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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 150

§150. Interrogative Sentences.

H. G. Mitchell, ‘The omission of the interrogative particle,’ in Old Test. and Sem. Studies in memory of W. R. Harper, Chicago, 1907, i, 113 ff.

1. A question need not necessarily be introduced by a special interrogative pronoun or adverb. Frequently[1] the natural emphasis upon the words is of itself sufficient to indicate an interrogative sentence as such; cf. Genesis 27:24 אַתָּה זֶה בְּנִי עֵשָׂו‎ thou art my son Esau? (but cf. note 1 below) Genesis 18:12, Exodus 33:14 (פָּנַי י׳‎); 1 Samuel 11:12 שָׁאוּל יִמְלֹךְ עָלֵ֫ינוּ‎ Saul shall reign over us? 1 Samuel 22:7, 2 Samuel 16:17, 2 Samuel 18:29 שָׁלוֹם לַנַּ֫עַר‎ is it well with the young man? (but cf. note 1); 1 Samuel 16:4, 1 Kings 1:24, Isaiah 28:28, Hosea 4:16, Zechariah 8:6 (should it also be marvellous in mine eyes?); Proverbs 5:16. So especially, when the interrogative clause is connected with a preceding sentence by וְ‎, e.g. John 4:11 וַֽאֲנִי לֹא אָחוּס‎ and I should not have pity? Exodus 8:22 will they not stone us? Judges 11:23, Judges 14:16, 1 Samuel 20:9, 1 Samuel 24:20, 1 Samuel 25:11, 2 Samuel 11:11, 2 Samuel 15:20, Isaiah 37:11, 4419 b, Jeremiah 25:29, Jeremiah 45:5, Jeremiah 49:12, Ezekiel 20:31, Job 2:10, Job 10:9; or when (as in some of the examples just given) it is negative (with לֹא‎ for הֲלֹא‎ nonne?), 2 Kings 5:26 (but cf. note 1), Lamentations 3:38. [2]

Rem. The statement formerly made here that the interrogative particle is omitted especially before gutturals, cannot be maintained in view of Mitchell’s statistics (op. cit. p. 123 f.). The supposed considerations of euphony are quite disproved by the 118 cases in which הַ‎ or הֶ‎ occurs before a guttural.

2. As a rule, however, the simple question is introduced by He interrogative הֲ‎ (הַ‎; as to its form, cf. §100kn), ne? num? the disjunctive question by הֲ‎ (num? utrum?) in the first clause, and אִם‎[3] (also וְאִם‎, less frequently אוֹ‎) an? in the second, e.g. 1 Kings 22:15 הֲנֵלֵךְ...‎ אִם נֶחְדָּ֑ל‎[4] shall we go... or shall we forbear? Cf. also אָן‎ where? whither? אָ֫נָה‎ whither, and J. Barth, Sprachwiss. Untersuchungen, i. 13 ff.

The particular uses are as follows:—

(a) The particle הֲ‎ stands primarily before the simple question, when the questioner is wholly uncertain as to the answer to be expected, and may be used either before noun-clauses, e.g. Genesis 43:7 הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח‎ is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? for הֲיֵשׁ‎ cf. Genesis 24:23, 1 Samuel 9:11; for הֲכִי‎ is it that? Job 6:22; for הֲכִי יֶשׁ־‎ is there yet? 2 Samuel 9:1 (but in 2 Samuel 23:19 for הֲכִי‎ read הִנּוֹ‎ with 1 Chronicles 11:25); for הַאֵין‎ is there not? 1 Kings 22:7, &c.; or before verbal-clauses, e.g. Job 2:3 hast thou considered (הֲשַׂ֫מְתָּ לִבְּךָ‎) my servant Job? In other cases הֲ‎ (= num?) is used before questions, to which, from their tone and contents, a negative answer is expected, e.g. Job 14:14 if a man die, הֲיִחְֽיֶה‎ shall he indeed live again? Sometimes a question is so used only as a rhetorical form instead of a negative assertion, or of a surprised or indignant refusal,[5] e.g. 2 Samuel 7:5 הַֽאַתָּה תִבְנֶה־לִּי בַיִת‎ shalt thou build me an house? (in the parallel passage 1 Chronicles 17:4 לֹא אַתָּה וג׳‎ thou shalt not, &c.); Genesis 4:9 הֲשֹׁמֵר אָחִי אָנֹ֫כִי‎ am I my brother’s keeper? cf. 2 Kings 5:7, and the two passages where הֲ‎ is used before the infinitive (constr. Job 34:18, absol. Job 40:2; on both, see § 113 ee, with the note).—On the other hand, in 1 Kings 16:31 for הֲנָקֵל‎ (after וַיְהִי‎) read הַנָּקֵל‎.

Rem. 1. A few passages deserve special mention, in which the use of the interrogative is altogether different from our idiom, since it serves merely to express the conviction that the contents of the statement are well known to the hearer, and are unconditionally admitted by him. Thus, Genesis 3:11 surely thou hast eaten; Genesis 27:36 הֲכִי קָרָא‎ prop. is it so that one names? &c., i.e. of a truth he is rightly named Jacob; Genesis 29:15 verily thou art my brother; Deuteronomy 11:30, Judges 4:6, I S 2:27 I did indeed, &c.; 20:37, 1 Kings 22:3 ye know surely...; Micah 3:1, Job 20:4.—In 1 Samuel 23:19 (cf. Psalms 54:2) a surprising communication is introduced in this way (by הֲלֹא‎) in order to show it to be absolutely true, and in Amos 9:7 a concession is expressed by הֲלוֹא‎ I have, it is true, &c. Finally, we may include the formula of quotation הֲלֹא הִיא כְתוּבָה‎ Joshua 10:13 or הֲלֹא־הֵם כְּתוּבִים‎ equivalent to surely it is, they are written (the latter in 1 Kings 11:41, 1 Kings 14:29, and very often elsewhere in the books of Kings and Chronicles), synonymous with the simple formula of assertion הִנֵּה כְתוּבָה‎ 2 Samuel 1:18, and הִנָּם כְּתוּבִים‎ 1 Kings 14:19, 2 Kings 15:11, 2 Chronicles 27:7, 2 Chronicles 32:32.

Of very frequent occurrence also are questions introduced by לָ֫מָּה‎, which really contain an affirmation and are used to state the reason for a request or warning, e.g. 2 Samuel 2:22 turn thee aside... wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? i.e. otherwise I will (or must) smite, &c.; cf. 1 Samuel 19:17, and Driver on the passage; 2 Chronicles 25:16; also Genesis 27:45, Exodus 32:12 (Joel 2:17, Psalms 79:10, Psalms 115:2); Song of Solomon 1:7, Ecclesiastes 5:5, Ecclesiastes 7:17, Daniel 1:10. 2. The rare cases in which a simple question is introduced by אִם‎ (as sometimes in Latin by an? is it?) are really due to the suppression of the first member of a double question; thus 1 Kings 1:27, Isaiah 29:16, Job 6:12, Job 39:13.

(b) Disjunctive questions are, as a rule, introduced by אִם‎הֲ‎ (utrum—an?) or sometimes by וְאִם‎[6]הֲ‎, e.g. Joel 1:2, Job 21:4 (even with הֲ‎ repeated after וְאִם‎ in a question which implies disbelief, Genesis 17:17). In Job 34:17, Job 40:8 f. special emphasis is given to the first member by הַאַף‎ prop. is it even? The second member is introduced by אוֹ‎ or in 2 Kings 6:27, Job 16:3, Job 38:28, Job 31:36 (Malachi 1:8 אוֹ הֲ‎), in each case before מ‍‎, and hence no doubt for euphonic reasons, to avoid the combination אִם מ׳‎; cf. also Judges 18:19, Ecclesiastes 2:19.

Double questions with (וְאִם‎) אִם‎הֲ‎ need not always be mutually exclusive; frequently the disjunctive form serves (especially in poetic parallelism; but cf. also e.g. Genesis 37:8) merely to repeat the same question in different words, and thus to express it more emphatically. So Job 4:17 shall mortal man be just before God? or (אִם‎) shall a man be pure before his Maker? Job 6:5 f., 8:3, 10:4 f., 11:2, 7, 22:3, Isaiah 10:15, Jeremiah 5:29. The second member may, therefore, just as well be connected by a simple וְ‎, e.g. Job 13:7, Job 15:7 f., 38:16 f.22, 32, 39; cf. also Psalms 8:5 after מָה‎; Job 21:17 f. after כַּמָּה‎; or even without a conjunction, Job 8:11, Job 22:4; after מָה‎ Psalms 144:3.

(c) With regard to indirect questions[7] after verbs of inquiring, doubting, examining,[8] &c., simple questions of this kind take either הֲ‎ whether, Genesis 8:8,[9] or אִם‎ Genesis 15:5, 2 Kings 1:2, Song of Solomon 7:13; even before a noun-clause, Jeremiah 5:1; in 1 Samuel 20:10 the indirect question is introduced by אוֹ‎, i.e. probably if perchance. In disjunctives (whether—or) אִם‎הֲ‎ Numbers 13:18 at the end (or אִם־לֹא‎הֲ‎ Genesis 24:21, Genesis 27:21, Genesis 37:32, Exodus 16:4), and הֲ‎הֲ‎ Numbers 13:18, which is followed by אִם‎הֲ‎; also אוֹ‎הֲ‎ Ecclesiastes 2:19. The formula מִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם‎ has an affirmative force, who knows whether... not, like the Latin nescio an, Esther 4:14.

In Jonah 1:7, 8 the relative pronouns שֶׁ·‎ and אֲשֶׁר‎ owing to the following לְמִי‎ have become also interrogative, for whose cause?

(d) זֶה‎ and הוּא‎ (cf. §136c) immediately after the interrogative serve to give vividness to the question; so also אֵפוֹא‎ (for which אֵפוֹ‎ five times in Job) then, now, Genesis 27:33 מִֽי־אֵפוֹא הוּא‎ who then is he? Judges 9:38, Isaiah 19:12, Job 17:15; אַיֵּה אֵפוֹ‎ where then is...? However, אֵפוֹא‎ may also be placed at the end of the entire question (Exodus 33:16, Isaiah 22:1; also Hosea 13:10, since either אֱהִי‎ is a dialectical form of אַיֵּה‎, or אַיֵּה‎ should be read instead of it) or at the beginning of the question proper, after a strongly emphasized word, as in Genesis 27:37.[10]

(e) Sometimes one interrogative governs two co-ordinate clauses, the first of which should rather be subordinated to the second, so that the interrogative word strictly speaking affects only the second; thus Isaiah 5:4 after מַדּוּעַ‎ wherefore looked I... and it brought forth? i.e. wherefore brought it forth, while I looked, &c.; Isaiah 50:2; after הֲ‎ Numbers 32:6, Jeremiah 8:4, also Numbers 16:22 (read הַאִישׁ‎); after הֲלֹא‎ Joshua 22:20; after לָ֫מָּה‎ Isaiah 58:3, 2 Chronicles 32:4; after אֶל־מִי‎ Isaiah 40:25.[11] But הֲ‎ Job 4:2 and הֲלֹא‎ 4:21 are separated from the verb to which they belong by the insertion of a conditional clause.

3. The affirmative answer is generally expressed, as in Latin, by repeating the emphatic word in the question (or with the second person changed to the first, Genesis 24:58, Genesis 27:24, Genesis 29:5, Judges 13:11), Genesis 29:6, Genesis 37:32 f., 1 Samuel 23:11, 1 Samuel 26:17, 1 Kings 21:10, Jeremiah 37:17. (On וָיֵשׁ‎ if it be so in the corrected text of 2 Kings 10:15, see § 159 dd.) As a negative answer the simple לֹא‎ is sometimes sufficient, as in Genesis 19:2, 1 Kings 3:22, &c.; cf. §152c; and in Judges 4:20 the simple אָֽיִן‎ equivalent to no or no one.

  1. Mitchell (op. cit.) restricts the number of instances to 39, of which he attributes 12 (or 17) to corruption of the text. Thus in Genesis 27:24 he would road, with the Samaritan, הַֽאַתָּה‎ as in verso 21, in 1 Samuel 16:4 הֲשָׁלֹם‎, in 2 Samuel 18:29 הֲשָׁלוֹם‎ as in verse 32; similarly he would read the interrogative particle in 2 Kings 5:26, Ezekiel 11:3, Job 40:25, Job 41:1; 1 Samuel 30:8, 2 Kings 9:19, Ezekiel 11:13, Ezekiel 17:9.
  2. But in 1 Samuel 27:10 instead of אַל־‎ (which according to the usual explanation would expect a negative answer) read either אֶל־מִי‎ (עַל־מִי‎) with the LXX, or better, אָן‎ (אָ֫נָה‎) whither? with the Targum. In 2 Samuel 23:5 read חֶפְצִי הֲלֹא‎ with Wellhausen.
  3. Quite exceptional is the use of the particle אִין‎ num? (common in Aramaic) in 1 Samuel 21:9 וְאִין יֶשׁ־פֹּה‎ num est hic? The text is, however, undoubtedly corrupt; according to Wellhausen, Text der Bücher Sam., the LXX express the reading רְאֵה הֲיֵשׁ‎; but cf. the full discussion of the passage by König, ZAW. xviii. 239 ff.—The above does not apply to interrogative sentences introduced by interrogative pronouns (§ 37) or by the interrogatives compounded with מָה‎ what? such as כַּמָּה‎ how many? לָ֫מָּה‎ why? (see §102k), מַדּוּעַ‎ why? (§99e), or by אַיֵּה‎ where? אֵיךְ‎, אֵיכָה‎ how? (§ 148), &c. On the transformation of pronouns and adverbs into interrogative words by means of a prefixed אֵי‎, see the Lexicon.
  4. On the use of the imperfect in deliberative questions, see §107t; on the perfectum confidentiae in interrogative sentences, see §106n.
  5. Analogous to this is the use of the interrogative מָה‎ in the sense of a reproachful remonstrance instead of a prohibition, as Song of Solomon 8:4 מַה־תָּעִירוּ‎ why should ye stir up? i.e. pray, stir not up; cf. also Job 31:1; see above, § 148.
  6. וְאִם‎ occurs in Proverbs 27:24 after a negative statement; we should, however, with Dyserinck read וְאֵין‎. Not less irregular is הֲלֹא‎ instead of אִם לֹא‎ in the second clause of Judges 14:15, but the text can hardly be correct (cf. Moore, Judges, New York, 1895, p. 337); in 1 Samuel 23:11 the second הֲ‎ introduces a fresh question which is only loosely connected with the first.—In Numbers 17:28 and in the third clause of Job 6:13, הַאִם‎ is best taken with Ewald in the sense of הֲלֹא‎, since אִם‎ from its use in oaths (see above, §149b) may simply mean verily not.
  7. It should here be remarked that the distinction between direct and indirect questions cannot have been recognized by the Hebrew mind to the same extent as it is in Latin or English. In Hebrew there is no difference between the two kinds of sentence, either as regards mood (as in Latin) or in tense and position of the words (as in English). Cf. also §137c.
  8. In Genesis 43:6 the הַ‎ after לְהַגִּיד‎ is explained from the fact that the latter, according to the context, implies to give information upon a question.
  9. Also in Ecclesiastes 3:21 we should read הַֽעֹלָה‎ and הֲיׄרֶ֫דֶת‎ (whether—whether) instead of the article which is assumed by the Masora.
  10. On the other hand, in Job 9:24 and 24:25 אֵפוֹ‎ is not prefixed to the מִי‎, but appended to the conditional sentence.
  11. Cf. the analogous sentences after יַ֫עַן‎ because, Isaiah 65:12, Jeremiah 35:17; after causal אֲשֶׁר‎ 1 Samuel 26:23; after כִּי‎ Isaiah 12:1; likewise after גַּם‎ § 153 at the end; after פֶּן־‎ Deuteronomy 8:12–14, 25:3, Joshua 6:18, 2 Samuel 12:28.
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