Introduction to Prepositions
A preposition is a connecting word that indicates a relationship between one word (called its object) and another word (called its antecedent). A prepositional phrase is composed of the preposition, its object, and all the object's modifiers. If the prepositional phrase modifies a noun or pronoun, it functions adjectivally (as an adjective phrase); if the phrase modifies a verb, it functions adverbially (as an adverbial phrase). Some examples will make this clear.
- Prepositions of Position (spatial relations) -- These include words like "over," "under," "above," "below," "on," "off," "between," "beside," "near," "around," "across," etc. For example:
In the sentence above, the object of the preposition "under" is determined by asking "under what?" (Answer: under the old maple tree.) A prepositional phrase is composed of the preposition (under), its object (tree), and all the object's modifiers. In our diagram, the prepositional phrase "under the old maple tree" is used to modify its antecedent (grass) by indicating its position.
- Prepositions of Direction -- These include words like "to," "toward," "from," "up," "down," "at," etc. For example:
In the sentence above, the object of the preposition "to" is determined by asking "to what?" (Answer: to the temple), and the prepositional phrase is used adverbially to modify the antecedent (walked) by indicating the direction of the verb's action.
- Prepositions of Time (temporal relations) -- These include words like "before," "during," "after," "until," "till," etc. For example:
Here the object of the preposition "after" is determined by asking "after what?" (Answer: after the service), and the prepositional phrase is used adverbially to modify the antecedent (prayed) by indicating the time of the verb's action.
- Prepositions of Source, Agency, or Cause -- These include words like "of," "for," "with," "about," "regarding," etc. For example:
Here the object of the preposition "of" is determined by asking "of what?" (Answer: of wine), and the prepositional phrase is used adjectivally to modify the antecedent (cup). Other examples of this sort of preposition include: "a gift for Ruth," "a boy with freckles," and "a book about kings," etc.
A compound preposition is formed when two or more words are combined and considered a single prepositional unit. In English, some examples would include: "along side of," "in case of," "in addition to," "on account of," and so on.
Hebrew prepositions grammatically function similarly to English prepositions, though the morphology and syntax is of course different. In particular, Hebrew has the following kinds of prepositions:
- Independent Prepositions -- Many prepositions stand alone as a separate word in a prepositional phrase. Independent prepositions are simply separate words that stand in front of their objects. So-called "Maqqef prepositions" are simply prepositions that are directly joined to their objects by means of a maqqef (hyphen).
- Inseparable Prepositions -- These are prepositional prefixes attached to their objects. They are called "inseparable" prepositions because they cannot stand alone as independent prepositions. There are some rules you will need to learn about how the vowels change when these prepositional prefixes are added to other words.
- The Preposition Min -- This preposition is perhaps the most versatile, appearing in independent, maqqef, and inseparable forms. In addition, min is used to form comparative, superlative, and other grammatical constructions.
- Compound Prepositions -- A compound preposition is formed when two or more words are combined and considered a single prepositional unit. In Hebrew some compound prepositions are formed from two other prepositions (or from a noun+preposition combination).
- Prepositions with Pronomial Suffixes -- Hebrew prepositions can take pronomial suffixes to function as prepositional phrases.
- Indicating Possession with Yesh and Ein -- Hebrew does not have a word to express "have," or "don't have." Therefore (in the present tense) possession (or the lack of it) is expressed by the formula:
- There is to me x = I have x
- There is not to me x = I don't have x