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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Idit here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher where I’ll answer some of your most common Hebrew questions.
The question for this lesson is…
Why is it that in Hebrew some adjectives are different when they refer to people than when they refer to objects?
This issue involves adjectives in their feminine form, mostly adjectives for nationality like “American” or “Russian.” The difference is in the ending of the adjective-- it can either end with ית- (-it) or with ייה- (-iya). For example, a Russian woman would be אישה רוסייה (isha rusiya), but a Russian boat will be ספינה רוסית (sfina rusit).
So why does this happen?
First of all, it’s important to know that both forms of these adjectives are commonly used, but in different contexts.
Usually, the ending -iya, like in רוסייה (rusiya), “Russian woman,” is used to refer to a woman, while the ending -it, like in רוסית (rusit), “Russian boat,” is used to describe places or objects, such as a restaurant, a shirt, or the Russian language.
Grammatically speaking, both forms are acceptable. The foundation of Hebrew grammar is the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, in which we find both of those forms used for all purposes. In the Tanakh, the feminine ending ייה- (iya) describes women, but also objects or places, like in the word נֹכרייה (nokhriya), meaning “foreign.”
Some examples with this word would be...
אנוכי נכרייה (anokhi nokhriya) - “I am foreign,” and
בארץ נכרייה (be’eretz nokhriya) - “in a foreign country.”
Besides the ending ייה- (iya) there is the ending ית- (it), also used in the Tanakh for both people and objects. For example--
אישה מצרית (isha mitzrit) - “Egyptian woman.”
דלעת מצרית (d’la’at mitzrit) - “Egyptian pumpkin.”
We can even find both endings for the same definition--
רות המואבייה (Rut ha’mo’aviya) - “Ruth the Moabite” (“Ruth of the Kingdom of Moab”)
שמרית המואבית (Shimrit ha’mo’avit) - “Shimrit the Moabite” (“Shimrit of the kingdom of Moab”)
However, as I said earlier, in today’s Hebrew there’s usually a differentiation between the two forms. This rule doesn’t apply only to nationalities, but to other adjectives, as well. Let’s look at some examples--
אישה דתייה (isha datiya) - “Religious woman.”
שכונה דתית (sh’khuna datit) - “Religious neighborhood.”
אישה חופשייה (isha ħof’shiya) - “Free woman.”
צניחה חופשית (tz’niħa ħof’shit) - “Free falling,” which more naturally translates as “sky diving.”
Since this is not a set rule but rather a differentiation use in common language, sometimes the ending ית- (-it) is used for women too, like in these examples:
חילונית (ħilonit) - “secular woman.”
איראנית (iranit) - “Iranian woman.”
ישראלית (israelit) - “Israeli woman.”
Confused? Well, here’s some good news-- regardless of the singular form, the plural form will always stay the sameיות- (iyot). For example, let’s look at some adjectives that are used when referring to women - as you may know, in Hebrew, the adjective has to agree with the noun in both gender and number--
רוסיות (rusiyot) - “Russian”
דתיות (datiyot) - “Religious”
חופשיות (ħof’shiyot) - “Free”
How was this lesson? Pretty interesting right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!