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Hebrew beginner, here. I was asking why the prefix for "not" was usually לא but occasionally אל. Some kind Hebrew students told me אל was only used for future tense, saying not to do something.

One example is in Proverbs 4:6 -


Could that be written like this?


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Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for bringing your question here! I hope you have continued success in your studies, and I hope that Mi Yodeya continues to be helpful with your Judaism-based Hebrew questions. Check out what else we've got under grammar-dikduk. I recommend that you support this proposal for a more general Hebrew-language StackExchange site. Finally, please edit your profile and give yourself a name! – Isaac Moses Dec 20 '13 at 4:26
While these words appear in s good number of Jewish texts, this is primarily a grammar question, not a Judaism question. That said, welcome to the site, and I hope you stick around. – Seth J Dec 20 '13 at 4:51
@IsaacMoses Asking how else a phrase could be written doesn't have much to do with Judaism AFAICT. – Double AA Dec 20 '13 at 6:25
@Isaac, well, kinda, but that would make every Hebrew grammar question on topic. – Seth J Dec 20 '13 at 14:02
up vote 3 down vote accepted

In Biblical Hebrew, לא can be used instead of אל, as in "לא תרצח". The opposite is not true; "אל" cannot replace "לא" in most cases.

In modern Hebrew, you would usually want to stick with אל in order to forbid doing something, and לא in all other cases.

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I was taught (for biblical Hebrew) to think of לא as "don't" and אל as "thou shalt not" -- both mean "don't do that", but the latter is more emphatic and perhaps more durative. But I don't have a source. – Monica Cellio Dec 25 '13 at 14:52
Nice observation, Monica, but probably the other way round; in Biblical Hebrew לא would tend to be more durative and used for eternal laws (as in the ten commandments) while אל will usually be used for immediate action ("היו נכונים לשלושת ימים, אל תגשו אל אשה) – Sambusak Dec 26 '13 at 9:53
Oops, you're right -- thanks for the correction! – Monica Cellio Dec 26 '13 at 14:07

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