Recognizing Hebrew Verbs in Scripture

When you’re first learning biblical Hebrew, one of the best ways to memorize verbs is to see them in scripture. You already know what the verse says in your native language, so that’s a great context for learning these new words. As you look for those words in your Hebrew Bible, you’ll get used to seeing them. They will start to jump out on the page, which means you will more easily recognize them in other verses as well. Then you can practice saying the Hebrew verbs while reading the rest of the verse in your native language.

I recommend starting with verbs that are third person masculine singular — often notated as 3ms (for 3rd masculine singular) — and preferably present tense. That would be verbs like “he says,” “he goes,” “he does.” (Think about English grammar: he/she/it is third person singular, and “he” would be masculine.)

The reason for choosing a 3ms present tense verb is that it’s the simplest form in Hebrew and closest to the root. Other verb conjugations can be more difficult to memorize, especially if you haven’t learned biblical Hebrew grammar yet. Sometimes when conjugated, verbs lose some of their root letters! They also add prefixes and suffixes. So keep it simple to start with, until you start learning more about how verbs are constructed.

You can choose whatever way you prefer to learn the verbs in a Hebrew Bible verse. You can keep your Hebrew Bible side by side with a Bible in your native language, and keep your finger pointed at the Hebrew verb as you read through the verse.

You can also write the Hebrew verb on a flashcard and be holding it up while you read the verse in your native language. Pause when you get to the Hebrew word and look at the flashcard. As you start to learn the Hebrew verb, turn the flashcard upside down and see if you can say it without looking.

If you have Bible software or an app that shows the Hebrew words through interlinear text, you can color-highlight the Hebrew verbs you want to practice. Do whatever works best for you. You will figure it out as you go along.

Let’s start with a Bible verse that’s good for practicing biblical Hebrew verbs in 3ms present tense: Psalm 1:1. Following are three verbs to practice in this verse. The italics show which syllable is stressed, which in biblical Hebrew is often — not always — the final syllable. In this example, all three words are stressed on the final syllable. The “a” vowel in all of these words is pronounced like the “a” in “father.” (If you are still learning the Hebrew alphabet, here is a great place to review and keep learning.)

ha-lakh — he walks — הָלַך

a-mad — he stands — עָמַד

ya-shav — he sits — יָשַׁב

Here is the verse in English from the NIV with those Hebrew words added in:

“Blessed is the one who does not הָלַך (ha-lakh — walk) in step with the wicked or עָמַד (a-mad — stand) in the way that sinners take or יָשַׁב (ya-shav — sit) in the company of mockers,”

Hebrew words are so different sounding from words in my native English. I had no natural context for memorizing these words, so I had to get very creative. Here are the ways I was able to learn these three verbs:

הָלַך — ha-lakh means “walk.” I remember this word by thinking, “I like (ha-lakh) to stroll along the beach.” Or as we say here in the South, with our Southern accent, “Ah lakh to stroll along the beach.”

עָמַד — a-mad means “stand.” This word sounds to me like, “I’m mad.” Sometimes people stand for emphasis when they get mad, or they make a stand or take a stand. So, “I’m mad” is how I remember a-mad. Of course, the meaning of this word has nothing to do with being angry. So it’s important to disconnect the memory device from the meaning. It’s simply a way to remember what the actual word is, and then you can dig into the lexicon to find the contextual meaning.

יָשַׁב — ya-shav means “sit.” In casual English, I might say, “Ya shoved me into my seat!” “Ya shoved” sounds similar to ya-shav. That is how I remember the biblical Hebrew word for “sit.”

Feel free to use these memory devices or make up your own creative ways to remember biblical Hebrew words. The important thing is keep learning, practicing, and reading scripture with biblical Hebrew words. The more you do this, the more you will learn and remember. And through it all, you’re reading and speaking scripture, and that’s getting God’s Word into your heart. What a great way to spend time with God while learning the original language of the Old Testament. Shalom. שָׁלוֹם

Interested in getting a taste of biblical Hebrew? There’s more to discover on my Biblical Hebrew Lessons page.

Copyright © 2022 by Janet Eriksson


Janet Eriksson is an intercessor, writer, and teacher in Dahlonega, Georgia. She loves conversation with friends, front porch swings, sweet tea, and spending time on lakes and rivers. The author of nine books and editor of many more, Janet blogs and teaches at Adventures with God. She enjoys volunteering with Kerri Johnson Ministries. Janet received her M. Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary.

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