Lesson 2.2: Inseparable Prepositions

Blessing God before study

(IMPORTANT: if you are not yet familiar with how we transcribe Hebrew sounds and words, you can download (or read online) the reference guide.)


In Lesson 2.1 you were introduced to the three kinds of prepositions, inseparable, independent, and maqqef. In this lesson you will learn about the inseparable (or ‘prefixed’) prepositions. They are only three and they are very, very common. You will come to know them intimately.

Listen and Recognize

The three inseparable prepositions are vocalized as follows:

  1. /buh/ (bə)
  2. kuh (kə)
  3. /luh/ ()

lə  kə  bə  

The preposition :

This preposition can also be heard as /vuh/ (və).  However, in those situations where it is vocalized as və it is almost always preceded by the conjunction Vav pronounced as a Shurek, i.e., /oo·vah/. For example, listen to the following verse (Genesis 1:28). You will hear /oo·vah/ twice.  In this verse, the preposition also occurs in its canonical (the most common form) /B/ form. In this verse, listen for the word pronounced /bid·gat):

The preposition kə:

This preposition needs little explanation apart from the fact that the Hebrew consonant for /K/ occurs in two forms (discussed below). Listen to this verse (Numbers 24:6) until you can pickup all 4 of the instances.

If you listened carefully, you should have heard the /K/ sound pronounced with three different ways, /kee/ /kaa/ and /kə/. If not, go back and listen some more. The distinctions are subtle at normal talking speeds so don’t fret if you don’t hear these differences at first. As you listen to this recording (and the others that follow) your ability to pick up these slight differences will improve dramatically.

The preposition lə:

A very simple preposition. Like the two above, this preposition always occurs as a prefix. Here are two verses to study:

In this first verse, one of the lə prepositions follows a conjunction vav. Since conjunctions are, like this preposition, it is prefixed first, the preposition is second, and the word is last. The sound you’ll hear is /və·lə·choshekh/. Listen for both lə and və·lə

In this verse, the two lə prepositions occur with a Patach sound (אַ ). Listen until you can clearly hear each.

Spelling and Pronunciation

These three prepositions introduce one new vowel, the Chireq אִ (pronounced /ee/ as in seen but /i/ rhymes with sit), and three new consonants, Beyt בּ, Kaf כּ, and Lamed ל. You will note that the Beyt and Kaf consonants have a little dot in their middle. This is not a vowel pointing. Rather it tells the reader that these two letters are to be pronounced with a hard /B/ or hard /K/ sound respectively. Without the dot, the two letters are to be pronounced with the /V/ and /Kh/ (as in /Bach/) sounds respectively.

בְּ  בֶּ  בָּ  בּוּ   בְ  בֶ  בָ  בוּ

לְ  לֶ  לָ  לוּ

כְּ  כֶּ  כָּ  כּוּ כְ  כֶ  כָ  כוּ

The letter Kaf is the first of several letters which, when written as the last letter of a word, has a different form. That form is called the final form. For Kaf, the final form is show along with its normal, canonical form.

Canonical form: כ     Final form: ך

In this next exercise read these English words written with Hebrew letters and vowels. To see the answers, hover your mouse of the raised footnote.

בָּל בֶּל הֶל הֶבִ הִו הִב הִת
בֵּת לִב תָךּ לֵת לְב בֵּבִּ הִל
וִל לִךּ לֵתְלִ בֶּלִ בָּבִּ הַת

You should try to read these as fast as you possibly can. This is arguably one of the very best exercises for reading Hebrew. When you can easily read English words using Hebrew letters you will find it very easy to sound-out the Hebrew words as you read them in the Bible. Do this exercise (and others like it) over and over again.

Answer[1]ball, bell, hell, heavy, heave, heave, heat, bait/bet, leave/live, talk, late/let, love, baby, heal/hill, veal, leak/leek, lately, belly, bobby, hot.


בְּ  בָּ  בַּ  בִּ – in, when, as

This is a very common preposition[2]over 15,000 instances in the Hebrew Bible with a wide range of meanings. The most common translation of this preposition is ‘in’. When it occurs in a temporal context (i.e., time) it is often translated as ‘when’. Other translations depending on context are ‘at’ and ‘over’ (as in “rule over”). Here’s just a few representative samples (the preposition is colored red)

בְּתוֹךְ־הַגָּן  (Genesis 2:9: in-the-midst-of   the-garden-of-Eden)

בַּשָּׂדֶה (Genesis 4:8: in-the-field)

יִמְשָׁל־בָּךְ (Genesis 3:16: he-shall-rule  over-you)

וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבַחַיָּה וּבְכָל־הַשֶּׁרֶץ (Genesis 7:21: … and-in-the-beasts   and-in-the-living-things  and-in-all-the-swarming-things …)

NOTE: When this preposition follows the Shurek form of the conjunction vav,  it is pronounced using/V/ sound of Beyt, not the /B/ sound. So for example, the pronunciations of these three two-letter syllables are, from right to left are: וּבַ(/oo·va/), וּבַ(/oo·va/) and וּבְ(/oov/)

In the following verse, try to find all of the Beyt prepositions, conjunctions, and definite articles

וַיִּגְוַע כָּל־בָּשָׂר הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל־הָאָרֶץ בָּעוֹף וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבַחַיָּה וּבְכָל־הַשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ עַל־הָאָרֶץ וְכֹל הָאָדָם

Answer[3]1 Beyt, 5 conjunctions, 6 definite articles:

כְּ  כִּ  כֵּ  כַּ – like, as, according to

This preposition expresses the idea of comparison and, therefore, often translated as ‘like’, or “according to”. When referring to numbers it has been translated as ‘about’ or ‘approximately’. For example, study these verse fragments:

נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ (Gen 1:26) …make mankind in-our-image according-to-our-likeness
כְקֹרַח וְכַעֲדָתוֹ  (Num 17:5) … as-Korah and-as-his-company…
כְּגַן־יְהוָה כְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם (Gen 13:10) … like-a-garden-of the-LORD, like-the-land-of Egypt


Now, in the following verse, find all occurrences of this preposition:

נְחָלִים נִטָּיוּ כְּגַנֹּת עֲלֵי נָהָר כַּאֲהָלִים נָטַע יְהוָה כַּאֲרָזִים כִּעֲלֵי־מָיִם


לָ  לְ  לַ  לִ – to, for

This preposition may indicate direction, either of physical movement (“that I may go ‘to’ my country” Genesis 30:25) or of personal attention or attitudes. The Psalmist asked God to attend “to” him (Psalm 55:2). It has also been translated to indicate a transition from one thing ‘to’ another thing – such as God’s fashioning of Adam’s rib ‘into’ a woman (Genesis 2:22) and the expressions, “who put bitter ‘for’ sweet and sweet ‘for’ bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). The preposition may also be translated to suggest a purpose such in Genesis 1:29 in which plant life was designated as being man’s “for food”, or when the Levite took on service “for a priest for Micah” (Judges 17:13).

It has also been translated as expressing locations in both in space and in time. Spatial location is exemplified in such phrases as “at the door” (Genesis 4:7) and “at Michmash” (Isaiah 10:28); temporal location by such phrases as “in the spring of the year” (2Sam 11:1).

Here are some representative verse fragments:

  וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה … and-called-out GOD to-the-light “day” and to-the-darkness He-called-out “night”…
לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים



… for-separating between the-day and-between the-night, and-be for-signs and-for-seasons and-for-days and-years.
ויִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם לְהָאִיר עַל־הָאָרֶץ And-He-set them, God, in-the-expanse-of the-skies for to-shine on the-land

Finally, how many of each, if any, inseparable preposition are in these verses?

בּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֶלוֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ׃  וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְה֑וֹם וְרוּחַ אֶלוֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם׃  וַיֹּאמֶר אֶלוֹהִים יְהִי א֑וֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר׃  וַיַּרְא אֶלוֹהִים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֶלוֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ׃ 5 וַיִּקְרָא אֶלוֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָ֑יְלָה וַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד׃

Answers[5]bə = 1, kə = 0, lə =2: