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Hebrew Verb System

The verb system in Hebrew, unlike in English and in many other languages, has a distinctive feature which can help a student learn Hebrew. This feature is the categorization of its verbs. The aim of this article is to help students understand the concept behind the system, which will hopefully in turn aid them to overcome any feelings of intimidation. The Hebrew verb system divides verbs in to seven distinctive groups or families, (Binyanim). More ancient Hebrew languages divided verbs into their respective Binyanim (groups) according to the nature of the action they represented. For example; all reflexive verbs (actions that someone was doing to themselves), i.e. 'to get oneself dressed', 'to get oneself ready' etc., were categorized into one group. All causalities, (verbs that one was doing to someone else), i.e. 'to feed someone', 'to dress someone' etc., were categorized into a second and so forth.

In addition to the classification according to the nature of the action, we can also find phonological similarity between the verbs that belong to the same group. All verbs belonging to a given group have the same vowel ‘melody’ or phonological template. It is only the root letter (consonant) sounds which change.


hebrew grammar

Active and Passive Verbs

As we have already mentioned, in Hebrew, verbs are divided in to seven separate groups or Binyanim, some of which are active and some passive. Each of these seven Binyanim has its own distinctive vowel melody or phonological template. Familiarity and a good understanding of the phonological template of each of the groups help tremendously in changing any given verb from the active to the passive form and the reverse. The following diagram, in the form of the Menorah, indicates those Binyanim that are active and those that are passive.

The Menorah (lamp).

hebrew grammar phonological chart

We can see from the diagram of the Menorah that the right side is comprised of the more 'active' verb groups or Binyanim, whereas the left side is comprised more of the ‘passive’ Binyanim.

Note that each 'active' verb has a 'passive' partner and in order to transform a verb from the active form into the passive form, or vice-versa, we would simply insert the ‘root letters’ of the verb into the template of the required binyan.

Helpful techniques for using the Hebrew verb system.

Learn the phonological template of one verb from each group (binyan) thoroughly. Keep these examples of the templates in mind when you encounter a new verb. Compare the new verb to those templates that you already know in order to identify the Binyan.

How does this help me?

  1. Firstly, it can help in choosing the correct conjugation of the verb. It is easy to find out the meaning of a new verb by either looking it up in a dictionary or by asking someone the meaning. In order to use a Hebrew verb, however, one must know how to conjugate it correctly according gender, number, and tense. This sort of information cannot be found in a dictionary and the majority of the population would struggle to be able to explain how to do this.
  2. Secondly, it can help to conjugate the verb correctly. Different groups (binyanim) are conjugated differently according to gender, number, or tense. For example; in order to conjugate the feminine singular form in present tense, sometimes the letter ú is added to the masculine form and sometimes the letter ä . If a student knows all the forms of at least one verb from each Binyan well, then once he or she has identified which Binyan a new verb belongs to, all he or she then has to do, is to follow the phonological template in order to conjugate the new verb in to the form relevant to the context in which they would wish to use it.


The above is just one of numerous techniques which help one to study Hebrew. One of the great advantages of logical ‘root’ based languages such as Hebrew, is that grammar rules, once they have been learned, are transferable tools that may be used as templates in variety of different settings avoiding the necessity of the student learning each case separately.

ulpan aviv

Gil Pentzak
Gil Pentzak is a director of Ulpan Aviv - a private Ulpan program, based in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, which specializes in teaching Hebrew to English speakers. Ulpan Aviv uses a one-to-one method for its courses, and tailors its curriculums to the needs of each individual student.

For more information call: 02-5672050, or email: office@ulpanaviv.com; Web: www.ulpanaviv.com

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