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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 137

§137. The Interrogative Pronouns.

The interrogative pronoun מִי‎ who may refer either to a masculine or feminine person (Song of Solomon 3:6), or even to a plural, e.g. מִי אַתֶּם‎ who are ye? Joshua 9:8; מִי־אֵ֫לֶּה‎ Genesis 33:5, Numbers 22:9 (more minutely, מִי וָמִי‎ Exodus 10:8, i.e. who exactly, who in particular?). It is used of the neuter only when the idea of a person is implied, e.g. מִֽי־שְׁכֶם‎ who are the Shechemites? Judges 9:28, Judges 13:17, Genesis 33:8, Micah 1:5; even more boldly, with the repetition of a מִי‎ used personally, in 1 Samuel 18:18, 2 Samuel 7:18.—Another interrogative is אֵי־זֶה‎ which, what?; of persons only in Esther 7:5.

Moreover, מִי‎ may also be used in the sense of a genitive, e.g. בַּת־מִי אַתְּ‎ whose daughter art thou? Genesis 24:23, 1 Samuel 17:55, 56, 58; דְּבַר מִי‎ whose word? Jeremiah 44:28, 1 Samuel 12:3; in the accusative, אֶת־מִי‎ quemnam? 1 Samuel 28:11, Isaiah 6:8; with prepositions, e.g. בְּמִי‎ 1 Kings 20:14 (in an abrupt question by whom?); לְמִי‎ Genesis 32:18; אַֽחֲרֵי מִי‎ 1 Samuel 24:15.—Similarly מָה‎, מַה־‎, מֶה‎ what? is used for the nominative, or accusative, or genitive (Jeremiah 8:9), or with prepositions, e.g. עַל־מָה‎ whereupon? Isaiah 1:5, Job 38:6; why? Numbers 22:32, &c.; עַד־מָה‎ quousque? Psalms 74:9.[1]

Rem. Both מִי‎ and מָה‎ are used also in indirect questions (on the merely relative distinction between direct and indirect questions in Hebrew, see the Interrogative Sentences), e.g. Genesis 39:8 (but read מְא֫וּמָה‎ with Samar. and LXX), 43:22, Exodus 32:1.—On the meaning of מִי‎ and מָה‎ as interrogatives is based also their use as indefinite pronouns (equivalent to quisquis, quodcunque or quicquam), e.g. Exodus 32:26, Judges 7:3, 1 Samuel 20:4, Isaiah 50:10 (read יִשְׁמַע‎ in the apodosis), 54:15, Proverbs 9:4, 16, 2 Chronicles 36:23; even שִׁמְרוּ־מִי‎ have a care, whosoever ye be, 2 Samuel 18:12 (unless לִי‎ is to be read, with the LXX, for מִי‎); so also מָה‎ (whatever it be) Job 13:13, 1 Samuel 19:3, 2 Samuel 18:22, 23; cf. Numbers 23:3 וּדְבַר מַה־יַּרְאֵ֫נִי‎ and whatsoever he showeth me. Cf. also מִי אֲשֶׁר‎ whosoever Exodus 32:33, 2 Samuel 20:11, and מִֽי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר‎ any man who Deuteronomy 20:5 ff., Judges 10:18. A still further weakening of the indefinite use of מָה‎ is the combination מַה־שֶּׁ·‎ that which, Ecclesiastes 1:9, Ecclesiastes 3:15 (just like the Syriac מָא דְ‎); cf. Esther 8:1, and בַּל... מָה‎ Proverbs 9:13, לֹא... מָה‎ Nehemiah 2:12, nothing whatever.—On מְא֫וּמָה‎ quicquam, anything at all (usually with a negative), and as an adverb in any way, 1 Samuel 21:3, see the Lexicon.

  1. A quite different use of מָה‎ was pointed out (privately) by P. Haupt in Song of Solomon 5:8 will ye not tell him? i.e. I charge you that ye tell him, and 7:1 = look now at the Shulamite, corresponding to the late Arabic mâ tarâ, just see! mâ taqûlu, say now! It has long been recognized that מָה‎ is used as a negative in Song of Solomon 8:4.
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