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Hebrew—An Introduction to Reading the Old Testament
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Lesson 2: Verbs—perfect
Sequential-perfect (step 6 of 9)
The ו prefix

In lesson 7, we will examine word prefixes and suffixes in depth. Nonetheless, there is one prefix that we simply cannot wait to speak about—a prefix that is found over 50,000 times in the Hebrew Bible. (That's an average of over two ו prefixes per verse!)

A prefix is one or more letters added on to the beginning of a word. A suffix is the same, though the letters are added to the end of the word. We have already seen a sort of suffix with the endings in the qal perfect paradigm. However, Hebrew commonly uses prefixes and suffixes of a different sort—prefixes and suffixes which contain a distinct meaning in and of themselves. Many actually consider these prefixes and suffixes to be distinct words, since they possess their own meaning.

The most common of these prefixes and suffixes is the prefix ו. Its most simple meaning is “and,” though in reality it is much more flexible than the word “and” in English. A small book could be dedicated to the different possible meanings of the ו prefix, but we will suffice by simply saying that it can be translated as just about any English conjunction.
A special verb construction

The reason we are learning about the ו prefix on this lesson step is because it can combine with the perfect form to create a unique construction called a weqatal, or sequential-perfect. The effect of the sequential-perfect is two-fold. First, it generally flips the perfect aspect of the verb to an imperfect aspect. In other words, a sequential-perfect typically has an imperfect aspect. Second, the sequential-perfect usually indicates a step forward in the text—hence the name sequential-perfect. 
Two examples from the song הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֵינוּ

Let’s take a look at the two perfect-form verbs from this song which we skipped on the previous lesson step—both of which are sequential-perfects.

וּמָחָה — “and [he] will wipe”
וְאָמַר — “and he will say”

Notice how in both cases we have translated these to the simple future tense because they have imperfect aspect—that is, the actions are viewed as in progress. They are also both translated with an “and” connecting them to the previous clause and indicate a step forward in a sequence. “He swallows death unto eternity and will wipe...” Similarly, “[all of verse 8 will happen] and one will say on that day...

Think about these examples and the meaning of the sequential-perfect as you sing along once again to הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֵינוּ.
A caveat

There is one last note to make about sequential-perfects—one of those details that will drive the more rules-oriented among us a little crazy. Just because we find a ו prefixed + perfect form does not necessarily mean we have a sequential-perfect. Sometimes, we simply are presented with a ו indicating its normal meaning and a perfect form indicating its normal perfect aspect. And there is no way to distinguish between a sequential-perfect and a “normal” ו + perfect. 

The effect of this is to say that when there is a ו prefixed to a perfect form, the aspect of the verb may be perfect and may be imperfect.