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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…
What is the construct state Smikhut and what are its rules?
The Smikhut construct is very confusing, since it can alter the forms of words and change all kinds of grammatical rules. Let’s try to make it clearer.
So what is Smikhut anyway? Basically, it’s a way of expressing "of" in Hebrew, and it consists of two words side by side that create a noun.
Let’s go through some examples so you can learn how to use Smikhut correctly.
Let’s look at a simple example -- the compound “water bottle.” A water bottle is a bottle of water; in this compound, the main noun is the second word, the bottle, and the first word describes the noun. In Hebrew it’ll be pretty much the same – except that the first word will be the main noun, and the second will be the description. So, in Hebrew “water bottle” would be בקבוק מים (bakbuk maim) - בקבוק (bakbuk) meaning “bottle,” and מים (maim) meaning “water.”
Some compounds combine two nouns to create a completely different noun. For example, the word for “weather” in Hebrew is the compound מזג אוויר (mezeg avir). The word מזג (mezeg) means “temper,” and אוויר (avir) means “air.” So literally, this compound means “air temper.”
In some cases, the singular form of a compound can include a plural noun. For example, the compound “dog trainer” in Hebrew will be מאלף כלבים (me’alef klavim). The word for “trainer," מאלף (me’alef), will be singular, but the word for “dog," כלב (kelev), will take the plural form - כלבים (klavim). This is to indicate that the trainer trains more than one specific dog. In the same way, a “window cleaner” will be
מנקה חלונות
(mena’ke ħalonot)
and not
מנקה חלון
(mena’ke ħalon)
So far it’s not so bad, right? Well, now it’s starting to get complicated. If the main noun is feminine, singular and ends in the letter ה (he), then the ה (he) becomes ת (tav), like in this example of the compound “cheesecake”--
עוּגָה (ooga) + גבינה (gvina)
עוּגָת גבינה (oogat gvina)
Another issue is the plural form of these compounds. Like in English, when multiplying the compound, only one of the nouns takes the plural form – the main one. Therefore, if we want to say “cheesecakes," we will not say
עוגות גבינות
(oogot gvinot)
But rather,
עוגות גבינה
(oogot gvina)
If the main noun is masculine and plural, the plural masculine ending ים (im) becomes “י ֵ” (ei) (Notice that the Nikkud appears on the letter just before the Yud). We’ll use our first example again-- if we want to say “water bottles," the plural form of bakbuk - bakbukim - will turn into bakbukei, like so--
בקבוקים (bakbukim) + מים (maim)
בקבוקֵי מים (bakbukei maim)
Another rule the Smikhut is altering is the prefix ה (ha), which means “the." As you may know, when turning an indefinite noun into definite, we add the prefix ה (ha) to the noun itself and also to any adjective it has. For example, “the big bottle” will be
הבקבוק הגדול
(ha-bakbuk ha-gadol)
However, in Smikhut compounds, only the describing noun gets the prefix ה (ha), like so--
בקבוק המים
(bakbuk ha-maim)
“the water bottle”
Lastly, there is one more issue, perhaps the most confusing one-- sometimes the vowels of the first noun change, like in these examples--
חֶדֶר (ħeder) + אוכל (okhel)
חֲדַר אוכל (ħadar okhel)
“dining room”
בַּית (bait) + כלא (kele)
בֵּית כלא (bet kele)
“jail house”
Most Hebrew speakers don’t know the complicated rules for this unique construct – they simply learnt how to use it when acquiring the language growing up. For Hebrew learners it’s definitely harder to learn these exceptions, but the more Hebrew you hear and speak, the more natural it’ll become.
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!