Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar/151. Desiderative Sentences

§151. Desiderative Sentences.

151a A wish may be expressed not only by the simple imperfect (§107n), cohortative (§ 108, especially with נָא §108c), jussive (§ 109; with נָא §109b), imperative (§110a), perfect consecutive (§112aa) or by a simple noun-clause (§116r, note, and §141g) but also in the following ways:—

1. By exclamations in the form of interrogative clauses:[1] especially sentences with מִי followed by the imperfect as being the mood of that which is still unfulfilled but possible, and hence also of that which is desired, e.g. 2 S 154 מִֽי־יְשִׂמֵ֫נִי שֹׁפֵט who maketh me judge? i.e. O that I were made judge! 1 S 2010, 2 S 2315. On the other hand, מִי with the perfect (Gn 217, Nu 2310, 1 S 269, Is 531, &c.) or participle (ψ 598, Pr 2422, &c.), rather expresses a rhetorical question, i.e. a denial, cf. §150d. Especially frequent is the use of מִֽי־יִתֵּן (prop. who gives?) to introduce all kinds of desiderative clauses (see under b).—In Mal 110 the desiderative clause proper is co-ordinated with an interrogative clause, מִי גַם־בָּכֶם וְיִסְגּׄר דְּלָתַ֫יִם would that one were among you and would shut the doors, i.e. O that one would shut the doors!

151b Rem. Sometimes the original sense of מִֽי־יִתֵּן is still plainly discernible, e.g. Ju 929 מִֽי־יִתֵּן אֶת־הָעָם הַוֶּה בְיָדִי who gives this people into my hand? equivalent to, O that this people were given into my hand! cf. ψ 557. In these examples, however, מִֽי־יִתֵּן is still equivalent to O had I! and in numerous other instances the idea of giving has entirely disappeared, מִֽי־יִתֵּן having become stereotyped as a more desiderative particle (utinam). Its construction is either—

(a) With the accusative (in accordance with its original meaning) of a substantive, Dt 2867 would that it were even!... morning! Ju 929, ψ 147 (53:7), 55:7; with an accusative and a following infinitive, Jb 115; with two accusatives, Nu 1129, Jer 823; with the accusative of an infinitive, Ex 163, 2 S 191 מִֽי־יִתֵּן מוּתִי אֲנִי תַחְתֶּ֫יךָ would that I had died for thee (for אֲנִי cf. §135f); of a participle, Jb 3135; of a personal pronoun (as a suffix), Jb 292 (with a following ךְּ; but מִֽי־יִתְּנֵ֫נִי Is 274 and Jer 91 with a following accusative is not simply equivalent to מִֽי־יִתֵּן לִי, but is properly who endows me with, &c.; cf. §117ff).—With a still greater weakening of the original meaning מִֽי־יִתֵּן is used with an adjective in Jb 144 could a clean thing but come out of an unclean! i.e. how can a clean thing come, &c.; similarly in Jb 3131 who can find one that hath not been satisfied!

151c (b) With a following perfect, Jb 233 (cf. §120e); with a perfect consecutive, Dt 526 O that they had such an heart!

151d (c) With a following imperfect, Jb 68, 135, 1413; in Jb 1923 the imperfect is twice added with Wāw (cf. a above, on Mal. 110).

On the cohortative in the apodosis to such desiderative clauses, cf. §108f.

151e 2. The wish may also be expressed by the particles אִם (ψ 819, 957, 13919, Pr 2411, 1 Ch 410; always with a following imperfect) and לוּ (for which in ψ 1195 we have אַחְלַי, 2 K 53 אַֽחֲלֵי, from אָח ah! and לַי=לוּ; both with a following imperfect)si, o si! utinam.[2] לוּ is followed by the imperfect, Gn 1718, Jb 62; by the jussive, Gn 3034 (rather concessive, equivalent to let it be so); by the perfect, as the expression of a wish that something might have happened in past time (cf. §106p), Nu 142 לוּ מַ֫תְנוּ would that we had died; 20:3 and Jos 77 (both times וְלוּ); on the other hand, Is 4818 and 63:19 (both times לוּא) to express a wish that something expected in the future may already have happened.—On לוּ with the imperative (by an anacoluthon) Gn 2313 cf. §110e. On the perfect after בִּי אִם Gn 4014, 2 K 520, cf. §106n, note 2.

  1. The transition from a question to a wish may be seen, e.g. in Nu 114 who shall give us flesh to eat? i.e. O that we had flesh to eat!
  2. Cf. a similar transition from a conditional to a desiderative particle, in consequence of the suppression of the apodosis, in the English, O if I had! and the like; e.g. Nu 2229 if there were (לוּ יֶשׁ־) a sword in my hand now had I surely killed thee!