Let's get the basics out of the way first. There are only three basic rules you need to remember about the Hebrew definite article:
- Hebrew has no indefinite article - so if you don’t see the definite article, it's indefinite (e.g. a boy ran...).
- The definite article is prefixed, and does not stand alone, to the noun it modifies. In other words, the definite article is not like English where it stands separate (e.g. the boy; הַיּלד in Hebrew).
- Before non-gutturals (א,ה,ח,ע) simply remember it is written ּהַ (he-patah, daghesh forte in first consonant).
So, there you have the basic rules. This will cover many, many encounters you have with the definite article in Hebrew. Just remember if you see the he-patah, daghesh forte combination, you're dealing with the definite article — attach "the" in your English translation.
The Definite Article in front of Gutturals
In a previous post I talked about why it is important to know by heart the Hebrew gutturals. Here is a shinning example. The definite article changes its vowel pointing before a guttural.
You will have to know four basic variations to accommodate the gutturals. I will give you memory helps (mnemonics) on how to remember these variations.
These mnemonics are based on visualization, not rote. If you want to learn them via rote, well, you know the drill. If you want to learn mnemonics that will help you learn them faster and encode them deeper in your memory, read on!
- Before he and het (ה, ח) the article is written he-patah (הַ); How to remember this rule? I visualize the dagesh being eaten by the he and het when the definite article is placed next to these gutturals.
- Before alef, ayin and res (א,ע,ר) the article is usually written he-qames (הָ). How to remember this rule? In my imagination I can visualize inserting a qames in these gutturals. I can see fitting a qames diagonally in the alef; I fit a patah, inverted in bottom of the ayin; I see a qames in the top of the res.
- Before het-qames (חָ) and unaccented he-qames (הָ) or unaccented ayin qames (עָ), the definite article is written he-segol (ה) [my computer will not allow me to produce the segol in Hebrew]. How to remember this rule? I visualize the qames under the het, he and ayin shattering when placed before the definite article into a segol.
- Before yod-sheva, the article will normally be written he-patah (הַ). How to remember this rule? When I see the yod-sheva combination, I imagine the normal definite article (he-patah-dagesh) losing the dagesh by floating under the yod and splitting into two forming a sheva.
More Biblical Hebrew Memory Helps!
I hope this brief article on learning the definite article in Hebrew has helped you! For more powerful memory helps in learning Biblical Hebrew grammar and Hebrew paradigms be sure to visit Biblical Hebrew Made Easy! Or visit my author homepage, Boost Your Memory!