Learning to Read Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar

By Robert Ray Ellis | Go to book overview

Lesson 20
CONNOTATIONS OF
VERB TENSES AND STEMS

20A CONNOTATIONS OF VERB TENSES AND STEMS
In order to simplify the process of learning the verb, the discussion thus far has focused on one basic meaning for each of the tenses (perfect and imperfect) and stems (qal, nifal, etc.). However, verb tenses and stems are actually capable of expressing a broad range of connotations, which is the subject of this lesson.
1. Connotations of verb tenses
a. As previously discussed, the perfect and imperfect tenses of the indicative verb do not convey the temporal ideas of past, present, or future in the way that English tenses do. Instead the Hebrew perfect typically indicates a completed action or state, while the imperfect usually indicates an incomplete action or state. The following chart elaborates on these basic distinctions.1
PerfectImperfect
(1) The perfect implies the perspective of an outsider, viewing an event or state as a unity or whole from beginning to end.(1) The imperfect implies the perspective of an insider, viewing an event or state as something that is unfolding
(2) The perfect usually connotes an action or state that is instantaneous and singular. It may view a series of events as a unified whole.(2) The imperfect connotes an action or state that is continuing. It often conveys a pluraity of events that are repetitive or that extend over a period of time.
b. While Hebrew tenses are not limited to temporal notions of past, present, or future, English tenses are. Thus a translator must determine which English tense appropriately conveys the notion of a Hebrew verb based upon the context in

1 See Joüon, §111c; Kautzsch, §106a, 107a; and Seow, 147.

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