Kamatz Katan (the Little Kamatz, read as "O" in modern Hebrew) is
one of the first confusions every Hebrew student is facing. Why, for God's sake,
it's the same sign as Kamatz Gadol (the Big Kamatz, read as "A")? How
is the reader supposed to distinguish between them? Can I just learn all the
"exceptions" with Kamatz Katan?
Have to mention, in Ashkenazi tradition (well, as far as I know) any Kamatz
is being read as an "O" sound:
The explanation usually given is that "probably" the two sounds were too
close, or maybe the two sounds were allophonic or maybe the
difference between them was found only in some Hebrew dialects. What we know for
sure, is that Ashkenazi tradition was based on so called Masoretic or Tiberian
vocalization (used today in all Jewish communities), which does not distinguish
between Kamatz Gadol and Kamatz Katan, i.e., the graphical sign is the same for
both sounds. At the same time Sephardic pronunciation was based on so called
Palestinian vocalization system, which is distinguishing between the Kmatzhim.
Now, modern Israeli pronunciation is synthetic, while some phonemes are
following Ashkenazic tradition, but Kamatz Katan in particular is following
How to distinguish?
To distinguish between the two sounds, there is a common rule:
|A Kamatz is Kamatz
Katan if the syllable is unstressed and closed.
Here is the most common example, the word
(wisdom). The stress falls on the last syllable (which is normal situation in
Hebrew), while the first syllable stays unstressed and closed.
If you know how the syllables work in Hebrew morphology, or if all the texts
you read have syllable accents marked, then just the statement in the frame will
be sufficient for you to never confuse between the two Kmatzim.
Can I just learn all the "exceptions"?
Some good news for those who's only learning the modern Hebrew. Here is a
list of "exceptions", or the words with Kamatz Katan, which you will find in
everyday use. Which is even better, modern Hebrew uses Ktiv Maleh everywhere
(meaning: writing without vocalization, but using a lot of Vavs and Yods).
Therefor, those words will be written in most cases with a Vav for the "O"
כָּל - most
oftenly is written just this way:
כל דבר, כל אדם, כל אחד,
but זה הכול
(wisdom) written without vocalization as either חוכמה or
(software) written without vocalization as either
(program, plan) written without vocalization as either
(programmer) is usually written as תוכניתן
(of media, media's) without vocalization is almost always written as
תקשורתי -- from תקשורת (media)
(free) without vocalization is almost always written as חופשי
-- from חופש (freedom, vacation)
(opener) as this is a totally new word, in non-vocalized form it's always
written with the Vav
You may find more words similar to חופשי and
תקשורתי, but again, if you see it written in modern
(non-vocalized) Hebrew in the media and modern books, most probably you'll find
the Vav there.
Some people argue that you can't really speak of Kamatz Katan in all those
words, since vocalization is so rarely used in modern Hebrew, that the words
should be considered as only written in non-vocalized form: תוכנה, תוכנית,
Kamatz in combination with Khataf-Kamatz
is always Khataf-Kamatz:
-- "transferred" - as well as all the Hophal verbs in all three
Also, here are two common words:
-- "the next day" (compare with
מָחָר - "tomorrow")
-- "day after tomorrow"
Again, you'll probably find
מעבר written as מועבר, but there might be confusion
with מחרת, צהרים, and
מחרתים, which are almost always written without the Vav. So, you might
add it to your list of "exceptions", it has Kamatz Katan and It's [tzohorayim]
One real exception is the word
where the first Kamatz is Katan: [shorashim].
No rule, just because. Again, in Ktiv Maleh it's written as
Classic Hebrew (Torah reading)
Unfortunately, there are no real "exceptions" in ancient Hebrew. The
differences between Kamatz Gadol and Kamatz Katan solely depend on Kamatz'
position in the word (which speaks to the benefit of "allophonic" explanation.)
With the time you might learn to recognize the "patterns", which will ease your
work; but still some hard work is required.
Let's see the real cases, where Kamatz Katan is coming from.
1. Before Khataf-Kamatz:
Like we said before, kamatz before a guttural with
Khataf-Kamatz regardless of
grammatic constructs and syllable stress:
With the Khataf-Kamatz you can't be wrong: the preceding Kamatz is Katan.
There are two forms commonly found in the
Scriptures, although almost not used today:
etc - you can rarely find this construct this in modern Hebrew
text; however, in the Scriptures it's everywhere. You could figure it out if you
"catch" how the word breaks into syllables.
and similar - this form simply does not exist in modern language; however, it's
found all over the place in Torah. The accent in this is shifted to the syllable
before the last, and thus the last syllable becomes unstressed: [va-yaqom],
Also, it might appear in compoind words:
and similar combinations. When two or more words are connected with makaf
(the dash sign), then from syllable accent perspective they are considered one
word. The accent is on the last word always, and therefore the Kamatz is Kamatz
Katan: [ al-tizkor-lanu
3. Most common case
Kamatz Katan is derived from a Holam as a result of noun
- in Segolate nouns
- in nouns with a Segolate ending
for words with a "theoretical" Segolate basis
Note, that the accent is shifted from its "Segolate" position on the syllable
before the last -- to the last syllable:
(their address) - not sure this word is found in Torah though... :)
The last two words are called Pseudo-Segolate, because their ending is
similar to Segolate nouns.
Speaking of Segolate and Kamatz Katan, here is a good example. In modern
Hebrew the word
("software") derived from the word
("content") - here we can see both masculinum and femininum form of the Segolate
noun (both basic words, no "permutations", no "declension", no tricks), when the
Khaser becomes Kamatz Katan.
("wisdom") belongs here too, as it's structured exactly like
The words we've mentioned before, which are derived
from either Segolate or Pseudo-Segolate:
You probably can notice, that the words we've
mentioned early above like
תקשָרְתי are structured in the same way; and they are also
derived from חׂפֶש
while both word models have Kamatz Katan.
And the last but not the least, the wordsחָרבָּן
(sacrifice, victim) which do not really have the Segolate base as a separate
word existing in the language (or at least, not known to me).
Another word with a non-standard
declension (which I'm aware of):
the word "singing": רֹן
[ron] => "his singing":
And here is a little exercise for you: try to explain case 3 (Segolate etc)
using the "unstressed and closed syllable" rule. Learn to intuitively recognize
Hope it helps.