Linguistics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional linguists and others with an interest in linguistic research and theory. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The words for "Sabbath" and "seven" seem similar in both Hebrew and Aramaic. Is there an etymological relationship between them?

Sabbath (Shabbat), שַׁבָּת, is Strong's H7676. It is spelled shin-bet-taf.

Seven, שֶׁבַע, is Strong's H7651. It is spelled shin-bet-'ayin.

share|improve this question
Standard reference: – prash Feb 18 '13 at 1:52
It might be helpful if you mentioned what these words were in Hebrew and Aramaic. – Cerberus Feb 18 '13 at 2:03
Shabbat is the seventh day, which is holy. No surprises here, really. – jlawler Feb 18 '13 at 2:15
Webster makes mention of a connection between seven in various languages and Shabbat (Intro to the American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, point 3 of the section, "Change or Loss of Radical Letters," about mid-way through the section). – Sarah Dec 8 '14 at 21:42
A recent academic discussion of this whole complex:… – fdb Aug 21 '15 at 22:06
up vote 1 down vote accepted

It is generally assumed, that originally Afroasiatic languages had and many of them still have biradical roots [see e.g. Wolff, Kutscher: p. 6, Militarev 2005: "Root extension and root formation in Semitic and Afrasian" and others]. "Final consonants of verb roots (“determinants” in Semitic linguistic terminology) appear to semantically modify the root" (from Wolff). This can be exemplified by cognates of Semitic triradicals and "Hamitic" biradicals as well as comparison of triradicals within the Semitic itself with very similar meanings, but differing by a single consonant [although it is very difficult to prove that such forms actually do stem from the same biradical root].

Here is one series of Hebrew roots, provided by Kutscher as an example of the intra-Semitic evidence of the original bi-radicalism:

  • ‫' פרד‬divide'
  • ‫' פרט‬change’
  • ‫ פרך‬, פרר‬'crumble’
  • ‫' פרם‬tear'
  • ‫' פרס‬divide in two'
  • ‫' פרק‬tear apart'
  • ‫פרץ‬ 'break through'

It is not to say that שבע and שבת are cognates [and I couldn't find relevant information concerning this relationship], but one couldn't rule it out basing on tri-consonantism of most of the Hebrew roots. However the meanings are pretty much different: שבע designates "seven" in Semitic languages and שבת is "rest", from which the noun שבת for Sabbath is derived.

share|improve this answer
See also: Semitic numbers and the root s¹-b-t. – har-wradim Oct 7 '13 at 20:00
Wow! Thank you! That is worth looking into. According to Genesis 2:1, the Seventh day was set aside as a day of rest from the first week of creation, at the very beginning of mankind! So, though it seems the meanings of "seven" and "rest" are far apart, could it not be that inherent in the number seven itself is some meaning of rest? – Sarah Oct 7 '13 at 20:13
I believe, something on this subject is written here, but have no access to the full text. The same root is actually recruited for Saturday (or Sunday) in Ethio-Semitic, but I don't know, how this recruitment was influenced by Hebrew. Anyway, they feel no association with "seven", since the alternative forms are from the roots meaning either "fore" or "first". – har-wradim Oct 7 '13 at 20:32

I don't think they are related. As you said, the root from which the word shabbath is built, is different from that of sheva. The first is constructed from the root shin-bet-tav (sīn-bā’-tā’ in Arabic) and the second comes from the root shin-bet-'ayin (sīn-bā’-’ayn in Arabic).

שבת (shabbath) means to rest, to stop working and that is why the last day (seventh day) of the week is called shabbath. On the other hand, שבע (sheva) is the number seven and is related to the word سبعة (sab’a) in Arabic.

Some extra information on the word shabbath: The seventh day of the week for Jews is Saturday as it is with Arabs, so shabbath means Saturday, and so does its Arabic counterpart السبت (sabt) (but for Muslim Arabs, the day of rest is جمعة (jum’a) which is the sixth day). The Persian word شنبه (shanbeh) has been derived from shabbath and has the same meaning (Saturday) but it is not the day of rest; it is the first day of the week. Instead of Saturday, the last day of the week for Iranians is Friday which is the Islamic holy day of the week.

That's all I know so I hope it helps.

share|improve this answer
Thank you @Mohammad Sanei – Sarah Feb 19 '13 at 21:45
My memories of reading older introductory texts on Biblical Hebrew was that many triliteral roots differing by one letter are actually related, also that some biliteral and triliteral roots are related. Some could be genuine linguistic relationships due to evolutionary processes of sound change but others seemed somewhat mystical due to theological analyses of similar words. So without being able to say for sure, I definitely wouldn't discount any relationship between שבת and שבע on the differing final letter alone. – hippietrail Feb 21 '13 at 13:24
Yes I have seen some words like that too. That maybe correct. – Mohammad Sanei Feb 21 '13 at 16:15
@hippietrail Could you point me in a direction of where I might be able to look more thoroughly into this? – Sarah Feb 24 '13 at 5:21
@Sarah: I can't be sure but I think it was an old paperback reprint from the 1970s or 1980s of "Teach Yourself Biblical Hebrew" originally published decades earlier than that. – hippietrail Feb 24 '13 at 9:34

It is possible, but I'm not aware of any evidence for it. As Mohammd Sanei points out, the root שבת (šbt) means "rest", which is a more obvious origin.

On the other hand, שבע (šv') as well as 'seven' also underlies שבועה (švu'h), which means 'oath'; so a single root can have unrelated meanings.

share|improve this answer

It is usually asserted that the Proto-Indo-European word for "seven", septm was an early borrowing from Semitic. Also, Russian word for Saturday, "суббота" "subbota" is a relatively recent borrowing from Hebrew. It is unclear though whether the roots somehow related. Possibly, the "rest" role for the seventh day was decided by ancient Semites based on the similarity in the pronunciation of the words for "rest" and for "seven".

share|improve this answer
I think "usually asserted" is overstating the case. It has certainly been suggested, but there are several difficulties (the origin of the t, the fact that septm shares a suffix with newm and dekm but is the only one claimed to be borrowed, etc). The only place I've seen it suggested is by Veenemann, who claims a whole lot of Semitic words were borrowed into Germanic in particular. – Colin Fine Apr 23 '13 at 23:31
You're right that I omitted the prefix in 9, but is there reason to think that the suffix is -n rather than -m? Most languages assimilate these, but Latin has novem. – Colin Fine Apr 23 '13 at 23:48
But there's no trace of any professionally-asserted connection with PIE *septṃ. – jlawler Apr 24 '13 at 17:01
Seems impossibly fantastic. IE language from Celtic to Tocharian consistently have a cognate of seven, and IE split well before Akkadian existed (2900) and before languages like Hebrew and Aramaic had any influence north of the Caucasus. – A. M. Bittlingmayer Mar 30 at 12:21
Given that the Afro-Asiatic languages of which the Semitic languages are a branch don't have common numerals, a borrowing in the other direction (from some IE language, probably of the Anatolian branch, to the Semitic languages) is at least as probable. – jknappen Mar 31 at 12:08

There certainly appears to be a common root between the words Sabbath and seven as they both speak of rest and completion.

The Hebrew word Seven is made up of the three root letters –

Sin , bet , ayin.

And is pronounced Sheva.

It speaks of completion , rest.

That is why it is the hebrew root for the word -


share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.