[b-hebrew] b-hebrew Uncancellable meaning and Hebrew verbs

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sat Jul 4 08:42:56 EDT 2009

Dear list-members,

I continue with examples of )MR.

First I would like to ask, "How did the father of 
Hebrew grammar. S. R. Driver view the nature of 
the WAYYIQTOL of )MR? In  "A treatise on the Use 
of Tenses in Hebrew and other Syntactical 
Questions" (1892:71, 72) he writes (I use 
asterisks where he has cursive):

"The Imperfect represent action as *nascent*; 
accordingly, when combined with a conjunction 
connecting the event introduced by it with a 
point already reached by the narrative, it 
represents it as the *continuation* or 
*development* of the past which came before it. 
WY)MR is thus properly not *and he said*, but 
*and he proceeded-to-say."

Driver did not accept that the form "only could 
be past perfective" as DK has claimed. Driver did 
not use the modern parameters "deictic center," 
"event time," and "reference time", but his long 
and thorough study of  BH led him to the 
mentioned conclusion. Let us now take a look at 
some examples that Driver also considered (all 
from NIV):

(1) Exodus 20:1

"God spoke (WAYYIQTOL) all these words, saying (infin.cons.):

(2) Exodus 19:19

"The blare of the horn grew louder and louder. As 
Moses spoke (YIQTOL), God answered (YIQTOL) him 
in thunder."

In these verses there are three examples of 
speak/answer, one as WAYYIQTOL and two as 
YIQTOLs. The relationship between C and R is seen 
in all three cases, so the events have past 
reference. But what about tense/aspect? Is there 
a semantic difference between the WAYYIQTOL and 
the YIQTOLs? Such a difference is not visible. 
But in both instances when the YIQTOLs are used, 
there is a stated subject before them, and 
because of this the verbs cannot be expressed as 
WAYYIQTOLs. If the word order was changed and the 
subject occurred after the verbs, they would 
probably have become WAYYIQTOLs.  In my 
dissertation there are scores of examples of this 
phenomenon: YIQTOLs  with past reference are not 
used to indicate the so-called "durative past," 
but they are  used instead of WAYYIQTOLs when 
some word element is placed before the verb. This 
is so because the WAYYIQTOL is nothing but a 
YIQTOL with a prefixed conjunction, as S. R. 
Driver said. I will give a few examples below:

3) 1 Kings 21:6

He answered (WAYYIQTOL) her, "Because I said (YIQTOL) to Naboth the Jezreelite,

4) Judges 9:38

"Then Zebul said (WAYYIQTOL) to him, "Where is 
your big talk now, you who said (YIQTOL)"

5) 1 KINGS 3:26

"The woman whose son was alive was filled with 
compassion for her son and said (WAYYIQTOL) to 
the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living 
baby! Don't kill him!" ¶	But the other 
said (YIQTOL)"

6)  HOSHEA 1:10

"In the place where it was said (YIQTOL) to them, 
'You are not my people,' they will be called 
(YIQTOL) 'sons of the living God.'

Here the same YIQTOL verb is used both with past and future reference.

(7) Lamentations 2:15

"Is this the city that was called (YIQTOL) the 
perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?"

Please note the prefixed relative particle that 
causes gemination of the YOD (2:15) just as does 
the prefixed conjunction in WAYYIQTOL. No one 
would say that the gemination after $ has any 
semantic meaning, but that is what many say 
regarding the gemination after WAW in WAYYIQTOL.

Examples 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 reveal  no difference 
between YIQTOL  and WAYYIQTOL used with past 
reference. So my challenge to those who belive 
there is such a difference, is: Please come with 
the evidence. Do we have examples of YIQTOLs with 
past reference where we can *see* a different 
meaning compared with WAYYIQTOL?

Those who do not have any experience in analyzing 
verbs in a dead language may wonder what factors 
that can help us see the inner constituency of a 
verb form, i.e., what the author wants to make 
visible by using that form. One factor is a 
knowledge of the world. This knowledge has no 
bearing on  lexicon, grammar, and syntax, so it 
does not generate any new linguistic meaning. But 
it can help us see the aspect of a verb (Another 
factor may be different adverbials). Please look 
at 8) and 9) below.

8)  1 Kings 6:1

"In the four hundred and eightieth year after the 
Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth 
year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month 
of Ziv, the second month, he began to build 
(WAYYIQTOL) the temple of the LORD."

9) Constructed example

"In the four hundred and eightieth year after the 
Israelites had come out of Egypt, Solomon built 
(WAYYIQTOL) a house for his queen."

In 9) we do not know how long it took to build 
the house for the queen, so the relationship 
between E and R is invisible, and we do not know 
whether the beginning of the action, the 
progressive action, or the action including its 
end is what the author wanted to make visible. 
But 8) is different, because we know that it took 
many years to build the temple. Therefore, the 
force of the WAYYIQTOL is ingressive, i.e., the 
beginning and the small part of the action that 
was performed that year is made visible. This is 
an imperfective property.

The demand of DK to show that the WAYYIQTOL form 
of  )MR "is consistently imperfective throughout 
the corpus" is of course impossible, because 
there are so few examples of verbs where we can 
see the relation between E and R. Such a demand 
is tantamount to saying that God is not 
omnipotent, because he cannot make a stone that 
he is not able to carry."

But we may sum up the situation in the following way:

1) The past reference of so many WAYYIQTOLs does 
not tell us anything about their aspect (cf. 

2) There is absolutely no reason why the 
WAY-element in WAYYIQTOL should be viewed as a 
semantic element changing the force of the form 
compared with the force of the YIQTOL - because 
the element can be phonetically explained (cf. 
the prefixed $ in Lamentations 2:15).

3) In no other Semitic language do a prefixed 
element to a verb conjugation change its meaning 
to the very opposite of the meaning without the 
element. To the best of my knowledge, this is not 
the case in any other living or dead language.

4) In Ugaritic, Phoenician, Aramaic, and 
Akkadian, the same conjugations can be used with 
past, present, and future reference, just as in 

5) As shown above, the YIQTOL  form can be used 
with exactly the same meaning as the WAYYITOL 
form; and the choice of form depends on the word 
order, whether there is a word element before the 
verb or not.

Therefore we may turn the question around. I do 
not ask for a demonstration of all WAYYIQTOLs of 
)MR are perfective. But my question is: What is 
the evidence that the verb form in Genesis 12:1 
is perfective? And what is the definition of 

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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