth ‘asher-dibbarti lakh
until then when I-have-done [dir.obj] what_I-have-spoken to-you.
I will do all that I have promised to you.

Imaginary actions

This is an action described as a hypothetical situation.

Example: RUT 1:12
כִּ֤י אָמַ֙רְתִּי֙ יֶשׁ־לִ֣י תִקְוָ֔ה
ki ‘amartiy yesh-li thiqwah
if I-said there-is_for-me hope
If I said, ‘I hope I get a husband tonight,’
Example: 1SA 14:30
אַ֗ף כִּ֡י לוּא֩ אָכֹ֨ל אָכַ֤ל הַיּוֹם֙ הָעָ֔ם
‘af ki lu’ ‘akhol ‘akhal hayyom ha’am
Oh if only eating they-had-eaten the-day the-people
How much better if the people had eaten freely today

Stative actions (describing a state or condition)

This kind of action describes a state or a condition, often (but not always) with a passive stem formation.

Example: LAM 1:1
אֵיכָ֣ה׀ יָשְׁבָ֣ה בָדָ֗ד הָעִיר֙
‘ekhah yoshvah vadad ha’ir
How it-sits lonely the-city
The city … is now sitting all alone.

Performative actions

This is an action that is performed by speaking it.

Example: GEN 23:11
הַשָּׂדֶה֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לָ֔ךְ
hassadeh nathatti lakh
the-field I-give to-you
I give you the field

Prophetic actions

This is a very rare use of the Perfect conjugation, occurring in prophetic utterances.

Example: ISA 11:9
כִּֽי־מָלְאָ֣ה הָאָ֗רֶץ דֵּעָה֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה
ki-mol’ah ha’arets de’ah ‘eth-yehwah
for_it-will-be-full the-earth-of knowledge [dir.obj]_Yahweh
for the earth will be full of knowledge of Yahweh”

Perfect copulative

This form adds the conjunction waw (וְ “and”) to the normal Perfect conjugation and can express any of the above meanings. This form appears identical to the Sequential Perfect.

Example: 1KI 12:32
וְהֶעֱמִיד֙ בְּבֵ֣ית אֵ֔ל אֶת־כֹּהֲנֵ֥י
wehe’emid beveth ‘el ‘eth-kohane
and-he-set-up in-Bethel [dir.obj]_priests
and he placed priests in Bethel
Example: ISA 1:2
בָּנִים֙ גִּדַּ֣לְתִּי וְרֹומַ֔מְתִּי
banim giddalti werowmamti
sons I-made-great and-I-raised-up
I have nourished and brought up children

Grammar of Biblical Hebrew