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The conversive function of waw

Waw is a reversing device.

Nominative suffix shuruk could distinguish passive nouns from active verbs, catav - davaru.[1]

Infix waw reverses the verbs into passive mode, hofal and paol. Unstressed vocal waw in hofal reduced from long [o] to [u]. Waw in paol changed from long [o] to [u] to differentiate from imperative.

Waw makes the participles passive, catuv.

Waw is used as conjunction meaning but or contraposing and which reverses the sense of the previous clause.

Many Hebrew words have the opposite meanings, like nzr (bring forward, conceal); they might originally contain waw conversive to denote the antonym form, but that waw was lost.[2]

Future tense was originally produced from the past tense by adding prefix waw. That was confusing because waw also served as conjunction without tense reversal.


Since the introduction of the affix-based future tense (tichtov), prefix waw construction of the FT became archaic. Prefix waw became symmetrically employed to build past tense verbs from the FT to affect the sense of archaism and – because of the waw usage as conjunction – the sense of recital (and he would say). Thus waw conversive is only used in the beginning of clauses.

Recital and tense conversion are related through deictic center shift. The writer is immersed in the events long past, and employs future tense.

Wayiqtols were originally weyiqtols. Hexapla records both with ou, and shows no gemination. The Masoretic vocalization drew secondary stress to wa-, and caused post-tonic gemination (wAttictOv) similar to prefix ha (hAddavAr). Secondary accent pulled the word’s accent, wAtictOv – watIctov. Slower intonation of recital and tendency of stressing even vowels in verbs also worked to shift the accent.

Patah in wa, however, is not a Masoretic invention. The Masoretes already heard some wayiqtols short. The reduction of unaccented final vowel could only happen because of the accent shift which in turn was caused by the secondary accent on wa.

Waw in wayiqtols was vocalized with short [ae], produced by two schwas in a row, t’c’tov (tictov) – w’t’c’tov - wet’c’tov – wetictov. That sound usually resembles hirek, but is closer to patah in wayiqtols. One reason is intonation: conjunction we similarly becomes wa in phrase-final words. Prefix wi would sound unpleasant, especially when hirek was already employed in pronominal prefixes (*witiqtol).

The Masoretic weyiqtol could equal wayiqtol where the intonation for some reason did not change prefix we into wa. Waw a conjunction, weyiqtol could be “and FT” rather than past tense. The grammatical innovation of waw reversing the future tense proved ambiguous.





[1] The vocal suffix confirmed the final consonant which is weak in nouns.

[2] 3ms pronoun hu’ possibly contains waw reversive. The pronoun might consist of the definite article hey, and waw reverses “this” (hey) into “that, it, he.”