[b-hebrew] tense

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Sun Dec 9 13:51:44 EST 2012


On Sat, Dec 8, 2012 at 7:16 PM, Michael Abernathy <mabernathy at conwaycorp.net
> wrote:

> I'm probably getting in on this a bit late but I wanted to check a
> college grammar before commenting.  We generally think of the present
> tense in English as describing things happening in the present time, but
> the Harbrage College Handbook describes several other uses:
> Habitual action: "Maureen uses common sense."
> Universal or timeless truth: "Blind innocence sees no evil."
> Historical present: "In 1939 Hitler attacks Poland."
> Literary present: "Conrad writes about what he sees in the human heart."
> Present form used with an adverb to denote the future: "Winter begins
> next week."
> Progressive form denoting past, present and probably future: "I am
> learning from my mistakes."

What many of these examples indicate is that present tense in English is
aspect agnostic. Whether we are talking about progressive action,
punctuated action (e.g. shopping at a particular store), timeless truth,
habitual actions and other similar actions done in the present time, these
represent present tense imperfective aspect actions.

Both historical present and literary present are not normal, and would be
considered incorrect if used on the street or normal conversation. In fact,
many historians and literary critics wouldn’t use them even professionally.

On a related issue, in languages that have relatively simple grammars with
limited number of forms tend to reuse forms that normally stand for one
action as a marker for a different action, but often in ways that make it
clear that another action is meant. For example, in English, “were” which
is usually a third person plural past tense, indicates optative mood when
used in either past or present tense first, second or third person
singular. The same is true with some of the other “not normal” uses of

So in Biblical Hebrew, in normal conversation it appears that a normal
present tense indicative sentence is made of a noun or pronoun (the latter
often indicated by a verbal prefix or suffix), verb in Qatal, then any
other words as the context may call for. This is also true of a simple
indicative sentence in the past as well as the future (hence prophetic
future). This use is aspect agnostic, just as in the English examples
above, aspect indicated by context. This use of the Qatal is for sentences
that are primary use, dealing with the main idea of a sentence. At the
present, I don’t rule out other uses of the Qatal form, but at the moment I
don’t see clear examples of other uses.

The Yiqtol form apparently has a few uses, again tense and aspect agnostic.
It’s usual position is as a second fiddle to the Qatal as in a
continuation, support or the logical conclusion for the idea expressed by
the Qatal, but where it’s found in the primary position, it refers to
intent or subjunctive mood.

In summary, in Biblical Hebrew, Qatal is tense and aspect agnostic, used to
indicate primary action, primary idea. Yiqtol is likewise tense and aspect
agnostic, indicates secondary action to support a Qatal. Yiqtol is also
repurposed to indicate intent, subjunctive, and results as well as possibly
other ideas.

> Sincerely,
> Michael Abernathy

Karl W. Randolph.
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