Noun derivations from verbs (as well as other nouns and adjectives).
“Nouns are derived from verbal roots.” That is a very common belief for Biblical Hebrew. But I am one of the first to say “Not all.” There are many nouns for which no verbal roots have survived, nor even evidence that they ever existed. Some are known loanwords from other languages. Others we just don’t know. The bottom line is that the opening statement above is only partially true, for only a subset of Biblical Hebrew nouns.
In English (my native tongue) there are common rules used to derive nouns from verbs. For example, “to act” has the derivations “act” (at least two words), acting, “action”, “activity”, “actor”, and more. Are there similar rules for the derivation of nouns from Biblical Hebrew verbs? What meanings would such rules impart to derived nouns? Has anyone done a study to answer these questions?
Just as knowing these patterns in English affects how we understand words, and how we do lexicography in English, so understanding the patterns for Biblical Hebrew can also influence how we understand and recognize nouns in Biblical Hebrew. I don’t claim that what I mention below is complete, nor even correct, rather I see it as a point of departure from which to initiate discussion.
Interestingly, it seems that such patterns are more noticeable when reading Tanakh without points, than with the “help” of the Masoretic points.
What follows are some patterns that I have noticed:
§ Unpointed text written the same as the third person masculine singular Qal verb: this form could be the Qal participle form and is often so pointed by the Masoretes. It appears that this form has four meanings (were they pronounced the same, or differently, in Biblical times? Today we don’t know).
• usually pointed as a shegolate noun, an object that is the result of an action
• agent, the person or object that does an action
• refers to the doing of the action, similar to the adding of -ing to English verbs
• refers to possibility or ability, “…can act…”.
(When looking at conversations recorded in narrative sections of Tanakh where one can recognize which conjugation is meant in an unpointed text (which rules out all third person masculine singular as subjects for study) describing present, indicative action (which would be conjugated as indicative present tense in English), it is found that the majority of such sentences are conjugated using a Qatal verb with the syntax of subject, verb, object.)
§ Noun in the form of the third person feminine singular Qal participle: basically this refers to a subject where the gender is feminine and the agent that does the action.
§ Written the same as the niphal participle: refers to the person or object being acted upon.
§ Written with a prefixed Mem. This is the same form as the Piel, Pual and Hophal participles. I’ve noticed four uses of this form:
• repeated or continuous action (imperfective use)
• a place where repeated or continuous action takes place
• the passive causation of an action, or an object that makes an action to take place.
• the agent for any of the above three actions.
§ Written as a Hiphil participle:
• refers to the person or object that causes an action
• is a caused action.
Nouns derived from other nouns:
§ Masculine plural: When used with a masculine noun (usually animate) and often in the construct state, refers to the state of the other noun, e.g. youth, age, death, etc.
§ Feminization of a masculine noun, by the addition of a Heh suffix, there are three patterns that I’ve noticed:
• sex, differentiation of male and female of persons and animals
• concrete (person, object, place) changed to an abstract (idea, action)
• single or individual person or object, changed to a body of individuals, a collection.
What can complicate matters here is that the same unpointed form may fall into two of the above categories (were they pronounced the same or differently? Today we don’t know). An example is עלמה which in most contexts refers to a female virgin (sex differentiation), but in Proverbs 30:19 refers to the abstract idea of “the unknown” (abstraction).
Another complication is those verbs that end in a heh making a simple Qal participle also end in a heh, will then sometimes have an abstract derivative written without the final heh.
§ Adding a waw nun suffix: does this form indicate a generalization, not anything or anyone in specific?
• the majority of such nouns are proper names.
§ Adding a waw tau suffix:
• indicating state, status, condition
• for verbs ending in a heh, the same as adding -ing to English verbs to make nouns (probably the most common use in Hebrew)
• to indicate objects used in accomplishing tasks
§ Adding a yod tau suffix:
• with lamed heh or ayen doubled verbs, making into a noun
• changes to an adjective
§ Adding a Tau suffix. This one is harder to recognize in so far as it has the same form as the feminine singular in construct so that when it’s in construct, it appears to be a feminine singular. This form appears to be masculine singular. The Masoretes assumed that this form is a defective feminine plural lacking the waw preceding the tau, and so pointed it that way. There seem to be two meanings connected with this form:
• a generalization. Perhaps the most common being אבת which doesn’t refer to specific fathers, rather to ancestors in general.
• status indicator of having done something or of having something done to the subject.
Adding a tau prefix: (I haven’t really studied this yet, but a couple come to mind:
תבנית model, used to plan a construction Ex 25:9, 40, Dt 4:16–8, 1C 28:11–2, 18–9 ← בנה
תחבלות binding (guiding) principles Pr 1:5, 11:14, 12:5, 20:18, 24:6 ← חבל
Nouns derived from adjectives:
§ There’s only one pattern that I’ve noticed so far, namely adjectives changed to feminine nouns that refer to abstract ideas or actions.
Now for me to put on my tin-foil hat so you can throw your bricks
Just my 2¢
Karl W. Randolph.