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What is the full list of rules for when to pronounce a sh'va (i.e. na) during tefillah and keriat hatorah?

When I was in school, I remember being taught that a sh'va was na in the following 5 cases (the rules from Masoret hamasoret written by Eliyahu Levita and published in 1538):*

  1. Under the first letter of a word (לְךָ)
  2. The second of two consecutive sh'vas (נַפְשְׁךָ)
  3. Under a letter immediately following a long vowel (הַמֹּשְׁלִים)
  4. Under a letter with a dagesh (דַּבְּרוּ)
  5. Under the first of two identical consecutive letters (הַלְלוּ)

(And see e.g. here where it is assumed that these are the rules.)

Does anyone argue on these rules? Are there any exceptions? For number three, is there a consensus on what consitutes a long vowel?

Are there any further instances where a sh'va is na?

As a starting point I have heard the word רִצְפַת (Esther 1:6) read with a sh'va na on the tzadi, as well as the word הַמְבֹרָךְ (as part of tefillah) with a sh'va na on the mem. What rule(s) are these following?

* Thanks to b a for looking it up in the original book!

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  • 2
    3 and 5 are the debatable ones. And you have to include rule 6: there are exceptions to everything.
    – Double AA
    May 28, 2018 at 14:17
  • Wikipedia attributes the rules to Rabbi Eliyahu Bachur and says the fifth one has a lot of exceptions, without elaboration
    – b a
    May 28, 2018 at 14:29
  • There are these present tense "verb" forms with מ you mention, which avoid dagesh despite the -ה prefix, but I don't know the general rule. May 28, 2018 at 14:31
  • @Kazibácsi The rule is if it the מסורה marks a מתג on the ה then the שוא on the מ is נע (with a few listed exceptions). But for anything post-biblical all bets are off.
    – Double AA
    May 28, 2018 at 14:33
  • @DoubleAA That's clear, but we need to reconstruct somehow the rules for the prayers. This -הַמ form can be found in Bereishit 45:12 (but I have seen it many times mistakenly with a dagesh). May 28, 2018 at 14:57

5 Answers 5

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Yes your Rule 3. is incomplete..

There is some description here

https://forum.unilang.org/viewtopic.php?t=50118&start=20

that bachur/levita identified(or came up himself!) with 5 rules but for rule 3, there are ceratin exceptions which i've listed here

  1. first letter of a word.
  2. second of two shvas under consecutive letters.
  3. after a tenua gedolah(long vowel), where the long vowel has no primary stress.(also some other cases, and can even be after a short vowel where the short vowel is "lengthened"/treated as a long vowel!)
  4. under a dagesh
  5. if a shva appears under the first of two consecutive identical letters (e.g., the first lamed of halleluyah)

re rule 3- also, and reversing the effect of any stress of vowel shift from a nasog achor or suffix on the noun/verb. (The rule is often misstated as just after a long vowel)

(rule 3 is weird because it means it can even be after a short vowel) a simpler form of rule 3 would be long vowel with no primary stress.. but it is more complex than that.. as noted above..

Other cases to know about besides those 5 rules, are vav patach prefix, and vav shuruk prefix. I mention details re those below..

And another thing to know about is meteg can play a role according to some traditions, maybe moreso sephardi tradition.

And worth bearing in mind that in ashkenazi tradition i'm not sure if there is a long/short kamatz, given that in ashkenazi tradition the kamatz mark has one pronunciation.

In the case of a vav shuruk prefix, I don't know whether it's a long vowel or a short vowel. But either way, if there's a shva following it, then in ashkenazi tradition, it's a silent shva. Like oov-shochbecha in the shema, even though there's a meteg there. (Though sure, when many of us were in school, with our ashkefardi pronunciation, we learnt it as oo-vuh-shochbecha and didn't think twice about it!). In Sephardi tradition, maybe when there's a meteg with the vav shuruk prefix, they vocalize the shva.

Our instincts may say for HalVeeyim vs HaLuhVeeyim, that it's vocal but actually it's silent. It's following a patach. Sometimes its a patach with a meteg. According to the book "Chanting The Hebrew Bible" by Joshua Jacobson, P267 there is a difference of opinion re whether it's vocal when there is a meteg. I think I learnt it as halveeyim, and I think that's what ashkenazi tradition is. Especially since vav shuruk with meteg in ashkenazi tradition is still silent shva.

P.268 Jacobson gives some interesting sources regarding the vav shuruk with meteg.

--

קֵ֔דְמָה Lev 1:16

enter image description here

shva (there), is preceded by a tsere, tsere is a long vowel. But there is primary stress on that vowel. So it doesn't match that rule(it doesn't match any rule , for it being vocal), so it's silent.

--

There is a point about nasog achor,that could shift stress, and if a verb or noun has a suffix then perhaps stress might shift or a vowel might shift.. and one should look at the word without the suffix and correcting also for any nasog achor. So, after reversing any effect of nasog achor or suffixes.. Then see if the long vowel preceding the shva, has no primary stress, if it does then it's shva na.

So for example, gemu-luh-chem(joel 4:4)..has a kubutz.. but without the suffix, it's gemul with a shuruk. Shuruk is a long vowel. gemulchem, is gemu-luh-chem, because one works out the shva as if it were a shuruk there.

enter image description here

enter image description here

And it's not a conjunctive shuruk.. a conjunctive vav shuruk i.e. a conjunctive vav followed by a Bet Mem or Peh, then that may actually be another shva rule.. (but either way there's an important note regarding it that i'll mention)

A Shuruk, that's not a conjunctive vav shuruk, is a long vowel.

We see that vav shuruk is in the middle of the word, so it's not a conjunctive vav.

We treat it like it's gmlchem With a vav shuruk, rather than a kubutz. So the spelling and vowel from as if it were without the suffix

so it says גְּמֻֽלְכֶ֖ם but re the shva it is read as גְּמֻֽןּלְכֶ֖ם a shuruk in the middle of a word is a long vowel. it's there is a vocal shva on the lamed. Gemu-luh-chem

Sometimes a Meteg can indicate that a shva is vocal. The rule with the kamatz is clear(it makes the kamatz long).

But there are some complexities with the meteg, including some unknown complexities

From Jacobson, P289 it looks like, when a word begins with Vav and patach then yud with shva, there is or tends to be a meteg there, but regardless of that meteg, the shva is silent. I think i've seen this in Feldheim too, how they do things there. So Gen 34:20 VayDabru not VaYuhDabru. Gen 1:5 vay-hee not va-yuh-hee, Gen 5:6 vay-chee, not va-yuh-chee. (Many [casual] leiners i've heard do a vocal shva there but apparently really serious leiners would do a silent shva there matching what Jacobson wrote)

And this rule mentioned in Jacobson P289, and i've heard from a really serious grammarian too. vav shuruk with meteg. The famous example is Oov-shochbecha in the Shema. Deut 6:7 (oov-shochbecha). There's a meteg there. Ashkenazim do a silent shva there. Maybe sephardim do a vocal one. The Sacks singers siddur mixes traditions up on that and has a vocal shva, there was quite a disagreement in connection with that, the singers sacks had oo-vuh-shochbecha. The Koren Sacks siddur, has Oov-shochbecha.

Another case and this one it's not clear from jacobson's book how one determines this. It says P289 regarding a meteg indicating a 'missing letter' (by which he means a word written in shorter form spelling than 'normal'). As in spelling can be ktav hasar(short) or ktav male(full). And he gives examples of a meteg with a chirik, where the chirik is not a chirik yud. And he's saying it should be treated like the vowel is long (chirik yud). And so any following shva is long. Similarly he gives an example of a meteg with a kubutz, and says that any following shva should be treated as long, as if it were preceded by a shuruk. Gen 48:20 Yuh-Shee-muh-cha (as opposed to Yuh-Shim-Cha), Deut 28:11 vehoh-tee-ruh-cha(as opposed to Ve-Hoh-Tir-Cha). Maybe the rule is the rule about removing the suffix though he doesn't mention that rule. P288-291 have 17 observations regarding "secondary stress" i.e. meteg.

A strange one is on the bottom of P288 Jacobson. Strange 'cos what Jacobson says there isn't reflected in Feldheim's tanach simanim Num 20:19 Bamsila or Ba-muh-sila Jacobson says is vocal. Feldheim tanach simanim has it silent.

And other than that, there are some unknown complexities with the meteg. Jacobson mentions different types of Meteg, including a normal one, and a "euphonic" one, and JAcobson says a shva following a euphonic meteg, is silent. Jacobson P293 quotes a grammarian Yedidyah Norzi who says that the rule for when a meteg is euphonic is not clear / we don't have a straight/valid rule to determine that, and if anybody were to pronounce a euphonic meteg as vocal then it'd some strange to the listener

Jacobson P.293 quotes Grammarian Yedidyah Norzi to say that they don't have a straight and valid rule to differentiate when a meteg is a "euphonic meteg". Whether he is indicating that this affects pronunciation or not, I don't know. And Jacobson suggests on P292 that a euphonic meteg is silent. And on P291 says that a euphonic meteg is a meteg in a seemingly inexplicable position.

Jacobson P289 mentions Gen 34:20 VayDabru (vav patach and meteg), but silent shva. And other examples. The vav patach prefix with meteg, followed by shva, then the shva seems to be silent. but apparently some disagree.

I guess that experienced baal koreh probably know the problematic or difficult ones from memory and have some decision based on a particular source. And they might also work the difficult ones out in their head, but given particular traditions.

In the case of the Shema, and Oov-Shochbeca(Ashkenazi way).

Note-the artscroll ashkenazi siddur puts a horizontal line above a letter with a vocal shva where the letter is in the middle of a word. So given that it has no line over the "vet" of oov-shochbecha it's indicating a silent shva there. The Sacks Singers has any vocal shva when occurring as not the first letter, as bold. It takes the vet as having a vocal shva, you see it puts the shva in bold, so it goes the sephardi way there.

We see the Artscroll Ashkenazi getting it correct as per ashkenazi tradition. The Singers Sacks picks the Sephardi way for that. (I don't know whether singers sacks is consistently sephardi but it is certainly not consistently ashkenazi). The Feidheim Tanach Simanim, like the ashkenazi artscroll, have it right as per ashkenazi tradition. oov-shochbecha.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Interestingly, and this is wild. The Artscroll Siddur Ahavat Shalom, 2nd edition 8th impression 1996 .. Has vocal shva there for that word. And it says Ashkenaz on it. So, that's strange. I know from baal koreh, including ones that know biblical hebrew that it should be oov-shochbecha in ashkenazi tradition. So I will check with artscroll what is up there with there ahavat shalom siddur.

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    I suppose your answer could highly benefit from a more concise style and telling the less informed, who is Jacobson, and why his book may be relevant. (And in ובשכבך there is a tricky meteg under the vav etc.) Aug 25, 2020 at 19:28
  • @Kazibácsi You wrote "ובשכבך there is a tricky meteg under the vav" <-- But I wrote "vav shuruk with meteg. The famous example is Oov-shochbecha in the Shema". As mentioned, Ashkenazi tradition is oov there
    – barlop
    Aug 25, 2020 at 20:38
  • Then the Artscroll Ashkenazi siddur is surely mistaken... ;-) Aug 25, 2020 at 21:05
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    How do you know what is the correct Ashkenazi tradition? Jan 2, 2023 at 17:48
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@barlop, you must be looking at a very early Artscroll siddur. The first edition from the 1980's did had ובשכבך with a shva nach, but they soon changed it to a shava na in later editions of all their siddurim.

At that time, I had heard that they originally followed one opinion, and then subsequently switched to a different opinion. If that rumor was true, that must be the two opinions you quoted from Jacobson P267. I don't have access to Jacobson, but I believe those two opinions are discussed in גליון 116 - תורת הקורא פרשת בראשית תשע''ו footnote ח, linked to here (archive). I am by no means an expert, but my understanding of that discussion is that all agree that a meteg under the shuruk at the beginning of a short word indicates a shva na. Hence the shin in הטה... אזנך ושמע (דניאל ט:יח) (found in the long tachanun on Mondays and Thursdays) has a shva na. For long words, there are opinions (ר' שבתי סופר, רוו"ה, הגר"א, ועוד) that the meteg also indicates a shva na. The other opinion (הבחור) is that in such a case the meteg is a "מתג כבד" and does not indicate a shva na.

I am not sure what the Ashkenazi minhag is with regard to this, or whether there's an Ashkenazi minhag at all, but it's worth noting that the opionions that it is a shva na is attributed there to Ashkenazi grammarians.

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  • Welcome to MiYodeya and thanks for this first answer. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Sep 12, 2023 at 16:52
  • Welcome to MY! You bring an interesting example, though the ושמע you mention is written with a chataf patach in Masoretic manuscripts, which indicates a sheva na. In ובשכבך there's no such Sep 12, 2023 at 17:29
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This is a comprehensive list from my sefer that is generally accepted and used DIVIDE & CONQUER: A Comprehensive Guide to Master Hebrew Reading More notes as to exceptions and opinions are listed there.

enter image description here

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  • These are not universally agreed upon, as (for example) הנְני is treated as resting by many.
    – magicker72
    Jan 2, 2023 at 0:46
  • Doesn't rule 2 clash with rule 5?
    – magicker72
    Jan 2, 2023 at 0:46
  • I'm sorry for my frankness, but I suppose your table makes more confusion than the five rules themselves. The definite article rule is far from universally accepted. There are kubutz, which are linguistically shuruk, just it's the short spelling etc. Jan 2, 2023 at 15:10
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I want to simplify this whole thing for you: Shva is na at the beginning of a syllable.

That’s pretty much it.

Here are a some small notes, not so much “rules”:

  1. If an identical letter follows a Shva nach (e.g. הַלְלוּ), the shva is pronounced, but extremely weakly, even compared to other Shvas. Its only purpose is to separate between the letters.
  2. Sometimes, a vowel is lengthened in pausal form, usually at an atnach/etnacha or at the end of a passuk. This does not change any Shvas from nach to na.
  3. Because shvas are so weak and quick, one never makes a syllable by itself. Thus, in words ending in two consonants with shvas, both are nach.

רִצְפַת in Ester is an exception. This shva is only pronounced to differentiate this word, meaning "floor", from an otherwise identical one meaning "hot coal". Approximants (מ, י, ל) following הַ generally have a shva na but no dagesh. The reason is not clear. Most likely, the מְ originally had a dagesh that was lost because of the "weak" nature of approximants in general.

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    You've just punted the question without answering it. It's now: how can you tell whether a consonant+sheva is the beginning of a syllable?
    – magicker72
    May 3 at 20:44
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Yes, you are correct! And if you would like, there is an easy way to remember the 5 rules of a Sheva Na:

  1. א - First - a Sheva under the letter at the beginning of a word is a Sheva Na (לעולם)
  2. ב - Two - two Shevas in a row in the middle of a word, the second one is a Sheva Na* (נפשך)
  3. ג - Gedolah - a Sheva appearing right after a Tenuah Gedola is a Sheva Na (הַמֹּשְׁלִים)
  4. ד - Dagesh - a Sheva under a letter with a Dagesh is a Sheva Na (דַּבְּרוּ)
  5. ה - Hadamos - two of the same letters that appear next to each other, and the first one has a Sheva, it is a Sheva na (הנני)

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