[b-hebrew] Piel etc.

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman joel at exc.com
Wed May 11 11:32:33 EDT 2005

Regarding Piel etc.:

It is simply not true that the binyanim dictate semantic sense.  So to
say that "Piel [is] a heightened action of some kind," or that "Piel
[is] the imposition of a state (adjectival)..." is to do everyone a

In both modern and ancient Hebrew, each binyan tends to cluster around
a set of meanings, but the clustering is not absolute.  Some people
therefore conclude that there are "rules and lots of exceptions," but
I don't find that approach helpful or accurate, both because the rules
tend to be complicated, and because the exceptions outnumber the

Furthermore, the belief in semantic rules that accompany the binyanim
leads to (sometimes severe) misunderstandings of the Hebrew words,
because people try to force their wrong notions of the semantic import
of the binyanim onto the words.

For example, in Modern Hebrew, the Piel GIDDEL means "to grow (plants)
or to raise (children)," while the hiphil HIGDIL means "to enlarge."
Similarly, the hiphil HIRXIK means "to cause to be far away," while
its opposite, "to cause to be nearby," is Piel (KEREV).

There is nothing intensive or emphatic about "speaking" (Piel: DIBBER)
or, for that matter, faxing (Piel: FIKSES), or focusing [a camera, say]
(Piel: FIKES).  Returning to Biblical Hebrew, there is still nothing
emphatic about "speaking."  We can also look, say, at Genesis 12:3,
where we find two words for "curse" clearly used in parallel, but one
is in Piel (KILLEL), while its synonym is in Kal (ARAR).  Similarly,
the passive of BERACH (Piel) is not Pual but Niphal (NIVRACH) there.

There is nothing emphatic about the nearly-passive verb "to get," but
it, too, is Piel:  KIBEL.

Branching out a bit, the Niphal verbs NISHBA' ("to swear") and NAMAS
("to melt") are not at all passive, and neither are the modern Hebrew
Niphal verbs NIZKAR ("to recall") and NIFTAR ("to die").

For that matter, the relationship between NIFTAR/HITPATER
("die"/"quit") is not at all the same as the relationship between
'IBED/HIT'ABED ("lose"/"commit suicide").

The oppositve of "to gain weight" (Hiphel: HISHMIN) is the Kal verb RAZA
("to lose weight").

The Kal verb 'AVAD means "to work" or "to serve," while the Piel 'IBED
means "to process."

The Piel verb KIRSEM simply means "to gnaw" not "to gnaw
emphatically."  The hiphil verb "HEVIN" simply means "to understand,"
not "to cause someone to have wisdom."

These and many, many, more examples disprove any notion of binyanim
dictating semantics.

Nonetheless, it is generally true that Kal/Niphal, Piel/Pual and
Hiphel/Huphal form active/passive pairs, though even there exceptions
are not uncommon.

-Joel Hoffman
(joel at exc.com)

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