Et (Genesis 1:1)

Charles David Isbell cisbell at
Wed May 22 11:19:52 EDT 2002

Dear Daniel,
You have received some good answers already.  Perhaps there are four things
to note here at the beginning of your studies.
[1] 'et is most frequently used as the sign of a DEFINITE direct object
following, as Liz has noted.  This is often called an "accusative" in
[2] However, later you will see that 'et also precedes words with a
"nominative" function as well.  It has been said that the full understanding
of 'et requires more work than with any other Hebrew particle, and I agree.
Hold this for later and with specific examples.
[3] Another word spelled the same way is used as a preposition.  However,
you will note that when the direct object marker takes accusative pronominal
suffixes, its base becomes 'ot- or 'et-.  When the preposition takes
suffixes, its base becomes 'itt-.  So only when the preposition has no
suffix should you be confused by the two identical graphemes.
[4] For your level now, think of 'et this way.  It is a function marker
only.  That is, you do not need to translate it with a separate English
item.  It is telling you:  "the next word you see will be a definite direct
object."  Other Egypto-Semitic languages have similar function words.  In
Akkadian and Egyptian, for example, you will often see a sign that means
"the next word is the name of a deity," or "the next word is the name of a
city," etc.  In fact, we have something similar in English, although this is
rarely noted.  If I were to ask you to write the infinitive form of an
English verb, you would probably write "TO read," or "TO walk."  But
technically, the infinitive FORM of the verb is merely "read" or "walk."
The "TO" is a signal that the following FORM you will read is the
One last hint.  Never feel that you must assign an English word for every
Hebrew word on a one-to-one equivalency.  Get the IDEA equivalency, even if
you start with a wooden rough draft in English.  Then smooth out your
English to fit your dialect.
Be-HatzlaHa ["good luck"],
Charles David Isbell

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list