Lesson 5: Verbs—commands and infinitives
Infinitives (step 4 of 8)
An infinitive is a uninflected form of a verb, often used together with a finite verb. For example, note the infinitive in the sentence, “I want to go home.” This typical English usage of the infinitive (i.e. a verb with the word “to” before it) is very similar to the infinitive-construct in Hebrew. As the English infinitive includes the preposition “to” before the verb, so too Hebrew infinitive-constructs often are prefixed with the preposition ל (which means “to”). However, the infinitive-construct in Hebrew can also connect to other prepositions like ב (“in”) or כ (“as”).
Since infinitives are uninflected (they do not have a person, gender or number), there is only one form of the infinitive for each stem. Besides that, infinitives in the hophal and pual stems are so rare that they have not been included in the chart below.
infinitive-construct & infinitive-absolute
||to judge / judge
||to speak / speak
||to distinguish / distinguish
||to flee / flee
Remember, infinitive-constructs might connect to a different preposition or not be connected to a preposition at all. The ל preposition has been included in the paradigm above simply because this is the most common way you will find them.
A second type of infinitive in Hebrew is called the infinitive-absolute. As you can see above, its form is very similar to that of the infinitive-construct, and at times identical to it. It is most easily distinguished from the infinitive-construct by the fact it never is connected to a preposition or suffix. On the other hand, the infinitive-construct is almost always connected to something.
The meaning of the infinitive-absolute is a bit harder to understand given that it can do several different things and we do not have an equivalent in English. The most common function of the infinitive-absolute is to intensify a verb. You know that it is doing this when it appears together with a finite verb of the same root and stem. In such a case, you can translate it as “surely” or “certainly.”
In this verse, we see an example of both an infinitive-construct and infinitive-absolute. See if you can spot them before clicking on the words. Then click to check yourself and make sure you understand how they are resulting in the translation, “And from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat from it. For on the day of your eating from it, you will surely die.”
When an infinitive-absolute does not appear with a finite verb of the same root and stem, it can have a variety a grammatical functions. It could be functioning as a finite verb, complementing the action of the verb, expressing progression of the action, or acting as a verbal noun.
More examples of infinitives
Let’s examine one more short text below (Jeremiah 7:9-10) which is full of infinitives—seven to be exact. See if you can spot them all and identify the stem of each.
To give you a sense for how the infinitives are functioning in this verse, let’s also take a look at the ESV translation of these verses: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?”
וְהַקְשִׁיבוּ לָדַעַת בִּינָה
Once again, let’s take a look at the highlighted phrase in the first step of this lesson. The second verb it contains is an infinite-construct. You can see it is prefixed with the ל preposition and works together with the finite verb—the command to pay attention. “Pay attention to know understanding.”