As far as I can see there is a quite complex grammatical structure:

כל חית is feminine כל עוף is masculine נפש חיה is feminine

Gesenius says that the personal-suffixes 3rd masculine singular in the phrases "יקרא-לו" and "הוא שמו" are to be understood as collective singulars (quote: "in Gn 2:19 לוֹ refers to the collectives ַחיָּה and עוֹף", see Hebrew Grammar §145.5)

If so why wouldn´t you expect the feminine singular personal-suffix form in order to agree with the feminine noun form נפש חיה? Of course the masculine form fits to include male as well as female animals.

Could it be mere poetic style? Is the reading and interpretation as straight forward as this verse is used to being read?

  • In Chayat Ha'eretz, chaya is a noun -- "a wild animal", and that word is always feminine. Nefesh chaya -- "chai" is the adjective describing nefesh, so it takes the feminine form, chaya.
    – Shalom
    Mar 5, 2023 at 0:33
  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya. Gesenius is a non-Jewish commentator, and thus off-topic for this site.
    – N.T.
    Mar 5, 2023 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


The word נפש is at times masculine and at times feminine. We see it as masculine in, for example: להריק נפש רעב (Is 32:6); נפשות אביונים נקיים (Jer 2:34); נפש אביון (Jer 20:13). We see it as feminine in, for example: נפש אחת (Lev 4:27); נפש עיפה (Jer 31:25).

The phrase נפש חיה can be understand either as (1) "soul of a living thing" (where חיה is a noun), or (2) "living soul" (where חיה is a feminine adjective). It seems that that the masculine pronouns (in לו and שמו) in Gen 2:19 mean that the first parsing holds here and נפש is treated as masculine.

  • Thank you. So you would have to connect the phrase "יקרא-לו" of the first half of the verse to "נפש חיה" of the second half? Mar 5, 2023 at 21:00
  • That or it's masculine because it's referring to either חית השדה (f.) or.עוף השמים (m.).
    – magicker72
    Mar 5, 2023 at 21:29

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