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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 89

§89. The Genitive and the Construct State.

Philippi, Wesen und Ursprung des Stat. Constr. im Hebr...., Weimar, 1871, p. 98 ff: on which cf. Nöldeke in the Gött. Gel. Anzeigen, 1871, p. 23.—Brockelmann, Grundriss, p. 459 ff.

1. The Hebrew language no longer makes a living use of case-endings,[1] but either has no external indication of case (this is so for the nominative, generally also for the accusative) or expresses the relation by means of prepositions (§ 119), while the genitive is mostly indicated by a close connexion (or interdependence) of the Nomen regens and the Nomen rectum. That is to say, the noun which as genitive serves to define more particularly an immediately preceding Nomen regens, remains entirely unchanged in its form. The close combination, however, of the governing with the governed noun causes the tone first of all to be forced on to the latter,[2] and the consequently weakened tone of the former word then usually involves further changes in it. These changes to some extent affect the consonants, but more especially the vocalization, since vowels which had been lengthened by their position in or before the tone-syllable necessarily become shortened, or are reduced to Še (cf. §9a, c, k; §27e–m); e.g. דָּבָר‎ word, דְּבַר אֱלֹהִים‎ word of God (a sort of compound, as with us in inverted order, God’s-word, housetop, landlord); יָד‎ hand, הַפֶּ֫לֶךְ יַד‎ the hand of the king; דְּבָרִים‎ words, דִּבְרֵי הָעָם‎ the words of the people. Thus in Hebrew only the noun which stands before a genitive suffers a change, and in grammatical language is said to be dependent, or in the construct state, while a noun which has not a genitive after it is said to be in the absolute state. It is sufficiently evident from the above that the construct state is not strictly to be regarded as a syntactical and logical phenomenon, but rather as simply phonetic and rhythmical, depending on the circumstances of the tone. Very frequently such interdependent words are also united by Maqqeph (§16a); this, however, is not necessary, but depends on the accentuation in the particular case. On the wider uses of the constr. st. see the Syntax, § 130.

2. The vowel changes which are occasioned in many nouns by the construct state are more fully described in §§ 92–5. But besides these, the terminations of the noun in the construct state sometimes assume a special form. Thus:

(a) In the construct state, plural and dual, the termination is ־ֵי‎, e.g. סוּסִים‎ horses, סוּסֵי פַרְעֹח‎ the horses of Pharaoh; עֵינַ֫יִם‎ eyes, עֵינֵי הַפֶּ֫לֶךְ‎ the eyes of the king.

Rem. The ־ֵי‎ of the dual has evidently arisen from ־ַי‎ (cf. יָ֫דַיִם‎), but the origin of the termination ־ֵי‎ in the constr. st. plur. is disputed. The Syriac constr. st. in ay and the form of the plural noun before suffixes (סוּסַי‎, סוּסַ֫יִךְ‎, &c., §91h) would point to a contraction of an original ־ַי‎, as in the dual. But whether this ay was only transferred from the dual to the plural (so Olshausen, and Nöldeke, Beitr. zur sem. Sprachwiss., Strassb. 1904, p. 48 ff.), or is to be regarded as the abstract, collective termination, as in אִשֶּׁה‎ (see f) and חוֹרַי‎ (so Philippi, ThLZ. 1890, col. 419; Barth, ZDMG. 1904, p. 431 ff.), must be left undecided.

(b) The original ־ַת‎ is regularly retained as the feminine termination in the construct state sing. of those nouns which in the absolute state end in ־ָה‎, e.g. מַלְכָּה‎ queen, מַלְכַּת שְׁבָא‎ the queen of Sheba. But the feminine endings ־֫ ־ֶת‎, ־֫ ־ַת‎, and also the plural ־וֹת‎, remain unchanged in the construct state.

(c) Nouns in ־ֶה‎ (cf. §75e) from verbs ל״ה‎ (§ 93, Paradigm III c) form their constr. st. in ־ֵה‎, e.g. רֹאֶה‎ seer, constr. רֹאֵה‎. If this ־ֵה‎ is due to contraction of the original ־ַי‎, with ה‎ added as a vowel letter, we may compare דַּי‎, constr. דֵּי‎ sufficiency; חַי‎, constr. חֵי‎ life; (גַּי) גַּיְא‎, constr. (גֵּי) גֵּיא‎ valley.

On the terminations וֹ‎ and ־ִי‎ in the constr. st. see § 90.

  1. On some remains of obsolete case-endings see § 90.
  2. The same phenomenon of the tone may also be easily seen in other languages, when two words are closely connected in a similar way. Observe, for example, in German the natural stress on the last word in ‘der Thron des Königs’; though here the other order of the words (inadmissible in Hebrew) ‘des Königs Thron’ exhibits the same peculiarity.
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