In Bamidbar 32:32, The Torah tells us in reference to Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven that נַ֣חְנוּ נַעֲבֹ֧ר, we will cross over.

Also, the only other times that the Tanach uses the word נַ֣חְנוּ is in:

  1. Bereshit 42:11
  2. Shemot 16:7
  3. Shemot 16:8
  4. Shmuel II 17:12
  5. Eichah 3:42

And all of these times it is used as if the word was אֲנַ֣חְנוּ.

My questions are:

  • Why does the Torah say נַ֣חְנוּ נַעֲבֹ֧ר, instead of אֲנַ֣חְנוּ נַעֲבֹ֧ר?
  • Why does it use this "slang"?
  • Is there any connection between the meaning here and the meaning in those 5 other places?
  • 1
    Could it be Alliteration? Eikha is for the acrostic. Gen 42 is pausal? Exo is maybe because of Nasog Achor?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 1:18
  • I could be completely worng, but I think there is an allusion to the word "nach", meaning "to rest". In other words, they are saying to Moshe, "You can rest assured from your concerns. We will pass as soldiers to help the others."
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 2:06
  • 2
    nahnu is arabic Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 2:53
  • 1
  • 1
    @ploni the Torah uses words from other languages sometimes. Like יגר שהדותא or maybe טוטפות etc.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 2:58

4 Answers 4


To answer one of your questions: The Meam Loez says (Matos, 32:32) that the absence of the alef implies that someone or something is not included in the "we". Therefore, not everyone would take part in the battle (such as men unable to fight and the ones who were guarding their families). Perhaps this concept can be extended to other sources, such as bereshis 42:11, as Yosef and Binyamin were not included in the "we" and so on.


נַחְנוּ is likely the older form of אֲנַחְנוּ; the prosthetic אֲ was probably added by analogy with אֲנִי. According to Blau, if the aleph were original, it would have been vocalized with a qamas by the process of pretonic lengthening. The analogy process continued in Rabbinic Hebrew where the form אָנוּ appears regularly (the ketiv of Jeremiah 42:6 is אנו, but qere is אֲנַחְנוּ, which was probably the original form). Noteworthy is the fact that all the instances of the term נַחְנוּ are in relatively early books.

Consequently, נַחְנוּ is probably an archaism that was preserved in several places in Tanakh.

See Blau's Phonology and Morphology of Biblical Hebrew, pg. 165-166.

  • 1
    This doesn't preclude there being reasons for why the archaism was preserved in these contexts specifically (such as alliteration, acrostic structure, nasog achor, or atypical pausal forms) so this is sort of a half-answer
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 14:07
  • @DoubleAA To be honest, I don't think anyone knows for certain, and this is probably as good an explanation as you are going to get. The archaic form may well have been randomly preserved. Archaisms (even outside of poetic contexts) appear occasionally in Tanakh. This endevour is like trying to explain every instance of ketiv-qere, or every unusual letter in Masorah. It is impossible, unless you revert to conjecture or (relatively) modern exegesis.
    – Argon
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:43
  • "conjecture or (relatively) modern exegesis" Those aren't bad things even if they aren't academically rigorous, and they'd likely fly as answers here on Mi Yodeya. But we can test some basic theories. The Eikha example for instance is pretty clear why the Nun form was chosen or at least preserved. How many other places in Tanakh do we have אנחנו in Nasog Achor form? Or on an Etnakhta? etc.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:49
  • @DoubleAA The Eicha example is clear. But pausal אֲנָחְנוּ is attested 14 times in my count, which seems fairly regular. What is meant by "nasog achor form"? The word already has penultimate stress. At any rate, why should one expect an explanation for every unusal masoretic feature? More likely than not, even the masoretes themselves could not explain many of them.
    – Argon
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 18:21
  • Just because the masoretes couldn't explain them, doesn't mean they don't have explanations, cf. Daniel 11:45. And even if we don't expect success at finding an explanation doesn't mean it's not worth trying. (By nasog achor i was referring to the examples in Exodus, where what follows is a short word. maybe the word had some sort of secondary stress which was being messed with there. just a potential pattern to look out for.)
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 18:29

See Breishit 42:11. In this verse, you will see both forms with and without the Aleph used.

Ibn Ezra says that the format without the aleph (נחנו) is an indication of "truth".

I think what he means is that in the verse in Breishit, the brothers are indicating that what they are telling (or have) told Yosef is the full truth and it can be easily verified by their actions. (In their case by the fact that they all came down as brothers at one time - why would they risk all of them being discovered as spies.)

I would think that applying that principle to the verse you cited, Gad and Re'uven are telling Moshe that what they are saying is the truth, and it can also be verified by the fact that they have offered to stay with the other tribes until after they inherited the land - beyond the request that Moshe suggested (Moshe suggested that they only need to stay until they defeated their enemies.) Thus, they were saying the truth that they would not remain in their land on the east of the Jordan and abandon their brethren.

Compare Ibn Ezra's commentary in the verse that you cited. It's a similar idea. Here, he says that it means "This is the main thing". You can combine this explanation with Ibn Ezra's previous one, as they point to similar ideas. I.e., they say to Moshe, "We are addressing your main concern, that we will not stay in our land, but we will send troops to help fight with our brothers. That was your main concern."

See also Ramban's take on this that they were telling Moshe "You don't need to command us twice." (Read previous verses. He already told them to help their brothers, when they first approached him. Then, he repeats the same request even after they had already told Moshe that they would send troops.)

  • How does the Ibn Ezra learn that nachnu means truth? Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 19:15
  • He says in 1st commentary, zot ha'emet.
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 19:38

The צרור המור (fifteenth century) writes that by writing נחנו this became one of 3 פסוקים in חומש starting and finishing with the letter נ. All three have a connection with the story of the prophet Elisha and the Aram army general Na'aman נעמן, whose name also starts and finishes with the letter נ.


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