The word מַיִם is, as far as I know, pretty consistently grammatically plural in Chumash (and, incidentally, in more modern Hebrew also). That is, the adjectives that modify it are plural adjectives, and the verbs of which it's the subject are plural verbs. For example, we have (Numbers 5:22) "וּבָאוּ הַמַּיִם הַמְאָרְרִים הָאֵלֶּה", "this cursed water will come", where the adjective "this" and the verb forms "cursed" and "will come" are all grammatically plural (which is why the verse is usually translated as something like "these cursed waters will come" even though that's awkward in English).

Why does it say "וְלֹא הָיָה מַיִם לָעֵדָה", with a singular verb, in Numbers 20:2?

  • I suspect that the plurality by sotah has to do with the multiple curses and oaths associated with it. So it's closer to "these curses (through) the water will come." Can you provide other examples that use the collective noun without appended plural nouns, but still have plural verbs and adjectives? – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 28 '15 at 6:55
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    @IsaacKotlicky yikavu (Gn 1:9) intransitive nif'al verb, yishr'tzu (Gn 1:20) transitive kal verb, hayu (Gn 7:10) intransitive kal verb of the same root discussed in this question, chayim (Gn 26:19) adjective, and many more – msh210 Jun 28 '15 at 7:03
  • thanks! I feel these are much better examples than the one in your question. One remaining question: are there other locations using non plural adjectives and verbs? The Torah might be distinguishing between direct objects (oceans, a vessel filled with water, etc.) and conceptual water (to drink). This could be why their need is considered singular, but the water that came forth was plural... – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 28 '15 at 7:33
  • @IsaacKotlicky I don't know. Certainly the vast majority that are clearly plural or singular are plural. – msh210 Jun 28 '15 at 15:26
  • Consider asking this on biblical hermeneutics too – רבות מחשבות Jun 24 '18 at 11:38

This means that the word "water" is a general term. Thus, "There was no water (at all) for the congregation to drink just as in verse 5 ומים אין לשתות. Water as in sentence 8 ונתן מימיו is considered plural because it was a constant flow of water(s). The difference is in the usage of the word as a single entity as opposed to something that is made up of a group.

The comments above are based on the way Rav Hirsch and the Art Scroll chumash traslate verses 5, and 8.

Artscroll translation

verse 3 ... and there is no water to drink!

verse 8 ... it shall give its waters

Also "its waters" in verse 8 uses the plural possessive rather than the singular possessive.

See also in verse 11

ויצאו מים רבים

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    Do you have any support for this assertion? (The two phrases you quote are not clearly singular or plural (i.e. they don't have clearly singular or plural adjective or verbs attached).) – msh210 Jun 28 '15 at 15:25
  • @msh210 added explanation to answer – sabbahillel Jun 28 '15 at 15:47
  • Thanks. This was what I was driving at, but i didn't have the sources to assert it. Nice to know someone did... :) – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 28 '15 at 16:36
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    Since the support you're claiming for your explanation is two translations of two verses, would you mind including them? – msh210 Jun 28 '15 at 20:01
  • Nice explanations of a somewhat complex nuance in Ivrit! – DanF Jun 30 '15 at 2:51

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