View all path courses
Hebrew—An Introduction to Reading the Old Testament
About this course
Lesson 4: Verbs—stems
Hithpael (step 7 of 10)
The reflexive stem

The final stem—hithpael—does not have a active or passive counterpart because it itself lies somewhere between active and passive. That is, it is reflexive. In other words, the actor of the actions is acting upon himself. At least that is the idea in theory. In reality, hithpael verbs often have a reflexive meaning with respect to the base meaning of the word, but a simple active or passive meaning when the final inflected meaning is considered.

The best way to understand what this means is by examining the the most common hithpael verbs in the Hebrew Bible.

הִתְפַּלֵּל — “he intervened for himself (i.e. prayed)”
הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ — “they bowed [themselves] down”
הִתְהַלֶּךְ — “he walked about”
יִתְיַצֵּב — “he will stabilize himself (i.e. stand)”
הִתְקַדָּשׁוּ — “they consecrated themselves”
וַיִּתְחַזֵּק — “and he strengthened himself (i.e. took courage)”
וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ — “and they prophesied”

With regard to the first example above, any sane translator will translate הִתְפַּלֵּל as “he prayed” and not “he intervened for himself.” Thus, you could say that this hithpael verb has a simple active meaning. However, we point out the “he intervened for himself” translation to demonstrate for you that, in fact, this hithpael form does have a reflexive meaning with respect to the base meaning of this word: “intervene.”

The same simple vs reflexive idea can be seen in “יִתְיַצֵּב” and “וַיִּתְחַזֵּק.” Here again, their are reflexive meanings to these hithpael verbs when their base meanings are considered. But the practical outcome are simple actions (“he will stand” and “and he took courage”).
intervene, pray (verb)
hithpael perfect for הָלַךְ
1cs הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי I walked about
1cp הִתְהַלַּכְנוּ we walked about
2ms הִתְהַלַּכְתָּ you [sir] walked about
2mp הִתְהַלַּכְתֶּם you all walked about
3ms הִתְהַלֶּךְ he walked about
3cp הִתְהַלְּכוּ they walked about
hithpael imperfect for הָלַךְ
1cs אֶתְהַלֵּךְ I will walk about
1cp נִתְהַלֵּךְ we will walk about
2ms תִתְהַלֵּךְ you [sir] will walk about
2fs תִתְהַלְּכִי you [ma’am] will walk about
2mp תִתְהַלְּכוּ you all will walk about
3ms יִתְהַלֵּךְ he will walk about
3fs תִתְהַלֵּךְ she will walk about
3mp יִתְהַלְּכוּ they will walk about
Generally speaking, this is a very easy stem to distinguish, given the “-הִתְ” prefix in the perfect and similar prefix in the imperfect, only with the ה swapped out for the relevant letter for each person-gender-number combination.
The ת likes to trade places or disappear

However, you may have noticed that in the examples above הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ does not take this expected form. The root for this word is actually שָׁחָה. In this case, the ת has traded places with the ש in the hithpael form. This is, in fact, always the case for roots which begin with the letter ש or ס.

When the first letter of a root is צ, things gets even crazier. Not only does the ת trade places with the צ, but it also turns into a ט. Thus, the root צָדַק (“be just, righteous”) gets inflected to נִּצְטַדָּק (“we will justify ourselves”), for example.

Finally, when a ט or ת begins a root, the two t-sounds meld together, causing the ת to simply be dropped. We can see this with the root טָמֵא (“be unclean”) which can be inflected to תִּטַּמְּאוּ (“you will make yourselves unclean”). Note here that we expected two ת’s with the 2mp, but only find one.
Genesis 5:24

You are taking this course to be able to begin reading the Hebrew Bible, so let’s keep reading. As always, make the most of it by not clicking on the words until you have exhausted all effort to understand and parse them yourselves.
We have not seen the hithpael stem in any of our songs thus far, but do in the new song on the next step. But before we get there, let’s see if you can now identify all the different stems.