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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 145

§145. Agreement between the Members of a Sentence, especially between Subject and Predicate, in respect of Gender and Number.

1. As in other languages, so also in Hebrew, the predicate in general conforms to the subject in gender and number (even when it is a pronoun, e.g. זֹאת בְּרִיתִי‎ this is my covenant, Genesis 17:10). There are, however, numerous exceptions to this fundamental rule. These are due partly to the constructio ad sensum (where attention is paid to the meaning rather than to the grammatical form; see b–l below), partly to the position of the predicate (regarded as being without gender) before the subject.

2. Singular nouns which include in themselves a collective idea (§123a), or which occasionally have a collective sense (§123b), may readily, in accordance with their meaning, be construed with the plural of the predicate, whether it precedes or follows. This is also the case, when the collective is itself feminine but represents, exclusively or at least generally, masculine persons.


(a) Of collectives proper (cf. §132g): (α) with the predicate preceding, Genesis 30:38 תָּבֹ֫אןָ הַצֹּאן‎ (cf. 30:39, 31:8 and 33:13); Judges 1:22 f. בַּ֫יִת‎ representing persons belonging to the tribe; Micah 4:3 גּוֹי‎; 2 Kings 25:5 חַ֫יִל‎ army; Proverbs 11:26 לְאוֹם‎ the people; Numbers 10:3 כָּל־הָֽעֵדָה‎ all the congregation (cf. 1 Kings 8:5); 1 Kings 1:40, Isaiah 9:8, Isaiah 25:3, Amos 1:5 עַם‎; 1 Samuel 17:47, Ezra 10:12 קָהָל‎ assembly. Cf. also the construction of national names, as אֲרָם‎ (§122i), e.g. 1 Kings 20:20 וַיָּנֻ֫סוּ אֲרָם‎ and the Syrians fled; 1 Samuel 4:5.—(β) with the predicate following, 1 Kings 8:5 צֹאן וּבָקָר‎ sheep and oxen, construed with the plural in the following relative clause; Job 1:14 הַבָּקָר הָיוּ חֹֽרְשׁוֹת‎ the cattle (cows) were ploughing; 2 Samuel 3:1 and 1 Chronicles 10:6 בַּ֫יִת‎=family (in 1 Samuel 6:13 בֵּית שֶׁ֫מֶשׁ‎ on the analogy of names of countries, is used for the inhabitants of Bethshemesh); Hosea 11:7, Ezra 4:4 עַם‎; Psalms 68:11 חַיָּה‎ herd [if correct, figuratively for people]; Isaiah 26:19 נְבֵלָה‎ dead bodies; Isaiah 27:11 קָצִיר‎ boughs; 1 Samuel 4:1 יִשְׂרָאֵל‎, preceded by a predicate in the singular.

(b) Of substantives occasionally used as collectives: (α) with the predicate preceding, Genesis 34:24 זָכָר‎; Judges 9:55, Judges 15:10 אִישׁ‎; Isaiah 16:4 רֹמֵס‎ the treader down.—(β) with the predicate following, Job 8:19 אַחֵר‎=others; Ezekiel 28:3 סָתוּם‎ a secret; [Psalms 9:7, and even after זֶה‎ Job 19:19.]

(c) Of feminines as collective terms denoting masculine persons: (α) with the predicate preceding, 1 Samuel 17:46 וְיֵדְעוּ כָּל־הָאָרֶץ‎ that all the earth may know, the i.e. all the inhabitants of the earth; cf. Deuteronomy 9:28, Psalms 66:1, Psalms 96:1, 9, &c.; Amos 1:8 שְׁאֵרִית‎ remnant; (Psalms 33:8 כָּל־הָאָ֫רֶץ‎).—(β) with the predicate following, Genesis 41:57, 2 Samuel 15:23, 1 Kings 10:24, Genesis 48:6 מוֹלֶ֫דֶת‎ issue; 1 Samuel 2:33 כָּל־מַרְבִּית‎ all the increase; Job 30:12 פִּרְחָח‎ rabble. In Haggai 2:7 read חֲמֻדֹת‎ with the LXX.

Examples of predicates in the singular, notwithstanding the collective meaning of the subject, occur in Genesis 35:11, Exodus 10:24, Exodus 14:10, Deuteronomy 1:39, &c.—For examples of bold enallage of the number in noun-clauses with a substantival predicate, see above, §141c.

Rem. Not infrequently the construction begins in the singular (especially when the predicate precedes; see o below), but is carried on, after the collective subject has been mentioned, in the plural; e.g. Exodus 1:20 מְאֹד וַיִּ֫רֶב הָעָם וַיַּֽעַצְמוּ‎ and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty; 33:4.

3. On the other hand, plurals which have a singular meaning (§124a) are frequently construed with the singular, especially the pluralis excellentiae or maiestatis (§ g–i; on the union of these plurals with attributes, cf. §132h), as אֱלֹהִים‎ Genesis 1:1, 3, &c. (but see the Rem.), אֲדֹנִים‎ master, Exodus 21:4 בְּעָלִים‎ master, owner, Exodus 21:29; cf., moreover, פָּנִים‎ with the singular, Job 16:16 Keth., רַֽחֲמִים‎ Proverbs 12:10.—So feminine forms with a masculine meaning are construed with a masculine predicate, e.g. Ecclesiastes 12:9 הָיָה קֹהֶ֫לֶת חָכָם‎ the preacher was wise.

Rem. The construction of אֱלֹהִים‎ God with the plural of the predicate may be explained (apart of course from such passages as 1 Kings 19:2, 1 Kings 20:10, where the speakers are heathen, and אֱלֹהִים‎ may, therefore, be a numerical plural) partly as an acquiescence in a polytheistic form of expression, partly from the peculiar usage of one of the early documents of the Hexateuch, called E by Wellhausen, &c., B by Dillmann; cf. his commentary on Numbers—Joshua, p. 618, and above, §124g, note 2. So Genesis 20:13 (but in conversation with a heathen); 31:53, 35:7, cf. also Joshua 24:19. That this construction was afterwards studiously avoided from fear of misconception, is shown by such passages as Nehemiah 9:18 compared with Exodus 32:4, 8, and 1 Chronicles 17:21 compared with 2 Samuel 7:23. Cf. Strack’s excursus on Genesis 20:13 in Die Genesis, Munich, 1905, p. 77. 4. Plurals of names of animals or things, and of abstracts, whether they be masculine or feminine, are frequently construed with the feminine singular of the verbal predicate[1] (on the collective sense of the feminine form, cf. §122s); thus Joel 1:20 בַּֽהֲמוֹת שָׂדֶה תַּֽעֲרֹג‎ the beasts of the field long; Jeremiah 12:4 (where the predicate precedes), cf. also Job 12:7; names of things with the predicate preceding occur in 2 Samuel 24:13, Isaiah 34:13, Jeremiah 4:14, Jeremiah 51:29, Psalms 18:35, Psalms 37:31, Psalms 73:2 Keth., 103:5 (unless הַֽמְחַדֵּשׁ‎ is to be read for תִּתְחַדֵּשׁ‎), Job 14:19, Job 27:20; with the predicate following, Genesis 49:22 (בָּנוֹת‎=branches); Deuteronomy 21:7, 1 Samuel 4:15 (וְעֵינָיו קָ֫מָה‎),[2] 2 Samuel 10:9, Isaiah 59:12, Jeremiah 2:15 Keth., 48:41, 49:24, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 20:18, Job 41:10.[3]

5. Moreover, the plural of persons (especially in the participle) is sometimes construed with the singular of the predicate, when instead of the whole class of individuals, each severally is to be represented as affected by the statement. Undoubted examples of this distributive singular are Genesis 27:29 (Numbers 24:9) אֹֽרֲרֶ֫יךָ אָרוּר וּמְבָֽרֲכֶ֫יךָ בָּרוּךְ‎ those that curse thee, cursed be every one of them, and those that bless thee, blessed be every one of them; Exodus 31:14, Leviticus 17:14 and 19:8 (in both places the Samaritan has אֹֽכְלוֹ‎); Isaiah 3:12 unless נֽׄגְשָׂיו‎ is to be regarded as a pluralis maiestatis according to §124k; Proverbs 3:1835 (?), Proverbs 18:21 (?), Proverbs 21:27, Proverbs 27:16, Proverbs 28:1, 28:16 Keth.

Rem. Analogous to the examples above mentioned is the somewhat frequent[4] use of suffixes in the singular (distributively) referring to plurals; cf. the verbal-suffixes in Deuteronomy 21:10, Deuteronomy 28:48, Amos 6:10; and the noun-suffixes in Isaiah 2:8, Isaiah 30:22, Jeremiah 31:14, Hosea 4:8 (but since ו‎ follows, נַפְשׁוֹ‎ is undoubtedly a dittography for נָֽפֶשׁ‎), Zechariah 14:12, Psalms 5:10 (where, however, פִּימוֹ‎ is clearly to be read with all the early versions); 62:5, 141:10 (?), Job 38:32, Ecclesiastes 10:15 [but LXX הַכְּסִיל‎]; finally, the suffixes with prepositions in Isaiah 2:20 אֲשֶׁר עָֽשׂוּ־לוֹ‎ which they made each one for himself (according to others, which they (the makers) made for him); 5:26, 8:20, Job 24:5, in each case לוֹ‎; in Genesis 2:19 לוֹ‎ refers to the collectives חַיָּה‎ and עוֹף‎; cf. further, Joshua 24:7, Isaiah 5:23 מִמֶּ֫נּוּ‎ after צַדִּיקִים‎ (but read probably צַדִּיק‎ with the LXX, &c.). Conversely in Micah 1:11 עִבְרִי לָכֶם‎ [cf. Jeremiah 13:20 Keth.], but the text is undoubtedly corrupt. 6. Subjects in the dual are construed with the plural of the predicate, since verbs, adjectives, and pronouns, according to §88a, have no dual forms; thus עֵינַ֫יִם‎, Genesis 29:17 וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת‎ and Leah’s eyes were dull; 2 Samuel 24:3, Isaiah 30:20, Jeremiah 14:6, Micah 7:10, Psalms 18:28, Psalms 38:11 (on the other hand, in 1 Samuel 4:15 the predicate is in the feminine singular after the subject, and in Micah 4:11 before it; on both constructions cf. k above); so also אָזְנַ֫יִם‎ ears, 2 Chronicles 6:40; יָדַ֫יִם‎ hands, Isaiah 1:15, Job 10:8, Job 20:10 (in Exodus 17:12 even with the plural masculine כְּבֵדִים‎; cf. p); שְׂפָתַ֫יִם‎ lips, 1 Samuel 1:13, Job 27:4; שָׁדַ֫יִם‎ breasts, Hosea 9:14.

7. Variations from the fundamental rule (see above, a) very frequently occur when the predicate precedes the subject (denoting animals or things[5]). The speaker or writer begins with the most simple form of the predicate, the uninflected 3rd singular masculine, and leaves us without indication as to which of the following subjects (and so which gender or number) is to define the predicate thus left temporarily indefinite.[6] Thus inflexions are omitted in—

(a) The verb, with a following singular feminine, Isaiah 2:17 וְשַׁח גַּבְהוּת הָֽאָדָם‎ and bowed down shall be the loftiness of man; 9:18, 14:11, 28:18, 47:11; 1 Samuel 25:27 (see note 1 below); 1 Kings 8:31b, 22:36, 2 Kings 3:26, Jeremiah 51:46, Ecclesiastes 7:7; with a following plural masc., Isaiah 13:22 וְעָנָה אִיִּים‎ and there shall cry wolves, &c.; Judges 13:17 Keth., 20:46, 1 Samuel 1:2, 1 Samuel 4:10, 2 Samuel 24:15, 1 Kings 13:33, Jeremiah 51:48, Psalms 124:5, Esther 9:23 (see note 1 below); Genesis 1:14 יְהִי מְאֹרֹת‎ let there be lights; with a following plural feminine, Deuteronomy 32:35, 1 Kings 11:3a, Isaiah 8:8, Jeremiah 13:18, Micah 2:6, Psalms 57:2; before collectives and mixed subjects, e.g. Genesis 12:16, Genesis 13:5, Genesis 30:43, Genesis 32:6, &c.; before a following dual, Isaiah 44:18, Psalms 73:7 (where, however, with the LXX עֲוֹנָ֫מוֹ‎ should be read).

Rem. 1. The instances in which a preceding predicate appears in the plural masculine before a plural (or collective singular) feminine of persons (Judges 21:21, 1 Kings 11:3b), of animals (Genesis 30:39 where however צאֹן‎ may refer specially to male animals) or of things (Leviticus 26:33, Jeremiah 13:16, Hosea 14:7, Psalms 16:4, Job 3:24, Song of Solomon 6:9), or before a dual (2 Samuel 4:1, Zephaniah 3:16, 2 Chronicles 15:7) are to be explained not on the analogy of the examples under o, but from a dislike of using the 3rd plur. fem. imperf., for this is the only form concerned in the above examples (cf., however, Nahum 3:11 תְּהִי‎ instead of תִּֽהְיִי‎); cf. the examples of a following predicate in the 3rd plur. masc., instead of the fem., under t and u, and on an analogous phenomenon in the imperative, see §110k.

2. As in the case of verbs proper so also the verb הָיָה‎, when used as a copula, frequently remains uninflected before the subject; cf. Genesis 5:23, 39:5, Deuteronomy 21:3 (according to the accents); 22:23, Isaiah 18:5 וּבֹסֶר גֹּמֵל יִֽהְיֶה נִצָּה‎ and a ripening grape the flower becometh.

(b) The adjective in a noun-clause, e.g. Psalms 119:137 יָשָׁר מִשְׁפָּטֶ֫יךָ‎ upright are thy judgements; cf. verse 155.[7]—On the other hand, רֹעֵה‎ in רֹעֵה צֹאן עֲבָדֶ֫יךָ‎ thy servants are shepherds, Genesis 47:3, is either an unusual orthography or simply a misspelling for רֹעֵי‎.

Rem. 1. As soon as a sentence which begins with an uninflected predicate is carried on after the mention of the subject, the gender and number of the subsequent (co-ordinate) predicates must coincide with those of the subject, e.g. Genesis 1:14 יְהִי מְאֹרֹת... וְהָיוּ‎ (see o above); Numbers 9:6, Ezekiel 14:1; cf. also Genesis 30:39 (see p above).

2. The dislike mentioned in p above, of using the feminine form (cf., further, §144a, with the sections of the Grammar referred to there, and below, under u), is exemplified sometimes by the fact that of several predicates only that which stands next to the feminine substantive is inflected as feminine (cf. the treatment of several attributes following a feminine substantive, §132d); thus in Isaiah 14:9 רָֽגְזָה‎, and afterwards עוֹרֵר‎ (but עוֹרֵר‎ is better taken as an infin. abs.=excitando, reading הָקֵם‎ for הֵקִים‎); 33:9 אָבַל אֻמְלְלָה אֶ֫רֶץ‎ mourneth, languisheth the land. Cf. Jeremiah 4:30, Job 1:19, and the examples (§47k) where only the first of several consecutive forms of the 2nd sing. fem. imperf. has the afformative î, Isaiah 57:8, Jeremiah 3:5, Ezekiel 22:4, Ezekiel 23:32 (תִּֽהְיֶה‎ after תִּשְׁתִּי‎); on the converse sequence of genders in imperatives, Nahum 3:15, cf. §110k.—Of a different kind are instances like Leviticus 2:1, Leviticus 5:1, Leviticus 20:6, where נֶ֫פֶשׁ‎ person (fem.) as the narrative continues, assumes (in agreement with the context) the sense of a masculine person.

3. The instances in which the gender or number of the following predicate appears to differ from that of the subject are due partly to manifest errors in the text, e.g. Genesis 32:9 read with the Samaritan הָֽאֶחָד‎ instead of הָֽאַחַת‎; וְהָיָה‎ then follows correctly; 1 Samuel 2:20 read with Wellhausen שָׁאֻל‎, according to 1:28, instead of שָׁאַל‎; 1 Samuel 16:4 read וַיּֽאֹמְרוּ‎; Ezekiel 18:29 instead of יִתָּכֵן‎ read the plural as in verse 25; so also Ezekiel 20:38 for יָבוֹא‎, [8] and in Job 6:20 for נָּטָ֑ח‎; in Lamentations 5:10 read נִכְמָר‎, and cf. in general, §7d, note; 1 Chronicles 2:48 read יָלְֽדָה‎; in Jeremiah 48:15 also the text is certainly corrupt. Other instances are due to special reasons. The anomalies in Isaiah 49:11, Hosea 14:1, Proverbs 1:16 (after רַגְלָיו‎), Psalms 11:4 (after עֵינָיו‎), 63:4, Proverbs 5:2, Proverbs 10:21, 32 18:6, 26:23, Job 15:6 (all after שְׂפָתַ֫יִם‎), Proverbs 3:2 (after מִצְוֹתַי‎), Psalms 102:28, Job 16:22 (after שָׁנוֹת‎), Daniel 11:41 (read וְרִבּוּת‎), and perhaps Genesis 20:17 are also to be explained (see p) from the dislike of the 3rd plur. fem. imperf.; moreover, in Jeremiah 44:19, Proverbs 26:23 the plur. masc. even of a participle occurs instead of the plur. fem.—In Genesis 31:8 f. יִהְֽיֶה‎, after a plural subject, is explained as a case of attraction to the following singular predicate.[9]—In Genesis 4:7 רֹבֵץ‎ is a substantival participle (a lurker, a coucher). In Genesis 47:24 יִֽהְיֶה‎ remains undefined in gender (masc.), although the noun precedes for the sake of emphasis; so also in Genesis 28:22, Exodus 12:49, Exodus 28:7, 32, Numbers 9:14, Numbers 15:29, Jeremiah 50:46, Ecclesiastes 2:7 (הָיָה לִי‎ as if the sentence began afresh, and servants born in my house... there fell to my lot this possession also). In Job 20:26 לֹֽא־נֻפַּח‎ may (unless אֵשׁ‎ is regarded as masculine, §122o) be taken impersonally, fire, without its being blown upon.—In Isaiah 16:8 and Habakkuk 3:17 the predicate in the singular is explained from the collective character of שְׁדֵמוֹת‎ (see h above); on the other hand, the masculine form of the predicate is abnormal in Psalms 87:3, Proverbs 2:10, Proverbs 12:25, Proverbs 29:25, Job 8:7, Job 36:18.

  1. Cf. in Greek the construction of the neuter plural with the singular of the predicate τὰ πρόβατα βαίνει; in Attic Greek the plural of the predicate is allowed only when the neuter denotes actual persons, as τὰ ἀνδράποδα ἔλαβον. In Arabic also the pluralis inhumanus (i.e. not denoting persons) is regularly construed with the feminine singular of the attribute or predicate, as are all the plurales fracti (properly collective forms).
  2. On the possibility of explaining forms like קָ֫מָה‎ as 3rd plural feminine, cf. above, §44m; but this explanation would not apply to all the cases under this head, cf. Joel 1:20, Psalms 37:31, Psalms 103:5.
  3. In Proverbs 14:1 an abstract plural חָכְמוֹת‎ (to be read thus with 9:1, &c., instead of חַכְמוֹת‎) is construed with the singular; but cf. §86l, §124e, end.
  4. In several of the above examples the text is doubtful, and hence Mayer Lambert (REJ. xxiv. 110) rejects the theory of distributive singulars generally. [Cf. Driver, Jeremiah, p. 362, on 16:7.]
  5. Only rarely does an uninflected predicate precede a personal subject, as 1 Samuel 25:27 (but הֵבִ֫יאָה‎ should probably be read, as in verse 35); Esther 9:23 (before a plur. mass.). Such examples as Job 42:15 are to be explained according to §121a.
  6. In a certain sense this is analogous to the German es kommt ein Mann, eine Frau, &c.
  7. This does not include such cases as Job 24:7, 10, where עָרוֹם‎ is rather to be explained as an accusative denoting a state, §118n.
  8. יבוא‎ probably an error for יבאו‎. The Masora on Leviticus 11:34 reckons fourteen instances of יָבֹא‎, where we should expect the plural.
  9. So also the pronoun הוּא‎ emphatically resuming the subject (see §141h) is attracted to the predicate in number in Joshua 13:14 אִשֵּׁי יְהֹוָה... הוּא נַֽחֲלָתוֹ‎ the offerings of the Lord... that is his inheritance; in number and gender, Leviticus 25:33 Qe; Jeremiah 10:3.
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