I know that the vav before a noun can be a vav hachibur (cf http://www.torahmusings.com/2012/12/on-the-prefix-vav/) but in front of a verb it changes tense (past to future and vice versa) and may or may not also include the idea of "and".

But is that tense hipuch inevitably the case? Is understanding of the chumash text driven by this tense change as an absolute rule or is its application selective and controlled by some other understanding which contextualizes (either grammatically or logically) the verb and demands that the vav operate as a vav hahipuch?

  • How do you expain this with the word v'ohavto (from shma)? – hazoriz Sep 6 '16 at 2:41
  • On the linked page there is a discussion of that word but in the context it appears that it is possible that the vav in some cases does NOT change tense: – rosends Sep 6 '16 at 2:50
  • "The general rule is that in the first-person singular and second-person-masculine singular conjugations, the vav alone doesn’t effect the hipukh; rather a change in syllabic stress – from mil’el to mil’ra – is also required to effect a “reversal” in tense. Some examples in Sh’ma would be v’ahavTA and v’nasaTI, where the CAPS denote the stressed syllable (second-person plural is always mil’ra, eg. v’limadTEM... Otherwise, if it’s mil’el (as in v’aHAVta), then the vav must be only conjunctive, and it’s past tense. – rosends Sep 6 '16 at 2:50
  • Please note that it is by no means universally agreed upon that the ו changes the tense, but rather that it indicates which verbal system a verb is a part of, which in turn gives aspectual or modal information about the verb. A provocative review of the persistence of the former view despite the consensus tending toward the latter can be seen here. For concise reviews of what the וs are precisely doing see this paper and. . . (cont.) – WAF Sep 6 '16 at 3:05
  • (cont.). . . its response. All of this is to say that it would seem that the proper classification of verbs into their syntactic (and semantic?) classes that is accomplished through the identification and interpretation of the וs is indispensable to the meaning, although perhaps in even more ways than the question implies. – WAF Sep 6 '16 at 3:07

Excellent question. @Ezra's answer is not entirely correct. In many cases, a vav at the beginning of a verb does indicate a tense change (vav hahipuch). But, the key to knowing if it is this way or not is to view the accent on the main part of the verb, itself.

See for example, Vayikra 10:9 which is written as:

ואכלתי חטאת היום

since the accent is on the 2nd syllable, it is past tense, and, therefore, the vav means "and".

Had the Torah wanted to use this as a vav hipuch to change the past tense to future (which would have been incorrect, here), the accent would have been on the last syllable making it ואכלתי.

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