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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 47

§47. The Imperfect and its Inflexion.

1. The persons of the Imperfect,[1] in contradistinction to those of the Perfect, are formed by placing abbreviated forms of the personal pronoun (preformatives) before the stem, or rather before the abstract form of the stem (קְטֹל‎). As, however, the tone is retained on the characteristic vowel of the Stem-form, or even (as in the 2nd sing. fem. and the 3rd and 2nd plur. masc.) passes over to the afformatives, the preformatives of the Imperfect appear in a much more abbreviated form than the afformatives of the Perfect, only one consonant (י‎, תּ‎, א‎, נ‍‎) remaining in each form. But as this preformative combined with the stem-form was not always sufficient to express at the same time differences both of gender and number, the distinction had to be farther indicated, in several cases, by special afformatives. Cf. the table, §40c.

2. The derivation and meaning, both of the preformatives and the afformatives, can still, in most cases, be recognized.

In the first pers. אֶקְטֹל‎, plur. נִקְטֹל‎, א‎ is probably connected with אֲנִי‎, and נ‍‎ with נָ֫חְנוּ‎; here no indication of gender or number by a special ending was necessary. As regards the vocalization, the Arabic points to the ground-forms ʾăqṭŭl and năqṭŭl: the ĭ of the 1st plur. is, therefore, as in the other preformatives, attenuated from a. The Seghôl of the 1st sing. is probably to be explained by the preference of the א‎ for this sound (cf. §22o, but also §51p); according to Qimḥi, it arises from an endeavour to avoid the similarity of sound between אִקְטֹל‎ (which is the Babylonian punctuation) and יִקְטִֹל‎, which, according to this view, was likewise pronounced iqṭōl.[2]

The preformative ת‎ of the second persons (תִּקְטֹל‎, ground-form tăqṭŭl, &c.) is, without doubt, connected with the ת‎ of אַתָּה‎, אַתֶּם‎. &c., and the afformative ־ִי‎ of the 2nd fem. sing. תִּקְטְלִי‎ with the i of the original feminine form אַתִּי‎ (see §32h). The afformative וּ‎ of the 2nd masc. plur. תִּקְטְלוּ‎ (in its more complete form, וּן‎, see m) is the sign of the plural, as in the 3rd pers., and also in the Perfect (§44a). In the Imperfect, however, it is restricted in both persons to the masculine,[3] while the afformative נָה‎ (also ןָ‎) of the 3rd and 2nd plur. fem. is probably connected with הֵ֫נָּה‎ eae and אַתֵּ֫נָה‎ vos (fem.).

The preformatives of the third persons (י‎ in the masc. יִקְטֹל‎, ground-form yăqṭŭl, plur. יִקְטְלוּ‎, ground-form yăqṭŭlû; ת‎ in the fem. תִּקְטֹל‎, plur. תִָּקְטֹ֫לְנָה‎) have not yet met with any satisfactory explanation. With ת‎ might most obviously be compared the original feminine ending ־ַת‎ of nouns, and of the 3rd fem. sing. perfect. For the afformatives (וּן) וּ‎ and נָה‎, see c.

3. The characteristic vowel of the second syllable becomes Še before tone-bearing afformatives which begin with a vowel, but is retained (as being in the tone-syllable) before the toneless afformative נָה‎. Thus: תִּקְטְלִ֫י‎, יִקְטְל֫וּ‎, תִּקְטְל֫וּ‎ (but in pause תִּקְטֹ֫לִי‎ &c.), תִּקְטֹ֫לְנָה‎.

Rem. 1. The ō of the second syllable (as in the inf. constr. and imperat.), being lengthened from an original ŭ in the tone-syllable, is only tone-long (§9r). Hence it follows that: (a) it is incorrectly, although somewhat frequently, written plene; (b) before Maqqeph the short vowel appears as Qameṣ ḥaṭuph, e.g. וַיִּכְתָּב־שָּׁם‎ and he wrote there, Joshua 8:32 (but cf. also Exodus 21:37, Joshua 18:20); (c) it becomes Še before the tone-bearing afformatives ־ִי‎ and וּ‎ (see above, e; but Jerome still heard e.g. iezbuleni for יִזְבְּלֵ֫נִי‎; cf. ZAW. iv. 83).

Quite anomalous are the three examples which, instead of a shortening to Še, exhibit a long û: יִשְׁפּוּטוּ הֵֽם‎ Exodus 18:26, immediately before the principal pause, but according to Qimḥi (ed. Rittenb. p.18b), ed. Mant., Ginsb., Kittel against the other editions, with the tone on the ultima; likewise לֹֽא־תַֽעֲבוּרִ֖י מִוֶּה֑‎ Ruth 2:8; תִּשְׁמוּרֵֽם‎ (in principal pause) Proverbs 14:3. In the first two cases perhaps יִשְׁפּ֫וֹטוּ‎ and תַּעֲב֫וֹרִי‎ (for יִשְׁפֹּ֫טוּ‎, &c.) are intended, in virtue of a retrogressive effect of the pause; in Proverbs 14:3 תִּשְׁמְרוּם‎ is to be read, with August Müller.

2. The ō of the second syllable is to be found almost exclusively with transitive verbs middle a, like קָטַל‎. Intransitives middle a and ē almost always take ă (Pathaḥ)[4] in the impf., e.g. רָבַץ‎, יִרְבַּץ‎ to couch, שָׁכַב‎, יִשְׁכַּב‎ to lie down (לָמַר‎, יִלְמַד‎ to learn is also originally intransitive = to accustom oneself); גָּדֵל‎, יִגְדַּל‎ to become great (but cf. שָׁכַן‎ and שָׁכֵן‎ imperf. יִשְׁכֹּן‎ to dwell and to inhabit, נָבֵל‎ imperf. יִבֹּל‎ to wither); also from verbs middle ō, as קָטֹן‎ to be small, the imperf. has the form יִקְטַן‎.

Sometimes both forms occur together; those with ō having a transitive, and those with ă an intransitive meaning, e.g. יִקְצֹר‎ he cuts off, יִקְצַר‎ he is cut off, i.e. is short; חָלַשׁ‎ impf. ō, to overcome, Exodus 17:13; impf. ă, to be overcome, Job 14:10. More rarely both forms are used without any distinction, e.g. יִשֹּׁךְ‎ and יִשַּׁךְ‎ he bites, יֶחְפַּץ‎ and יַחְפֹּץ‎ he is inclined (but only the latter with a transitive meaning=he bends, in Job 40:17). On the a of the impf. of verbs middle and third guttural, cf. §64b; §65b. In some verbs first guttural (§63n), ע״ע‎ (§67p), פ״י‎ (§69b), and פ״א‎ (§68c), and in יִתֵּן‎ for yintēn from נָתַן‎ to give, instead of ă or ō a movable Ṣere (originally ĭ) is found in the second syllable. A trace of these i-imperfects[5] in the ordinary strong verb is probably to be found in וַיַּטְמִ֫נוּ‎ 2 Kings 7:8, since טמן‎ otherwise only occurs in Qal. We call these three forms of the imperfect after their characteristic vowel impf. o, impf. a, impf. e.

3. For the 3rd sing. fem. תִּקְטֹל‎ (=tiq-ṭōl), Baer requires in 1 Samuel 25:20 תִּפְגשׁ‎ (but read with ed. Mant., &c. תִּפְגּשׁ‎). For the 2nd sing. fem. (תִּקְטְלִי‎) the form תִּקְטֹל‎ is found in Isaiah 57:8, Jeremiah 3:5, Ezekiel 22:4, Ezekiel 23:32, in every case after the regular form; but cf. also Ezekiel 26:14. In Isaiah 17:10, where the 2nd fem. precedes and follows, probably תִּזְרָעִין וּב׳‎ is to be read with Marti for תִּזְרָעֶ֫נּוּ‎.—For the 3rd plur. fem. תִּקְטֹ֫לְנַה‎ we find in Jeremiah 49:11, in pause תִּבְטָ֫חוּ‎ (for תִּבְטַ֫הְנָה‎), and thrice (as if to distinguish it from the 2nd pers.) the form יִקְטֹ֫לְנָה‎ with the preformative י‎ (as always in Western Aram., Arab, Eth., and Assyr.), in Genesis 30:38, 1 Samuel 6:12, Daniel 8:22. On the other hand, תִּקְטֹ֫לְנָה‎ appears in some cases to be incorrectly used even for the fem. of the 3rd pers. or for the masc. of the 2nd pers. sing. as תִּשְׁלַ֫חְנָה‎ Judges 5:26 (where, however, perhaps תִּשְׁלָחֶ֫נָּה‎ is to be read), and Obadiah 1:13, for 2nd sing. masc., according to Olshausen a corruption of תִּשְׁלַח יָד‎; in Proverbs 1:20, Proverbs 8:3 for תָּרֹ֫נָּה‎ read תִּרְנֶה‎ as in Job 39:23; in Exodus 1:10 read תִּקְרָאֵ֫נוּ‎ with the Samaritan.—In Isaiah 27:11, Isaiah 28:3, as also in Job 17:16 (if we read טֽוֹבָתִי‎ with LXX for the 2nd תקותי‎), it is equally possible to explain the form as a plural. This small number of examples hardly justifies our finding in the above-mentioned passages the remains of an emphatic form of the Impf., analogous to the Arab. Modus energicus I, with the termination ănnă.

For נָה‎ we frequently find, especially in the Pentateuch and mostly after wāw consecutive, simply ןָ‎ , e.g. Genesis 19:3336, Genesis 37:7, Exodus 1:1819, Exodus 15:20, Numbers 25:2, Ezekiel 3:20, Ezekiel 16:55; in Arab. always . According to Elias Levita תִּלְבַּ֫שְׁןָ‎ (2 Samuel 13:18) is the only example of this kind in the strong verb. The form וַתִּגְּבְּהֶ֫ינָה‎ (so also Qimḥi and ed. Mant.; but Baer, Ginsb. וַתִּגְּבְּהֶ֫נָה‎) for וַתִּגְבַּ֫הְנָה‎ they were high, Ezekiel 16:50, is irregular, with ־ֶי‎ inserted after the manner of verbs ע״ע‎ and ע״וּ‎, §67d; §72i; according to Olshausen it is an error caused by the following form.

4. Instead of the plural forms in וּ‎ there are, especially in the older books, over 300 forms[6] with the fuller ending וּן‎ (with Nûn paragogicum), always bearing the tone; cf. §29m and §44l; on its retention before suffixes, see §60e; also defectively יְרִיבֻן‎ Exodus 21:18, Exodus 22:8, &c. This usually expresses marked emphasis, and consequently occurs most commonly at the end of sentences (in the principal pause), in which case also the (pausal) vowel of the second syllable is generally retained. Thus there arise full-sounding forms such as יִלְקֹט֑וּן‎ they collect, Psalms 104:28; יִרְגָּז֑וּן‎ they tremble, Exodus 15:14; תִּשְׁמָע֑וּן‎ ye shall hear, Deuteronomy 1:17; cf. Exodus 34:13, with Zaqeph qaṭon, Athnaḥ, and Silluq; Joshua 24:15, with Segolta; Isaiah 13:8 and Isaiah 17:13 with Zaqeph qaṭon, Isaiah 17:12 with Athnaḥ and Silluq, Isaiah 41:5 after wāw consec. Without the pause, e.g. Psalms 11:2 יִדְרְכוּן קֶ֫שֶׁת‎, cf. Psalms 4:3, Genesis 18:282930 ff., Genesis 44:1, Numbers 32:23, Joshua 4:6 (יִשְׁאָלוּן‎); Isaiah 8:12, 1 Samuel 9:13, Ruth 2:9 (יִקְצֹרוּן‎ and יִשְׁאֲבוּן‎); Judges 11:18 after wāw consec.

Some of these examples may be partly due to euphonic reasons, e.g. certainly Exodus 17:2, Numbers 16:29, Numbers 32:20, 1 Samuel 9:13, 1 Kings 9:6, and often, to avoid a hiatus before א‎ or ע‎. It was, however, the pause especially which exerted an influence on the restoration of this older and fuller termination (cf. §159c, note), as is manifest from Isaiah 26:11: בַּל־יְֽחֱזָי֑וּן יֶֽחֱזוּ וְיֵב֫שׁוּ‎ they see not; may they see and become ashamed. All this applies also to the corresponding forms in the Imperfect of the derived conjugations.[7] In Aramaic and Arabic this earlier וּן‎ (old Arabic ûnă) is the regular termination; but in some dialects of vulgar Arabic it has also become û.

With an affixed א‎ we find (in the imperf. Niphʿal) יִנָּשׂוּא‎ Jeremiah 10:5, evidently an error for יִנָּֽשְׂאוּ‎, caused by the preceding נָשׂוֹא‎.—In יְשֻׂשׂוּם‎ Isaiah 35:1, since מ‍‎ follows, the ם‎ is no doubt only due to dittography.

5. Corresponding to the use of וּן‎ for וּ‎ there occurs in the 2nd sing. fem., although much less frequently, the fuller ending ־ִין‎ (as in Aram. and Arab.; old Arab. înă), also always with the tone, for ־ִי‎, generally again in the principal pause, and almost in all cases with retention of the vowel of the penultima; thus תִּדְבָּקִין‎ Ruth 2:821, cf. Ruth 3:418, 1 Samuel 1:14 (תִּשְׁתַּכָּרִין‎), Jeremiah 31:22, Isaiah 45:10.

6. On the reappearance in pause of the ō which had become Še in the forms תִּקְטְלִי‎, &c., see above, e; similarly, the imperfects with ă restore this vowel in pause and at the same time lengthen it (as a tone-vowel) to ā, hence, e.g. תִּגְדָּ֫לִי‎, יִגְדָּ֫לוּ‎. This influence of the pause extends even to the forms without afformatives, e.g. וַיִּגְדַּל‎, in pause וַיִּגְדָּ֑ל‎. But the fuller forms in ûn and în have the tone always on the ultima, since the vowels û and î in a closed final syllable never allow of the retraction of the tone.

7. On the numerous instances of passive forms in the imperfect, mostly treated as Hophʿal, see §53u.

  1. On the use of the Semitic Perfect and Imperfect cf. 106 ff. and the literature cited in § 106. For our present purpose the following account will suffice :—The name Imperfect is here used in direct contrast to the Perfect, and is to be taken in a wider sense than in Latin and Greek grammar. The Hebrew (Semitic) Perf. denotes in general that which is concluded, completed, and past, that which has happened and has come into effect; but at the same time, also that which is represented as accomplished, even though it be continued into present time or even be actually still future. The Imperf. denotes, on the other hand, the beginning, the unfinished, and the continuing, that which is just happening, which is conceived as in process of coming to pass, and hence, also, that which is yet future; likewise also that which occurs repeatedly or in a continuous sequence in the past (Latin Imperf.). It follows from the above that the once common designation of the Imperf. as a Future emphasizes only one side of its meaning. In fact, the use of Indo-Germanic tense-names for the Semitic tenses, which was adopted by the Syrians under the influence of the Greek grammarians, and after their example by the Arabs, and finally by Jewish scholars, has involved many misconceptions. The Indo-Germanic scheme of three periods of time (past, present, and future) is entirely foreign to the Semitic tense-idea, which regards an occurrence only from the point of view of Completed or incomplete action.—In the formation of the two tenses the chief distinction is that in the Perfect the verbal stem precedes and the indication of the person is added afterwards for precision, while in the Imperf. the subject, from which the action proceeds or about which a condition is predicated, is expressed by a prefixed pronoun.
  2. Cf. §24e. In favour of the above view of Qimḥi may be urged the phonetic orthography אִשׁ‎ (in Proverbs 18:24 אִישׁ‎), 2 Samuel 14:19 (unless, with Perles, אָשֻׁב‎ is to be read), Micah 6:10, for יֵשׁ‎, and אִישַׁי‎ 1 Chronicles 2:13 for יִשַׁי‎ (as verse 12). Also הַֽאֶזְכֶּה‎ Micah 6:11 is probably for הַֽאִזְ׳‎ = הֲיִזְ׳‎, אפקד‎ Isaiah 10:12 for אנחמך ;יִטְקֹד‎ Isaiah 51:19 for יְנַֽחֲמֵךְ‎; and conversely יששכר‎ is for אשש׳‎=אִישׁ שָׂכָר‎. Similarly, ישוי‎ 1 Samuel 14:49 is probably for אִשְׁיוֹ‎ or אִשְׁיָה‎; in 2 Samuel 23:8 ישׁב בשבת‎ is, according to the LXX, an error for ישבשת‎=אִשְׁבּ֫שֶׁת‎. In Assyrian also the simple i corresponds to the Hebrew י‎ as the preformative of the Impf. Qal.
  3. This is also the proper gender of the plural syllable û, ûn. In Hebrew, indeed, it is used in the 3rd plur. Perfect for both genders, but in the kindred languages even there only for the masculine, e.g. in Syriac qeṭálû, qeṭálûn, with the feminine form qeṭálên, in Western Aram. qeṭálû, fem. qeṭálā; in Arab. qătălû, fem. qătálnă, Eth. qătălû, qătălâ.
  4. This ă is, however, by no means restricted to intransitive strong verbs; apart from verbs third guttural (§65b), it is to be found in פ״ן‎ and ע״ע‎, and in many verbs פ״א‎ and פ״י‎ (§§ 69–71).
  5. Cf. Barth, ‘Das ĭ-Imperfekt im Nordsemitischen,’ ZDMG. 1889, p. 177 ff.
  6. [See details in F. Böttcher, Lehrb., § 930; and cf. Driver on 1 Samuel 2:15.]
  7. It is to be observed that the Chronicles often omit the Nûn, where it is found in the parallel passage in the Books of Kings; cf. 1 Kings 8:3843 with 2 Chronicles 6:2933; 1 Kings 12:24, 2 Kings 11:5 with 2 Chronicles 11:4, 2 Chronicles 23:4.
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