Recognize Hebrew Past Tense
 

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Recognize Hebrew Past Tense



We pick up some text to be used as example, just because it contains all we need for the first few lessons: forms of the verb that we want to learn, and also some basic vocabulary, the words we meet everywhere in the Hebrew liturgy (like God, Jerusalem, etc.)

Let's take a look on the following text from the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes):

אֲנִי קֹהֶלֶת הָיִיתִי מֶלֶךְ עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּירוּשָׁלִָם.  'וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-לִבִּי לִדְרוֹשׁ וְלָתוּר בַּחָכְמָה עַל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה תַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם הוּא עִנְיַן רָע נָתַן אֱלֹהִים לִבְנֵי הָאָדָם לַעֲנוֹת בּוֹ.  'רָאִיתִי אֶת-כָּל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ וְהִנֵּה הַכֹּל הֶבֶל וּרְעוּת רוּחַ.  'מְעֻוָּת לֹא-יוּכַל לִתְקֹן וְחֶסְרוֹן לֹא-יוּכַל לְהִמָּנוֹת.  'דִּבַּרְתִּי אֲנִי עִם-לִבִּי לֵאמֹר אֲנִי הִנֵּה הִגְדַּלְתִּי וְהוֹסַפְתִּי חָכְמָה עַל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה לְפָנַי עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וְלִבִּי רָאָה הַרְבֵּה חָכְמָה וָדָעַת.  'וָאֶתְּנָה לִבִּי לָדַעַת חָכְמָה וְדַעַת הוֹלֵלֹת וְשִׂכְלוּת  יָדַעְתִּי שֶׁגַּם-זֶה הוּא רַעְיוֹן רוּחַ.  'כִּי בְּרֹב חָכְמָה רָב-כָּעַס וְיוֹסִיף דַּעַת יוֹסִיף מַכְאוֹב.

This is pretty complicated text indeed. Don't look on it as a simple example, it is complicated for beginners. However, we do can spot the verbs in it pretty easily. It might be a good habit, recognizing verbs, nouns, and other grammatic categories: when you see the structure of the sentense, it starts to make sense to you even if you're not sure about particular words.

So, here are some "hints" of how to spot the verbs.

Past Tense is constructed by adding a suffix to the base word. Here are the suffixes for the Past Tense:

I תִי
You (single masculine) תָ
You (single feminine) תְ
He none
She ָה
   
We נוּ
You (plural masculine) תֶם
You (plural feminine) תֶן
They וּ

 

This is pretty basic thing, but it helps us a lot: we can spot some Past Tense verbs right away:

אֲנִי קֹהֶלֶת הָיִיתִי מֶלֶךְ עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּירוּשָׁלִָם.  'וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-לִבִּי לִדְרוֹשׁ וְלָתוּר בַּחָכְמָה עַל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה תַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; הוּא עִנְיַן רָע נָתַן אֱלֹהִים לִבְנֵי הָאָדָם לַעֲנוֹת בּוֹ.  רָאִיתִי אֶת-כָּל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ וְהִנֵּה הַכֹּל הֶבֶל וּרְעוּת רוּחַ.  'מְעֻוָּת לֹא-יוּכַל לִתְקֹן וְחֶסְרוֹן לֹא-יוּכַל לְהִמָּנוֹת.  ' דִּבַּרְתִּי אֲנִי עִם-לִבִּי לֵאמֹר אֲנִי הִנֵּה הִגְדַּלְתִּי וְהוֹסַפְתִּי חָכְמָה, עַל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה לְפָנַי עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וְלִבִּי רָאָה הַרְבֵּה חָכְמָה וָדָעַת.  'וָאֶתְּנָה לִבִּי לָדַעַת חָכְמָה וְדַעַת הוֹלֵלֹת וְשִׂכְלוּת:  יָדַעְתִּי שֶׁגַּם-זֶה הוּא רַעְיוֹן רוּחַ.  'כִּי בְּרֹב חָכְמָה רָב-כָּעַס וְיוֹסִיף דַּעַת יוֹסִיף מַכְאוֹב.

The Past Tense verbs are marked with yellow, and their suffixes (which helped us to spot those words) are pink. (There are some more of Past Tense verbs here, but you probably can't spot them that easy: נַעֲשָׂה , נָתַן  and הָיָה)

Now it becomes pretty obvious, that somebody (the Kohelet, i.e. the king Solomon, that's where this text is from) is speaking about what happened to him: I did this, and I did that. We didn't translate a word from this text, but we already kind of "know" what it says.

Now let's take some simple words (which some of us might already know), and see what the text looks like.

The table below probably doesn't bring too much news for those who has some basic Jewish education and/or attends prayer in a sinagogue on more or less regular basis. But for those who hasn't/doesn't, it's a good opportunity to start accumulating Hebrew vocabulary.

(By the way, here you will see some examples of vocalization changes which do not change the meaning of the word.)

I 'ani אֲנִי
Kohelet, Ecclesiastes (nickname of the King Solomon) kohelet קֹהֶלֶת

king

melekh מֶלֶך
on, over, above `al עַל

Israel

(That's pretty obvious and well-known, isn't it?)

yisra'el יִשְׂרָאֵל

Jerusalem

(Same here - this word is everywhere, you probably read it a lot of times when you attend services in your sinagogue.)

Modern orthography: ירושלים.

The text above also has slightly different vocalization, which is the "end of phrase" form of the word (common in biblical Hebrew, but rare nowadays.)

yerushalaim

יְרוּשָלִַם

יְרוּשָלַיִם

in (here: with) be- -בְּ

wisdom

Please, note, that Kamatz diacritic is being pronounced in two different ways in this single word.

Distinguishing Kamatz Gadol (A) vs. Kamatz Katan (O) is beyond the lessons of Reading-and-Understanding. :)

khokhma חָכְמָה

God

(If you attend the service in your sinagogue, or still remember something from your bar-mitzvah, you might know this word.)

'elohim אֱלֹהִים

1. the (most oftenly used)

2. whether, "is that true"

ha-, he-
-הַ- הָ- הֶ

sky, skies, heavens (always plural)

(Please, remember the Latin transliteration is not English! :) : it reads [shaa-maa-(y)eem],
not [shaa-meym].

The second reading (with Kamatz) is also "end of phrase" form found in the Scriptures (see also: Jerusalem, sun.)

both: shamayim

שָׁמָיִם

שָׁמַיִם

sun

The second reading (with Kamatz) is also "end of phrase" form found in Hebrew Bible (see: Jerusalem.)

shemesh

shamesh

שֶׁמֶשׁ

שָׁמֶשׁ

below, under

Modern meaning also: "back" (yes, you've got it right, it's that type of "back".)

takhat תַּחַת
under the skies
takhat ha-shamaim תַחַת הַשָּׁמָים
under the sun

takhat ha-shemesh

takhat ha-shamesh

תַחַת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ

תַחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ

to, toward; belongs to le- -לְ
Adam, man Adam אָדָם

son of Adam, man

(And yes, if you want to say something like "what's up, man?" in modern Israeli Hebrew, you can use this word too.)

ben-Adam בֶּן-אָדָם
sons of Adam, men, people bnei-Adam בְּנֵי-אָדָם

the sons of Adam, men, human beings

Please note, that in compound words the "ha-" comes in the last word.

bnei-ha-Adam בְּנֵי-הָאָדָם
and ve-, va- -וְ-,וַ-,וָ

knowledge

da`at דַּעַת

grief

makh'ov מַכְאוֹב

Now as we have the necessary equipment, we can actually try to translate the text, at least on some approximate level...

אֲנִי קֹהֶלֶת הָיִיתִי מֶלֶךְ עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּירוּשָׁלִָם.

I, Kohelet, ... king (ruling) over Israel in Jerusalem.

'וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-לִבִּי לִדְרוֹשׁ וְלָתוּר בַּחָכְמָה

And I (did something) ... and ... in wisdom .......

עַל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה תַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם

 on ....... under the skies

 הוּא עִנְיַן רָע נָתַן אֱלֹהִים לִבְנֵי הָאָדָם לַעֲנוֹת בּוֹ

............ God to the human beings ............

' 'רָאִיתִי אֶת-כָּל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ

 I (did/have done something) .............. under the sun

וְהִנֵּה הַכֹּל הֶבֶל וּרְעוּת רוּחַ.

and ...........and ............

' 'מְעֻוָּת לֹא-יוּכַל לִתְקֹן וְחֶסְרוֹן לֹא-יוּכַל לְהִמָּנוֹת.

......................................

' 'דִּבַּרְתִּי אֲנִי עִם-לִבִּי לֵאמֹר

I (did something) ............

אֲנִי הִנֵּה הִגְדַּלְתִּי וְהוֹסַפְתִּי חָכְמָה

I .... (did something) and (did something) wisdom

עַל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה לְפָנַי עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם

on ......... on Jerusalem

וְלִבִּי רָאָה הַרְבֵּה חָכְמָה וָדָעַת.

and ..... wisdom and knowledge

 'וָאֶתְּנָה לִבִּי לָדַעַת חָכְמָה וְדַעַת הוֹלֵלֹת וְשִׂכְלוּת

and ....... (to knowledge? actually, to know) wisdom and knowledge ....

יָדַעְתִּי שֶׁגַּם-זֶה הוּא רַעְיוֹן רוּחַ.

I (did something) ..........

'כִּי בְּרֹב חָכְמָה רָב-כָּעַס וְיוֹסִיף דַּעַת יוֹסִיף מַכְאוֹב.

..... wisdom ..... and .... knowledge ..... grief

It starts taking shape, doesn't it? Might look funny by now, but wait.

I would suggest you to randomly go to either Siddur (prayer book) or the books of Torah / Tanakh, and try to read the text, without understanding it for now, but trying to "catch" the general topic, looking for the words we've learned today, and for the clearly Past Tense verbs.

To be continued...



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