In Hebrew (as in many languages), adjectives need to agree with the nouns they modify in gender and number. Hebrew has two genders: masculine and feminine. For all adjectives, and most nouns, number and gender are indicated with the following suffixes:
Sometimes the feminine singular ends in [-ֶת].
When I say “most nouns” I mean that there are some masculine nouns that take a singular form in [-ָה] or a plural in [-וֹת] (or both), and some feminine nouns that take a plural in [-ִיִם]. There are just enough of these nouns in Hebrew to make things really confusing, so you have to pay attention when you’re learning vocabulary! Also, there are a couple of nouns that take completely irregular plurals.
When you add the suffix, it tends to pull the stress accent farther away from the beginning of the word, so that the first syllable of the word shortens: gadól -> g’doláh, g’dolím, g’dolót.
In noun-adjective phrases, the adjective follows the noun.
|אִיש טוֹב||a good man|
|אִישָּה טוֹבה||a good woman|
|נָשִם טוֹבוֹת||good women (irregular)|
|סוּסִים גְדוֹלִים||big horses|
|לֵילוֹת אֲרוּכִּים||long nights (irr.)|
|שָנִים טוֹבוֹת||good years (irr.)|
THEN AND NOW: LETTERS AND VOWELS
In the example above, I’ve used the Modern Hebrew spelling for “woman” [אִישָה]. In Biblical Hebrew it’s spelled [אִשָּה] - without the ‘yud’. Modern Hebrew spelling will often explicitly indicate vowel sounds with the letters yud or vav, in places where Biblical Hebrew does not. This is called ‘maleh’ (or “full”) spelling, in contrast to ‘haser’ (or “lacking”) spelling.
THE DEFINITE ARTICLE
The definite article (“the”) is the prefix [הַ-]. It is attached to definite nouns and to the adjectives that modify them.
If you are studying Biblical Hebrew grammar, you need to know that [הַ-] changes to [הָ-] (with the long ‘a’ vowel) before the letters [ר] [ע] [א]; and it changes to [הֶ-] (with a short ‘e’) before unaccented [ה] and [ח]. And when the article is followed by any other letter, that letter needs to be doubled with a dagesh (the dot in the middle). For conversational Modern Hebrew, this will not make a great difference in your life; but it is important to know [אֶרֶץ] (land) and [הָאָרֶץ] (the land; the Land of Israel).
|הַמֶּ֜לֶך הַטּוֹב||the good king|
|הָאָ֜רֶץ הַטּוֹבָה||the good land|
A note on stress accent: Most Hebrew words take the stress accent on the last syllable, but a few - including nouns with a double ‘e’ vowel pattern like ‘melekh’, ‘eretz’, etc. - take the stress on the syllable before the last. This is sometimes indicated by an accent mark. In the character set I’m using here, it’s a ‘geresh’ [֜ ] but it can also look like a little vertical line below the letter, or an angle bracket over it [֫].
You’ll notice that some of these adjectives look suspiciously similar to verbs. They are participles - adjectives that describe the doer of a verb - and they are how we form the present tense in Hebrew.