Similar to English, when a noun is possessive (or taking the "genitival" case) the noun or pronoun is "inflected" — that is, it undergoes a change in spelling.
For example: Jack's dog. The "dog" belongs to Jack. We understand that possession of the dog belongs to Jack by the addition of the "-'s" to Jack.
While the "genitive" case is normally used in English to express possession, it also has a few other usages, similar to Hebrew.
Hebrew Nouns: Absolute & Construct
In Biblical Hebrew nouns have both an absolute and construct form. The absolute state is the form listed in Hebrew lexicons. The construct state, generally used for possession, is formed by shortening the absolute noun.
The Hebrew Construct Chain
From Kelley's "Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar":
A construct relationship may be defined as the joining together of two (occasionally three, but rarely four) nouns within a sentence. The joining may be either by simple juxtaposition or by the use of a maqqef. The final noun in such a series must remain in the absolute state, while the noun (or nouns) that precedes it must take the form of the construct state.
Notes on the Construct Chain:
- A noun in construct never takes the definite article. Its "definiteness" is determined by the absolute noun.
- A noun is "definite" when it has the definite article or is a proper name.
- Nothing is allowed between nouns in a construct chain. If any noun is modified by an adjective it will be placed last so as not to interfere with the construct chain.
Signals of the Hebrew Construct Noun
- The various changes, if any, that occur with singular nouns, masculine or feminine are varied. The only certain way to know a singular noun is in the construct state is to check a Hebrew lexicon.
- That being said, one helpful signal for feminine singular constructs is that the qames-he ending (suffix) changes to patah-tav in the construct state.
- When a masculine plural noun is in a "construct chain" its ending (suffix) is changed from the normal hiriq-yod-mem to sere-yod.
Usage of the Hebrew Construct Chain
- Most often used to denote possession or ownership.
- Indicates location or origin.
- Used as a describe a person or thing.
Mnemonics for the Construct State
The only predictable patterns you need to know for the construct state are:
- Masculine Plural = sere-yod
- Feminine Singular = patah-tav
To remember that the hireq-yod-mem changes to sere-yod, look at the sere-yod below:
If you would like to recall the morphological change in the feminine singular with words that end in qames-he:
I hope this article on Hebrew nouns and their absolute and construct states has helped you! For more powerful memory helps in learning Biblical Hebrew grammar, vocabulary and Hebrew paradigms be sure to visit Biblical Hebrew Made Easy! Or visit my author homepage, Boost Your Memory! While you're there, be sure to sign up for our newsletter that has exclusive discounters for our members!