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Hebrew—An Introduction to Reading the Old Testament
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Lesson 4: Verbs—stems
Piel and pual (step 4 of 10)
Intensive active and passive stems

As the qal and niphal go together as active-passive counterparts, so too the piel and pual. The difference is that the meaning is not merely simple, but intensified. 

For example, take the verb פָּתַח. In the qal, this word means simply to “open.” However, it is also used in the piel where it can mean to “unstrap” (an animal that is bound, or the sackcloth around your waist, or your armor) or to “unlatch” a door or even to “free” a prisoner. In all these cases, the base meaning “open” is being intensified and hence the piel stem was used.

That being said, how intensive a meaning has to be so as to justify the piel over the qal is inherently subjective. Thus, not too much should be read into a piel stem, especially if the same word does not appear in the qal as well. In addition, the piel will sometimes be extra intensive and carry a causal meaning—something typically reserved for the hiphil stem. For example, the verb שָׂמֵחַ means to “be happy” in the qal, and to “make someone happy” in the piel. 

Let’s take a look at a verb commonly appearing in the piel and pual, כָּפַר.
atone (verb)
piel & pual perfect for כָּפַר
1cs כִּפַּרְתִּי כֻּפַּרְתִּי I atoned / was atoned for
1cp כִּפַּרְנוּ we atoned
2ms כִּפַּרְתָּ you [sir] atoned
2fs כִּפַּרְתְּ you [ma’am] atoned
2mp כִּפַּרְתֶּם you all atoned
3ms כִּפֵּר כֻּפַּר he atoned / was atoned for
3fs כִּפְּרָה כֻּפְּרָה she atoned / was atoned for
3cp כִּפְּרוּ כֻּפְּרוּ they atoned / were atoned for
piel & pual imperfect for כָּפַר
1cs אֲכַפֵּר I will atone
1cp נְכַפֵּר we will atone
2ms תְּכַפֵּר you [sir] will atone
2fs תְּכַפְּרִי you [ma’am] will atone
2mp תְּכַפְּרוּ you all will atone
2fp תְּכַפֵּרְנָה [ladies] you all will atone
3ms יְכַפֵּר יְכֻפַּר he will atone / be atoned for
3fs תְּכַפֵּר תְּכֻפַּר she will atone / be atoned for
3mp יְכַפְּרוּ יְכֻפְּרוּ they will atone / be atoned for
3fp תְּכַפֵּרְנָה [those ladies] will atone
Here, you will notice that the distinctions in these stems are found in the vowel markings they employ. For the piel perfect, the common thread is the chirik vowel underneath the first letter of the root. As for the piel imperfect, take note of the vowel under the prefix (a shva) and under the first letter of the root (a petach) in almost every form. In addition, both the piel perfect and imperfect contain the middle dot in the second letter of the root.

The pual perfect and imperfect, on the other hand, are both marked by the kubutz vowel under the first letter in the word’s root—something that quickly distinguishes this stem from all others.
Proverbs 16:6, 14

Below are two proverbs, one containing כָּפַר in the piel and the other in the pual. As before, understand every word you can before clicking on it to get a gloss definition and parsing. 
Piel verbs in the songs we’ve learned

We have not seen any pual verbs in the songs we have learned thus far, but there are quite a few piel verbs to note. Take the time to determine the entire parsing of each verb: stem, aspect, person, gender and number.

For the word הִלַּלְנוּ, note the chirik vowel underneath the first letter of the root (ה) and middle dot in the second letter of the root (ל). As mentioned above, these are strong cues of the piel stem.

בֵּאלֹהִים הִלַּלְנוּ כָל־הַיּוֹם — “In God we have boasted all the day”

The same indicators are found in the three piel verbs found in this song. Note, however, that one of them has a weak final letter in its root.

בִּלַּע הַמָּוֶת לָנֶצַח — “he swallows the death unto eternity”
כִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר — “for the Lord has spoken
קִוִּינוּ לוֹ — “we have hoped in him”

In this song, we find a couple piel verbs which are a bit more challenging to identify. דוֹמַמְתִּי is actually one of those uncommon stems (poel) that can be understood as a mutation of the piel with a ו inserting itself between the first two letters of the root. The last instance of a piel in this song presents us with a challenge given the presence of a weak first letter in its root (י), which gets dropped (i.e. the end result is a single י and not two of them) and causes a modification in the first vowel.

וְלֹא־הִלַּכְתִּי בִּגְדֹלוֹת — “and I have not walked in great things”
אִם־לֹא שִׁוִּיתִי וְדוֹמַמְתִּי נַפְשִׁי — “but I have calmed and quieted my soul”
יַחֵל יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל־יְהוָה — “Israel will hope in the Lord

כִּי־הִנֵּה הַחֹשֶׁךְ יְכַסֶּה־אֶרֶץ — “for behold the darkness will cover [the] earth”
And now we turn to learn a new song in the next step.