grammatical function of Hebrew wayyiqtol
is plain future tense with no exceptions
is plain past tense with no exceptions
means "and + yiqtol". For example, wayyomer is "and he would say."
sometimes means "and + qatal," and other time reverses qatal into
"and he would say" construct refers to the past events. The narrator
actually employs wayyomer as future tense - but from the shifted deicted
center. The narrator is immersed into the recited events. He moves with the
timeline of his recital. For the narrator, the words after wayyomer are not yet
pronounced, but remain in future. He indeed means, "and he would say."
The narrator uses wayyomer as future tense.
records wayyiqtols and weyiqtols similarly. That suggests that separate form of
wayyiqtol and its grammatical function are invented.
that yiqtols are rarely used for past reference, but mostly wayiqtols.
That's extremely characteristic of recital. "And" is commonly inserted
specifically in recitals. Recall how often, for example, "and + verb"
is used in the Gospel of Mark.
center shifts are uncommon in English, but extremely common in old Russian which
is why I always found it completely natural to read Hebrew precisely, "and
he would say."
weqatal is often employed superficially as future reference. But that occurs
predominantly in prophetic visions. Prophets relate the visions which had
already occurred to them, which they had fully seen. The action is, indeed, past
to them - and they employ the past tense, wecatav means "and he wrote."
The event is still in the future for listeners, but past, occurred for the
also used to denote future, but highly assured actions (Ex25), considered as
done, past. Parallel to Russian strong command, "Íó-êà,
is purely phonetic. When the accent shifts onto the first syllable, unaccented
final syllable is sometimes lost.
is highly structured, and possesses intricate system of verb paradigms and
others forms. Intensity, causation, passivity, reversal (hophal), and other
relations are grammaticalized in verbs, possibly distinguishing more than thirty
paradigms. Grammaticalized are also possession and conjunction, tense or aspect
reversal (wayiqtol), and imperative mood. Hebrew is agglutinative language, and
emphasizes verbs. Every imaginable relation is thus grammaticalized in verbs. It
would be odd for so developed verb structure to lack tenses.
languages should grammaticalize the common concepts: verbs are generally used
with subject, and pronouns became affixes. Tenses are more needed than aspects,
and should have been grammaticalized before them.
commonly cited for absence of grammaticalized tenses, employs participle for
aspects and adverbs for tenses; aspects and tenses have grammatically similar
status. Chinese also has nothing like the Hebrew flexibility of verbs. It is not
difficult to conceive of a primitive or morphologically inflexible language that
relies on context to establish temporal reference. But when verbs have so many
inflexions as in Hebrew, it unlikely that time reference, a basis of human
thought, is not among them.
Tagalog is cited to the contrary. Yet, the fact that different grammars claim
either aspects or tenses in that language testifies to ambiguity of determining
the nuances of meaning in a language with no history of writing and heavily
affected by loans. The locals who use the same verb for “He ate; he has eaten;
he had eaten” but not for “he eat; he is eating” or “he will eat; he
will be eating” seem to relate tense rather than aspects.
are sufficiently important that Romance languages preserved them, though lost
many other features of Latin. Even pidgins and generally slang preserve tenses.
Hebrew recognizes aspects through paradigms. Qatal/ yiqtol forms etymologically
of the aspects theory assert that tenses are unnecessary because context makes
the time reference clear. That is a misuse of the term “context” which is
normally reserved for explicit details. Adverbial context in “Yesterday he study”
makes the time reference unambiguous, but such context is uncommon in Tanakh.
Past reference is contextually clear in the historical books of Tanakh, but
consider, for example, the last phrase of Isaiah 53:12 where explicit context
offers no guidance on the time reference. The tense hypothesis dictates reading
in the future tense. The aspects theory allows temporal flexibility, and makes
also possible the convenient past tense translation. Interpreters working from
the aspects theory present their exegetical views as context.
language would be very ambiguous, since completion is often open to doubt and
whether the action was prolonged or not is highly subjective; different writers
may describe the same process with different aspects. That flexibility makes the
aspect-only hypothesis attractive to biblical interpreters, and enables them to
adapt the text to exegetical needs.
Arameans wounded Joram in battle. Genesis2:6: mist was sent on earth. Neither of
these yiqtols is significantly continuous. Standard translations of the Bible
render only a minority of yiqtols as imperfective.
any action could be labeled continuous; all yiqtols could be claimed imperfect.
A hypothesis so flexible that no counterexample could be construed to test it is
the earth was void. Genesis38:21: there has been no harlot at Enaim. Use of
qatal for these and other past continuous shows that Hebrew accentuates time
rather than completion or continuity.
hypothesis of tenses passes Occam’s razor: it is the simplest, most
unambiguous way of translating verbs. Moreover, if Hebrew words have tenses,
then prefixes waw have plain meaning of tense reversal. The hypothesis of
aspects makes for more complex interpretation, and is inferior in Occam’s
is nothing enigmatic about Hebrew qatal/yiqtol verb forms: they are tenses.
Sometimes, a deictic center shifts. Sometimes, idioms etymologically based on
future tense acquire specialized meaning. But, by default, qatal refers to the
past, and yiqtol to the future. Explicit shift of the deictic center warrants a
different understanding. Even then, a translation must move a deictic center,
not redefine the tense. For example, Judges 9:38, “And Zebul said to him,
Where is your big talk now, you, who would [routinely] say…” rather than,
“you, who said” or “was saying.”
does not change the meaning of tenses. Future tense remains future, just the
deictic center shifts backwards. Narrator is transposed into the past events,
and what is past for his contemporaries, is now future for him.
Deictic center shift was the original
meaning of prefix waw, and tense reversal is derivative sense. "And he
would say" (wayiqtol) about past events and "and he said" (weqatal)
by a prophet who relates his vision - evolved into "he said" and
"he will say," respectively.
the tense hypothesis is correct, yiqtol should be used in descriptions of past
events much more often then qatal in the accounts of future. This is because
narrators are often mentally transposed into depicted events (and use future
tense for the past), while mostly prophets who describe their visions are
transposed into the future (and use past tense for already envisaged—not yet
happened—events). That deduction is consistent with facts.
tense hypothesis also explains a common mix of wayiqtols and weqatals in
prophecies. When a prophet relays his vision, he fluctuates between vision and
reality. Visions—something which he had seen—are described generally with
the past tense, qatal and wayiqtol. Reality is his presence among the listeners,
and prophet switches from live report to narration of the future events, thus
future tense, yiqtol and weqatal.
wayiqtols relate future events, "and + future tense verb" without
deictic center shift.
the tense hypotheses means answering a question: does the text generally make
sense if the verbs are read as having tenses rather than aspects? The hypothesis
could be disproved by examples of verbs meaningless in their tense, like "yesterday
he will say," or implausible.
definition of tenses involves a question of the deictic center, “past or
future relative to what?” In English, deictic center generally coincides with
the time of writing. Consider, however, “I told him, I will/would do it”
with future tense for the past reference; also, “He wouldn’t agree to any of
the options that were offered him.” Grammatical future tense may express
timeless reference, “Who would oppose such force?”
X will attend the conference tomorrow” in a year-old newspaper, and
“In a few days, he will become a new emperor” in a historical novel
have future tense referring to past events. In the first example, the events are
past from reader’s viewpoint, and in the second example – from the
writer’s. Yet, tenses are recognized in English.
some languages, notably Russian and Hebrew, deictic center shifts are widespread.
The deictic shifts are commonplace in ancient narrations whose authors are less
disciplined than modern historians; Thucydides routinely say, “Next” to
refer to the events long apart, but which are indeed next on his mind. The idea
behind deictic center shifts is emphasis: narrator is mentally transposed into
the events, and what is past for his readers or contemporaries, is still ahead
for him. Likewise, a prophet may be mentally transposed into his vision, and
describe some of the envisaged events as already past. The authors of Leviticus
list the items in procedural order rather than in the order of importance
how flexible the emphatic speech is in Russian: “He told me – get out! And I
as would tell him (êàê ñêàæó)
– let yourself went away (äà ïîøåë òû)!” or
“And I tell him (ÿ åìó
ãîâîðþ) – you
shall go (èäè òû)!” Just any combination of tenses occurs. Take the first clause,
"I met him." If a speaker imagines himself just before the event, he
uses future tense. If he imagines the encounter already taking place, he uses
present tense. If he does not imagine anything, and realizes his present, and
that he is talking of the past event, then he would use the past tense.
usage of tenses or, rather, of the deictic center, is literary. Emphatic speech
is commonplace in Russian: literary narration, historic accounts, agitated
speech, testimony at trial (e.g., a criminal speaking of his relations with
victim). Deictic shifts (ostensibly irregular use of tenses) in Tanakh are also
concentrated in emphatic lines.
examples demonstrate that wild swings of deictic center, indeed, occur in some
languages, and could explain Hebrew use of tenses. The examples also oppose
application of English grammatical mentality, with limited deictic center shifts,
to Hebrew. If deictic shifts, common in Russian, explain Hebrew usage of future
tense in similar environments, then likely Hebrews indeed understood future
tense in the same way as Russians, as prone to deictic shifts. If exactly the
same turn as ci-yiqtol exists in Russian, and makes perfect reading of Hebrew
text without compromising the future tense of yiqtol, then likely ci-yiqtol has
idiomatic meaning similar to the Russian.
language has idioms and specifics in using the word forms. A person unfamiliar
with English forms might interpret "I was going" as causative. How
could we know what Hebrews meant by "future in the past"? Only by
comparing those turns to similar turns in current languages. Russian has exactly
such turns, and English - remotely similar.
center shifts do not invalidate the concept of tenses. Rather, tenses relate to
the narrator’s deictic center, not to the time of writing. With that in mind,
Hebrew verb forms generally conform to the pattern of tenses.
shifts cannot be positively proved; no proposition could be proved in natural
sciences. The hypothesis of deictic shifts, however, is not unreasonable and
explains the facts, and thus might be accepted. In similar environments in
Russian, deictic shifts are universally accepted. Interpretation is ambiguous;
e.g., choosing a meaning of homonyms. Deictic center shifts are explicit in the
context: a yiqtol among qatals in a phrase in emphatic text. Identification of
deictic shifts is much less subjective than interpretation generally.
Kings 8:29, “King Joram settled in Jezreel to be healed from the wounds the
Arameans had inflicted (yiqtol) upon him.” The tangled narration moves from
Joram’s death (8:24) back to his wound (8:28). The confused writer shifted his
attention (and the deictic center) from settling in Jezreel to the previous
verse where Joram and Ahaziah lead army against Arameans. The writer’s
associations are clear: when he was to mention wounds from Arameans, he was
transposed to Joram moving against them, and wounds remained in future. Another
association was Ahaziah coming to see Joram in Jezreel (later in 8:29), and that
also transposed the writer to the same earlier account of Joram and Ahaziah
moving against Arameans.
2:10: “And a river would go (yiqtol) out of Eden to water the garden, and from
there it would part (yiqtol), would become (weqatal) four heads.” The writer
transposes himself into the beginning of the events; partition of the river is
still ahead of that deictic center. He lives the situation before the major
event he is going to describe, like a sports commentator reviewing a playback of
past match: "Now he will move forward." It is a sense of anticipation
- of the coming future. The "historic future," also existing in
Russian, indeed qualifies as future event - from narrator's shifted time
reference. Similar “historic present” is universally recognized in Russian
and English as stemming from deictic shift. If the text were read with the
participle ci implied, the actions described would acquire the sense of
future tense was also used to express relativity of past actions. English
developed a specific form, past perfect, to that end. Hebrew past/future and
English pre-past/past pairs express similar notion. Hebrew past perfect is
always explicit: a combination of future and past tenses with time clause.
Genesis 37:18, “and before he reached (yiqtol) them, they had plotted (wayiqtol)
to kill him.” Except for the convention of using past perfect with time
clauses, English “future in the past” comes even closer to Hebrew: “and
before he would reach them, they plotted to kill him.” The form possibly
implies deictic shift: narrator transposes himself to the time point between the
two actions; one action remains in the past (the plot is already a fact),
another – in the future (Joseph did not come yet).
employs future tense for what appears to be strong imperative mode. There is no
reason, however, to translate future as imperative: “You will not covet”
reading is not inferior to “You shall not covet,” and even agrees with
English and Russian stylistics. The commandments particularly are meant as
statements of the expected facts, not instructions, and “will” is preferable
to imperative “shall.” “Thou+yiqtol” is not semantically different from
“I+yiqtol,” yet the first is often categorized as imperative, while the last
– as future. A choice between translating as future or imperative is often
subjective. Language, and yiqtol in particular, has many shades of meaning,
rolling and intertwining; inventing a category for every such shade is
out cohortative yiqtol is hair-splitting. Adding suffix hey (participle na) just
softens the command. Russian similarly employs imperative with participle –ka
without the speakers recognizing them as separate mood.
of accent is the only grammatical difference between future and jussive. Strong
accent of jussive elongates u/i to o/e in ayn”waw,iod verbs.
cohortative and jussive are shades of meaning of future tense, and could be
translated as future.
Hebrew idiomatic expressions with future tense are paralleled in Russian, but
not in English. Genesis 37:15, “A man asked him, asking, What wilt thou (yiqtol)?”
Ultra-polite Russian equivalent, “×òî
employs future tense. The writer had unconsciously attributed to commoner piety
toward Joseph. Where the use of yiqtol for future tense seems wrong to English
and German translators, it is generally correct to Russian speakers, and might
be correct for Hebrew speakers.
sometimes describes habitual, prolonged, or anticipated action, often in the
idiomatic form ci-yiqtol. “And he spoke to her: `As I spoke (yiqtol) to Nabot
the Jezreelite , I told him...’”, 1 Kings 21:6. In the emphatic speech, Ahab,
the narrator, first imagined himself just before meeting Nabot. The deictic
center then shifted to the present (time of narration), and Ahab continued in
the past tense. That sounds wild under English speaking conventions, but
consider: “Every time I would speak to Nabot, I tell him…” or, “Now, I
speak to Nabot and tell him.” English is also mildly flexible in using tenses,
and allows for deictic center shifts inside a phrase. Deictic shift alone
explains the use of the future tense; Russian equivalent idiom, however,
suggests habitual action, and such action is plausible in the context.
narrator possibly had in mind not a single, but routine clash of Ahab and Nabot
over the vineyard. Also possible is a sense of prolonged rather than habitual
action: narrator relates the encounter in a few words, but keeps many more
issues (like the subsequent actions of the queen) implicit. English equivalent
“would always” is not formally future tense; it is, however, related to “will,”
and Russian preserves future tense in this idiom (êàê
âñòðå÷ó åãî, ãîâîðþ).
Russian, like Hebrew, employs “as” with the verb. Russian commonly uses the
idiom for highly anticipated events, “è êàê íàáðîñèòñÿ
he as would assault the enemy…” Habit, longevity, and anticipation are
intertwined, and not surprisingly all those shades of meaning could be
recognized in 1Kings 21:6.
is not incidental that habitual action was originally denoted by future tense,
though that meaning blurred in idiomatic usage. A narrator transposes
himself to the time reference point where some of the sequential events are
still ahead of him. Speaker is mentally transposed back; at least some meetings
are in the future for him. His deictic center shifts, and he employs future
Samuel 11:5 is an example of ci-yiqtol used for prolonged action, “What is
about the people that they should weep?”
in Genesis 32:33 parallels English “would never,” “Therefore the children
of Israel would never eat (yiqtol) the sinew…” Russian employs “historic
present,” “íå åäÿò,”
but could also use future tense, “íå
Abstinence remains in the future for the narrator transposed into the event that
caused the abstinence.
related idiom, ca-asher yiqtol, describes comparable habitual action.
Deuteronomy 1:44 "they pursued you, as the bees would [habitually] do (yiqtol)."
bees would take the place of the pursuers, the bees would behave thus. Narrator
mentally clears the pursuers off the table, puts bees in their place, and
expects the bees to operate similarly. New deictic center is the moment of
putting bees on the table, and their actions are in the future.
mode of thinking, of the deictic center shift, is purely conventional. Russian
allows both future (êàê áóäóò ïðåñëåäîâàòü ï÷åëû, as
the bees would pursue) and, more conventionally, grammatical past form (êàê
ï÷åëû ïðåñëåäîâàëè áû, as the bees might have pursued). In
the last case, the narrator is detached, his deictic center is in the present,
and he relays of the past events.
is it important to follow the future-related meaning of yiqtol rather than to
translate the verbs as suits the context? One reason is the same as for use of
idioms: to make the text vibrant. Compare Job 1:5, “Thus Job did all the time”
and “Thus Job would do all the time.”
reason for literal translation is that it limits exegesis that interpreters
introduce into translation.
originally meant future tense. Idioms with yiqtol eventually lost the sense of
future, and took on idiomatic meaning. The etymological sense of future
reference is often traceable in idioms, usually through deictic shifts. Hebrew
usage of future in idioms is paralleled in Russian, and, if we accept
“would” as related to “will” and etymologically to the future tense, is
also paralleled in English. That must be more than a coincidence, and reinforces
the argument that Hebrew idioms are semantically related to the future tense:
narrators of important accounts re-live the events, are mentally transposed back
before the events they describe as future reference; they pause before a major
event in awe, and the event is in the future for them. The partition of the
river of Eden is past for us or for the first readers, but it was in the
immediate future for the narrator whose time reference point shifted back in
originally a past tense of “will,” parallels yiqtol’s use for past
reference. “Would” eventually became specialized for idiomatic use, and
interchangeable with “will” in some environments to reflect subtle shades of
meaning. Yiqtol remained equivalent of English will/would. Spanish, for example,
also do not differentiate (like will/would) between future reference and future
tense idioms; Italian employs future in conditional future constructs (if) where
English employs “would.”
idioms and deictic shifts do not invalidate tenses in those languages, and
should not in Hebrew. The large ratio of deictic shifts and idioms to all
yiqtols in Tanakh is not representative of the Hebrew: Tanakh contains much of
emphatic narrations and prophecies where deictic shifts are much more common
than in regular speech. Intensely figurative style of Tanakh also expectedly
contains unusually many idioms. Literary English similarly employs the turns
with “would” much more often than the colloquial language. The writers of
Tanakh passed their work for ancient writings, and spiced it with idioms, odd
turns, and otherwise unpopular wayiqtols.
translations render only a minority (40% in RSV) of yiqtols as future tense.
Other groups are, however, much smaller. Present tense makes 25% of yiqtols;
many of them could be translated as future tense, cf. the example of Genesis
37:15. Imperative makes 16% of yiqtols; translating those as imperative rather
than future is a matter of very questionable convention. Yiqtols in idioms are
often translated as modal, though they should be rendered with “would.” Past
tense translation of yiqtols is often “future in the past,” and should be
rendered with future tense.
who do not accept the future tense with deictic shifts and idioms, wind up
inventing a separate mood for every turn and every idiom. And then, they claim
that those moods are "not exactly" future, that they are something
hypothetical else. Of course, there are shades of meaning. But using English
phrase, "You will do it" as a command does not invalidate general use
of "will" as future tense. Likewise, yiqtol is future tense, sometimes
used for idioms that derived from future tense semantics.
mentality and moulds of English and German languages make the future tense of
such idioms incomprehensible for translators. Russian speakers have no
difficulty recognizing deictic shifts behind the use of future tense in idioms
and for the past reference.
accent shift in wayiqtol has to do with secondary accent on wa. Such
seems to me that most wayiqtols have penultimate accent, but that it is
placement variation among various verb stems seems to me to do with moraic
stress, wayyOmer, watE-dabEr. That could be important in chanting or recital.
might have extra-Masoretic evidence. Hexapla shows wayiqtols with ou,