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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 the word פנים (panim) "face" in Hebrew plural?
This question has to do with an interesting phenomenon of the Hebrew language. There are a few nouns in Hebrew which are plural in their grammatical form, but singular conceptually. Sound confusing? Let’s break it down.
The four main nouns that are singular but plural grammatically are --
חיים (ħayim) “life”
מים (mayim) “water”
שמים (shamayim) “sky”
in addition to the noun from this lesson's question--
פנים (panim) “face.”
As you can see, all of these words have typical plural masculine endings - ים (im). Grammatically speaking, these words are plural. They don't have a singular form, and the adjectives attached to them will take a plural form as well. Some examples would be--
חיים ארוכים (ħayim arukim) “long life”
מים חמים (mayim ħamim) “hot water”
שמיים מעוננים (shamayim me’unanim) “cloudy sky” and
פנים יפים (panim yafim) “pretty face” (or יפות [yafot] -- this noun is both feminine and masculine.)
So why are these words plural?
There is no definite answer to this question, but there are a few interesting theories. One of those theories suggests that these words are plural because all of these nouns are constantly changing; each of them is one noun that actually has many forms and cannot be captured by a singular noun.
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!