After studying Unit Three, you should have mastered the following material:
The Two Rules for Dividing Hebrew Words
There are two basic rules for dividing a Hebrew word into syllables:
- The Number of Syllables = the Number of Vowels
Since there is one vowel per syllable, the number of syllables in a word is the same as the number of vowels. Indicate word division by drawing a line between the syllables and then placing the numbers (1), (2), and so on, directly above / below each consecutive syllable. Identify the type of vowel and its class for each syllable:
- Syllables can be "Open" or "Closed.”
Open syllables end with a vowel sound and closed syllables end with a letter without a vowel. Indicate open syllables with (O) and a closed syllable with (C).
Hebrew Accent Marks
Most Hebrew words are generally accented on the last syllable of the word. However, some words (segolate nouns, furtive patach nouns, certain verb forms) accent the next to last syllable. In the vocabulary sections of the units, I will indicate non-standard accents by using the symbol “<” above the accented syllable.
The “tonic” syllable is the syllable that receives the stress or accent; the “pretonic” syllable is the syllable before the tonic syllable, and the “propretonic” syllable is the syllable before the pretonic.
Dotted Letters and Word Division
A dagesh forte “emphasizes” a letter and thereby affects a word's syllabification by doubling the value of the consonant. A letter with a dagesh forte always causes the previous syllable (if any) to be closed and in effect "divides" the syllable at the letter.
The dagesh in a Begedkephat letter is forte only if it is preceded by a vowel (otherwise it is lene).
The general rule for dotted letters is this: If there is a "dot" inside a letter, "double" its value; but if it is a Begedkephat letter, double the value only if it is preceded by a vowel.
The Sheva and Syllables
There are four cases when the Sheva is vocal (Na):
- When it begins a word (or syllable)
- When it is the second of two shevas in a row
- When it appears under a letter with a Dagesh Forte
- When it follows a syllable that contains a long vowel.
Correlatively, there are four cases when the Sheva is silent (Nach):
- When it ends a word (or syllable)
- When it is the first of two shevas in a row
- When it closes a syllable
- When it follows a syllable that contains a short vowel.
Some grammars do not treat the vocal sheva as a separate syllable, but include its sound with the following syllable (as a sort of slurred vocalization before the next syllable). Normally I will treat the vocal sheva as a separate syllable in transliterations (using either an apostrophe character or an “e”).
When a word ends in a Chet, an Ayin or a dotted Hey (mappiq) and has a Patach vowel mark, you first pronounce the vowel sound and then add the letter sound. This is called a “furtive Patach.” When a furtive patch appears under a Chet, Ayin, or dotted Hey, the accent falls on the preceding syllable.
The letters Aleph, Hey, Vav, and Yod can sometimes be “quiescent,” that is, silent under certain circumstances.
The word Maqqef means means “binder,” and functions much like a hyphen in English. That is, two words of a word pair are joined together to form a new word, and changes in the vocalization of the word unit often occurs.
Qamets Chatuph appears 630 times in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and occurs only in closed, unaccented syllables. It is the only form of the short “O-Type” vowel and may appear as a result of changes in vocalization of Hebrew words (for example, vocalic “reduction,” where a long vowel is reduced to its corresponding short form).
Nu, What’s Next?
The aim of the first three units is to help you “pronounce Hebrew,” not “read Hebrew.”
This distinction is important. In the Hebrew language itself, the verb “to read” is kara’ (“kah-RAH”), which is often translated into English as "to call". What this means is that the concept of "reading" in the Hebrew mindset was something you did with your mouth and also with your eyes, not something you did exclusively with your eyes.
If this material is now clear, you may ahead to Unit Four and begin learning about Hebrew nouns and adjectives. You may also perform a self-check by working through Unit Three exercises and vocabulary.