Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar/145. Agreement between the Members of a Sentence, especially between Subject and Predicate, in respect of Gender and Number

§145. Agreement between the Members of a Sentence, especially between Subject and Predicate, in respect of Gender and Number.

145a 1. As in other languages, so also in Hebrew, the predicate in general conforms to the subject in gender and number (even when it is a pronoun, e.g. זֹאת בְּרִיתִי this is my covenant, Gn 1710). There are, however, numerous exceptions to this fundamental rule. These are due partly to the constructio ad sensum (where attention is paid to the meaning rather than to the grammatical form; see b–l below), partly to the position of the predicate (regarded as being without gender) before the subject.

145b 2. Singular nouns which include in themselves a collective idea (§123a), or which occasionally have a collective sense (§123b), may readily, in accordance with their meaning, be construed with the plural of the predicate, whether it precedes or follows. This is also the case, when the collective is itself feminine but represents, exclusively or at least generally, masculine persons.


145c (a) Of collectives proper (cf. §132g): (α) with the predicate preceding, Gn 3038 תָּבֹ֫אןָ הַצֹּאן (cf. 30:39, 31:8 and 33:13); Ju 122 f. בַּ֫יִת representing persons belonging to the tribe; Mi 43 גּוֹי; 2 K 255 חַ֫יִל army; Pr 1126 לְאוֹם the people; Nu 103 כָּל־הָֽעֵדָה all the congregation (cf. 1 K 85); 1 K 140, Is 98, 253, Am 15 עַם; 1 S 1747, Ezr 1012 קָהָל assembly. Cf. also the construction of national names, as אֲרָם (§122i), e.g. 1 K 2020 וַיָּנֻ֫סוּ אֲרָם and the Syrians fled; 1 S 45.—(β) with the predicate following, 1 K 85 צֹאן וּבָקָר sheep and oxen, construed with the plural in the following relative clause; Jb 114 הַבָּקָר הָיוּ חֹֽרְשׁוֹת the cattle (cows) were ploughing; 2 S 31 and 1 Ch 106 בַּ֫יִת=family (in 1 S 613 בֵּית שֶׁ֫מֶשׁ on the analogy of names of countries, is used for the inhabitants of Bethshemesh); Ho 117, Ezr 44 עַם; ψ 6811 חַיָּה herd [if correct, figuratively for people]; Is 2619 נְבֵלָה dead bodies; Is 2711 קָצִיר boughs; 1 S 41 יִשְׂרָאֵל, preceded by a predicate in the singular.

145d (b) Of substantives occasionally used as collectives: (α) with the predicate preceding, Gn 3424 זָכָר; Ju 955, 1510 אִישׁ; Is 164 רֹמֵס the treader down.—(β) with the predicate following, Jb 819 אַחֵר=others; Ez 283 סָתוּם a secret; [ψ 97, and even after זֶה Jb 1919.]

145e (c) Of feminines as collective terms denoting masculine persons: (α) with the predicate preceding, 1 S 1746 וְיֵדְעוּ כָּל־הָאָרֶץ that all the earth may know, the i.e. all the inhabitants of the earth; cf. Dt 928, ψ 661, 961, 9, &c.; Am 18 שְׁאֵרִית remnant; (ψ 338 כָּל־הָאָ֫רֶץ).—(β) with the predicate following, Gn 4157, 2 S 1523, 1 K 1024, Gn 486 מוֹלֶ֫דֶת issue; 1 S 233 כָּל־מַרְבִּית all the increase; Jb 3012 פִּרְחָח rabble. In Hag 27 read חֲמֻדֹת with the LXX.

145f Examples of predicates in the singular, notwithstanding the collective meaning of the subject, occur in Gn 3511, Ex 1024, 1410, Dt 139, &c.—For examples of bold enallage of the number in noun-clauses with a substantival predicate, see above, §141c.

145g Rem. Not infrequently the construction begins in the singular (especially when the predicate precedes; see o below), but is carried on, after the collective subject has been mentioned, in the plural; e.g. Ex 120 מְאֹד וַיִּ֫רֶב הָעָם וַיַּֽעַצְמוּ and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty; 33:4.

145h 3. On the other hand, plurals which have a singular meaning (§124a) are frequently construed with the singular, especially the pluralis excellentiae or maiestatis (§ g–i; on the union of these plurals with attributes, cf. §132h), as אֱלֹהִים Gn 11, 3, &c. (but see the Rem.), אֲדֹנִים master, Ex 214 בְּעָלִים master, owner, Ex 2129; cf., moreover, פָּנִים with the singular, Jb 1616 Keth., רַֽחֲמִים Pr 1210.—So feminine forms with a masculine meaning are construed with a masculine predicate, e.g. Ec 129 הָיָה קֹהֶ֫לֶת חָכָם the preacher was wise.

145i Rem. The construction of אֱלֹהִים God with the plural of the predicate may be explained (apart of course from such passages as 1 K 192, 2010, where the speakers are heathen, and אֱלֹהִים may, therefore, be a numerical plural) partly as an acquiescence in a polytheistic form of expression, partly from the peculiar usage of one of the early documents of the Hexateuch, called E by Wellhausen, &c., B by Dillmann; cf. his commentary on Numbers—Joshua, p. 618, and above, §124g, note 2. So Gn 2013 (but in conversation with a heathen); 31:53, 35:7, cf. also Jos 2419. That this construction was afterwards studiously avoided from fear of misconception, is shown by such passages as Neh 918 compared with Ex 324, 8, and 1 Ch 1721 compared with 2 S 723. Cf. Strack’s excursus on Gen 2013 in Die Genesis, Munich, 1905, p. 77. 145k 4. Plurals of names of animals or things, and of abstracts, whether they be masculine or feminine, are frequently construed with the feminine singular of the verbal predicate[1] (on the collective sense of the feminine form, cf. §122s); thus Jo 120 בַּֽהֲמוֹת שָׂדֶה תַּֽעֲרֹג the beasts of the field long; Jer 124 (where the predicate precedes), cf. also Jb 127; names of things with the predicate preceding occur in 2 S 2413, Is 3413, Jer 414, 5129, ψ 1835, 3731, 732 Keth., 103:5 (unless הַֽמְחַדֵּשׁ is to be read for תִּתְחַדֵּשׁ), Jb 1419, 2720; with the predicate following, Gn 4922 (בָּנוֹת=branches); Dt 217, 1 S 415 (וְעֵינָיו קָ֫מָה),[2] 2 S 109, Is 5912, Jer 215 Keth., 48:41, 49:24, Pr 1522, 2018, Jb 4110.[3]

145l 5. Moreover, the plural of persons (especially in the participle) is sometimes construed with the singular of the predicate, when instead of the whole class of individuals, each severally is to be represented as affected by the statement. Undoubted examples of this distributive singular are Gn 2729 (Nu 249) אֹֽרֲרֶ֫יךָ אָרוּר וּמְבָֽרֲכֶ֫יךָ בָּרוּךְ those that curse thee, cursed be every one of them, and those that bless thee, blessed be every one of them; Ex 3114, Lv 1714 and 19:8 (in both places the Samaritan has אֹֽכְלוֹ); Is 312 unless נֽׄגְשָׂיו is to be regarded as a pluralis maiestatis according to §124k; Pr 318.35 (?), 1821 (?), 2127b, 2716, 281b, 28:16 Keth.

145m Rem. Analogous to the examples above mentioned is the somewhat frequent[4] use of suffixes in the singular (distributively) referring to plurals; cf. the verbal-suffixes in Dt 2110, 2848, Am 610; and the noun-suffixes in Is 28, 3022, Jer 3114, Ho 48 (but since ו follows, נַפְשׁוֹ is undoubtedly a dittography for נָֽפֶשׁ), Zc 1412, ψ 510 (where, however, פִּימוֹ is clearly to be read with all the early versions); 62:5, 141:10 (?), Jb 3832, Ec 1015 [but LXX הַכְּסִיל]; finally, the suffixes with prepositions in Is 220 אֲשֶׁר עָֽשׂוּ־לוֹ which they made each one for himself (according to others, which they (the makers) made for him); 5:26, 8:20, Jb 245, in each case לוֹ; in Gn 219 לוֹ refers to the collectives חַיָּה and עוֹף; cf. further, Jos 247, Is 523 מִמֶּ֫נּוּ after צַדִּיקִים (but read probably צַדִּיק with the LXX, &c.). Conversely in Mi 111 עִבְרִי לָכֶם [cf. Jer 1320 Keth.], but the text is undoubtedly corrupt. 145n 6. Subjects in the dual are construed with the plural of the predicate, since verbs, adjectives, and pronouns, according to §88a, have no dual forms; thus עֵינַ֫יִם, Gn 2917 וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת and Leah’s eyes were dull; 2 S 243, Is 3020, Jer 146, Mi 710, ψ 1828, 3811 (on the other hand, in 1 S 415 the predicate is in the feminine singular after the subject, and in Mi 411 before it; on both constructions cf. k above); so also אָזְנַ֫יִם ears, 2 Ch 640; יָדַ֫יִם hands, Is 115, Jb 108, 2010 (in Ex 1712 even with the plural masculine כְּבֵדִים; cf. p); שְׂפָתַ֫יִם lips, 1 S 113, Jb 274; שָׁדַ֫יִם breasts, Ho 914.

145o 7. Variations from the fundamental rule (see above, a) very frequently occur when the predicate precedes the subject (denoting animals or things[5]). The speaker or writer begins with the most simple form of the predicate, the uninflected 3rd singular masculine, and leaves us without indication as to which of the following subjects (and so which gender or number) is to define the predicate thus left temporarily indefinite.[6] Thus inflexions are omitted in—

(a) The verb, with a following singular feminine, Is 217 וְשַׁח גַּבְהוּת הָֽאָדָם and bowed down shall be the loftiness of man; 9:18, 14:11, 28:18, 47:11; 1 S 2527 (see note 1 below); 1 K 831b, 22:36, 2 K 326, Jer 5146, Ec 77; with a following plural masc., Is 1322 וְעָנָה אִיִּים and there shall cry wolves, &c.; Ju 1317 Keth., 20:46, 1 S 12, 410, 2 S 2415, 1 K 1333, Jer 5148, ψ 1245, Est 923 (see note 1 below); Gn 114 יְהִי מְאֹרֹת let there be lights; with a following plural feminine, Dt 3235, 1 K 113a, Is 88, Jer 1318, Mi 26, ψ 572; before collectives and mixed subjects, e.g. Gn 1216, 135, 3043, 326, &c.; before a following dual, Is 4418, ψ 737 (where, however, with the LXX עֲוֹנָ֫מוֹ should be read).

145p Rem. 1. The instances in which a preceding predicate appears in the plural masculine before a plural (or collective singular) feminine of persons (Ju 2121, 1 K 113b), of animals (Gn 3039 where however צאֹן may refer specially to male animals) or of things (Lv 2633, Jer 1316, Ho 147, ψ 164, Jb 324, Ct 69), or before a dual (2 S 41, Zp 316, 2 Ch 157) are to be explained not on the analogy of the examples under o, but from a dislike of using the 3rd plur. fem. imperf., for this is the only form concerned in the above examples (cf., however, Na 311 תְּהִי instead of תִּֽהְיִי); cf. the examples of a following predicate in the 3rd plur. masc., instead of the fem., under t and u, and on an analogous phenomenon in the imperative, see §110k.

145q 2. As in the case of verbs proper so also the verb הָיָה, when used as a copula, frequently remains uninflected before the subject; cf. Gn 523 ff., 39:5, Dt 213 (according to the accents); 22:23, Is 185 וּבֹסֶר גֹּמֵל יִֽהְיֶה נִצָּה and a ripening grape the flower becometh.

145r (b) The adjective in a noun-clause, e.g. ψ 119137 יָשָׁר מִשְׁפָּטֶ֫יךָ upright are thy judgements; cf. verse 155.[7]—On the other hand, רֹעֵה in רֹעֵה צֹאן עֲבָדֶ֫יךָ thy servants are shepherds, Gn 473, is either an unusual orthography or simply a misspelling for רֹעֵי.

145s Rem. 1. As soon as a sentence which begins with an uninflected predicate is carried on after the mention of the subject, the gender and number of the subsequent (co-ordinate) predicates must coincide with those of the subject, e.g. Gn 114 יְהִי מְאֹרֹת... וְהָיוּ (see o above); Nu 96, Ez 141; cf. also Gn 3039 (see p above).

145t 2. The dislike mentioned in p above, of using the feminine form (cf., further, §144a, with the sections of the Grammar referred to there, and below, under u), is exemplified sometimes by the fact that of several predicates only that which stands next to the feminine substantive is inflected as feminine (cf. the treatment of several attributes following a feminine substantive, §132d); thus in Is 149 רָֽגְזָה, and afterwards עוֹרֵר (but עוֹרֵר is better taken as an infin. abs.=excitando, reading הָקֵם for הֵקִים); 33:9 אָבַל אֻמְלְלָה אֶ֫רֶץ mourneth, languisheth the land. Cf. Jer 430, Jb 119, and the examples (§47k) where only the first of several consecutive forms of the 2nd sing. fem. imperf. has the afformative î, Is 578, Jer 35, Ez 224, 2332 (תִּֽהְיֶה after תִּשְׁתִּי); on the converse sequence of genders in imperatives, Na 315, cf. §110k.—Of a different kind are instances like Lv 21, 51, 206, where נֶ֫פֶשׁ person (fem.) as the narrative continues, assumes (in agreement with the context) the sense of a masculine person.

145u 3. The instances in which the gender or number of the following predicate appears to differ from that of the subject are due partly to manifest errors in the text, e.g. Gn 329 read with the Samaritan הָֽאֶחָד instead of הָֽאַחַת; וְהָיָה then follows correctly; 1 S 220 read with Wellhausen שָׁאֻל, according to 1:28, instead of שָׁאַל; 1 S 164 read וַיּֽאֹמְרוּ; Ez 1829 instead of יִתָּכֵן read the plural as in verse 25; so also Ez 2038 for יָבוֹא, [8] and in Jb 620 for נָּטָ֑ח; in La 510 read נִכְמָר, and cf. in general, §7d, note; 1 Ch 248 read יָלְֽדָה; in Jer 4815 also the text is certainly corrupt. Other instances are due to special reasons. The anomalies in Is 4911, Ho 141, Pr 116 (after רַגְלָיו), ψ 114 (after עֵינָיו), 63:4, Pr 52, 1021, 32 18:6, 26:23, Jb 156 (all after שְׂפָתַ֫יִם), Pr 32 (after מִצְוֹתַי), ψ 10228, Jb 1622 (after שָׁנוֹת), Dn 1141 (read וְרִבּוּת), and perhaps Gn 2017 are also to be explained (see p) from the dislike of the 3rd plur. fem. imperf.; moreover, in Jer 4419, Pr 2623 the plur. masc. even of a participle occurs instead of the plur. fem.—In Gn 318 f. יִהְֽיֶה, after a plural subject, is explained as a case of attraction to the following singular predicate.[9]—In Gn 47 רֹבֵץ is a substantival participle (a lurker, a coucher). In Gn 4724 יִֽהְיֶה remains undefined in gender (masc.), although the noun precedes for the sake of emphasis; so also in Gn 2822, Ex 1249, 287, 32, Nu 914, 1529, Jer 5046, Ec 27 (הָיָה לִי as if the sentence began afresh, and servants born in my house... there fell to my lot this possession also). In Jb 2026 לֹֽא־נֻפַּח may (unless אֵשׁ is regarded as masculine, §122o) be taken impersonally, fire, without its being blown upon.—In Is 168 and Hb 317 the predicate in the singular is explained from the collective character of שְׁדֵמוֹת (see h above); on the other hand, the masculine form of the predicate is abnormal in ψ 873, Pr 210, 1225, 2925, Jb 87, 3618.

  1. Cf. in Greek the construction of the neuter plural with the singular of the predicate τὰ πρόβατα βαίνει; in Attic Greek the plural of the predicate is allowed only when the neuter denotes actual persons, as τὰ ἀνδράποδα ἔλαβον. In Arabic also the pluralis inhumanus (i.e. not denoting persons) is regularly construed with the feminine singular of the attribute or predicate, as are all the plurales fracti (properly collective forms).
  2. On the possibility of explaining forms like קָ֫מָה as 3rd plural feminine, cf. above, §44m; but this explanation would not apply to all the cases under this head, cf. Jo 120, ψ 3731, 1035.
  3. In Pr 141 an abstract plural חָכְמוֹת (to be read thus with 9:1, &c., instead of חַכְמוֹת) is construed with the singular; but cf. §86l, §124e, end.
  4. In several of the above examples the text is doubtful, and hence Mayer Lambert (REJ. xxiv. 110) rejects the theory of distributive singulars generally. [Cf. Driver, Jeremiah, p. 362, on 16:7.]
  5. Only rarely does an uninflected predicate precede a personal subject, as 1 S 2527 (but הֵבִ֫יאָה should probably be read, as in verse 35); Est 923 (before a plur. mass.). Such examples as Jb 4215 are to be explained according to §121a.
  6. In a certain sense this is analogous to the German es kommt ein Mann, eine Frau, &c.
  7. This does not include such cases as Jb 247, 10, where עָרוֹם is rather to be explained as an accusative denoting a state, §118n.
  8. יבוא probably an error for יבאו. The Masora on Lv 1134 reckons fourteen instances of יָבֹא, where we should expect the plural.
  9. So also the pronoun הוּא emphatically resuming the subject (see §141h) is attracted to the predicate in number in Jos 1314 אִשֵּׁי יְהֹוָה... הוּא נַֽחֲלָתוֹ the offerings of the Lord... that is his inheritance; in number and gender, Lv 2533 Qe; Jer 103.