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Hebrew—An Introduction to Reading the Old Testament
About this course
Lesson 3: Verbs—imperfect
Reading: Genesis 1:1-8 (step 8 of 9)
New vocab

This time we have twelve new words to learn before you read the first eight verses of the Bible. Spend some time to learn these well before turning to the text.
רֵאשִׁית
51x
beginning, first (noun)
בָּרָא
54x
create (verb)
רוּחַ
377x
wind, spirit (noun)
טוֹב
408x
good (adjective)
לַיִל
233x
night (noun)
עֶרֶב
134x
evening (noun)
בָּדַל
42x
separate (verb)
בֹּקֶר
214x
morning (noun)
רָקִיעַ
17x
expanse (noun)
תָּוֶךְ
418x
midst (noun)
תַּחַת
505x
bottom part, under (noun, preposition)
שֵׁנִי
157x
second (noun)
Another prefix

In addition to the vocabulary, let’s take a minute to learn one more extremely common prefix. (You will recall that we already talked about the prefix ו conjunction in lesson 2.) Again, we will look at prefixes more in depth in a future lesson. But we touch on one more here simply to reduce the number of definition helps you will need under the words of our readings.

The prefix we will learn now is the definite article (i.e. the word “the” in English). In Hebrew, the definite article does not appear as a separate word, but rather as a single letter prefix added to the front of a word—the letter ה. Thus, “הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם” is simply “הַ” added to the front of “שָּׁמַיִם”—“the heavens.”
Word order in Hebrew

Given that sequential verbs include the prefix conjunction ו, they naturally appear at the beginning of their verbal clause. Thus, if there is an explicitly named subject to the verb, that subject cannot appear first in the clause. This is different than English. In English, we say, “And God said...” But in Hebrew the word order is “And said God...” 

The big idea is as follows. Whereas English frequently uses word ordering to convey meaning (eg. the subject precedes the verb which precedes the object), Hebrew does so less. Instead, word ordering in Hebrew serves three purposes: (1) to express sequence via sequential verbs, (2) to place emphasis on the first word in the clause, and (3) to give the most pleasant “ring” to the words.
Genesis 1:1-8

It is time to read! Try to read the entire text before going back to click on words you could not understand. And remember, keep your eyes open for the sequential-imperfects.
בְּרֵאשִׁית
in...
בָּרָא
אֱלֹהִים
אֵת
הַשָּׁמַיִם
וְאֵת
הָאָרֶץ׃
וְהָאָרֶץ
הָיְתָה
תֹהוּ
formless
וָבֹהוּ
...void
וְחֹשֶׁךְ
עַל
פְּנֵי
תְהוֹם
the deep
וְרוּחַ
אֱלֹהִים
מְרַחֶפֶת
hovering
עַל
פְּנֵי
הַמָּיִם׃
וַיֹּאמֶר
אֱלֹהִים
יְהִי
אוֹר
וַיְהִי
אוֹר׃
וַיַּרְא
אֱלֹהִים
אֶת
הָאוֹר
כִּי
טוֹב
וַיַּבְדֵּל
[ hiphil ]
אֱלֹהִים
בֵּין
הָאוֹר
וּבֵין
הַחֹשֶׁךְ׃
וַיִּקְרָא
אֱלֹהִים
לָאוֹר
to the...
יוֹם
וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ
to the
קָרָא
לָיְלָה
וַיְהִי
עֶרֶב
וַיְהִי
בֹקֶר
יוֹם
אֶחָד׃
וַיֹּאמֶר
אֱלֹהִים
יְהִי
רָקִיעַ
בְּתוֹךְ
in
הַמָּיִם
וִיהִי
מַבְדִּיל
[ hiphil participle ]
בֵּין
מַיִם
לָמָיִם׃
to the...
וַיַּעַשׂ
אֱלֹהִים
אֶת
הָרָקִיעַ
וַיַּבְדֵּל
[ hiphil ]
בֵּין
הַמַּיִם
אֲשֶׁר
מִתַּחַת
from...
לָרָקִיעַ
to the
וּבֵין
הַמַּיִם
אֲשֶׁר
מֵעַל
from
לָרָקִיעַ
to the...
וַיְהִי
כֵן׃
וַיִּקְרָא
אֱלֹהִים
לָרָקִיעַ
to the...
שָׁמָיִם
וַיְהִי
עֶרֶב
וַיְהִי
בֹקֶר
יוֹם
שֵׁנִי׃
Yes, that was tough. But now look back up at how long that text is. You are less than one third of the way through this course and you already can read eight verses with a little help!