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Lesson Transcript


Michael: How many tenses are there in Hebrew?
Lenny: And how do they work?
Michael: At HebrewPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Sasha Lee, a teenager who is studying Hebrew, is confused about the number of tenses in Hebrew. She asks her teacher
"How many tenses are there in Hebrew?"
Sasha Lee: ?כמה זמנים יש בעברית (Kama z'manim yesh be-Ivrit?)
Sasha Lee: כמה זמנים יש בעברית? (Kama z'manim yesh be-Ivrit?)
Shlomit Shalom: .ישנם שלושה זמנים עיקריים בעברית (Yeshnam sh'losha zmanim eekari'im be-Ivrit.)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sasha Lee: כמה זמנים יש בעברית? (Kama z'manim yesh be-Ivrit?)
Michael: "How many tenses are there in Hebrew?"
Shlomit Shalom: ישנם שלושה זמנים עיקריים בעברית. (Yeshnam sh'losha zmanim eekari'im be-Ivrit.)
Michael: "There are three main tenses."

Lesson focus

Michael: English has three simple tenses: past, present, and future. The tense of the verb mainly refers to the 'time' of the action of the verb—whether it's the present, the past, or the future. In Modern Hebrew, we have the same three simple tenses: "present" or
Lenny: [NORMAL] הווה (ho-ve) [SLOWLY] הווה
Michael: "past" or
Lenny: [NORMAL] עבר (avar) [SLOWLY] עבר
Michael: and "future" or
Lenny: [NORMAL] עתיד (atid) [SLOWLY] עתיד.
Michael: This similarity makes it very simple for you if you speak English because you can use these tenses to creatively express thoughts and actions in a simpler way than with many other languages.
The one big difference is that, in Hebrew, there are more conjugations of each verb. The verb must agree in both gender and number with the subject.
In this lesson, you'll learn how a Hebrew verb changes in the simple present tense, past tense, and future tense. To demonstrate, we'll use the verb
Lenny: [NORMAL] ללמוד (lilmod) [SLOWLY] ללמוד
Michael: meaning "to study." This is a regular verb in the
Lenny: פעל (pa-al)
Michael: verb group. These are the most common verbs used in Hebrew, and they have the simplest conjugation.
Using three different sentences, we'll show you how this verb changes for the present, the past, and the future. Let's start with the present tense. Listen carefully:
Lenny: [NORMAL] אני לומד מתמטיקה (ani lomed matematika)
[SLOWLY] אני לומד מתמטיקה
Michael: This means "I study mathematics."
Lenny: לומד (lomed)
Michael: is the conjugation we use in the present tense. The root of "to study," or
Lenny: ללמוד (lilmod),
Michael: is
Lenny: ל-מ-ד (lamed - mem - dalet)
Michael: and, in the present tense, there is a
Lenny: ו (vav)
Michael: inserted between the first and second letters of the root. So, the simplest form of the verb "to study" is the masculine singular
Lenny: [NORMAL] לומד (lomed) [SLOWLY] לומד
Michael: This is the masculine singular. To conjugate for other subjects, such as the masculine plural, or feminine singular and plural, you would use the normal present tense endings. Let's practice saying those!
Michael: First, the masculine plural:
Lenny: [NORMAL] לומדים (lomdim) [SLOWLY] לומדים.
Michael: The feminine singular is:
Lenny: [NORMAL] לומדת (lomedet) [SLOWLY] לומדת
Michael: and the feminine plural is:
Lenny: [NORMAL] לומדות (lomdot) [SLOWLY] לומדות.
Michael: Remember that a verb in the present tense agrees with its subject in gender and number, but it does not inflect by person, so each verb has four present tense forms.
Michael: Okay, next up is the past tense. Listen carefully to the sentence meaning "Last year I studied music."
Lenny: [NORMAL] בשנה שעברה למדתי מוסיקה (ba'shana she'avra lamadeti musika.)
[SLOWLY] בשנה שעברה למדתי מוסיקה
Michael: The verb here is
Lenny: [NORMAL] למדתי (lamadeti) [SLOWLY] למדתי
Michael: or, "I studied." In the past tense of the regular verbs, you use the root letters of the verb with
Lenny: " (ah) vowels
Michael: in between them as the verb stem. Here, it is
Lenny: למד (lamad),
Michael: and you just add on the past tense suffix, according to the agreement with the subject. So, if you want to say "I studied," the suffix for "I" is
Lenny: תי- (ti)
Michael: so the verb stem becomes
Lenny: למדתי (lamadeti),
Michael: which means "I studied," both masculine and femine. Now, Let's see other conjugations. First, the masculine singular "you studied" is
Lenny: [NORMAL] למדת (lamadeta) [SLOWLY] למדת
Michael: and the feminine singular, though written the same, is
Lenny: [NORMAL] למדת (lamadet) [SLOWLY] למדת
Michael: And "we studied," both masculine and feminine, becomes:
Lenny: [NORMAL] למדנו (lamadnu) [SLOWLY] למדנו.
Michael: Finally, let's tackle the future tense! Future tense verbs inflect for person, number, and gender. The verb stem in the future is also just the root letters. So, "I will study," both masculine and feminine, is
Lenny: [NORMAL] אלמד (elmad) [SLOWLY] אלמד
Lenny: For the first person conjugation in the future tense, the letter א (alef) is added before the verb stem letters. This alef is marked with the niqqud םֵ (tserei) or םֶ (segol) and sounds like 'eh.'
Michael: Also, you'll notice that, in the future tense, we use both prefixes and suffixes to conjugate the verbs.
Let's practice the other singular conjugations for the future tense. First is the masculine "you will study"
Lenny: [NORMAL] תלמד (tilmad) [SLOWLY] תלמד
Michael: The feminine "you will study" is:
Lenny: [NORMAL] תלמדי (tilmedi) [SLOWLY] תלמדי
Michael: Then, "He will study" is:
Lenny: [NORMAL] ילמד (yilmad) [SLOWLY] ילמד
Michael: And "She will study" is:
Lenny: [NORMAL] תלמד (tilmad) [SLOWLY] תלמד
Michael: Did you notice that the 'you' masculine singular and the 'she' conjugations are the same? Make sure to check the lesson notes for the rest of the forms.
Michael: In this lesson, we learned that in Hebrew there are three main tenses: present, past, and future. To create the right tense, we take the verb stem and add a prefix or a suffix, conjugating it to agree with the subject in number and gender.
Michael: Because of the verb conjugations, Hebrew can seem a little more difficult than English. What's great, though, is that, in the present tense, you only have to learn four forms of the verb conjugation. And Hebrew is very consistent, so you'll be able to apply those four forms to most other verbs!
Also remember that, in the past and future tenses, personal pronouns are usually not present. So "I studied Hebrew" will just be two words:
Lenny: למדתי עברית (lamadeti ivrit)
Michael: Literally, "studied Hebrew." The subject 'I' is in the conjugation of the verb.
Cultural Insight
Michael: Before we end this lesson, did you know that Biblical Hebrew only had two tenses? It's true! These were the perfect and imperfect tenses. The past, present, and future tenses are related to time, whereas the Biblical Hebrew tenses, perfect and imperfect, are related to action. So, past, present, or future connotation depended on context!


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Lenny: !להתראות (lehitra'ot!)
Michael: See you soon!