Teaching My First Hebrew Class | R3-א Verbs

Dr. Hamilton graciously gave me the opportunity to teach my first Hebrew class today, and it was a blast. In the first half of this post, I share a quote that carried me through my tumultuous first year of Hebrew study; in the second half, I give an overview of the material we covered today. The second half is laden with technical terminology, some of which is unique to the grammar we are using this semester.

The quote below is written on the first page of my copy of Invitation to Biblical Hebrew.

“This is the kind of thing that takes more endurance than intelligence.” Dr. Hamilton said these encouraging words a few weeks into my second semester of Hebrew study. For many at SBTS, the second semester of Hebrew is all about weak verb morphology. Unless you are gifted with an exceptional memory, the only way to master the details of weak verb morphology is to keep coming back to it over and over. You don’t have to be “smart,” just determined. It was a joy to share this–and a couple other lessons I’ve learned along the way–with the class before diving into chapter 33.

image via Wikipedia

Chapter 33 introduces the Green Lantern of Hebrew weak verbs, R3-Alef (ל״א) verbs. I tried to make the details of the chapter a little more memorable with a couple colorful illustrations.

As Russell Fuller quips, with R3-Alef verbs “the Hebrew world goes green.” As a mneumonic device, Fuller associates particular colors with common “theme vowels.” Essentially, verbs that take a holem are orange; those that take a patah are red; and those that take a sere are green.

R3-Alef verbs deviate from the “normal” vowel pattern in the perfect conjugation. In standard (i.e. not stative) Qal perfect verbs, there are two situations in which R3-Alef verbs are deviant. When the R3-Alef is (1) in the silent shewa position and when it is (2) at the end of a word, the Alef quiesces and lengthens the preceding short vowel. For example, in the 1cs, instead of seeing מָצַאְתִּי, we see מָצָאתִי; in the 3ms, instead of מָצַא, we see מָצָא.

I’m from Gastonia, NC, so I thought a Sun Drop illustration would be particularly appropriate. Sun Drop has just begun to be distributed nationally, but for over 50 years it has been bottled and sold in Gastonia, NC. Whether or not we are justified in claiming it as our own, we certainly do. When the Dr. Pepper-Snapple Group decided to distribute the beverage nationwide in 2011 (info from Wiki), they produced a quirky, but memorable, commercial set to Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” We could say the R3-Alef “quiesces” in the silent shewa position and at the end of a word, or we could say it “drops it like it’s hot.” Whatever helps you remember the pattern!

But the “weaknesses” of the R3-Alef are not limited to standard verbs in the Qal stem. A unifying green tide of sere theme vowels washes over “mixed conjugations,” verbs that take various theme vowels. For instance, the Piel and Hithpael stems normally take an sere in the perfect 3ms, but in all other perfect conjugations they an a-class vowel. Not so with R3-Alef verbs! When the green wave crashes on Piel, Hithpael, Hiphil, and Qal-stative perfects, they all come out with sere theme vowels. Similarly, sere theme vowels are predominant in perfect R3-Alef verbs in the Pual, Hophal, and Niphal stems, all of which normally take a-class (red) vowels. The picture to the right is another hometown illustration. The mascot of Ashbrook High School is the Green Wave.

Of course there are a few exceptions and a couple more details to be discussed, but this summarizes the big idea. For all the details you can check out chapter 33 of Dr. Fuller’s Invitation to Biblical Hebrew: A Beginning Grammar.

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