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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What are some noun prefixes in Hebrew?
Lenny: And why are they useful to know?
Michael: At HebrewPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following scenario: Sasha studies for her language exam together with her classmate, Renana. She sees an unknown word and asks,
"What does"beyn-leumi" mean?"
Sasha Lee: "?מה זה אומר "בינלאומי (Ma ze omer "beyn-leumi?")
Sasha Lee: "?מה זה אומר "בינלאומי (Ma ze omer "beyn-leumi?")
Renana Reuven: ."international" זה אומר (Ze omer "international.")
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sasha Lee: "?מה זה אומר "בינלאומי (Ma ze omer "beyn-leumi?")
Michael: "What does"beyn-leumi" mean?"
Renana Reuven: ."international" זה אומר (Ze omer "international.")
Michael: "It means "international.""

Lesson focus

Michael: In linguistics, prefixes are added before a root word to give a new meaning to it. The Hebrew language uses many prefixes, and in this lesson we'll see some of them.
Just like in the English language, Hebrew noun prefixes represent a fixed idea. When appended to regular Hebrew nouns, they add a new meaning to the word they are attached to, either by making the word negative, expressing relations of time, place, and manner, and so on.
Michael: To understand how Hebrew noun prefixes work, let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Sasha Lee says "What does "beyn-leumi" mean?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Lenny as Sasha Lee: "?מה זה אומר "בינלאומי (Ma ze omer "beyn-leumi?")
Michael: Here, we have the word
Lenny: בינלאומי (beyn-leumi)
Michael: or "international." The prefix is
Lenny: בינ (beyn),
Michael: which is the equivalent of the English prefix "inter-," meaning "between." This gives us the idea that the root word here is
Lenny: לאומי (leumi)
Michael: or "national," referring to a country or nation. Adding the prefix "inter," or
Lenny: בינ (beyn),
Michael: we now have a new word
Lenny: בינלאומי (beyn-leumi)
Michael: "International," referring to something being carried between two nations or more. Let's see other words with the same prefix, for example
Lenny: בֵּין-יַבַּשְׁתִי (beyn yabashti),
Michael: which means "intercontinental," or
Lenny: בֵּין-עִירוֹנִי (beyn ironi),
Michael: which means "intercity." Next, we have the prefix
Lenny: בִּלְתִי (bilti).
Michael: This prefix could mean "not" or "non," as in the word
Lenny: בִּלְתִי-אֶפְשָׁרִי (bilti efshari)
Michael: or "impossible." Another word carrying this prefix is
Lenny: בִּלְתִי-נִרְאֶה (bilti nir'eh),
Michael: which means "invisible." Finally, we have the prefix
Lenny: אי (ee).
Michael: This prefix is derived from
Lenny: אין (en),
Michael: which literally means "nothing" or "there is none." We use this prefix in words such as
Lenny: אי הבנה (ee havana)
Michael: or "misunderstanding." The root word is
Lenny: הבנה (havana),
Michael: which means "understanding." The addition of the prefix produced the opposite meaning of the original word it was attached to.
Michael: So far, you learned that Hebrew words can get their meaning from a syllable attached in front of the stem. Looking at the prefix will give you an idea about what the word could mean.
Before proceeding, let's clarify that in Hebrew there are two different types of prefixes. First are
Lenny: אוֹתִיּוֹת הַשִּׁמּוּשׁ (otiyot ha'shimush)
Michael: or "formative letters." Second are
Lenny: לֹא אוֹתִיּוֹת הַשִּׁמּוּשׁ (lo otiyot ha'shimush)
Michael: or "non formative letters." The prefixes we saw so far
Lenny: בינ (beyn), בִּלְתִי (bilti), אי (ii) and אין (ein)
Michael: are from this second group. There are other prefixes belonging to this category that we haven't covered. The most important feature of these prefixes is that they come from Greek and Latin.
Michael: Let's now focus on the first category of prefixes that serve multiple purposes. For example, they can serve as a conjunction, preposition, definite article, or interrogative.
Michael: For instance, one prefix that serves as a conjunction is
Lenny: ו (Vav).
Michael: This is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but, when functioning as a prefix, it takes the form of the conjunction "and," as in
Lenny: וֵהוּא (ve'hu)
Michael: "and he…" and
Lenny: וּבַיוֹם‎ (uvayom)
Michael: "and on the day…" When it comes to prepositions, Hebrew has four prefixes functioning in this category, three of which are inseparable prepositions. These are
Lenny: ל (Lamed),
Michael: which means "to" or "for,"
Lenny: ב‎ (Bet),
Michael: meaning "in," "with," or "by," and
Lenny: כ‎ (Kaf),
Michael: meaning "as" or "like." These three are considered inseparable prepositions because no other word can come between them and the word they modify. For instance, take the word
Lenny: לְמֶלֶךְ‎ (le'melekh),
Michael: which means "to a king." Here, we used the prefix "to," or
Lenny: ל (Lamed)
Michael: We mentioned that there are four prefixes that serve as prepositions. The fourth one is the character
Lenny: מ‎ (Mem)
Michael: which functions as the preposition "from," as in
Lenny: מֵאָדָם‎ (me'adam)
Michael: or "from a man." As for the Hebrew prefix that functions as a definite article, we have
Lenny: ה‎ (He)
Michael: which takes on the meaning "the," such as in
Lenny: הָרֹאשׁ (ha'rosh)
Michael: or "the head." It's interesting to note that this same prefix can also function as an interrogative and be used to indicate a question, such as in
Lenny: ?הֲיֵ֣שׁ לָכֶ֣ם אָ֔ח (ha'yesh lakhem ‘ah?)
Michael: or "Do you have a brother?"
Michael: The letters that form the Hebrew prefixes, which are referred to as "formative letters," or in Hebrew,
Lenny: אוֹתִיּוֹת הַשִּׁמּוּשׁ (otiyot ha'shimush)
Michael: are actually composed of half of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and you have encountered a few of them already. These letters are represented by the mnemonic
Lenny: איתן משה וכלב (Eitan, Moshe, ve'kalev)
Michael: or "Ethan, Moses, and Caleb." These letters are
Lenny: א (Aleph), ב (Bet), ה (He), ו (Vav), י (Yud), כ (Kaf), ל (Lamed), מ (Mem), נ (Nun), ש (Shin), and ת (Tav).


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

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