Preterite and Imperfect

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Fri May 24 13:44:24 EDT 2002

Trevor, are there actually any cases which don't fit the following

Waw-patah-consonant-dagesh... = preterite
Waw-qamets-aleph... = preterite (qamets is compensatory lengthening)
Waw-patah-aleph... = imperfect
Waw-schwa/hireq... = imperfect

I guess there may be a handful of textually dubious cases and ones where
the Masoretes are suspected of making a mistake. But are there actually
any regular forms which don't fit this?

In answer to my own questions: the only counter-examples I can find in
the Westminster database are:

Gen 31:27 WF75/):A$AL."X/:AKF91
Ps 119:73 WA75/Y:KOWN:N92W./NIY

Num 22:6  WA/):AGFR:$/E73N.W.
Dt 31:14  WA/):ACAW./E92N.W.
1Sa 1:10  WA/):AMO74T:T/"80HW.
Isa 43:28 WA/):AXAL."73L
Isa 57:18 WA/):A$AL."94M
Ezk 16:10 WA/):AKAS./"73K:
Dan 11:11 W:/YIT:MAR:MAR03
Zec 8:10  WA/):A$AL.A71X

I don't understand why these several WA):A- forms are marked as
preterite (wayyiqtol, waw consecutive) rather than imperfect. Is there a
morphological reason, or only a contextual one? Or are these in fact
errors in the WTS database?

Peter Kirk

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Trevor Peterson [mailto:06PETERSON at]
> Sent: 24 May 2002 15:37
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: RE: Preterite and Imperfect
> >===== Original Message From tmcos at =====
> >Dear Friends,
> >
> >  Could any of you provide some insights into an easy way to
> the
> preterite in biblical Hebrew from the imperfect? Many thanks.
> Well, there are a couple of different issues involved here. One is
> the
> preterite is not always distinguishable formally from the imperfect,
> you
> have to have some way of handling the identical forms. (I realize some
> would
> contend that there is no real difference between these two
> but
> since your post assumed the distinction, I'm not going to address that
> issue.)
> The other issue is what formal markers can be observed. Let me handle
> one
> first.
> Obviously, the most prevalent formal marker (in voweled texts) is the
> class
> vowel in the va-prefix and lengthened following consonant. This
feature is
> consistent regardless of root pattern, and it generally appears on
> preterite
> forms. Some weak forms also exhibit differences. The preterite tends
to be
> shorter and to retract accent. If you glance through some verbal
> paradigms,
> you can see where differences appear. It's good to spend some time
> specifically learning the unique forms. Another difference seems to
> to
> nunation, which belongs more properly to the imperfect. It can be
> not
> only as a visible nun but as consonantal lengthening in some
> suffixes. (If you're at Toronto, you might want to see if you can talk
> V.
> DeCaen, who participates on this list and has been doing some work on
> nunation.)
> When formal features are of no help, you can look for positioning in
> sentence. In Classical BH prose, the imperfect does not generally
> at
> the beginning of a clause. Of course, since most of the more ambiguous
> occurrences are in poetry, that's probably not of much help. The
> behavior of poetry is a tough nut to crack. I haven't done that much
> it
> myself, so I can't provide too much help.
> Well, that's a start anyway. Others probably know quite a bit more
than I
> about this.
> Trevor Peterson
> CUA/Semitics
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