[b-hebrew] Basic observations on WAYYIQTOL

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Mon Aug 15 13:04:31 EDT 2005

I would like to bring some sanity to the recent discussions of WAYYIQTOL 
forms by explaining the situation as I understand it:

1) The traditional understanding of WAYYIQTOL is that when two or more 
WAYYIQTOLs follow one another in the text (with no other clause types 
intervening) they refer to a sequence of events - also that a WAYYIQTOL 
following a stative or continuing action (verbless or YIQTOL) clause 
refers to an event taking place while that state or continuing action is 

2) There are some clear cases where this understanding needs to be 
adjusted. Certain scholars have put forward modified rules for WAYYIQTOL 
which fit a larger proportion of cases. Nevertheless, there remain a 
relatively small number of WAYYIQTOLs which cannot be sequential and do 
not fit any modified rules.

3) For some scholars, such as Rolf and Dave as I understand their wordk, 
this rather small number of exceptions is a problem. For they hold to 
theoretical models according to which exceptions to semantic rules are 
not possible. So, they are forced either to look for more and more 
intricate modifications to the rules to fit all of the data, or else, as 
Rolf has almost done, they end up denying that there are any semantic 
distinctions between Hebrew verb forms, and claiming that everything is 

4) For others, such as Yitzhak and myself (although for rather different 
reasons) and probably in practice the majority of scholars, it is to be 
expected that even the best semantic rules will have some exceptions. 
For language is intrinsically dynamic and variable, and anyway the texts 
we have are not pure. We are not making any strong claims for the 
meaning of WAYYIQTOL which can be falsified by a few counter-examples, 
we are only outlining general meanings of verb forms which may be 
cancelled in specific contexts. The precise meaning in each case is 
determined not only by the verb form but by how it works in the context.

Dave, Rolf and Yitzhak, I hope I have been fair to you here.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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