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Genesis 47:4:

וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֗ה לָג֣וּר בָּאָרֶץ֮ בָּאנוּ֒ כִּי־אֵ֣ין מִרְעֶ֗ה לַצֹּאן֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לַעֲבָדֶ֔יךָ כִּֽי־כָבֵ֥ד הָרָעָ֖ב בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וְעַתָּ֛ה יֵֽשְׁבוּ־נָ֥א עֲבָדֶ֖יךָ בְּאֶ֥רֶץ גֹּֽשֶׁן

I asked a fellow Torah reader about the placement and pronunciation of the bolded word. The segol is located on the last syllable (milra) which, if I understand, correctly makes the word a present tense verb meaning "we are coming".

My friend tells me that this word is always pronounced with the accent on the first syllable (mil'el) and the placement of the trope is a typo. But, if the accent is on the 1st syllable, wouldn't that change the verb to a past tense verb so it would mean, "we came"?

Is this a typo or is the trope correctly placed?

The above copy comes from sefaria.org. FWIW, I've seen on the same placement on my Smart Phone Tikkun app as well as in the Hertz Chumash. I can't imagine that they are all wrong.

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    Do you also say "ba-a-RETZ" milra since the Zarka is on the Tzadi? – Double AA Dec 18 '15 at 4:01
  • Hirsch and Artscroll have the segol on both the Bais and Vav – sabbahillel Dec 18 '15 at 13:25
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Trop marks are traditionally always placed on the accented syllable EXCEPT Yetiv and Telisha Gedola which are always on the first letter, and Telisha Ketana, Pashta, Zarka, and Segol which are always on the last letter. In those words, you have to just know where the accent goes. (Many printers nowadays print a second trop mark on the accented syllable in those cases.)

Your friend is right: the word is BA-nu. It is past tense. The present tense form would be ba-IM.

The brother are telling Pharoh why they came to Egypt.

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    Also "ba-NU" means "(they) built" (e.g. B'midbar 32:37-38), though it would be spelled differently. Isn't that a correctable offense? – Fred Dec 18 '15 at 4:31
  • @Fred So it would seem. Good point. – Double AA Dec 18 '15 at 4:38
  • In EM"T notes we also have Tzinor on the last letter and Dechi (and "Mugrash") on the first. – Double AA Dec 29 '16 at 3:58
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That word is always pronounced with emphasis on the second-to-last syllable (mil'el) and is past tense. (If it had a prefixed vav and were mil'ra (emphasis on the last syllable), it'd be future tense. Maybe that's what you're thinking of.)

The segol cantillation mark is always written on the last letter. Most copies of Chumash follow the standard practice of marking a mil'el word with an extra segol on the emphasized letter, but some do not.

Interestingly, Minchas Shay notes that the preceding word has a zarka on the last letter only. (He mentions this several other times in Tanach, and it's possible he had a general rule of writing only one zarka, even though we duplicate the mark on the stressed syllable. Alternatively, Double AA suggests in a comment that the Minchas Shay meant there's no meseg on the word.) Perhaps the editors of the version you were using saw the Minchas Shay, got confused by it, and left the first segol off of this word.

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The trope is correctly placed because whether the accent falls on the first syllable (where it belongs) or even on the last syllable, there is no grammatical change to the meaning of the word.

However, if the accent were to fall on the penultimate syllable (second from last) then the word would change its meaning, and this occurs in Exodus 10:26.

enter image description here
The accent on the penultimate syllable forces us to read the suffix -nu as a first person (plural) possessive adjective, and therefore to read the word as noun (or an infinitive, which is a verbal noun).

In other words, when the Hebrew letters באנו appear together, the word can have one of two meanings depending on where the accent falls. If the accent falls on the first (or even the last) syllable, the word is the qal perfect (first person plural) of the verb בּוֹא. However, if the accent falls on the penultimate syllable, we are forced to read the word as the infinitive construct, but now the suffix becomes possessive, and the word is now understood as a verbal noun (our coming) instead of the simple verb in the first person plural (we came).

Finally, the cantillation of the verse (based on logical arrangement) appears as follows.

Please click to enlarge.

enter image description here

Please note that the word בָּאנוּ appears early in the verse, and marks off the principal division of the first half of the verse. But there are also several subsequent logical divisions of the verse that follow. Each of these divisions (and subdivisions) are marked off by disjunctive accents, which CANNOT be stronger than the accent assigned to the word בָּאנוּ until we arrive to the mid-point of the verse, which is marked by the Athnach.

Since our word in question marks off the first logical division of the first half of the verse, it must carry the most powerful disjunctive accent until we arrive to the Athnach, but that disjunctive accent cannot have its stress on the penultimate syllable, otherwise the grammatical meaning of בָּאנוּ will change (for the reasons already mentioned in the paragraphs above).

The ONLY disjunctive accent that can fit here, and that does NOT have the accent on the penultimate syllable, is Segoletta. (The next qualified disjunctive accent is the Zarqa, which is too weak, not to mention that the Zarqa had already appeared on the word preceding בָּאנוּ֒.)

In other words, the remaining disjunctive accents carry their stress on the penultimate syllable, and such use of these accents would change the grammatical meaning of the word (for reasons already noted ). For these reasons, the Masoretic editors had to use the Segoletta, which is postpositive (and so falls on the last syllable), and therefore does not change the grammatical meaning of בָּאנוּ֒.

  • Huh?? "However, if the accent were to fall on the penultimate syllable (second from last) then the word would change its meaning, and this occurs in Exodus 10:26. The accent on the penultimate syllable forces us to read the suffix -nu as a first person (plural) possessive adjective, and therefore to read the word as noun (or an infinitive, which is a verbal noun). " The vowels are different!! – msh210 Dec 18 '15 at 20:27
  • @msh210 - Michael, the Masoretes codified the vowel and cantillations in the 9th and 10th centuries. (Before this time, Scripture appeared without vowel and cantillation marks.) When the Masoretes made these assignments, they did so based on the meanings of the words. So the vowels did not precede the cantillation marks, but were assigned at the same time by the same Masoretic editors based on the meanings of the words. – Joseph Dec 18 '15 at 22:31
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    @Joseph I don't see what precedence has to do with anything. – Double AA Dec 19 '15 at 22:44
  • What @DoubleAA said; also, the vowels came with the original text even though the vowel marks came later. – msh210 Dec 20 '15 at 0:17
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    @Fred More importantly, the accent is on the penultimate syllable in both cases. – Double AA Dec 20 '15 at 2:38

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