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Lesson Transcript


Michael: How are sentences structured in Hebrew?
Lenny: And are the rules rigid?
Michael: At HebrewPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Ben Lee, a foreign-exchange student, thinks he sees a famous Israeli singer as he's walking with his friend Arik Aharon in central Tel Aviv. He gestures to his friend, who then notices the celebrity and responds,
"I know him, it's Shalom Hanoch."
Arik Aharon: .אני מכיר אותו, זה שלום חנוך (Ani makir oto, ze Shalom Hanoch.)
Arik Aharon: .אני מכיר אותו, זה שלום חנוך (Ani makir oto, ze Shalom Hanoch.)
Ben Lee: .גם אני מכיר אותו (Gam ani makir oto.)
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Arik Aharon: .אני מכיר אותו, זה שלום חנוך
Michael: "I know him, it's Shalom Hanoch."
Ben Lee: .גם אני מכיר אותו
Michael: "I know him too."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we'll focus on sentence structure in Hebrew. This dictates the way sentences are spoken, written, and understood. You may know that, in English, the most common and widely used sentence structure is subject, verb, object, often abbreviated as S-V-O. Take the sentence, "I study Hebrew," for example. In this sentence, "I" is the subject, "study" is the verb, and "Hebrew" is the object. We see here the S-V-O sentence structure at play.
Michael: Luckily for native English speakers, the sentence structure in Hebrew is the same as in English. Let's see the same sentence in Hebrew:
Lenny: .אני לומד עברית (Ani lomed Ivrit.)
Michael: First is the subject, "I,"
Lenny: אני (ani)
Michael: next is the verb, "study,"
Lenny: לומד (lomed)
Michael: and last is the object, "Hebrew,"
Lenny: עברית (Ivrit)
Michael: Now, let's see how the "subject, verb, object" structure applies to the following sentence from the dialogue:
Lenny: .אני מכיר אותו, זה שלום חנוך (Ani makir oto, ze Shalom Hanoch.)
Michael: the same structure applies to the portion
Lenny: .אני מכיר אותו (Ani makir oto.)
Michael: First is the subject, "I,"
Lenny: אני (ani)
Michael: next is the verb, "know,"
Lenny: מכיר (makir)
Michael: and last is the object, "him,"
Lenny: אותו (oto)
Michael: There are some other grammatical differences between Hebrew and English that constitute a unique word order. For example, in Hebrew, there are no present forms of the verbs "to be" and "to have." For example, "I'm Ben" is
Lenny: אני בן (Ani Ben),
Michael: which literally means "I Ben," but translates as "I'm Ben." In such cases, the verb is not included in the sentence at all. Still, the meaning is easily understood based on context.
Michael: Another difference is that, in Hebrew, verbs are conjugated based on the pronoun doing the verb. For this reason, subject pronouns can be used, but they're not required because the subject is usually implied based on the conjugated form of the verb. In order to say, "I went to the market" in Hebrew, we can say
Lenny: אני הלכתי לשוק (Ani halakhti la'shuk).
Michael: However, we can also say:
Lenny: הלכתי לשוק (halakhti la'shuk)
Michael: in which we omit the subject pronoun, yet the overall meaning is still clear. Note that the order can be modified in some cases, such as, for emphasis, so it's still possible to have the verb come before the subject. For example,
Lenny: .לשוק אני הלכתי (la'shuk ani halakhti)
Michael: Literally, the sentence translates to "To the market I went." Such an uncommon word order would usually be used to convey a different nuance and is not commonly used. This sentence, for example, might be a reply to the question, "Where did you go?" Thus, we change the word order to emphasize a particular piece of information, or to simply change our speaking style.
However, as noted, the norm is the same as in English; the subject will come before the verb.
Michael: So far, we have learned that, although the subject-verb-object structure is dominant in Hebrew, some elements can be removed. This is because, in Hebrew, some elements, like the present tense of the verb "to be," don't exist and we change the form of the words to convey certain meanings, rather than changing the entire sentence.
Cultural Insight
Michael: Modern Hebrew word order has changed significantly since Biblical times, which is good news for you. Whereas the word order in Biblical Hebrew has verbs coming before both the subject and predicate, modern Hebrew usually follows the same basic sentence structure as English, where the predicate is a verb: Subject-Predicate.


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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