Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar/150. Interrogative Sentences

§150. Interrogative Sentences.

H. G. Mitchell, ‘The omission of the interrogative particle,’ in Old Test. and Sem. Studies in memory of W. R. Harper, Chicago, 1907, i, 113 ff.

a 1. A question need not necessarily be introduced by a special interrogative pronoun or adverb. Frequently[1] the natural emphasis upon the words is of itself sufficient to indicate an interrogative sentence as such; cf. Gn 2724 אַתָּה זֶה בְּנִי עֵשָׂו thou art my son Esau? (but cf. note 1 below) Gn 1812, Ex 3314 (פָּנַי י׳); 1 S 1112 שָׁאוּל יִמְלֹךְ עָלֵ֫ינוּ Saul shall reign over us? 1 S 227, 2 S 1617, 1829 שָׁלוֹם לַנַּ֫עַר is it well with the young man? (but cf. note 1); 1 S 164, 1 K 124, Is 2828, Ho 416, Zc 86 (should it also be marvellous in mine eyes?); Pr 516. So especially, when the interrogative clause is connected with a preceding sentence by וְ, e.g. Jn 411 וַֽאֲנִי לֹא אָחוּס and I should not have pity? Ex 822 will they not stone us? Ju 1123, 1416, 1 S 209, 2420, 2511, 2 S 1111, 1520, Is 3711, 4419 b, Jer 2529, 455, 4912, Ez 2031, Jb 210, 109; or when (as in some of the examples just given) it is negative (with לֹא for הֲלֹא nonne?), 2 K 526 (but cf. note 1), La 338. [2]

b Rem. The statement formerly made here that the interrogative particle is omitted especially before gutturals, cannot be maintained in view of Mitchell’s statistics (op. cit. p. 123 f.). The supposed considerations of euphony are quite disproved by the 118 cases in which הַ or הֶ occurs before a guttural.

c 2. As a rule, however, the simple question is introduced by He interrogative הֲ (הַ; as to its form, cf. §100kn), ne? num? the disjunctive question by הֲ (num? utrum?) in the first clause, and אִם[3] (also וְאִם, less frequently אוֹ) an? in the second, e.g. 1 K 2215 הֲנֵלֵךְ אִם [4]נֶחְדָּ֑ל shall we go... or shall we forbear? Cf. also אָן where? whither? אָ֫נָה whither, and J. Barth, Sprachwiss. Untersuchungen, i. 13 ff.

The particular uses are as follows:—

d (a) The particle הֲ stands primarily before the simple question, when the questioner is wholly uncertain as to the answer to be expected, and may be used either before noun-clauses, e.g. Gn 437 הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? for הֲיֵשׁ cf. Gn 2423, 1 S 911; for הֲכִי is it that? Jb 622; for הֲכִי יֶשׁ־ is there yet? 2 S 91 (but in 2 S 2319 for הֲכִי read הִנּוֹ with 1 Ch 1125); for הַאֵין is there not? 1 K 227, &c.; or before verbal-clauses, e.g. Jb 23 hast thou considered (הֲשַׂ֫מְתָּ לִבְּךָ) my servant Job? In other cases הֲ (= num?) is used before questions, to which, from their tone and contents, a negative answer is expected, e.g. Jb 1414 if a man die, הֲיִחְֽיֶה shall he indeed live again? Sometimes a question is so used only as a rhetorical form instead of a negative assertion, or of a surprised or indignant refusal,[5] e.g. 2 S 75 הַֽאַתָּה תִבְנֶה־לִּי בַיִת shalt thou build me an house? (in the parallel passage 1 Ch 174 לֹא אַתָּה וג׳ thou shalt not, &c.); Gn 49 הֲשֹׁמֵר אָחִי אָנֹ֫כִי am I my brother’s keeper? cf. 2 K 57, and the two passages where הֲ is used before the infinitive (constr. Jb 3418, absol. Jb 402; on both, see § 113 ee, with the note).—On the other hand, in 1 K 1631 for הֲנָקֵל (after וַיְהִי) read הַנָּקֵל.

e Rem. 1. A few passages deserve special mention, in which the use of the interrogative is altogether different from our idiom, since it serves merely to express the conviction that the contents of the statement are well known to the hearer, and are unconditionally admitted by him. Thus, Gn 311 surely thou hast eaten; Gn 2736 הֲכִי קָרָא prop. is it so that one names? &c., i.e. of a truth he is rightly named Jacob; Gn 2915 verily thou art my brother; Dt 1130, Ju 46, I S 2:27 I did indeed, &c.; 20:37, 1 K 223 ye know surely...; Mi 31, Jb 204.—In 1 S 2319 (cf. ψ 542) a surprising communication is introduced in this way (by הֲלֹא) in order to show it to be absolutely true, and in Am 97 a concession is expressed by הֲלוֹא I have, it is true, &c. Finally, we may include the formula of quotation הֲלֹא הִיא כְתוּבָה Jos 1013 or הֲלֹא־הֵם כְּתוּבִים equivalent to surely it is, they are written (the latter in 1 K 1141, 1429, and very often elsewhere in the books of Kings and Chronicles), synonymous with the simple formula of assertion הִנֵּה כְתוּבָה 2 S 118, and הִנָּם כְּתוּבִים 1 K 1419, 2 K 1511, 2 Ch 277, 3232.

Of very frequent occurrence also are questions introduced by לָ֫מָּה, which really contain an affirmation and are used to state the reason for a request or warning, e.g. 2 S 222 turn thee aside... wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? i.e. otherwise I will (or must) smite, &c.; cf. 1 S 1917, and Driver on the passage; 2 Ch 2516; also Gn 2745, Ex 3212 (Jo 217, ψ 7910, 1152); Ct 17, Ec 55, 717, Dn 110. f 2. The rare cases in which a simple question is introduced by אִם (as sometimes in Latin by an? is it?) are really due to the suppression of the first member of a double question; thus 1 K 127, Is 2916, Jb 612, 3913.

g (b) Disjunctive questions are, as a rule, introduced by אִםהֲ (utrum—an?) or sometimes by וְאִם[6]הֲ, e.g. Jo 12, Jb 214 (even with הֲ repeated after וְאִם in a question which implies disbelief, Gn 1717). In Jb 3417, 408 f. special emphasis is given to the first member by הַאַף prop. is it even? The second member is introduced by אוֹ or in 2 K 627, Jb 163, 3828, 3136 (Mal 18 אוֹ הֲ), in each case before מ‍, and hence no doubt for euphonic reasons, to avoid the combination אִם מ׳; cf. also Ju 1819, Ec 219.

h Double questions with (וְאִם) אִםהֲ need not always be mutually exclusive; frequently the disjunctive form serves (especially in poetic parallelism; but cf. also e.g. Gn 378) merely to repeat the same question in different words, and thus to express it more emphatically. So Jb 417 shall mortal man be just before God? or (אִם) shall a man be pure before his Maker? Jb 65 f., 8:3, 10:4 f., 11:2, 7, 22:3, Is 1015, Jer 529. The second member may, therefore, just as well be connected by a simple וְ, e.g. Jb 137, 157 f., 38:16 f.22, 32, 39; cf. also ψ 85 after מָה; Jb 2117 f. after כַּמָּה; or even without a conjunction, Jb 811, 224; after מָה ψ 1443.

i (c) With regard to indirect questions[7] after verbs of inquiring, doubting, examining,[8] &c., simple questions of this kind take either הֲ whether, Gn 88,[9] or אִם Gn 155, 2 K 12, Ct 713; even before a noun-clause, Jer 51; in 1 S 2010 the indirect question is introduced by אוֹ, i.e. probably if perchance. In disjunctives (whether—or) אִםהֲ Nu 1318 at the end (or אִם־לֹאהֲ Gn 2421, 2721, 3732, Ex 164), and הֲהֲ Nu 1318, which is followed by אִםהֲ; also אוֹהֲ Ec 219. The formula מִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם has an affirmative force, who knows whether... not, like the Latin nescio an, Est 414.

k In Jon 17, 8 the relative pronouns שֶׁ· and אֲשֶׁר owing to the following לְמִי have become also interrogative, for whose cause?

l (d) זֶה and הוּא (cf. §136c) immediately after the interrogative serve to give vividness to the question; so also אֵפוֹא (for which אֵפוֹ five times in Job) then, now, Gn 2733 מִֽי־אֵפוֹא הוּא who then is he? Ju 938, Is 1912, Jb 1715; אַיֵּה אֵפוֹ where then is...? However, אֵפוֹא may also be placed at the end of the entire question (Ex 3316, Is 221; also Ho 1310, since either אֱהִי is a dialectical form of אַיֵּה, or אַיֵּה should be read instead of it) or at the beginning of the question proper, after a strongly emphasized word, as in Gn 2737.[10]

m (e) Sometimes one interrogative governs two co-ordinate clauses, the first of which should rather be subordinated to the second, so that the interrogative word strictly speaking affects only the second; thus Is 54 after מַדּוּעַ wherefore looked I... and it brought forth? i.e. wherefore brought it forth, while I looked, &c.; Is 502; after הֲ Nu 326, Jer 84, also Nu 1622 (read הַאִישׁ); after הֲלֹא Jos 2220; after לָ֫מָּה Is 583, 2 Ch 324; after אֶל־מִי Is 4025.[11] But הֲ Jb 42 and הֲלֹא 4:21 are separated from the verb to which they belong by the insertion of a conditional clause.

n 3. The affirmative answer is generally expressed, as in Latin, by repeating the emphatic word in the question (or with the second person changed to the first, Gn 2458, 2724, 295, Ju 1311), Gn 296, 3732 f., 1 S 2311, 2617, 1 K 2110, Jer 3717. (On וָיֵשׁ if it be so in the corrected text of 2 K 1015, see § 159 dd.) As a negative answer the simple לֹא is sometimes sufficient, as in Gn 192, 1 K 322, &c.; cf. §152c; and in Ju 420 the simple אָֽיִן equivalent to no or no one.

  1. Mitchell (op. cit.) restricts the number of instances to 39, of which he attributes 12 (or 17) to corruption of the text. Thus in Gn 2724 he would road, with the Samaritan, הַֽאַתָּה as in verso 21, in 1 S 164 הֲשָׁלֹם, in 2 S 1829 הֲשָׁלוֹם as in verse 32; similarly he would read the interrogative particle in 2 K 526, Ez 113, Jb 4025, 411; 1 S 308, 2 K 919, Ez 1113, 179.
  2. But in 1 S 2710 instead of אַל־ (which according to the usual explanation would expect a negative answer) read either אֶל־מִי (עַל־מִי) with the LXX, or better, אָן (אָ֫נָה) whither? with the Targum. In 2 S 235 read חֶפְצִי הֲלֹא with Wellhausen.
  3. Quite exceptional is the use of the particle אִין num? (common in Aramaic) in 1 S 219 וְאִין יֶשׁ־פֹּה num est hic? The text is, however, undoubtedly corrupt; according to Wellhausen, Text der Bücher Sam., the LXX express the reading רְאֵה הֲיֵשׁ; but cf. the full discussion of the passage by König, ZAW. xviii. 239 ff.—The above does not apply to interrogative sentences introduced by interrogative pronouns (§ 37) or by the interrogatives compounded with מָה what? such as כַּמָּה how many? לָ֫מָּה why? (see §102k), מַדּוּעַ why? (§99e), or by אַיֵּה where? אֵיךְ, אֵיכָה how? (§ 148), &c. On the transformation of pronouns and adverbs into interrogative words by means of a prefixed אֵי, see the Lexicon.
  4. On the use of the imperfect in deliberative questions, see §107t; on the perfectum confidentiae in interrogative sentences, see §106n.
  5. Analogous to this is the use of the interrogative מָה in the sense of a reproachful remonstrance instead of a prohibition, as Ct 84 מַה־תָּעִירוּ why should ye stir up? i.e. pray, stir not up; cf. also Jb 311; see above, § 148.
  6. וְאִם occurs in Pr 2724 after a negative statement; we should, however, with Dyserinck read וְאֵין. Not less irregular is הֲלֹא instead of אִם לֹא in the second clause of Ju 1415, but the text can hardly be correct (cf. Moore, Judges, New York, 1895, p. 337); in 1 S 2311 the second הֲ introduces a fresh question which is only loosely connected with the first.—In Nu 1728 and in the third clause of Jb 613, הַאִם is best taken with Ewald in the sense of הֲלֹא, since אִם from its use in oaths (see above, §149b) may simply mean verily not.
  7. It should here be remarked that the distinction between direct and indirect questions cannot have been recognized by the Hebrew mind to the same extent as it is in Latin or English. In Hebrew there is no difference between the two kinds of sentence, either as regards mood (as in Latin) or in tense and position of the words (as in English). Cf. also §137c.
  8. In Gn 436 the הַ after לְהַגִּיד is explained from the fact that the latter, according to the context, implies to give information upon a question.
  9. Also in Ec 321 we should read הַֽעֹלָה and הֲיׄרֶ֫דֶת (whether—whether) instead of the article which is assumed by the Masora.
  10. On the other hand, in Jb 924 and 24:25 אֵפוֹ is not prefixed to the מִי, but appended to the conditional sentence.
  11. Cf. the analogous sentences after יַ֫עַן because, Is 6512, Jer 3517; after causal אֲשֶׁר 1 S 2623; after כִּי Is 121; likewise after גַּם § 153 at the end; after פֶּן־ Dt 812–14, 25:3, Jos 618, 2 S 1228.