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Hebrew - Nouns and the construct state

There are two main ways in which Hebrew nouns are used. The absolute state is the 'normal' form and (in the masculine singular form) is how the noun is listed. The construct state expresses one of a number of relationships amplifying a noun in the absolute state and forms a chain of nouns (usually two or three) of which the last is in the absolute state and is the main focus of the phrase. The construct-state nouns are shortened as far as possible, and are pronounced as a single speech unit, with the accent of the whole on the final (absolute) noun. This inevitably leads to changes in vocalisation, chiefly by the shortening of any long vowels except for unchangeably long ones (êy, îy, ô, û). The relationships expressed are:
  1. The location or origin of a person or thing, eg. 'the men of Jerusalem'.
  2. An amplified description of a person or thing, eg. 'a day of darkness'.
  3. (Most commonly) acknowledging possession or ownership, eg. 'the word of God'.

Rules for the construct chain are:

  1. A noun in the construct state never takes the definite article: the definiteness or not is determined from the absolute noun to which it is linked. It will be definite if the absolute noun has the definite artile or is a proper name.
  2. Nothing is allowed to interpose between the construct and absolute nouns (not even prepositions or conjunctions). Any modifying adjectives are placed after the absolute noun, which can in some cases lead to ambiguity.

The Plural form

Construct nouns in the plural are easy to classify:
Nouns ending in -îym (usually but not always masculine)
  • -îym -> êy
  • Changeable long vowels in prior syllables are reduced to vocal sheva, eg.
    bânîym -> benêy, but
    çûçîym -> çûçêy
  • If this change would lead to two vocal shevas in succession, the first is raised again to a full vowel, eg.
    anâshîym -> ’aneshêy -> ’aneshêy, or
    debârîym -> deberêy -> diberêy
The dual form is the same as the plural
Nouns ending in -ôwth (usually but not always feminine)
  • -ôwth remains the same, since ô is unchangeably long.
  • Otherwise the same principles as for -îym apply:
    ’âbôwth -> ’abôwth,
    arâtsôwth -> ’aretsôwth -> ’aretsôwth, or
    qôwlôwth -> qôwlôwth

The Singular form

Construct nouns in the singular are much more varied and in many cases cannot be safely guessed. The most common patterns are:
Monosyllabic nouns with short vowels or unchangeably long vowels
These are the same in the construct as the absolute form, eg.
’îysh -> ’îysh,
bath -> bath
Monosyllabic nouns with changeably long vowels
The vowel will be shortened, eg
bên -> ben
’âb and ’âch
These are irregular: ’âb -> ’abîy and ’âch -> ’achîy
Bisyllabic nouns with the first syllable open and the second closed
The first vowel is reduced to vocal sheva and the second is shortened, except where either is unchangeably long, eg.
dâbâr -> debar,
mâqôwn -> maqôwn,
kôwkâb -> kôwkab
Bisyllabic nouns with both syllables closed
These shorten the long vowel in the second syllable, eg. midbâr -> midbar
The construct is the same as the absolute state
Feminine nouns ending -âh in the singular absolute
The singula construct ends -ath (the older feminine ending), eg malkâh -> malkath
Words on the pattern of bayith in the absolute
These follw the pattern bêyth in the construct
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