[b-hebrew] The mystery of vav-consecutive

Ken Penner pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Mon May 23 22:29:34 EDT 2005

I think it's fair to say it was S. R. Driver's  _A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew and some other syntactical questions_ that popularized (in English) Ewald's idea that the Hebrew qatal and yiqtol were not past and future tenses but perfect and imperfect "aspects". I recommend the Eerdmans/Dove 1998 reprint with an introduction by W. Randall Garr.

If we are going to use the labels "imperfect" and "perfect", we really shouldn't call them "tenses", but rather "aspects". If we are going to speak of "tense"-reversal, then we really shouldn't call them "imperfect" and "perfect".

Basically, if the qatal and yiqtol are not "tenses", then adding a "vav" cannot reverse the "tense".

If you are looking for examples where the wayyiqtol refers to the future, you may be interested in Walter Gross' _Verbform und Funktion. Wayyiqtol für die Gegenvart? Ein Beitrag zür Syntax poetischer althebräischer Texte_ (Münchener Universitätsschriften. St. Ottilien: EOS, 1976).

Driver provides some examples of wayyiqtol for the present in the Pentateuch:
Gen 19:9; 31:15; 32:5; 49:24; Ex 4:23; Num 22:11.

He was not sure about Dt 33:27-28.

Leslie McFall (_The Enigma of the Hebrew Verbal System_) counts the following numbers of times the wayyiqtol is translated by the present or future, respectively:

Gen: 3, 0
Ex:  3, 2
Lev: 0, 0
Num: 2, 0
Dtr: 8, 1

By way of comparison, the number of times wayyiqtol is translated by the past in the RSV:

Gen: 2096
Ex:  855
Lev: 188
Num: 730
Dtr: 239

That's 99.5% past, BTW. Some would call this high percentage a coincidence due to pragmatics.

The problem with conceiving of the Hebrew verbal system as a tense system has little to do with the wayyiqtol used for the future, but more to do with the qatal used for the future, and especially with yiqtol used for the past. The weqatal is a more complex question, since one would have to determine whether the vav was "conversive" or "conjunctive".

I hope this is helpful.

Ken Penner, Ph.D. cand.: "Verb Form Semantics in Qumran Sectarian Texts: Hebrew Tense, Aspect, and Modality between the Bible and the Mishnah"
M.C.S. (Regent College, biblical languages), M.A. (McMaster, Hebrew poetry)
Biblical Field (Early Judaism major)
McMaster University
Hamilton, Canada
pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Hebrew vocabulary software: http://s91279732.onlinehome.us/flash or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/flash_pro/join

> -----Original Message-----
> From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org 
> [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Steve Miller
> Sent: May 22, 2005 6:16 PM
> To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] The mystery of vav-consequtive
> Can anyone give me 5 examples from the Pentateuch where the 
> vav-consecutive
> is clearly NOT a tense reversal?

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list