I know that in Biblical Hebrew, take a word like "Vaydaber." "Yedaber" = "He will speak"; the "v" flips the word from future tense to past, so it's "he spoke."

Most translations understand the "v" ALSO means "and"; so in most translations of the Bible (Jewish included), you'll see:

And the Lord spoke ...

Though R' Aryeh Kaplan's translation leaves out the "and"s. (Is that him just making it more readable in common English? Or that the vav's were never intended as "ands"?)

I suppose one could hold "the vav sometimes means and" instead of "always does" or "never does" too.

What are our sources on this?


3 Answers 3


1) I once heard a proof that the "vav ha-hipuch" also indicates "and", from the fact that Targum Onkelos includes these "vav"s even though the "hipuch" function is unnecessary in Aramaic. For example, ויאמר is translated as ואמר, even though the Aramaic word אמר is already past tense.

2) The Sefer Klalei Taamei HaMikrah states that in most cases the vav ha-hipuch also functions as a "chibur," with only a few exceptions. One exception is the vav in the beginning of a sefer, e.g. ויהי אחרי in the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua, which cannot be a conjunction (see Radak there). Another exception is a posuk such as ביום השלישי וישא אברהם, where the vav is clearly only for hipuch. He quotes the following sources, which I have not checked:

ספר הזכרון הקדמון, ספר דקדוק לרמח"ל דף ק"ג (ובהגהות שם סק"ד), אבן עזרא פרשת וירא- כ, ט"ז

  • That is not a proof. Onkelos deviates from many aspects of a literal translation of the text. For example he avoids any possible implication of corporeality of Hashem by using a non-literal approach. He could very well be avoiding the question of "Why bother with vav hahipuchs? Just start with the correct tense anyway!" by always translating it as a conjunction even when a conjunction would not be necessary.
    – Yahu
    Aug 31, 2010 at 5:03
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    There's quite a difference between translating something non-literally and translating it wrong. It would be like someone adding a spurious word "and" into an English translation just to spare the readers from having to contemplate the function of a vav hahipuch. Not very reasonable if you ask me.
    – Dave
    Aug 31, 2010 at 13:48
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    About the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua: Rashi there disagrees with Radak - he holds that indeed the vav there does serve its usual function as a conjunction, tying it to the end of Sefer Devarim.
    – Alex
    Aug 31, 2010 at 17:01
  • Dave, I never meant to say that he would be trying to avoid the Vav Hahipuch function. Onkelos leaves the vav in even though he translates the word in its correct tense. The function of vav hahipuch is not avoided rather he shows that the vav also is a conjunction. This leads me to Alex's comment, on the level of D'rush it seems that Hazal do indeed treat the vav hahipuch also as a conjunction.
    – Yahu
    Aug 31, 2010 at 23:36
  • The above being said, let me rephrase what I said before in more precise terms: Onkelos is willing to translate along with the Drush intent in order to address the general question on L'shon HaTanach: Why bother with the vav haHipuch to begin with? To that he responds by demonstrating that it can be understood as a conjunction on some level.
    – Yahu
    Aug 31, 2010 at 23:37

Vav doesn't mean 'and'. It is a conjuction and it's purpose is dependent on context. It could be: and, or, nor, but, although, if, then, since- you get the point. I would say most vavs in the Torah's narrative are the equivalent of 'then', but in a softer tone than we would use in English which is why many dispose of the conjunction altogether.


Rashi lays down a rule of grammer commenting on Brashith 29:15. "And Lavan said to Jacob 'Just because you are my brother should you work (Hebrew: Vavad'tani) for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages are?'


Should you work for me (Vavad'tani) : RASHI: This is the same as ("V'ta'avdaini") 'And you will work for me.' So to in the case of every verb in the past tense, if one adds the letter "vav" at the beginning of the word, it changes the word to the future tense. "WHATS BOTHERING RASHI"

The vav conversive can function as an "and" depending on context of the passuk and where the cantillation mark is placed which places emphasis on and accents the particular word. For instance, Parshah Shmoth 3.15 Le'Olam has the accent on the latter syllable while the vav is totally missing from that word (Le'Olam) and is transposed to the very next word in the passuk: ve'Zeh "and this" which is superfluous because the cantillation for LeOlam takes the disjunctive Zakef katan. This clairifies our understanding of the latter half of the passuk, (3.15) "and this is My Memorial (how I should be remembered and mentioned) in every generation." remember and mention- in the merit of the patriarchs, we mention and remember them when we discuss Torah: "The G-D of Avraham, the G-D of Yitzqach and the G-D of Ya'acov."

This is a poor example of the use of the vav conversive changing the past tense into the future tense "and this" of 3.15 while also functioning as the conjunctive.

If we were to read from the very end of the passuk backwards to the word LeOlam, in 3.15 we can better grasp how the vav functions as both the conjunctive and as the inversive or conversive to change LeOlam past tense into future tense of zichri in the latter half of the passuk.

This is an instance where the vav functions to change present tense LeOlam into future "I will be remembered", zichri of 3.15 while simultaneously functioning as the conjunctive "and" (of and this in 3.15).

As I understand the passuk, 3.15 is telling us to remember the merit of the Patriarchs, each time we think of or mention "HaShem," that HaShem is unchanging LeOlam! His Name is eternal kindness Tehillim 136. That it was a eternal kindness, a blessing to reveal Himself to the Patriarchs and that unchanging aspect of the meaning of HaShem is associated with the Altar or place of sacrifices. Brashith 8.20, 21 Shmoth 20.20 Here, the passuk is telling us about an aspect of the unchanging nature of the Holy One! Which is that the G-D of Avraham, Yitzqach and Ya'acov is a G-D of Blessing.

The vav simply acts as a siman, as it were, for the missing vav of the word LeOlam. It functions as both a conversive vav and as a conjunctive "and" at the same time even though it is an unnecessary siman given that LeOlam takes a disjunctive Zakef katan cantillation mark.

This is really a poor treatment of the subject matters (above) on my part. The best advice I can give is read the article linked above What's Bothering Rashi.

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