Learn New Words FAST with this Lesson’s Vocab Review List

Get this lesson’s key vocab, their translations and pronunciations. Sign up for your Free Lifetime Account Now and get 7 Days of Premium Access including this feature.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript


Michael: How does formal Hebrew work?
Lenny: And when is it used?
Michael: At HebrewPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following
situation: Hadar Horowitz, a high-school student, is at his neighbor friend's house. He's thirsty and asks his friend's mother, Karen Lee: "May I please have a glass of water?"
Hadar Horowitz: ?האם אוכל בבקשה לקבל כוס מים (Ha'im ukhal bevakasha lekabel kos ma'im?)
Hadar Horowitz: ?האם אוכל בבקשה לקבל כוס מים (Ha'im ukhal bevakasha lekabel kos ma'im?)
Karen Lee: .כמובן, ברצון רב (Kamuvan, be-ratson rav.)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Hadar Horowitz: ?האם אוכל בבקשה לקבל כוס מים (Ha'im ukhal bevakasha lekabel kos ma'im?)
Michael: "May I please have a glass of water?"
Karen Lee: .כמובן, ברצון רב (Kamuvan, be-ratson rav.)
Michael: "Of course, very willingly."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we will focus on formal ways to use words and expressions in Hebrew. There is actually no such thing as 'formal Hebrew', but, in formal situations, you can adapt the way you say things in order to sound more polite.
Let's look at some examples!
Lenny: ?מאין את (Me-ayin at?)
Michael: "Where are you from?" This phrase consists of two words. The first word is:
Lenny: מאין (me-ayin)
Michael: meaning 'from where.' Think of it as being similar to the old English term, 'from whence.' This phrase is not one that you would use in day-to-day Hebrew, but you can use it in more formal settings or an educational setting.
The second part of the phrase is:
Lenny: את (at)
Michael: which is the feminine form of 'you'. If you are addressing a woman, you will use the feminine form. The masculine form of "you" in Hebrew is
Lenny: אתה (atah)
Michael: If you are addressing a man, you will use the masculine form.
Michael: Now, let's practice. Repeat after the native speaker. First, the feminine:
Lenny: [NORMAL] ?מאין את (Me-ayin at?) [SLOWLY] ?מאין את
Michael: "Where are you from?" Now, the masculine form:
Lenny: [NORMAL] ?מאין אתה (Me-ayin atah?) [SLOWLY] ?מאין אתה
Michael: "Where are you from?"
Michael: The order of the words is different from English. You should remember that the verb "to be" is implied here because there is no other verb present. So, the literal word-for-word translation would be "from where you?"'
Michael: Well, I'm sure you're wondering how to answer such a formally-worded question. The answer is easy: it's the same as the informal! So, to answer this question, you would say:
Lenny: אני מ (ani mi-)
Michael: and then the place where you are from.
Lenny: אני (ani)
Michael: means 'I' and
Lenny: מ (mi)
Michael: means 'from.' Here again, we have an implied 'to be' verb. Now, let's answer the question!
Lenny: אני מקנדה. (Ani mi-kanada.)
Michael: "I'm from Canada."
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at our original dialogue. Do you remember how Hadar says, "May I please have a glass of water?"
[4 seconds]
Lenny as Hadar Horowitz: ?האם אוכל בבקשה לקבל כוס מים
Michael: Did you notice that Hadar used an extra word at the beginning of the sentence?
Lenny: האם (ha-im)
Michael: Its literal meaning is "does?" or "is?"
It is a question word, but you would only use it with questions that require a "yes" or "no" answer. You can use it at the start of a question if you want to make it sound more formal. In our dialogue, Hadar uses this word when addressing his friend's mom because she is older than him and he wants to be polite.
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now let's take a look at our second sentence. Do you remember how the friend's mom, Karen Lee, answers: "Of course, very willingly"?
[4 seconds]
Lenny as Karen Lee: .כמובן, ברצון רב
Michael: Karen Lee is addressing Hadar, who is younger than her. It would be acceptable for her to simply answer with "of course," but she wants to match Hadar's politeness, so she adds the phrase
Lenny: ברצון רב (be-ratson rav)
Michael: meaning "very willingly." But what does that actually mean? Well, it's similar to the English version and simply means that the speaker is doing something gladly and of their own free will. Historically, "very willingly" was a polite Hebrew phrase, as is evident from ancient scripts.
Michael: Let's summarize what we've learned so far. The informal way to say "May I please have a glass of water?" is
Lenny: ?אוכל בבקשה לקבל כוס מים (ukhal bevakasha lekabel kos ma'im?)
Michael: and its formal counterpart is:
Lenny: ?האם אוכל בבקשה לקבל כוס מים (Ha'im ukhal bevakasha lekabel kos ma'im?)
Michael: A polite way to respond is:
Lenny: .כמובן, ברצון רב (Kamuvan, be-ratson rav.)
Michael: "Very willingly." You can use this response in many situations, as it's not overly formal.
Michael: In Hebrew, many formal words and phrases are only really used in announcements—for example, at an airport or train station. These can be difficult to understand if you don't know the language!
What do public announcements usually start with? You guessed it: addressing the audience. Here's a typical way this kind of message starts:
Lenny: [NORMAL] נוסעים נכבדים (nos-im nikhbadim) [SLOWLY] נוסעים נכבדים
Michael: This means "dear passengers." If you hear this on an intercom, you can be sure there's an announcement coming. Here's an example:
Lenny: נוסעים נכבדים, סליחה על התקלה ותודה על הסבלנות (nos-im nikhbadim, slikha al ha'takala ve'toda al ha'savlanut)
Michael: "Dear passengers, Sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience." This is a common phrase in public announcements. You might also hear:
Lenny: עמכם הסליחה (imkhem ha'slikha) [SLOWLY] עמכם הסליחה
Michael: "Please accept our apology." It literally means "the forgiveness is with you."
But what about announcements that ask the public to do an action? Well, then you might hear the formal word
Lenny: מתבקש (mitbakesh)
Michael: which literally means "is requested," but can also translate as "please." It's a formal way of requesting people to do something. Think of it as similar to the English, "it is required." Let's hear that one again:
Lenny: [NORMAL] מתבקש (mitbakesh) [SLOWLY] מתבקש
Michael: Here's a great example of how it is used:
Lenny: לשירת ההמנון, הקהל מתבקש לעמוד (le'shirat ha'himnon ha'kahal mitbakesh la'amod)
Michael: Literally meaning "For the national anthem, the audience is requested to stand up,"
One other time you may hear formal language in Hebrew is in official phone recordings. Say, for example, you want to top up your Israeli phone card. The message you get could sound something like this:
Lenny: ניתן להטעין את הכרטיס בכל תחנות הדלק, בכל סניפי הדואר או דרך האתר שלנו (nitan lehat'in et ha'kartis be'khol takhanot ha'delek, be'khol snifei ha'do-ar o derekh ha'atar shelanu.)
Michael: "You can recharge the card at any gas station, post office, or on our internet site." Did you hear the word at the beginning?
Lenny: ניתן (nitan)
Michael: Well, we use
Lenny: ניתן
Michael: plus a verb in the infinitive as a formal way of telling someone they can do something. This word is often used in formal language to say "it's given" or "it's possible," When combined with an infinitive,
Lenny: ניתן (nitan)
Michael: takes on the meaning of "it is possible to."


Michael: In this lesson, you learned the main facts about formal Hebrew. Usually, Israelis tend to be friendly and informal, and most conversations in Hebrew use informal language. You're most likely only going to encounter formal language in situations like we discussed above.
Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Lenny: !להתראות (lehitra'ot!)
Michael: See you soon!