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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 87

§87. Of the Plural.
Brockelmann, Grundriss, i. 426 ff., and on the feminines, p. 441 ff.; M. Lambert, ‘Remarques sur la formation du pluriel hébreu,’ REJ. xxiv. 99 ff., and ‘Les anomalies du pluriel des noms en Hébreu,’ REJ. xliii. 206 ff.; P. Lajčiak, Die Plural- u. Dualendungen im semit. Nomen, Lpz. 1903; J. Barth, ‘Beiträge zur Pluralbildung des Semit.,’ ZDMG. 1904, p. 431 ff., i. ‘the ai of the constr. st.’

1. The regular plural termination for the masculine gender is ־ִים‎, always with the tone, e.g. סוּס‎ horse, plur. סוּסִים‎ horses; but also very often written defectively ־ִם‎, especially when in the same word one of the vowel letters, ו‎ or י‎, precedes, e.g. Genesis 1:21 תַּנִּינִם‎. Nouns in ־ִי‎ make their plural in ־ִיִּים‎, e.g. עִבְרִי‎ a Hebrew, plur. עִבְריִּים‎ (Exodus 3:18); but usually contraction takes place, e.g. עִבְרִים‎; שָׁנִים‎ crimson garments, from שָׁנִי‎.

Nouns in ־ֶה‎ lose this termination when they take the plural ending, e.g. חֹזֶה‎ seer, plur. חֹזִים‎ (cf. §75h).—In regard to the loss of the tone from the ־ִם‎ in the two old plurals מַ֫יִם‎ water and שָׁמַ֫יִם‎ heaven, cf. §88d and § 96.

The termination ־ִים‎ is sometimes assumed also by feminines (cf. נָשִׁים‎ women, § 96 under אִשָּׁה‎; שָׁנִים‎ years, from שָׁנָה‎; רְחֵלִים‎ ewes, from רָחֵל‎), so that an indication of gender is not necessarily implied in it (cf. also below, m–p).—On the use of this termination ־ִים‎ to express abstract, extensive, and intensive ideas, cf. §124. The ending îm is also common in Phoenician, e.g. צדנם‎ Sidonii; Assyrian has âni (acc. to P. Haupt originally âmi, cf. §88d); Aramaic has în; Arabic ûna (nominative) and îna (in the oblique cases, but in vulgar Arabic în is also used for the nominative); Ethiopic ân. Cf. also the verbal ending וּן‎ in the 3rd plur. perf. (§44l) and in the 3rd and 2nd plur. impf. (§47m).[1]

Less frequent, or only apparent terminations of the plur. masc. are—

(a) ־ִין‎, as in Aramaic,[2] found almost exclusively in the later books of the O.T. (apart from the poetical use in some of the older and even the oldest portions), viz. מְלָכִין‎ kings, Proverbs 31:3, צִֽדֹנִין‎ 1 Kings 11:33, רָצִין‎ the guard, 2 Kings 11:13, חִטִּין‎ wheat, Ezekiel 4:9; defectively אִיִּן‎ islands, Ezekiel 26:18; יָמִין‎ days, Daniel 12:13. Cf. also מִדִּין‎ carpets, Judges 5:10, in the North-Palestinian song of Deborah, which also has other linguistic peculiarities; עִיִּין‎ heaps, Micah 3:12 (before ת‎; cf. §44k); מִלִּין‎ words (from the really Aram. מִלָּה‎), Job 4:2, and twelve other places in Job (beside מִלִּים‎, ten times in Job); further, חַיִּין‎ Job 24:22, אֲחֵרִין‎ Job 31:10, and שׁוֹמֵמִין‎ Lamentations 1:4, תַּנִּין‎ Lamentations 4:3.—The following forms are doubtful:

(b) ־ִי‎ (with the ם‎ rejected, as, according to some, in the dual יָדַי‎ for יָדַ֫יִם‎ Ezekiel 13:18, cf. §88c), e.g. מִנִּי‎ stringed instruments, Psalms 45:9 for מִנִּים‎ (unless it is to be so written)[3]; עַמִּי‎ peoples, Psalms 144:2, and, probably, also Lamentations 3:14 (in 2 Samuel 22:44 it may be taken as עַמִּי‎ my people; cf. in the parallel passage Psalms 18:44 עָם‎; also in Song of Solomon 8:2 the î of רִמֹּנִי‎ is better regarded as a suffix); see also 2 Samuel 23:8 as compared with 1 Chronicles 11:11, and on the whole question Gesenius, Lehrgebäude, p. 524 ff. More doubtful still is—

(c) ־ַי‎ (like the constr. state in Syriac), which is supposed to appear in e.g. שָׂרַי‎ princes, Judges 5:15 (perhaps my princes is intended: read either the constr. st. שָׂרֵי‎, which also has good authority, or with LXX שָׁרִים‎); for חַלּוֹנָ֔י וס׳‎ Jeremiah 22:14 (according to others dual, see §88c, or a loan word, cf. ZA. iii. 93) read חַלּוֹנָיו סָפוֹן‎. On גּוֹבַי‎ and חוֹרַי‎, which have also been so explained, see above, §86i.—חֲשׂוּפַי‎ Isaiah 20:4 (where the right reading is certainly חֲשׂוּפֵי‎) must be intended by the Masora either as a singular with the formative syllable ־ַי‎ =bareness or, more probably, as a constr. st. with the original termination ay (cf. §89d) to avoid the harsh combination hasûfê šēt[4]; in אֲדֹנָי‎ the Lord (prop. my lord, from the plur. majestatis, אֲדֹנִים‎ lord), the ay was originally a suffix, §135q.

(d) ־ָם‎ a supposed plural ending in כִּנָּם‎=כִּנִּים‎ gnats (or lice), and סֻלָּם‎ ladder (supposed by some to be a plur. like our stairs); but cf. on the former, §85t.

2. The plural termination of the feminine gender is generally indicated by the termination וֹת‎ (often written defectively ־תֹ‎, e.g. תְּהִלָּה‎ song of praise, psalm, plur. תְּהִלּוֹת‎ (only in post-biblical Hebrew תְּחִלִּים‎, as in the headings of the printed editions, as well as סֵ֫פֶר תְּהִלּוֹת‎ the Book of Psalms); אִגֶּ֫רֶת‎ a letter, plur. אִנְּרוֹת‎; בְּאֵר‎ a well, plur. בְּאֵרוֹת‎. Feminines in ־ִית‎ form their plural in ־ִיּוֹת‎, e.g. מִצְרִית‎ an Egyptian woman, plur. מִצְרִיּוֹת‎; and those in וּת‎ either make ־ֻיּוֹת‎, as מַלְכוּת‎ kingdom, plur. מַלְכֻיּוֹת‎, Daniel 8:22 (cf. חֲנֻיּוֹת‎ cells, Jeremiah 37:16), or are inflected like עֵֽדְוֹת‎ testimonies (pronounced ‛ēdhewôth for ‛ēdhŭwôth).

It is only from a mistake or disregard of these feminine endings ־וּת‎ and ־ִית‎ that some words ending with them form their plural by the addition of ־ִים‎ or ־וֹת‎, e.g. חֲנִית‎ spear, plur. חֲנִיתִים‎ and חֲנִיתוֹת‎; זְנוּת‎ whoredom, plur. זְנוּתִים‎ (by the side of זְנוּנִים‎); אַלְמְנוּתִים‎ widowhood; שְׁחִיתוֹת‎ pits, כְּסָתוֹת‎ amulets (if connected with Assyr. kâsu, to bind), &c.

The termination -ôth stands primarily for -âth (which is the form it has in Arab., Eth., in the constr. st. of Western Aramaic, in Eastern Syriac, and also in Assyrian; on the change of â into an obscure ô, see §9q). On the other hand, it is doubtful whether this âth is to be regarded as a lengthened and stronger form of the singular fem. ending ăth (cf. §80b).

How the changeable vowels of a noun are shortened or become Še in consequence of the addition of the plural endings is explained in §§ 92–5.

3. Words which in the singular are used both as masculine and feminine (§122d), often have in the plural parallel forms with the masculine and feminine terminations, e.g. עָב‎ cloud, plur. עָבִים‎ and עָבוֹת‎; and each form may be treated either as masculine or feminine, according to the usage of the particular word.—But even those words, of which the gender is invariable, sometimes have both plural forms, e.g. דּוֹר‎ masc. a generation, plur. דּוֹרִים‎ and דּוֹרוֹת‎; שָׁנָה‎ fem. a year, plur. שָׁנִים‎ and שָׁנוֹת‎ (see the Rem.). In these words the gender of both plural forms remains the same as in the singular, e.g. אֲרִי‎ masc. a lion, plur. אֲרָיוֹת‎ musc., Zephaniah 3:3, דּוֹרוֹת‎ musc., Job 42:16.

Sometimes usage makes a distinction between the two plural forms of the same word. Thus, יָמִים‎ days, שָׁנִים‎ years are the usual, but יָמוֹת‎ (only twice, in the constr. st. Deuteronomy 32:7, Psalms 90:15) and שָׁנוֹת‎ (also only in the constr. st. and before suffixes) are rarer poetic forms.

A difference of meaning appears in several names of members of the body, the dual (see § 88) denoting the living members themselves, while the plur. in וֹת‎ expresses something like them, but without life (§122u), e.g. יָדַ֫יִם‎ hands, יָדוֹת‎ artificial hands, also e.g. the arms of a throne; כַּפַּ֫יִם‎ hands, כַּפּוֹת‎ handles (Lat. manubria); פַּ֫עַם‎ foot, פְּעָמוֹת‎ artificial feet (of the ark), קַרְנַ֫יִם‎ horns, קְרָנוֹת‎ horns (of the altar); עֵינַ֫יִם‎ eyes, עֲיָנוֹת‎ fountains; cf. also אֲרָיִים‎ lions, אֲרָיוֹת‎ the figures of lions on Solomon’s throne, תָּמָר‎ palm, תִּֽמֹרָה‎ a palm-like column, plur. תִּֽמֹרִים‎ and תִּֽמֹרוֹת‎.

4. A considerable number of masculines form their plural in וֹת‎, while many feminines have a plural in ־ִים‎. The gender of the singular, however, is as a rule retained in the plural. Undoubted instances of masculines with (masculine) plural in ־וֹת‎ are: אָב‎ father, אוֹצָר‎ treasure, בֹּאר‎ and בּוֹר‎ cistern, זָנָב‎ tail, הֲלוֹם‎ dream, כִּםֵּא‎ throne, לֵב‎ and לֵבָב‎ heart, לוּחַ‎ tablet, לַ֫יִל‎ and לַ֫יְלָה‎ night, מִזְבֵּחַ‎ altar, מָקוֹם‎ place, נֹאד‎ skin-bottle, נֵר‎ lamp, עוֹר‎ skin, קוֹל‎ voice, שֻׁלְחָן‎ table, שֵׁם‎ name, שׁוֹפָר‎ trumpet.

Feminines ending in ־ָה‎ which take in the plural the termination ־ִים‎ are אֵלָה‎ terebinth, אֵימָה‎ terror (but also אֵימוֹת‎), דְּבֵלָה‎ a cake of figs, חִטָּה‎ wheat, לְבֵנָה‎ a brick, מִלָּה‎ (only in poetry) a word, סְאָה‎ seā, a dry measure, שְׂעוֹרָה‎ barley, and the following names of animals דְּבוֹרָה‎ a bee and יוֹנָה‎ a dove; also, for בֵּיצִים‎ fem. eggs, a singular בֵּיצָה‎ is to be assumed. אֲלֻמָּה‎ sheaf and שָׁנָה‎ year (see above, n) take both ־ִים‎ and וֹת‎; cf. finally שִׁבֹּ֫לֶת‎ an ear of corn, plur. שִׁבֳּלִים‎, and without the fem. termination in the singular פִּילֶ֫גֶשׁ‎ concubine, plur. פִּֽילַגְשִׁים‎.

5. A strict distinction in gender between the two plural endings is found, in fact, only in adjectives and participles, e.g. טוֹבִים‎ boni, טוֹבוֹת‎ bonae, קֹֽטְלִים‎ musc., קֹֽטְלוֹת‎ fem. So also in substantives of the same stem, where there is an express distinction of sex, as בָּנִים‎ filii, בָּנוֹת‎ filiae; מְלָכִים‎ reges, מְלָכוֹת‎ reginae.

Rem. 1. In some few words there is added to the plural ending וֹת‎ a second (masculine) plural termination (in the form of the constr. st. ־ֵי‎, cf. §89c), or a dual ending ־ַ֫ יִם‎, e.g. בָּמָה‎ a high place, plur. בָּמוֹת‎, constr. st. בָּֽמוֹתֵי‎ (also בָּֽמֳתֵי‎ bāmothê, Isaiah 14:14, Job 9:8, &c., sometimes as Qe to the Kethîbh במותי‎; see §95o); מֵרַאֲשֹׁתֵי שָׁאוּל‎ from Saul’s head, 1 Samuel 26:12; חוֹמָה‎ wall, plur. חוֹמוֹת‎ moenia, whence dual חוֹמֹתַ֫יִם‎ double walls. This double indication of the plural appears also in the connexion of suffixes with the plural ending וֹת‎ (§91m).

2. Some nouns are only used in the singular (e.g. אָדָם‎ man, and collectively men); a number of other nouns only in the plural, e.g. מְתִים‎ men (the old sing. מְתוּ‎ is only preserved in proper names, see §90o; in Eth. the sing. is mĕt, man); some of these have, moreover, a singular meaning (§124a), as פָּנִים‎ face. In such cases, however, the same form can also express plurality, e.g. פָּנִים‎ means also faces, Genesis 40:7, Ezekiel 1:6; cf. אֱלֹחִים‎ God, and also gods (the sing. אֱלֹהַּ‎, a later formation from it, occurs only ten times, except in Job forty-one and in Daniel four times).

  1. On the connexion between all these endings see Dietrich’s Abhandl. zur hebr. Gramm., Leipzig, 1846, p. 51 ff.; Halévy, REJ. 1888, p. 138 ff. [cf. also Driver, Tenses, § 6, Obs. 2].
  2. So also always in the Mêša‛ inscription, e.g. line 2 שלשן‎ thirty; line 4 מלכן‎ kings; line 5 ימן רבן‎ many days, &c.
  3. According to some this î is simply due to a neglect of the point (§5m), which in MSS. and elsewhere marked the abbreviation of the plur. ending.
  4. Prätorius, ZDMG. 1903, p. 525, regards הֲשׂוּפַי‎ as an instance of the affix of endearment (cf. אֲחוּמַי‎, כְּלוּבַי‎) transferred to an appellative, but such an explanation is rendered unlikely by the meaning of this isolated instance.
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