• Is there a unique class of Biblical Hebrew words of the form "פעיל"?
  • Is the putative class of Biblical Hebrew words strictly a class of nouns or adjectives?
  • If not, is it strictly divisible into two classes - one of nouns and one of adjectives?


    Nouns: אסיף בדיל ברית גדיל זמיר חניך חריש ידיד משיח נביא נזיד נזיר נציב נשיא סביב עריץ פתיל צעיף קציר רדיד רקיק

    Both: אביר אדיר צדיק תמים

    Adjectives: כתית קדים

    Could it be, based on the Ibn Ezra on B'reshis 14:14,

    חניכיו - שחנכם פעמים רבות במלחמה

    could it be that this noun form denotes "one who continually does or is continually done to"?

  • 6
    • Re "Should I not be ignoring some salient confound in the list below such as the first letter appearing with a sh'va vs. kamatz?", yes, I suspect you should not.
      – msh210
      Feb 14, 2011 at 17:01
    • I have very little idea of what you're talking about, but saw something similar to your final theory (based on Ibn Ezra) in Rav Eisemann's book on Avos (snippet here: books.google.com/…), quoted from Gesenius. I think the passage from Gesenius might be this one: "adjectives used substantivally with a passive meaning to denote duration in a state, as אסיר, a prisoner, משיח, an anointed one."
      – Dave
      Mar 24, 2011 at 19:57
    • @Dave - Thanks for the link. It looks like the definition I am looking for. Do all of the words listed (even the ones I assume to be nouns) fit Gesenius' definition? I shortened the question in an attempt to make it more clear.
      – WAF
      Mar 25, 2011 at 2:20
    • Could be. You can find the whole paragraph here (p. 215): davidcox.com.mx/library/G/Gesenius%20-%20Hebrew%20Grammar.pdf
      – Dave
      Mar 25, 2011 at 4:49
    • I see that further on (p. 217 in the edition I linked to), he describes nouns with this form as referring to "persons who possess some quality in an intensive manner." Check it out, and please update us with the fruits of your analyuis!
      – Dave
      Mar 25, 2011 at 4:57

    3 Answers 3


    First of all, note that some of these פעיל words have a dagesh in the second radical and some don't: saviv, 'abbir. Some have no dagesh, and shva: brit.

    So, you'd have to consider whether these are the "same".

    As to syntax, there is no real difference between nouns and adjectives.

    • Are you suggesting that the dagesh should be as important as a letter in terms of my not ignoring it? Good idea. Is the same true of the nikud? Re adjectives: An earlier version of this question had a very long background information section, including mention of the non-mappability of syntactic classes from Biblical Hebrew to English, but eventually simplified in hopes of clarification.
      – WAF
      Jun 1, 2011 at 15:15
    • Yes, vowels and dagesh are both nikud, and about as important as each other.
      – Joshua Fox
      Jun 2, 2011 at 13:33

    I don't know if I am on the wrong track here, but adjectives of the form ..y. usually correspond to English [something]able.

    akhil = edible qari = legible

    • Interesting. I'll have to test a bunch (or all) of these to see how well they analogize to your examples. Thanks.
      – WAF
      Jun 1, 2011 at 20:36
    • Note that some of those adjectives might have changed their meaning over the centuries (i.e. over the centuries before CE, not so much since), might have been redefined for Modern Hebrew, or fit the scheme in unexpected ways. My scheme above is likely an approximation, not the real rule. Jun 2, 2011 at 10:39
    • 1
      "usually correspond to English [something]able." Yes, this is true for Modern Hebrew, but not in the Bible. Just take a look at some of the examples above.
      – Joshua Fox
      Jun 2, 2011 at 13:28
    • I don't know. For most of the above words it is possible to arrive at a [something]able possible original meaning. I said my rule was an approximation. Jun 2, 2011 at 14:23

    DISCLAIMER: This is just my superficial analysis, not based on scholarly research (alas), nor based on any sources.

    Along the lines of Andrew J. Brehm's answer, I think there is something to the notion that this form (or class, if you prefer) indicates that the noun is "fit for" the associated verb when such a verb is applicable (bari does not have such an easy to pinpoint verb; is a "healthy" person "fit for" creation, or "fit for" being made healthy?). I think, though, that it is more that the the noun is passively described, almost as an intransitive noun connoting the state, or, rather, the definition of that noun.

    I don't believe this is inconsistent with Ibn 'Ezra or Gesenius, but, perhaps, more defined.

    • "fit for" -- Yes, this is true for Modern Hebrew, but not in the Bible. Just take a look at some of the examples above.
      – Joshua Fox
      Jun 2, 2011 at 13:33
    • @Joshua, I'm just pointing out that that sense seems to be conveyed in certain words; I'm not saying that's the meaning. What I think the meaning is, or is close to, is what I stated in my conclusion to the main paragraph.
      – Seth J
      Jun 2, 2011 at 15:51
    • This is pure guesswork: if ..y. is a form of the H-stem (bara -> hivri) then ..y. would have two meanings. I remember that Hebrew's H-stem is an amalgamate of two original stems, one causative and one attributive. Maybe the "fit for" meaning comes from the causative stem and other meanings can be explained with the attributive stem (or vice versa)? Jun 28, 2011 at 13:42

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