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This question bothers me every Friday night; I have looked at various Bible translations and traditional commentators but have not found an answer.

In Psalm 93 we have the phrase:

נָֽשְׂא֤וּ נְהָר֨וֹת ׀ יְֽהוָ֗ה נָֽשְׂא֣וּ נְהָר֣וֹת קוֹלָ֑ם יִשְׂא֖וּ נְהָר֣וֹת דָּכְיָֽם׃

Can some one explain (1) grammatically, what is the difference between נָשאוּ and יִשאוּ here (most translations translate them identically), and (2) why one verb form is used twice and then a second verb form is used?

Just as a followup: the Koren siddur translates all three instances of the verb as "lift up" (i.e., present tense). Artscroll translate the first two as past tense and the last as future tense, but I don't trust their translation since they change the subject in a way that does not appear to be p'shat.

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    I see that you participated here once before, a few years ago, so welcome back to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this intriguing question! I hope you get great answers, and that in the mean time, you check out some of our other great grammar-dikduk content. Finally, I suggest that you edit your profile and give yourself a name, unless the number 432944 has special meaning for you! – Isaac Moses Oct 16 at 17:03
  • Re "since they change the subject" - Rav Hirsch maintains the subject for the first two but mentions and rejects a possible interpretation in which the object changes from "themselves" for the first one to "their voices" for the second. – WAF Oct 16 at 20:30
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Let's divide the verse into two parts:

נשאו נהרות ה'—נשאו נהרות קולם

and

ישאו נהרות דכים

Each part is one sentence.

The first one is broken up poetically by a caesura, around which both the subject and verb are repeated. So the reason "נשאו" and "נהרות" are identical in each of their appearances is simply that they are repetitions of the same word.1 And the invocation of God's name is an apostrophe, so let's move that to the end to simplify things. Then we are left, more or less, with

Floods have raised their voices, God

This is an observation of an event or series of events that has happened, so the verb is perfective. Without getting bogged down in the spectrum of tenses, it is pretty expectable for it to be translated in a past continuous or present continuous tense for that reason.

The floods lift up their fall2

This is a prediction or a promise, so the verb is imperfective and it is rendered in a future or present tense in translation.

Rav Hirsch explains in his commentary (p. 162) that the noisy rushing waters stand for powerful nations who have continually raised their voices against God (past), but, as is the case with mighty waterfalls, "the 'lifting up' of the nations' voices is only a prelude to their decline" (future).

You may notice that I listed some form of present tense for both verbs above. This might be confusing in a vacuum, so hopefully the meaningful difference between observation and prediction clarify the difference in the original. English's present tense can include both perfectives and imperfectives, which may be the sticking point in the imbalance of translations.


1Kind of like, though not exactly, the word "tapping" in "And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door" (Poe). Semantically it is only there once, i.e. it could be read "you came tapping at my chamber door" without changing the meaning.

2This is the translation of Rav Hirsch.

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    There is a disjunctive taʿam (segolta) on the word 'ה, also indicating the subdivision you use. – Argon Oct 17 at 0:17
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I can only answer you first question. Grammatically, נשאו is past tense while ישאו is future tense.

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