Hebrew Syllables -

Hebrew Accent Marks

Most Hebrew words are generally accented on the last syllable of the word:

Ha-ish-sha - the woman

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:

Kohelet - preacher

Syllable (Phonetic) Classification

Some Hebrew grammars identify syllables according to the following scheme:

Tonic, Pretonic, and Propretonic syllables

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. Don’t let this nomenclature intimidate you: in the Scriptures, accented syllables are usually identified with one or more accent marks (see below).


The Masoretes and the Masoretic Text

Between the 7th and 9th centuries A.D, a group of Jewish scribes called the Masoretes added vowel signs (nikkudot), cantillation symbols and accent marks (ta'amim) to the text. This process came to be known asthe Masorah (tradition). The marked text was called the Masoretic Text and became the standard text for the Jews around the world.

Ta'amim


Accents of the Masoretic Text
Every word in the Tanakh (except those joined by a hyphen or maqqef) carries an accent mark on its "tonic" syllable (i.e., the syllable that receives the stress). In the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia there are 27 prose and 21 poetic accent marks used in the text. These marks (like the vowel marks) may appear above or below the word.


Three Main Accent Marks
Most accent marks can be classified according to whether they are disjunctive (pausal) or conjunctive (connecting).

    Disjunctive Accents
    Disjunctive accents mark a pause or break in the reading of the text, and function something like commas, semicolons, and colons in English. There are 18 disjunctive accent marks you might see in the Masoretic text, but the two most important are:

    • Atnach - Placed under the last word of the first half of a verse.
       
    • Silluq - Placed under the last word of the second half of a verse.
    • Atnach and Silluq accent marks

    Conjunctive Accents
    Conjunctive accents connect two words in the text. There are 9 conjunctive accent marks you might see in the Masoretic text, but the most important is:

    • Munach - Placed under a word that is connected with a following word.
    • Munach Accent Mark

The following shows Genesis 1:1 as you might see it in a typical Masoretic text:

Breshit 1-1

Note: You do not need to memorize the names of these accent marks; however, when you see one of them in your reading of the Tanakh, accent the syllable where the mark appears (for example, the silluq in the last word of the pasuk (verse) tells us to accent the pretonic syllable: ha-a-rets).

The mark at the end of the pasuk ( : ) is called a Sof Pasuk, and simply indicates the end of the verse (somewhat like a period in modern English writing).


The Least You Should Know...
In general, unless otherwise indicated by some sort of accent mark, assume that the Hebrew word you are looking at is accented on the last syllable.

Vowels are normally long in open syllables (i.e., ba, be, bo) and short in a closed syllables (ab, eb, ob).


Reference: The Rules of Stress
The following information is provided for reference purposes only:

  1. If the last syllable has a long vowel, it usually has the stress:

    le-VI

  2. A long vowel in a closed syllable gets the stress:

    tsa-PHON

  3. A closed unaccented syllable must take a short vowel:

    E-lef

  4. The Sheva (or chateph form) never receives the stress.

    a-SHER

  5. Verbs are often accented on the second syllable

    sha-MART-ti

  6. If a word has a Maqqef (hyphen), the stress usually shifts away from the preceding word and attends to the following word.

    The Maqqef
     
    In the example above, the words ben adam means “son of man.” With the Maqqef, the phrase still means “son of man,” but the accent moves to the word adam, resulting in a closed, unaccented syllable for the first word. The vowel therefore changes from Tsere (long) to Segol (short), according to rule 3, above.

Note: You may also be interested in Helmut Richter’s article regarding Hebrew Cantillation marks (special accent tags used for chanting the Torah).

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