[b-hebrew] WAV Conjunction

George Athas gathas at hotkey.net.au
Sun May 30 04:22:18 EDT 2004

Hi Chris!

As you've picked up, the WAW CONSECUTIVE is a very prickly subject in Biblical Hebrew. The problems do not all come down to the WAW CONSECUTIVE, though -- there are other peripheral issues involved.

Essentially, let me outline the old school of thought, and then outline some new currents.

There are two basic tenses: Perfect (completed action) and Imperfect (uncompleted action). The WAW CONSECUTIVE attached to a verb inverts the tense (hence it is often called the waw-conversive: it gives you the converse tense). Hence, WAW + PATAH + IMPERFECT = past tense; WAW + SHEWA + PERFECT = future tense.

Scholars are beginning to realise that there are many problems with the old school approach. For example, it does not explain why III-Heh verbs suddenly lose the III-Heh when a waw-consecutive is attached, and why the accent changes. It also doesn't explain why some WAW + SHEWA + PERFECT constructions do not indicate future tense.

I believe that what we have is not the imperfect with a waw-consecutive at all. Rather, we need to recognise a totally new 'tense' or verbal conjugation, known as the Preterite (past tense). This means that the WAW-CONSECUTIVE is not inverting the tense of the verb at all. Rather, the past tense is part of the meaning of the Preterite verb. This explains the shorter form and differing accent when compared with the normal imperfect. (C. L. Seow, in his second edition Hebrew Grammar acknowledges the Pretetrite, but is still sufficiently entrenched in the Old School that he does not pursue its leads.)

The WAW-CONSECUTIVE is, however, playing a certain syntactical role, namely adding momentum to a narrative text -- advancing the plot-line -- kind of like a camera moving during a scene.

That is a very simplistic explanation of some complex issues. There is far more that needs to be said. Rolf Furuli will also give you a new view that has departed from the old school of thought. It's similar to my explanation here, but differs at certain points. You might like to get him to explain it in a short form. I'm sure some monographs and articles will be written on it in the near future, and you will see a shift occur in the Hebrew Grammar books that are produced. I certainly look forward to seeing the deficiencies of the old old system overcome with more watertight grammars.

Best Regards,

Fellow Chairman, B-Hebrew Forum

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: wattswestmaas 
  To: B-Hebrew 
  Sent: Sunday, May 30, 2004 12:57 AM
  Subject: [b-hebrew] WAV Conjunction

  Hello board members,  I do not want to open a fiery debate about the
  infamous use of the WAV conjunction/consecutive since I have read many of
  your hot debates about this matter.

  What I really would like to appreciate is this: WHY is the tense of the
  classical hebrew verb, for the greater part, dictated by this one letter
  prefix.  While I understand that classical hebrew really only exists in the
  PERFECT and IMPERFECT 'idea'  --  I wondered if there was some explanation
  for the central position that this WAV occupies in the hebraic thinking of
  'time'?  Past, present and future tenses seem such a logical way to
  ravel  --  but is this really a MODERN CONCEPT in language?

  I know that context plays a part in determining 'time' but this 'context' is
  an emphasis used in the translation process.  The hebrews did not need to
  translate but simply 'understand'.  The WAV plays a hugely important role
  and one that IRONICALLY leads to quite some debate rather than clarity in

  I will appreciate all your comments.

  Thankyou - Chris.

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