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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 122

Syntax of the Noun.
§122. Indication of the Gender of the Noun.

Cf. F. Schwabe, Die Genusbestimmung des Nomens im bibl. Hebr., Jena, 1894, and especially the thorough investigation by K. Albrecht, ‘Das Geschlecht der hebr. Hauptwörter,’ in ZAW. 1895, p. 313 ff., and 1896, p. 61 ff. H. Rosenberg, ‘Zum Geschlecht der hebr. Hauptwörter,’ in ZAW. 1905, p. 325 ff. (supplementing Albrecht’s work by a treatment of the gender of many nouns in the Mishna); and his ‘Notizen aus der tannaitischen Literatur...’ ZAW. 1908, p. 144 ff.

1. According to §80a, Hebrew, like the other Semitic languages, distinguishes only a masculine and feminine gender. To indicate the latter a special feminine ending is generally used (§80b and §87i) both in the singular and plural (see, however, §87p), its use being most consistent in adjectives and participles; cf. §87r. The employment of these special endings is most natural when by means of them the feminine names of persons or animals are distinguished from the masculine of the same stem and the same formation, e.g. אָח‎ brother, אָחוֹת‎ sister; עֶלֶם‎ a young man, עַלְמָה‎ a young woman, maid; פָּר‎ iuvencus, פָּרָה‎ iuvenca; עֵגֶל‎ vitulus, עֶגְלָה‎ vitula. On the other hand, the feminine plays an important part in denoting the gender of whole classes of ideas (see below, p, &c.), which the Hebrew regards as feminine. The language, however, is not obliged to use the feminine ending either for the purpose of distinguishing the sex of animate objects (see b), or as an indication of the (figurative) gender of inanimate things which are regarded as feminine (see h).

2. The distinction of sex may be effected even without the feminine ending, (a) by the employment of words of different stems for the masculine and feminine; (b) by the different construction (either as masculine or feminine) of the same word (communia). But the distinction may also, (c) in the case of names of animals, be entirely neglected, all examples of a species being included under one particular gender, either masculine or feminine (epicoena).

Examples of (a) are: אָב‎ father, אֵם‎ mother; אַ֫יִל‎ ram, רָחֵל‎ ewe; תַּ֫יִשׁ‎ he-goat, עֵז‎ she-goat; חֲמוֹר‎ he-ass, אָתוֹן‎ she-ass; אַרְיֵה‎ lion, לָבִיא‎ lioness. Sometimes with the feminine ending as well, e.g. עֶ֫בֶד‎ male slave, man-servant, אָמָה‎ or שִׁפְחָה‎ female slave, maid; חָתָן‎ bridegroom, כַּלָּה‎ bride.

Of (b): גָּמָל‎ camel. Plur. גְּמַלִּים‎ construed as masculine, Genesis 24:63; as feminine, Genesis 32:16; בָּקָר‎ collect, oxen, Exodus 21:37, construed as masculine, but in Genesis 33:13, Job 1:14 as feminine. In Jeremiah 2:24 the construction of פֶּ֫רֶה‎ wild ass, changes directly from the masculine (intended as epicene) to the feminine.Cf. the Greek ὁ, ἡ παῖς· ὁ, ἡ βοῦς.

Of (c): analogous to the epicene nouns of other languages, many species of animals which are strong and courageous, are regarded in Hebrew as always masculine, while the weak and timid are feminine; cf. ὁ λύκος, ἡ χελιδών, and the German der Löwe, der Adler, &c., but die Katze, die Taube, &c. Similarly in Hebrew, e.g. אַלּוּף‎ ox (Psalms 144:14 even referring to cows when pregnant), דֹּב‎ bear, Hosea 13:8 דּוֹב שַׁכּוּל‎ (a bear that is bereaved of her whelps; cf., however, 2 Kings 2:24, Isaiah 11:7), זְאֵב‎ wolf, כֶּ֫לֶב‎ dog, all masculine; but אַרְנֶ֫בֶת‎ hare, יוָֹנָה‎ dove, חֲסִידְה‎ stork, דְּבוֹרָה‎ bee, נֲמָלָה‎ ant, &c., feminine.

Rem. 1. Masculine nouns which either have a separate feminine form or might easily form one, are but seldom used as epicene; such are, חֲמוֹר‎ ass, 2 Samuel 19:27 for אָתוֹן‎; אַיָל‎ hart, Psalms 42:2 for אַיָלָה‎. In Genesis 23:3 ff. מֵת‎ a dead body, refers more especially to the body of a woman; אָמוֹן‎ a master workman, in Proverbs 8:30 refers to wisdom (חָכְמָה‎ feminine, cf. Plin. 2, 1 natura omnium artifex; and our use of friend, teacher, servant, neighbour, either as masculine or feminine; in German, Gemahl[1] spouse, also for fem. Gemahlin, &c.).

2. Of words denoting persons נַ֫עַר‎ παῖς, according to the formerly common opinion, was in early times used as epicene (see, however, above, §2n). The use of the plural נְעָרִים‎ in Job 1:19 and Ruth 2:21 in the sense of young people (of both genders) does not, however, prove this. In this and in similar cases (cf. e.g. אֹתָם‎ Genesis 1:27 and אֶתְהֶם‎ 32:1) the masculine as prior gender includes the feminine.[2]

3. The following classes of ideas are usually regarded as feminine,[3] although the substantives which express them are mostly without the feminine ending:[4]

(a) Names of countries and towns, since they are regarded as the mothers[5] and nurses of the inhabitants; e.g. אַשּׁוּר‎ Assyria, אֱדֹם‎ Idumaea, צֹר‎ Tyre; cf. also such expressions as בַּת בָּבֶל‎, בַּת צִיּוֹן‎ daughter of Babylon, daughter of Zion, &c. On the other hand appellatives which are originally masculine, remain so when used as place-names, e.g. Amos 5:5 בֵּית־אֵל‎, הַגִּלְגָּל‎, &c.

Rem. The same proper nouns, which as names of countries are regarded as feminine, are frequently used also as names of the people, and may then, like national names in other languages, be construed as masculine (the national name almost always being used also as the personal name of the supposed ancestor of the people); thus יְהוּדָה‎ masc. Isaiah 3:8, &c., Judaei; but Isaiah 7:6, fem., Judaea; אֱדֹם‎ masc., Idumaei, Numbers 20:20; fem., Idumaea, Jeremiah 49:17. Nevertheless, it sometimes happens that by a very common transference of thought (just as we say Turkey concludes peace) these names are construed as feminine, even when they denote not the country but the inhabitants; so יְהוּדָה‎ Lamentations 1:3; cf. Genesis 41:8, Exodus 10:7, Exodus 12:33, 1 Samuel 17:21, 2 Samuel 8:2, 2 Samuel 24:9, Isaiah 7:2, Isaiah 21:2, Isaiah 42:11, Jeremiah 50:10, Job 1:15. Hence the frequent personification of nations (as well as of countries and towns, see h, note 5) as female beings, e.g. Isaiah 50:1, Isaiah 54:1 ff., and the use of the expressions בַּת בָּבֶל‎ Isaiah 47:1 ff., בַּת צִיּוֹן‎ &c. (see above) as collective poetical personifications of the people.

(b) Appellative nouns, which denote a circumscribed space, such as אֶ֫רֶץ‎ earth, land, תֵּבֵל‎ world, שְׁאֹל‎ the abode of the dead, כִּכָּר‎ circle (of the Jordan valley), עִיר‎ a town, בְּאֵר‎ a well, צָפוֹן‎ the north, תֵּימָן‎ the south.

In the majority of nouns denoting place the gender is variable, e.g. אֹ֫רַח‎ and דֶּ֫רֶךְ‎ a way (usually feminine; the masculine gender only begins to predominate with Ezekiel; cf. Albrecht, l. c., 1896, p. 55), גַּיְא‎ (גַּי‎) valley, גַּן‎ garden (fem. Genesis 2:15, unless לְעָבְדֹה‎, &c., is to be read), הֵיכָל‎ palace, temple, חָעֵר‎ court, כֶּ֫רֶם‎ vineyard, שַׁ֫עַר‎ door,[6] &c.; also מָקוֹם‎ place, at least in Genesis 18:24 (referring to Sodom), Job 20:9, and 2 Samuel 17:12 Kethîbh, is construed as feminine. The mountains and hills commanding the surrounding country are almost without exception masculine (see Albrecht, l. c., p. 60 f.).

(c) The names of instruments, utensils, and (on the same analogy) members and parts of the body in man or beast, since these are all regarded as subservient and subordinate (consequently as feminine).

Thus חֶ֫רֶב‎ sword, יָתֵד‎ tent-peg, כַּד‎ bucket, כּוֹס‎ cup, נַ֫עַל‎ shoe, עֶ֫רֶשׂ‎ bed, &c.; in other cases, as אֲרוֹן‎ chest, ark (with the article הָֽאָרוֹן‎), תַּנּוּר‎ oven, the gender is variable. (‘Instruments for binding or holding, girdles and the like, as constraining and mastering, are masculine,’ Albrecht, l. c., p. 89.)—Also אֹ֫זֶן‎ ear (and in general, members occurring in pairs, Albrecht, l. c., p. 73 f.), אֶצְבַּע‎ finger (and so probably בֹּ֫הֶן‎ thumb, great toe), יָד‎ and כַּף‎ hand, יָמִין‎ right hand, רֶ֫גֶל‎ foot, בֶּ֫רֶךְ‎ knee, יָרֵךְ‎ thigh, כָּתֵף‎ shoulder, לְחִי‎ cheek, בֶּ֫טֶן‎ belly, כָּנָף‎ wing, קֶ֫רֶן‎ horn, שֵׁן‎ tooth; as a rule also זְרוֹעַ‎ arm (masc. Isaiah 17:5, &c.), לָשׁוֹן‎ tongue (masc. Psalms 22:16, Proverbs 26:28, &c.), עַ֫יִן‎ eye (masc. Zechariah 3:9, &c.), שׁוֹק‎ thigh (masc. Exodus 29:27).[7]

(d) Certain names of natural forces or substances are feminine, being probably regarded as instruments, while in the names of the heavens, the heavenly bodies and natural phenomena, the masculine generally predominates (cf. Albrecht, l. c., p. 323 ff.); thus feminine are שֶׁ֫מֶשׁ‎ sun (but often also masc., Psalms 19:6, Psalms 104:19); אֵשׁ‎ (Ethiopic ’ĕsât) fire (rarely masc.); נֹ֫גַהּ‎ brightness, אֶ֫בֶן‎ a stone, as a rule also רוּחַ‎ wind, spirit; נֶ֫פֶשׁ‎ breath, soul; also אוֹר‎ light in Jeremiah 13:16, Job 36:32, and others.

4. The following classes of ideas, which are also regarded as feminine in Hebrew (see above, h), are usually indicated by the feminine form, notwithstanding their occasional transference to masculine persons (see r and s):

(a) Abstracts[8] (sometimes along with masculine forms from the same stem, as נְקָמָה‎ vengeance, as well as נָקָם‎, עֶזְרָה‎ help, as well as עֵ֫זֶר‎), e.g. אֱמוּנָה‎ firmness, faithfulness, גְּבוּרָה‎ strength, גְּדוּלָה‎ greatness, מְלֵאָה‎ fullness, מֶמְשָׁלָה‎ dominion, &c. Similarly, the feminine (sing. and plur.) of adjectives and participles is used substantivally in the sense of the Latin and Greek neuter, e.g. נְכוֹנָה‎ stedfastness, Psalms 5:10, טוֹבָה‎ goodness, רָעָה‎ evil, Genesis 50:20, נְקַלָּה‎ a light thing (i.e. a trifling thing), Jeremiah 6:14; so especially in the plural, e.g. גְּדֹלוֹת‎ great things, Psalms 12:4; הַנֶּֽהֱרָסוֹת‎ the ruined places, Ezekiel 36:36, along with הַנְּשַׁמָּה‎ that which was desolate, טֹבוֹת‎ kindnesses, 2 Kings 25:28, נְכֹחוֹת‎ uprightness, honesty, Isaiah 26:10, נְעִימוֹת‎ amoena, Psalms 16:11 (but in verse 6 in the same sense נְעִימִים‎), נִפְלָאוֹת‎ wonderful things, Exodus 34:10 and frequently, קָשׁוֹת‎ hard things, roughly Genesis 42:7, 30 (but cf. also רֵיקִם‎ vain things, Proverbs 12:11, Proverbs 28:19). Cf. moreover, the very frequent use of זֹאת‎, הִיא‎ (as well as זֶה‎ and הוּא‎), Judges 14:4, Psalms 118:23, &c., in the sense of hoc, illud (also הֵ֫נָּה‎ equivalent to illa, Isaiah 51:19): also the use of the feminine form of the verb in Isaiah 7:7 לֹא תָקוּם וְלֹא תִֽהְיֶה‎ it shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass; cf. Jeremiah 10:7; so too the suffixes Genesis 15:6, Exodus 10:11, Job 38:18, referring back to a whole statement.[9]

(b) Titles and designations of office, properly a subdivision of the abstract ideas treated above, under q, and specially noticed here only on account of their peculiar transference to concrete male persons. Thus we have קֹהֶ֫לֶת‎ Ecclesiastes 1:1, &c. (as a title of Solomon), properly no doubt that which takes part in or speaks in a religious assembly, hence LXX ἐκκλησιαστής, i.e. concionator, preacher; the proper names סֹפֶ֫רֶת‎ Ezra 2:55, Nehemiah 7:57, and פֹּכֶ֫רֶת‎ Ezra 2:57, Nehemiah 7:59, and the foreign word פֶּחָה‎ viceroy; in the plural כְּנָוֹת‎ prop. cognomina, then like-named, colleagues; פְּרָעוֹת‎ princes (if this be the true meaning).[10] All these words, in accordance with their meaning, are construed as masculine (in Ecclesiastes 7:27 instead of אָֽמְרָה ק׳‎ the words should rather be divided as אָמַר הַקּ׳‎; cf. 12:8). Abstract ideas include also—

(c) Collectives in the fem. form,[11] generally fem. participles used substantivally, especially as the comprehensive designation of a number of persons, e.g. אֹֽרְחָה‎ (fem. of travelling), prop. the travelling (company), i.e. travelling persons (a caravan); גּוֹלָה‎ (fem. of גֹּלֶה‎ one going into exile) the company of exiles (also frequently used of those who had returned home again); יוֹשֶׁ֫בֶת‎ (that which inhabits) i.e. the population, Isaiah 12:6, Micah 1:11 f.; אֹיֶ֫בֶת‎ (prop. that which is hostile) the enemy, Micah 7:8, 10 (cf. Micah 4:6 f. the halting, cast off, driven away, i.e. those who halt, &c.); דַּלָּה‎ (the abject) the poorest sort; of living beings which are not persons, cf. חַיָּה‎ (that which lives) in the sense of cattle, beasts; דָּגָה‎ a shoal of fish, Genesis 1:26 (but in Jonah 2:2 as a nomen unitatis, cf. t, for דָּג‎ a fish, which in verses 1 and 11 is used as the nomen unitatis). Cf., moreover, נְבֵלָה‎ dead body, Isaiah 26:19, &c. (construed as masculine), for a heap of dead bodies.—On the collective poetic personification of a nation, by means of בַּת‎ daughter, in בַּת בָּבֶל‎, בַּת עַמִּי‎ (equivalent to בְּנֵי עַמִּי‎) my countrymen, see above, i.

(d) Conversely the feminine form of substantives is sometimes used (as in Arabic) as a nomen unitatis, i.e. to indicate a single example of a class which is denoted by the masculine form; cf. אֳנִי‎ a fleet (1 Kings 9:26), אֳנִיָּה‎ a single ship (Jonah 1:3 ff.); צַ֫יִד‎ hunting, game, צֵידָה‎ Genesis 27:3 Keth. (צָ֑יִד‎ Qe) a piece of venison; שֵׂעָר‎ hair (coll.), שַֽׂעֲרָה‎ a single hair (Judges 20:16; in the plural, Psalms 40:13, Psalms 69:5); שִׁיר‎ a poem, frequently collective, שִׁירָה‎ a single song; so probably also תְּאֵנָה‎ a fig (the corresponding masculine tîn is collective in Arabic); שֽׁוֹשַׁנָּה‎ a lily (also שׁוֹשָׁן‎); לְבֵנָה‎ a brick (Arab. libina, but libin collective), &c.

(e) The feminine is also used for things without life (as being weaker or less important), which are named from their resemblance to organic things expressed by the corresponding masculine form; cf. יָרֵךְ‎ side (of the body), thigh, יְרֵכָה‎ or יַרְכָּה‎ back part, border (of a country, house, &c.); מֵ֫צַח‎ forehead, מִצְחָה‎ greaves. On a similar distinction between the masculine for natural, and the feminine for artificial objects, see §87o.

Rem. The juxtaposition of the masculine and feminine from the same stem serves sometimes to express entirety; e.g. Isaiah 3:1 מַשְׁעֵן וּמַשְׁעֵנָה‎ stay and staff, i.e. every kind of support (unless we omit verse 1b as a gloss and take staff as = staff-bearer, official; the list of officials begins in verse 2); cf. Isaiah 16:6, Proverbs 8:13. For similar groupings in the case of persons, see Isaiah 43:6, Isaiah 49:22, Isaiah 60:4 (sons and daughters); 49:23, Ecclesiastes 2:8.

  1. So in early Arabic, ba‛l (lord) and zauǵ (conjux) are used both for maritus and uxor; ‛arūs for bridegroom and bride; the later language, however, distinguishes the feminine from the masculine in all these cases generally by the ending a (at). In early Arabic also the feminine ending is commonly omitted in such participles as ḥāmil, bāṭin (gravida), and the like, which from the nature of the case can only be used of females. Thus also אֹמֵן‎, at least in Numbers 11:12 (Isaiah 49:23?), probably means nurse (for אֹמֶ֫נֶת‎ 2 Samuel 4:4, &c.), not nursing-father.
  2. The Arab grammarians call this use of the masculine plural and dual (e.g. el-abawāni, the two fathers, i.e. parentes) taghlîb or the making (the masculine) prevail (over the feminine).—Cf. M. Grünert, Die Begriffs-Präponderanz und die Duale a potiori im Altarab., Vienna, 1886.
  3. The masculine gender is attributed ‘by the Hebrews and the Semites generally to whatever is dangerous, savage, courageous, respected, great, strong, powerful ...; the feminine to whatever is motherly, productive, sustaining, nourishing, gentle, weak, ... subject, &c.’ (Albrecht, ZAW. 1896, p. 120 f.).
  4. When, on the other hand, words with a feminine-ending, such as קֶ֫שֶׁת‎ a bow (stem קוש‎), עֵת‎ time (see the Lexicon), are sometimes construed as masculine, this is owing probably in some cases to a misunderstanding of the formation of the word, the ת‎ of the feminine being regarded as a radical.
  5. Cf. a city and a mother (אֵם‎) in Israel, 2 Samuel 20:19. In the same way אֵם‎ (like μήτηρ, mater) on Phoenician coins stands for mother-city, μητ ρόπολις. The same figure is used in such expressions as sons of Zion, Psalms 149:2; sons of Babylon, Ezekiel 23:15, &c., as also in speaking of the suburbs of a city as its daughters, e.g. Joshua 15:45 ff., &c.—The comparison of Jerusalem to a woman is especially frequent in allegorical descriptions, e.g. Ezekiel 16:23, Lamentations 1:1, &c.
  6. מַֽחֲנֶה‎ camp is feminine only when it is a collective, denoting the persons in a camp.
  7. אַף‎ nose, גִּיד‎ sinew, זָנָב‎ tail, חֵךְ‎ palate, כָּבֵד‎ liver, לֵב‎, לֵבָב‎ heart, מֵעִים‎, רַֽחֲמִים‎ bowels, מֵ֫צַח‎ forehead, עוֹר‎ skin, עֹרֶף‎ back of the neck, פֶּה‎ mouth, צַוָּאר‎ neck, רֹאשׁ‎ head, שְׁכֶם‎ shoulder, also רֶ֫חֶם‎ womb, except in Jeremiah 20:17, are invariably construed as masculine.—עֶ֫צֶם‎ bone is common.
  8. Cf. the list of masculine and feminine abstracts in Albrecht, l. c., 1896, p. 111 ff.
  9. While in all these instances it is simplest to speak of the feminine in Hebrew as being used for the neuter (which in Latin, Greek, and German is commonly employed for similar purposes), it must yet not be forgotten that since the language is wholly wanting in neuters, the Semitic mind regarded the above-mentioned forms primarily as actual feminines. Hence the Arab commentators are accustomed to explain the feminines of adjectives and participles (which would be neuter in Latin, &c.) by supplying a feminine substantive.
  10. This use of the feminine form is far more frequent in Arabic, Ethiopic, and Aramaic; cf. e.g. in Arabic ḥalîfa (fem. from ḥalîf, following after, taking the place of) in the sense of the successor or representative (of Muḥammad), and ‛allāma (great wisdom) as a title of learned men. Analogous to this is the Latin magistratus, magistracy, for magistrate, and our his Majesty, Excellency, Highness, &c.
  11. Cf. in Greek ἡ ἵππος, the cavalry (as well as τὸ ἱππικόν), ἡ κάμηλος, Hdt. 1, 80, &c., the camel corps.
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