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Hebrew—An Introduction to Reading the Old Testament
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Lesson 6: Nouns, pronouns and participles
Participles (step 5 of 8)
Verbal adjectives

A participle is something between a verb, an adjective and a noun. At its base, it is a verb. In its form, it is a noun. And its function is most similar to that of an adjective. That all sounds pretty complicated, but is easy to learn for English speakers since we use participles all the time.

Take, for example, the word “eating.” This, along with most -ing words in English, is a participle. Note that this participle comes from the verb “to eat.” It can be used in several different ways. It can be used together with “is” to express continuous action, like in the sentence, “He is eating the sandwich.” But it also can function like a normal adjective, as in, “Want to join our eating contest?” Finally, this participle can also act like a noun (i.e. a substantival adjective)—“I love eating!” Hebrew uses participles in much the same way.
In terms of form, participles in Hebrew inflect by gender and number, just as nouns do, resulting in four forms for a given participle. But their parsing is easier to identify than that of nouns since they do not contain the exceptions that nouns do. (I.e. If it looks masculine, it is masculine!)
qal participle for יָשַׁב
singular & plural forms
masculine יוֹשֵׁב יֹשְׁבִים sitting (he / they)
feminine יוֹשֶׁבֶת יֹשְׁבוֹת sitting (she / [those ladies])
Active and passive participles

Given that participles are a type of verb form, they appear in all seven stems. Thankfully, the forms of participles in these different stems resemble the look of these stems in the perfect and imperfect with only minor differences. In terms of voice, participles will generally be active or passive based on whether their stem is active or passive. Thus qal, piel and hiphil participles are active, while pual, hophal and niphal are passive (though niphal can occasionally be active). Hithpael can be either active or passive. An example of a passive-participle in English is “eaten.”

Finally, there is one more participle form besides those related to the seven stems—the qal passive participle. This is a distinct form from the qal participle and carries the same sense as other simple, passive participles (i.e. the same sense as niphal participles).
שָׁאַר
133x
remain (verb)
בָּקַשׁ
225x
seek (verb)
שָׁלַךְ
125x
throw (verb)
2ms participles
active & passive
qal / niphal יוֹשֵׁב נִשְׁאָר sitting / remaining
qal passive כָּתוּב written
piel / pual מְבַקֵּשׁ מְבֹרָךְ requesting / blessed
hiphil / hophal מֵבִיא מֻשְׁלָךְ bringing / thrown
hithpael מִתְהַלֵּךְ walking about
Hollow verbs in qal and niphal participles—perfect or participle?

Those with a good memory and keen eye will notice that the niphal participle ms form is exactly the same as the niphal perfect 3ms. The same actually goes for hollow verbs in the qal stem (eg. “בָּא” can be either a perfect or a participle). However, this is only the case for the masculine singular form. When plural and/or feminine, the ending gives it away whether the word is a perfect or a participle.

In most cases where we find this ambiguity of form, attention to the verbs used in parallel will indicate whether the perfect or participle was intended.
Participles in the songs we've learned

You will recall that מָצָא is a verb meaning “find.” The niphal of this verb, then, would give the passive sense—“be found.” What would that mean as a participle? One might say, “being found,” but simpler English would render it “present.”

נִמְצָא מְאֹד — “very present”

The niphal participle ms form here could, as discussed above, also be a perfect. While that is possible, the word מְאֹד appears to indicate that a verbal adjective is what the author intended (i.e. “very present” and not “he really was/is found”).