veqatal and adverbs

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Sun Sep 3 12:22:11 EDT 2000

Randall Buth  wrote:

>In answering a point about Genesis 29.1-3 Rolf Furuli referred to 1 Sam
>>How do we know that the WEQATAL W(LH in v 3 is
>>iterative? Because of the adverbial MYMYM YMYMH. If this adverbial was
>>lacking and no other element in the context indicated it, the only
>>interpretation of the WEQATAL would be that the travel happened just once.
>"Only possible interpretation of the WEQATAL would be that the travel
>happened just once" !?
>Yes, we live in different worlds. veqatal does not need an adverb to be
>habitual, just a past context, and ve`alah would NOT normally mean that the
>travel happened just once, unless in the future, since the default meaning
>of future is singulative/non-habitual. The one-time past would have been
>vayya`al. Instead, ve`alah was correctly used here as more appropriate with
>miyyamim yamima.
>what you said about yiqtol (yashqu) in Gen 29.2 actually applies to the
>veqatal of 1 sam 1.3, too:
>>However, even without the adverbial, iterativity
>>would be considered as a possible interpretation because we have a YIQTOL
>[and veqatal, too, at 1Sm1.3--RB]
>>with past meaning.
>Yes. and perhaps more importantly,
>with Genesis 29.1-3, the veqatal is habitual and there are no adverbs. Your
>yiqtol statement would help you with the veqatals in 29.3, but you will
>refused to do so. (Perhaps because you would end up learning Hebrew? See
>Instead you pproposed something that is exactly backwards from biblical
>>I agree that we should interpret all the four actions as habitual. Why?
>>because of the aspect (of WEQATAL), but because of our knowledge of the
>>world. All we need to do to cancel the habitual interpretation of the four
>>WEQATALs, is
>>to change "flocks" with "the army" (or something similar).
>> "and when all the army was gathered (WEQATAL) there, the soldiers rolled
>>(WEQATAL) the stone from the mouth of the well, and the gave water
>>(WEQATAL) to the prisoners, and then they put (WEQATAL) the stone back in
>>its place upon the mouth of the well."
>> We know that an army do not habitually come to a particular well to drink
>>water, and therefore we would interpret the WEQATALs as non-habitual.
>Your example is a nice self-refutation. You need to look at it from two
>first-- in your example with the same verb forms, the army would still be
>doing habitual activities.
>Why? Because of the past context and the chosen verb forms. The
>interpretation is still habitual. Such an army might be a strange one but
>language is perfectly capable of talking about improbabilities.
>Please note: the RSV 'was gathered' is a poor translation for reflecting
>Hebrew verb categories, "used to gather" is better for communicaqting the
>TAM, both for the biblical text and the "army" example.
>If you wanted to say (single occurrence) 'the army
>gathered...rolled...watered...returned", you would say,
>"vayye'asfu ... vayyagollu ... vayyashqu ... vayyashivu ..."
>Second: You accept the probability that "yashqu" in 29.2 refers to a
>habitual action.
>True. We are agreed. And it's Hebrew.
>And you go on to claim that worldknowledge alone leads to a habitual
>interpretation of the following four events.
>That cannot be true. For one, that would make it impossible to refer to a
>specific historical sequence. What if the story teller wanted to list four
>historical events right there in the story?
>Now watch carefully what happens if we 'rewrite' the continuation of the
>sheep and shepherds with all special prefix verbs:
>"vayye'asfu ...
>vayyagolu ...
>vayyashqu ...
>vayyashivu ..."
>This would lead a reader to reject the habitual interpretation! (I assume
>that you can see this, at least according to MT grammar?)
>The same world knowledge does not lead to the same interpretation.
>and now we have a description of a specific historical sequence. This
>interpretation is brought about by using a different verb form, a kind of
>prefix verb.
>Let me rephrase this as a minimal contrast:
>Which Hebrew sequence refers to a habitual description?
>a.                                                        b.
>  vene'esfu ...                                          vayye'asfu ...
>  vegalalu  ...                                           vayyagollu ...
>  vehishqu ...                                          vayyashqu ...
>  veheshivu ...                                        vayyashivu ...
>                         Correct answer: "a"
>Which Hebrew sequence refers to a one-time description?
>a.                                                        b.
>  vene'esfu ...                                          vayye'asfu ...
>  vegalalu  ...                                           vayyagollu ...
>  vehishqu ...                                          vayyashqu ...
>  veheshivu ...                                        vayyashivu ...
>                         Correct answer: "b"
>Your only 'logical' defense is to say that "b" was equally habitual for
>sheep in the first question and that "a" was equally "one-time" for sheep
>in the second question. You already rejected this last option in your post.
>If you want to reclaim this option, then you will continue to unlearn

Dear Randall,

If you by "correct answer" mean what is the normal way that something is
expressed in the Tanach, I agree that the answer is "a" in the first place
and "b" in the second. We have no quarrel about the fact that WEQATAL often
has a habitual meaning in past contexts. But this is not the point. We are
discussing the following question: Is iterativity a semantic part of the
WEQATAL form in past contexts, or is it pragmatic, that is, is it dependent
upon the context?

The normal form to express mainline narrative is the WAYYIQTOL. When the
author needed to express a pluperfect, he often used a QATAL. All agree
that there is no form which only expresses the pluperfect, but to mark a
contrast to the mainline WAYYIQTOLs, it is not strange that a QATAL was
chosen. (But even the active participle can express the pluperfect in
particular contexts.) Because of the strong grip of the WAYYIQTOLs on the
narrative, which usually is not an expression of habitual action, it is no
wonder that a QATAL often is chosen when habitual action should be
expressed. The enclitic WAWs can in *all* instances be explained as mere
conjunctions. You can falsify this claim by pointing to just one example
where a conjunctive meaning is not possible.

Agreeing on what is *normal* does not tell us what is *semantic* and what
is *pragmatic*. You have already implicitly admitted that iterativity
(habituality) is not a semantic part of WEQATALs with past reference by
using "normally" in the following clauses from your first paragraph above:
"veqatal does not need an adverb to be habitual, just a past context, and
ve`alah would NOT normally mean that the travel happened just once, unless
in the future, since the default meaning of future is
singulative/non-habitual." In order to  demonstrate that we need the
context to interpret WEQATALs as iterative, I must point to at least one
parallel to Genesis 29.1-3 where the WEQATALs definitely are not iterative.

We have such an example  in 2 Kings 18:4 (RSV).

He removed (QATAL) the high places, and broke (WEQATAL) the pillars, and
cut down (WEQATAL) the Asherah. And he broke in pieces (WEQATAL) the bronze
serpent ----- that Moses had made (QATAL), for until those days the people
of Israel had burned (QATAL+PARTICIPLE) incense to it; it was called
(WAYYIQTOL) Nehushtan.

This is mainaline narrative, and the account is moved forward (a new
reference time for each verb) by 	QATAL,WEQATAL,WEQATAL, and WEQATAL.
After my hypens we find background information which is expressed by QATAL,
QATAL+PARTICIPLE,  and WAYYIQTOL. Of particular interest is what is
expressing habitual action in the background account, namely,
QATAL+PARTICIPLE. In the mainline narrative of the 7 first verses of the
chapter I count 5 QATALs and 4 WAYYIQTOLs. Note also the two YIQTOLs in the
background in v 7; they probably signal repetitive action.

There are scores of other examples of non-iterative WEQATALs with past
reference. The elementary linguistic point is that only when *all* WEQATALs
with past reference signal iterativity, can we conclude that iterativity is
a semantic part of the form itself. Your appeal to what would be expected
in Gen 29:1-3 if singular events were expressed in mainline narrative,
therefore, is of no value, as far as the semantic meaning of WEQATAL is
concerned. We agree what would have been expected, but my discussion of 2
Kings 18:4 shows that the "normal" is not what is necessary. And these
examples of four QATALs in a row (the first QATAL has the same value as the
following ones because of the preceding pronoun) with non-iterative meaning
definitely shows that we need the context to decide when WEQATAL  is

In my view your method confuses function and meaning, and it is very
primitive since it prevents the student from analysing the different
linguistic units in a verb phrase; thus s/he will not learn which of these
parts contribute what to the meaning of the whole phrase. By fusing the ten
or more different parts of the verb phrase together under the heading
"right use" ("correct answer") the student will end in utter confusion as
to the *meaning* of Hebrew verbs.

An example of habitual QATAL is 1 Samuel 18:30. The reason why we know that
the QATAL is habitual, is the context "as often as they came out".

Then the princes of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as
they came out David had more success (QATAL) than all the servants of Saul;
so that his name was highly esteemed.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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