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Hebrew—An Introduction to Reading the Old Testament
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Lesson 4: Verbs—stems
הַמְּנוֹרָה (step 2 of 10)
Expanding out

Now that we have learned about the perfect, imperfect and sequentials, it is time to add on another dimension and expand these concepts out to all seven verb stems. You will recall that a Hebrew verb stem is a sort of template into which the root is inserted. It is because of this template nature that we can learn a small handful of forms (the strong form, plus a few weak forms) and know what other qal verbs should look like. We just take that model paradigm and insert the new root.

To this point, we have only examined the perfect and imperfect forms of the qal stem. “Qal” means easy because this stem is typically used to express the simplest sense of the word’s base meaning. The rest of the stem names come from their form, based on the root פָּעַל. This is extremely helpful since it means that if you know the name of the stem, then you already know the qal perfect 3ms form.
easy, light-weight, swift (adjective)
It is important to understand that a verb’s stem will not change the base meaning of the word. Instead, it affects whether that meaning is made passive, intensive, causative and/or reflexive. The best way to illustrate this is with the picture of the מְּנוֹרָה that was in the temple.
lampstand (noun)
Note the following from the illustration above:
  1. There are three active, one reflexive and three passive stems.
  2. There is a correlation between active and passive stem pairs (qal/niphal, piel/pual and hiphil/hophal).
  3. The typical function of each stem is either simple, intensive, causative or reflexive.
There are exceptions

And yet, as with every language, the rules do not always hold true. The qal, for example, can sometimes have a passive meaning, and the niphal occasionally has an active meaning. But you will find exceptions like this are indeed rare.

An additional complication is that many grammarians mark other uncommon stems besides these seven. But in reality, such stems can all be understood as slight mutations of the seven. We will talk about them in this fashion whenever we encounter them in the remainder of the course.
In the lesson steps which follow, we will examine the perfect and imperfect paradigms for each of the seven stems. As we do so, understand that you do not need to master them all to begin reading the Hebrew Bible. Mastery will come with reading. Thus, the paradigms will serve as a reference, but do not feel the need to perfectly memorize them. Instead, we will highlight the most important things which you need to learn immediately.