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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 159

§159. Conditional Sentences.

Cf. H. Ferguson, ‘The Use of the Tenses in Conditional Sentences in Hebrew’ (Journal of the Society of Bibl. Lit. and Exeg., Middletown, Conn., June and September, 1882).—P. Friedrich, Die hebr. Conditionalsätze, Königsberg, 1884 (Inaug.-Diss.).—Driver, Use of the Tenses, 3rd ed., p. 174 ff.

1. The great variety of construction in conditional sentences is owing to the fact that it frequently depends on the subjective judgement of the speaker, whether he wishes a condition to be regarded as capable of fulfilment (absolutely, or at least possibly), thus including those already fulfilled, or as incapable of fulfilment. On this distinction depends the choice both of the conditional particle to be used (see below), and especially (as also in Greek and Latin) of the tense. The use of the latter is naturally determined according to the general principles laid down in § 106 ff.[1] In the following sketch, for the sake of clearness, conditional sentences without conditional particles will be first discussed (under b), and afterwards sentences with these particles (under l).

2. The relation between condition and consequence may be expressed, as in English, by the simple juxtaposition of two clauses. At the same time, it is to be observed in general as a fundamental rule (in accordance with the original character of the two tenses), that the imperfect, with its equivalents (the jussive, cohortative, imperative, perfect consecutive, and participle), is used to express a condition and consequence which are regarded as being capable of fulfilment in present or future time, while the perfect represents a condition already fulfilled in the past, and its consequence as an accomplished fact. The other use of the perfect—to represent conditions regarded as impossible—occurs only in connexion with particles.


(a) Imperfect (cf. §107x) in protasis and apodosis, Joshua 22:18, Psalms 104:28 ff. יִלְקֹם֑וּן‎[2] תִּתֵּן לָתֶם‎ (if) thou givest unto them, they gather, &c.; Psalms 139:18, Proverbs 12:17, Job 20:24, Ecclesiastes 1:18, Nehemiah 1:8; with an interrogative imperfect in the apodosis, Judges 13:12; with the jussive, Job 10:16; with the cohortative, Pr. 1:23; with the perfect, Isaiah 26:10 (yet will he not learn righteousness; the apodosis forcibly denies what the imperfect in the protasis had represented as still conceivable; cf. Hosea 8:12); with the perfect consecutive, Genesis 47:25, Exodus 33:5; with the protasis suppressed, Job 5:8 (see §107x).

(b) Jussive in protasis (cf. §109h, i) and apodosis, Psalms 104:10 תָּֽשֶׁת־ח֫שֶׁךְ וִיהִי לָ֑יְלָה‎ (if) thou makest darkness, it is night; imperfect in the apodosis, Psalms 104:29 b; cohortative Proverbs 1:23. Also in Exodus 7:9 יְהִי לְתַנִּין‎ it shall become a serpent, is the apodosis to a suppressed protasis if thou cast it down; so in 2 Kings 5:10 וְיָשֹׁב‎ is the apodosis to a protasis if thou wash, contained in what precedes.

(c) Cohortative (see §108e) in the protasis; perfect in the apodosis, Psalms 40:6; imperfect consecutive, Job 19:18 אָק֫וּמָה וַיְרַבְּרוּ־בִי‎ (if) I arise, they speak against me; on the cohortative in the apodosis, cf. §108f.

(d) Imperfect consecutive in the protasis (§111x), Psalms 139:11 וָאֹֽמַד‎ if I say, &c. (with a noun-clause as the apodosis); with a frequentative perfect consecutive in the apodosis, 1 Samuel 2:16.

(e) Perfect consecutive in the protasis and apodosis (see the examples, §112kk and ll), Genesis 44:22 וְעָוַב אָבִיו וָמֵת‎ and should he leave his father, his father would die; 9:15, 44:29, Exodus 4:14, Exodus 12:13, 1 Samuel 16:2, 1 Samuel 19:3, 2 Samuel 13:28, 1 Kings 8:30; with frequentative perfects, Exodus 16:21 (referring to the past, Jeremiah 20:9); with imperfect in the apodosis (being separated from the Wāw by לֹא‎), Numbers 23:20, Job 5:24; introduced by an infinitive absolute, 1 Kings 2:37; an interrogative clause in the apodosis, Leviticus 10:19; a noun-clause, Psalms 37:10, Job 7:21.

(f) A simple perfect (to represent actions which are to be regarded as completed) in the protasis and apodosis, Proverbs 18:22 מָצָא אִשָּׁה מָצָא טוֹב‎ has one found a wife, he has found a good thing; an imperfect in the apodosis, Job 19:4, Job 23:10; an imperfect consecutive, Exodus 20:25, Proverbs 11:2, Job 3:25, Job 23:13 b, 29:11; an interrogative clause, Numbers 12:14, Job 7:20 if I have sinned (prop., well, now I have sinned!) what can I do unto thee? 21:31, 35:6, Amos 3:8; a noun-clause, Job 27:19.

(g) A participle as casus pendens (cf. §143d, and the sections of the Grammar there cited, esp. §116w) or a complete noun-clause in the protasis; the apodosis mostly introduced by wāw apodosis, e.g. Proverbs 23:24 Keth. יוֹלֵד חָכָם וְיִשְׂמַח בּוֹ‎ if one begetteth a wise child, he shall have joy of him; with perfect frequentative in the apodosis, 1 Samuel 2:13, &c.; but also with a simple imperfect, e.g. Exodus 21:12 (cf. §112n); with an interrogative imperfect, 2 Kings 7:2, 19; with an interrogative perfect, Judges 6:13.

(h) Infinitive with preposition (also as the equivalent of a conditional clause) in the protasis, and a perfect consecutive in the apodosis (cf. §112mm), e.g. 2 Samuel 7:14 ff. בְּהַֽעֲוֹתוֹ וֽהֹֽכַחְתִּיו וג׳‎ if he commit iniquity, I will correct him; Exodus 34:34 f. (with imperfect, followed by perfects frequentative in the apodosis).

Rem. On the expression of condition and consequence by means of two co-ordinate imperatives, see §110f.

3. Particles used to introduce conditional sentences are אִם‎ (for which in the later and latest Books sometimes הֵן‎, see below, under w) and לוּ‎[3] (1 Samuel 14:30, Isaiah 63:19 לוּא‎; Ecclesiastes 6:6, Esther 7:4 אִלּוּ‎, from אִם לוּ‎) if, negative אִם לֹא‎ and לוּלֵא‎ (לוּלֵי‎) unless; כִּי‎ supposing that (Lat. ut), in case that, sometimes used almost in the same sense as אִם‎. With regard to the difference between אִם‎ (אִם לֹא‎) and לוּ‎ (לוּלֵא‎), the fundamental rule is that אִם‎ is used if the condition be regarded either as already fulfilled, or if it, together with its consequence, be thought of as possibly (or probably) occurring in the present or future. In the former case, אִם‎ is followed by the perfect, in the latter (corresponding to the Greek ἐὰν with the present subjunctive) by the imperfect or its equivalent (frequently in the apodosis also). On the other hand, לוּ‎ (לוּלֵא‎) is used when the condition is to be represented as not fulfilled in the past, or as not capable of fulfilment in the present or future, and the consequence accordingly as not having occurred or never occurring. In the former case, לוּ‎ and לוּלֵא‎ are necessarily followed by the perfect (mostly also in the apodosis) corresponding to the Greek εἰ with the indicative of an historic tense, and the Latin imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive. In the latter case (which is extremely rare) the perfect, or the participle, or even the imperfect, may be used.

Rem. Since it again frequently depends on the subjective judgement of the speaker (see under a), whether a condition is to be regarded as possible or impossible, we cannot wonder that the distinction between אִם‎ and לוּ‎ is not always consistently observed. Although naturally לוּ‎ and לוּלֵא‎ cannot take the place of אִם‎ and אִם לֹא‎ (on the strange use of לוּ‎ in Genesis 50:15 see below), yet conversely אִם‎ is sometimes used where לוּ‎ would certainly be expected; cf. e.g. Psalms 50:12, Psalms 137:5, Psalms 139:8, Hosea 9:12 (cf. verse 11). These examples, indeed (אִם‎ with the imperfect), may without difficulty be explained from the fact that the connexion of לוּ‎ with the imperfect was evidently avoided, because the imperfect by its nature indicates a still unfinished action, and consequently (as opposed to לוּ‎) a still open possibility. But אִם‎ is also used for לוּ‎ in connexion with the perfect, especially when an imprecation is attached by the apodosis to the condition introduced by אִם‎, e.g. Psalms 7:4 ff. אִם־עָשִׂ֫יתִי זֹאת... יִֽרַדֹּף וג׳‎ if I have done this..., let the enemy pursue my soul, &c., cf. Job 31:9 ff. The speaker assumes for a moment as possible and even actual, that which he really rejects as inconceivable, in order to invoke the most severe punishment on himself, if it should prove to be the case.

On the frequent addition of an infinitive absolute to the verb in clauses with אם‎ see §113o above.


A. אִם‎ 1. with perfect in the protasis to express conditions, &c., which have been completely fulfilled in the past or which will be completely fulfilled in the future (the perfect is here equivalent to the futurum exactum, §106o). The apodosis[4] takes—

(a) A perfect also, e.g. Proverbs 9:12 אִם־חָכַ֫מְתָּ חָכַ֫מְתָּ לָּ֑ךְ‎ if thou art wise, thou art wise for thyself; Psalms 73:15 (see below on לוּ‎).

(b) Imperfect, e.g. Deuteronomy 32:41 אִם־שַׁנּוֹתִי‎ if I whet my glittering sword... אָשִׁיב‎ I will render vengeance, &c.; Job 9:15 f.30 (in both cases we should expect לוּ‎ rather than אִם־‎; so also in Psalms 44:21 f., with an interrogative imperfect in the apodosis); Job 11:13 (the apodosis is in verse 15).

(c) Jussive (or optative), e.g. Job 31:9 ff. (see m above); Genesis 18:3. (d) Perfect consecutive (see the examples in §112gg), e.g. Genesis 43:9 אִם־לֹא הֲבִֽיאֹתִיו וג׳‎ if I bring him not... then I shall have sinned, &c.; Judges 16:17, 2 Samuel 15:33, 2 Kings 7:4. On the other hand, e.g. Genesis 47:6, Micah 5:7, Job 7:4 refer to actions already completed; in Genesis 38:9 and Numbers 21:9 the perfect with וְ‎ is a perfect frequentative and refers to past time.

(e) Imperfect consecutive (see §111q), e.g. Job 8:4 if thy children have sinned (חָֽטְאוּ‎)..., וַיְשַׁלְּחֵם‎ he has delivered them, &c.

(f) Imperative, e.g. Genesis 50:4 אִם־נָא מָצָ֫אתִי חֵן בְּעֵֽינֵיכֶם דַּבְּרוּ־נָא לג׳‎ if now I have found grace in your eyes, speak, I pray you, &c.; the imperative precedes in Genesis 47:16 and Job 38:4, 18.

(g) A (complete or incomplete) noun-clause, e.g. Jeremiah 14:18 (a vivid realization of the future) if I have gone forth into the field (= if I go, &c.), then, behold, the slain with the sword! &c.; Proverbs 24:14 (apodosis with wāw apodosis).

2. אִם‎ with imperfect in the protasis, to express what is possible in the present or future, as well as (according to §107b) what has continued or been repeated in the past. The apodosis takes—

(a) The perfect, e.g. Numbers 32:23 וְאִם־לֹא תַֽעֲשׂוּן כֵּן הִנֵּה חֲטָאתֶם‎ but if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned; here the apodosis represents the time when the consequence has already taken place; so also Job 20:12–14. On the other hand, Numbers 16:29 (as also 1 Samuel 6:9 and 1 Kings 22:28) is a case of a pregnant construction, if these men die as all men die, then (it will follow from this) the Lord hath not sent me.

(b) The imperfect, e.g. 2 Kings 7:4 אִם־יֶחַיֻּ֫נוּ הִֽחְיֶה‎ if they save us alive, we shall live, &c.; Genesis 13:16, Genesis 18:28, 30, 28:20 ff., Exodus 20:25 (the second imperfect is equivalent to a jussive); Isaiah 1:18, Isaiah 10:22, Amos 9:2–4, Psalms 50:12 (where אִם‎ ironically represents an impossibility as possible); Job 8:5 f. (with the insertion of a second condition in the form of a noun-clause); 9:3, 20, 14:7; a frequentative imperfect referring to the past, Genesis 31:8 אִם־כֹּה יֹאמַר‎ if (ever) he said thus..., וְיָֽלְדוּ‎ then they bare...; Exodus 40:37. In Genesis 42:37 the consequence (on תָּמִית‎ cf. §107s) precedes the condition.

(c) The jussive (or optative), e.g. Psalms 137:5; cf. §109h.

(d) The cohortative, e.g. Genesis 13:9, Job 31:7; cf. §108f.

(e) The perfect consecutive (see the examples in §112ff and gg), e.g. 1 Samuel 20:6 אִם־פָּקֹד יִפְקְרֵ֫נִי אָבִ֫יךָ וְאָֽמַרְתָּ‎ if thy father miss me at all, then shalt thou say, &c.; Genesis 24:41, Judges 4:20; with a frequentative perfect consecutive, Genesis 31:8 if he said (as often happened)..., then, &c.

(f) The imperfect consecutive; so perhaps Psalms 59:16, if וַיָּלִ֫ינוּ‎ is to be explained according to §111t.

(g) The imperative, e.g. Genesis 31:50, 1 Samuel 20:21 (with wāw apodosis, but in verse 22 simply לֵךְ‎), 21:10, Job 33:5.

(h) A noun-clause, e.g. Genesis 4:7, Psalms 139:8, Job 8:6, Job 31:26 f.

3. אִם‎ with cohortative, e.g. Genesis 30:31; cf. the passages in §108e.

4. אִם‎ with infinitive, Job 9:27 אִם־אָמְרִי‎ prop. if my saying is (but probably we should read אָמַ֫רְתִּי‎).

5. אִם‎ with a noun-clause, e.g. Deuteronomy 5:22 (in the apodosis a perfect with wāw apodosis), Genesis 27:46, Judges 9:15 (imperative in the apodosis); 11:9 (imperfect in the apodosis); 2 Samuel 12:8 (cohortative in the apodosis); Hosea 12:12; especially if the subject of the conditional clause be a personal pronoun. In an affirmative sentence this pronoun is often joined to יֵשׁ‎, in a negative sentence to אֵין‎ (cf. on both, §100o), while the predicate (cf. §116q) is represented by a participle, usually expressing the future, e.g. Judges 6:36 f. אִם־יֶשְׁךָ מוֹשִׁיעַ‎ if thou will save, &c.; Genesis 24:49 אִם־יֶשְׁבֶם עֹשִׂים‎ if ye will deal, &c.; 1 Samuel 23:23. In Genesis 24:42 f. the condition is expressed in a more humble form by the addition of נָא‎. With אֵין‎ Genesis 43:5 וְאִם־אֵֽינְךָ מְשַׁלֵּחַ‎ but if thou wilt not send, &c.; 20:7 (with imperative in the apodosis); Exodus 8:17, Exodus 9:2 f., 1 Samuel 19:11 (all with a participle also in the apodosis). But יֵשׁ‎ and אַ֫יִן‎ may also be used after אִם‎ without a suffix; thus יֵשׁ‎ Genesis 23:8, 1 Samuel 20:8, 2 Kings 9:15, &c., אִם־אַ֫יִן‎ (if it be not the case) Genesis 30:1, Exodus 32:32, Judges 9:15, 2 Kings 2:10; cf. also אִם־כֵּן‎ if it be so, Genesis 25:22.

B. הֵן‎ if, generally supposed to be originally identical with הֵן‎ behold![5] Probably, however, הֵן‎ if, is a pure Aramaism, and since the Aramaic word never has the meaning behold, it is at least improbable that it had originally any connexion with הֵן‎ or הִנֵּה‎. Cf. Exodus 8:22, Leviticus 25:20, Isaiah 54:15, Jeremiah 3:1, Haggai 2:12, 2 Chronicles 7:13, and frequently in Job, as Job 9:11, 12, 12:14, 15, 19:7, 23:8, 40:23, always with wāw apodosis following, except in 13:15, where consequently the meaning see is no doubt preferable.

C. לוּ‎ if, לוּלֵא‎ (לוּלֵי‎) if not.

1. With perfect in the protasis and apodosis (cf. §106p), e.g. Judges 8:19; אִלּוּ‎ is used in the same sense as לוּ‎ in Esther 7:4, cf. Ecclesiastes 6:6 (with a question in the apodosis).—With the perfect in protasis and apodosis after לוּלֵא‎ Genesis 31:42, Genesis 43:10, Judges 14:18, 1 Samuel 25:34, 2 Samuel 2:27, Isaiah 1:9. On the other hand, in Deuteronomy 32:29 לוּ‎ with a perfect is followed by an imperfect in the apodosis, if they were wise, they would understand this; in Micah 2:11 by a perfect consecutive.

2. With imperfect after לוּלֵא‎ Deuteronomy 32:27, אָגוּר‎ probably as the modus rei repetitae, were it not that I ever and again feared, &c.; so also the imperfect after לוּ‎ with the apodosis suppressed, Genesis 50:15 supposing that Joseph should hate us; since, according to the context, the danger was real, the use of לוּ‎ here is strange; conversely in other cases, e.g. Psalms 73:15, Job 9:15 f.30, לוּ‎ would be more natural than אִם‎.

3. A noun-clause occurs after לוּ‎ 2 Samuel 18:12, 2 Kings 3:14, Psalms 81:14, all with imperfect in the apodosis; Job 16:4 לוּ יֵשׁ‎, with cohortative in the apodosis.

D. כִּי‎ supposing that, if:—

1. כִּי‎ with perfect in the protasis, e.g. Numbers 5:20 וְאַתְּ כִּי שָׂטִית‎ but thou, if thou hast gone astray, &c.; with a frequentative perfect consecutive in the apodosis, Job 7:13 f.; with an imperfect consecutive, Job 22:29.

2. כִּי‎ with imperfect in the protasis, e.g. Psalms 23:4 גַּם כִּֽי־אֵלֵךְ‎ yea, though I walk (have to walk)..., I will fear no (לֹֽא־אִירָא‎) evil; 37:24; Exodus 21:2 כִּֽי־תִקְנֶה עֶ֫בֶד עִבְרִי וג׳‎ if thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years shall he serve (but in verses 3–5 a series of definite conditions with definite consequences is introduced by אִם‎; so also the כִּי‎ in verse 7 is followed in verses 8–11 by the special cases with אִם‎; cf. also verse 17 ff.); cf. Genesis 4:24, Genesis 24:41, Job 38:5; with a perfect consecutive in the apodosis, Genesis 32:18 f., Exodus 18:16; with a noun-clause, Isaiah 1:15.

3. כִּי‎ with a noun-clause (and imperfect in the apodosis), 2 Samuel 19:8.


1. In 2 Kings 5:13 the particle אבי‎ (Masora אָבִי‎, probably in the sense of my father) appears exceptionally for לוּ‎; its meaning here is unquestionable, but its origin is obscure. Cf. the exhaustive discussion of Delitzsch and Wetzstein on Job 34:36, where this אבי‎ appears to be used as a desiderative particle.—Sometimes when one case has been already discussed, another of the same character is added by means of אוֹ‎ or, e.g. Exodus 21:36 אוֹ נוֹדַע וג׳‎ or (another possible case) it is known that, &c., i.e. but if it be known, &c., LXX ἐὰν δέ, Vulg. sin autem; cf. Leviticus 4:23, 28, 5:1, 25:49, 2 Samuel 18:13; with a following imperfect, Ezekiel 14:17f.—On the hypothetical use of אֲשֶׁר‎ (which is interchangeable with כִּי‎ in other senses also) Leviticus 4:22 (in verses 3 and 27 אִם‎), Deuteronomy 11:27 (verse 28 אִם‎), Joshua 4:21, see the Lexicon.

2. The conditional sentence is frequently found in an abridged form, where the suppressed clauses can be easily supplied from the context; cf. Genesis 13:9, Genesis 24:49, 1 Samuel 2:16 וְאִם־לֹא‎ and if not, i.e. and if thou wilt not give it to me, then I take it (perfect according to §106n) by force; cf. 1 Samuel 6:9. The use of וְיֵשׁ‎ alone in Judges 6:13 is peculiar, as also וָיֵשׁ‎ in 2 Kings 10:15 (where read with the LXX וַיֹּא֫מֶר יֵהוּא וָיֵשׁ‎) in the sense of if it be so.—In 2 Samuel 13:26, 2 Kings 5:17 וָלֹא‎ alone appears to be used in the sense of if really ... not, in each case with a following jussive equivalent to may there at least, &c. (cf. §143d); but perhaps with Matthes, ZAW. 1903, p. 122 ff., following Kuipers, we should read וְלוּ‎ would that!—In 1 Samuel 13:13, Job 3:13 the condition must be supplied from the preceding clause to complete the sentence introduced by כִּי עַתָּה‎, in Job 31:28 by כִּי‎, in 2 Kings 13:19 by אָז‎.—The apodosis also appears sometimes in an abridged form (e.g. Genesis 4:24, Isaiah 43:2) or is entirely suppressed, e.g. Genesis 30:27, Genesis 38:17, Genesis 50:15 (see y above), Exodus 32:32, Psalms 27:13, Job 38:5, where properly הַגֵּד‎ must be supplied with כִּי תֵדָ֑ע‎ as in verses 4 and 18; cf. §167a.—In Psalms 8:4, instead of the apodosis I exclaim which we should expect, the exclamation itself follows.

3. The absolute certainty with which a result is to be expected is frequently emphasized by the insertion of כִּי‎ Isaiah 7:9; כִּי אָזָ‎ 2 Samuel 2:27, 2 Samuel 19:7, Job 11:15; or כִּי עַתָּה‎ now verily, Numbers 22:29, 1 Samuel 14:30 after לוּ‎, Genesis 31:42, Genesis 43:10 after לוּלֵי‎, Job 8:6 after אִם‎. On this corroborative כִּי‎ cf. such passages as Genesis 18:20, &c., and §148d. On כִּי אִם‎ after an oath cf. 163 d.

4. Sometimes the force of a hypothetical particle extends beyond the apodosis to a second conditional clause, as in the case of אִם‎ Proverbs 9:12, Job 10:15, Job 16:6, Job 22:23, and כִּי‎ Isaiah 43:2.

5. In Exodus 33:20 a negative statement takes the place of a condition with a negative consequence, for a man doth not see me and live, instead of for if a man sees me, he does not live; cf. the similar passages, Deuteronomy 22:1, 4 thou shalt not see ... and hide thyself, instead of if thou seest ... thou shalt not hide thyself.

  1. It may, moreover, happen that a different idea is introduced in the apodosis, from that with which the protasis started—a source of many further variations.
  2. On the termination -וּן‎ cf. §47m. In verse 28 b also יִשְׂבְּעוּן‎ is probably to be explained from its immediately preceding the greater pause. These terminations in verses 28–30 and Psalms 139:18 can scarcely have any connexion with the conditional sentence, although it is strange that -וּן‎ in Numbers 32:23 appears after אִם־לֹא‎ in the protasis. In Numbers 16:29, Numbers 32:20 -וּן‎ as before א‎ (as in Job 31:10 in the apodosis) is to be explained from the dislike of hiatus.
  3. On לוּ‎ cf. Kohler in Geiger’s Zeitschr. für Wiss. und Leben, vi (1868), p. 21 ff.
  4. We are not here concerned with the fact that the logical apodosis (the consequence of the condition) is sometimes mentioned before the condition; as in Genesis 18:28, 30, Judges 11:10, Psalms 63:6 f., 137:6, and according to Dillmann Isaiah 4:4.
  5. There could be no doubt of their identity if וְהִנֵּה‎ in 1 Samuel 9:7, 2 Samuel 18:11, simply meant if. We must, however, keep to the meaning but behold.
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