Lesson 2.3: Independent Prepositions

Blessing to 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.)

Independent Prepositions

The most common type of Hebrew prepositions are those that stand alone, i.e., are not attached (e.g., as a prefix). These are called independent prepositions. All prepositions in English, for example, are independent – on, with, below, above, over, between, and so forth. As you have already learned, Hebrew also has three inseparable prepositions which are written as prefixes. The prototypes for these prepositions are; בְּ ,לְ, and כְּ.

In this lesson we will learn five common, independent prepositions. As always, we begin by learning to identify the prepositions by how they sound.

Listen

The five prepositions are vocalized as f0llows:

  1. /ahl/ – rhymes with tall, fall.
  2. /beyn/, /veyn/ – (rhymes with pain, rain).
  3. /min/ – rhymes with sin, tin. More rarely rhymes with /een/ as in seen, preen
  4. /el/ – rhymes with ‘bell’, ‘tell’ and more rarely with /ale/, /pail/.
  5. /eem/ – rhymes with seem, team.

(see above, 1-5)

Now, listen for these prepositions in the following recordings:

/ahl/

/beyn/, /veyn/

/min/

/el/ (HINT: Listen for /el·maqom/)

/ayeem/

Next, try as best you can the following exercise: Listen carefully to the next recording for each of these independent pronouns. Which of the 5 prepositions were you able to pick out (HINT: only two are present in the recording)?

answer1)/ahl/ 2, /beyn/ 2, /el/ 0, /min/ 0, /aeem/ 0

Spell

The spelling of these new prepositions introduces 3 new Hebrew consonants, but no new vowel pointings. The consonants are:

  1. Nun נ (and final Nunן) – makes the /n/ sound.
  2.  Min מ (and final Minם)2)remember: when a Hebrew consonant has a final form, its pronunciation is identical to its normal form.
  3. Ayin ע – makes the /m/ sound. – silent. Like the Aleph consonant, it serves only to vocalize the vowels.

Now that you’ve learned these new letters, here are how the prepositions are spelled and pronounced (Read from right to left):

עַל בֵּין  בֵין מִן אֶל עִם

Read

Search the following verse (Exodus 9:22) for the עַל preposition. How many can you find?3)4

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה נְטֵה אֶת־יָדְךָ עַל־הַשָּׁמַיִם וִיהִי בָרָד בְּכָל־אֶרֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם עַל־הָאָדָם וְעַל־הַבְּהֵמָה וְעַ֛ל כָּל־עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

Find both spellings of the בֵּין preposition.

וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ

Next, we study the מּן־ preposition. Note the hyphen-like character, the Maqqef. In Hebrew, the function of the Maqqef is uncertain, but it does not appear to have any semantic weight. Just recognize that this preposition is almost always written with a Maqqef connecting it to a noun4)there are quite a few other spellings – some of which can be quite complex, but they are not relevant to your learning at this point.

Now, find all of the instances of מּן־ in this verse, Genesis 2:9:

וַיַּצְמַח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים מִן־הָאֲדָמָה כָּל־עֵ֛ץ נֶחְמָד לְמַרְאֶה וְטוֹב לְמַאֲכָ֑ל וְעֵץ הַחַיִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן וְעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע

In the verses below, what independent prepositions can you find (HINT: There are three of the five):

וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְה֑וֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם׃ וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי א֑וֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ

Translate

עַל

This preposition is also very common, there being almost 900 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible. It is most often translated as ‘over’, ‘above’, ‘against‘, and ‘on’. In many cases, it is joined to its object by a maqqef, for example in the two word phrase below, the preposition is connected to its object (the Hebrew word פְּנֵי) using the maqqef (colored red). Remember, there is no semantic difference between the Hebrew maqqef and the English Hypen.

 עַל־פְּנֵי (/ahl·pənay/)

בֵּין , בֵין

Usually translated as between or among, it expresses the notion an “interval,” or “space” between two objects and occurs 172 times in 165 verses.  For example, in Genesis 15:7  it is used to express how the fire walks between the pieces of the dismembered animals of Abraham’s sacrifice. In Exodus 13:9, the prep describes the space between one’s eyes or between two walls (Isaiah 22:11) and so forth. When used to indicate a space separating two objects, the preposition is repeated, e.g. the space or distance between you and between your God (Isaiah 59:2). For example, Genesis 1:4 illustrates how this preposition is used.

And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness5)NRS, NIV, RSV translations

and-saw     God     the-light    that-good     and-separated     God     between    the-light and-between   the-darkness6)Mechanical, word-for-word translation

מּן־ – This preposition is the ninth most frequently used word in the Hebrew Bible and is most frequently translated to “from”. Note the other meanings are all related to (or are synonymous with) ‘from’. Here they are:

  1. “from” –  With verbs of motion or separation; to go from, or to be away from, i.e. without; or away from in relation to some other spot or direction. This is often translated as “out of” when referring to a land or nation. For example, “out of Egypt” is the usual translation of “min-mitz·ra·yeem”, literally “from Egypt”.
  2. “on account of our transgressions” – as in arising from our transgressions.
  3. “time from when” – In which the preposition expresses the time from when something occurred.
  4. Comparison – usually “more than”, “greater then”, “less than”, “bigger then”, etc., and sometimes “too much for”, “too great for”. In English this would be literally translated, for example in comparing Bob’s house to Judy’s larger house, Judy’s house is bigger from Bob’s.

אֶל – This preposition expresses the idea of motion toward someone or something7)Also, see the discussion of the Lamed (לְ) preposition in the previous lesson., i.e., directional motion. As such, it occurs in a wide variety of contexts expressing motion, attitude, direction, or location. However, אֶל  is also and often translated as “into”, for example as in “into the ark“(Gen 6:18) or “into His heart (Genesis 6:6).

The preposition has also been translated as “against.” For example, although motion toward him is explicit, the typical translation of Genesis 4:8, is that Cain “rose up against Abel”8)RSV, NRS, NAS, NAUI, etc.,. Here אֶל no doubt retains something of the original sense of directional motion.

עִם – With, beside, by, among, accompanying, from among. The preposition expresses the concept of inclusiveness, togetherness, company.

If you feel comfortable with this lesson, move on to the lesson summarizing the contents of Lessons 1 & 2

Now, go and study

 

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