In Hebrew religious texts there are several different ways to refer to God (capital G). Some of these words, such as Elohim or Adonai are plural forms although it is clear that Judaism is monotheistic.

Why do some languages associated with monotheistic religions use a plural form? Do such languages use a plural form to refer to a god (lower case)? Do these words even have a singular form? Is this for the same reason in some languages second person pronouns are used for formal address and first person for familiar?

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    There is actually a growing debate as to whether Judaism started out as a monotheistic religion. Some people cite the existence of plural forms as an argument that originally there was a belief in a pantheon of gods. Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 18:53
  • @Gandalf I've heard that, but by the time most of the later books were written it was undoubtedly monotheistic. If they shifted from polytheism to monotheism why would they not change the grammatical number? There must be another reason.
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 18:59
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    Well, there was an oral tradition, and written language reflects the words in usage. Also, supposedly the change from polytheism to monotheism was actually occurring around the same time, and the Bible is written by many writers. They didn't exactly have agreed-upon conventions for orthography. The written language was only intended to bolster oral tradition, and was intended to be read out loud. Notice that Hebrew doesn't even have vowels, and the name of God was forbidden to be pronounced anyway. That's why they have so many names. Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 19:07
  • I'm not much of a biblical scholar, but that makes me wonder if the older books prefer the plural words and newer books prefer singular. Which might be the case if the plural forms are a remnant of an earlier polytheistic tradition.
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 19:23
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    The plurality or otherwise of the Hebrew word "Elohim" has been discussed, not once but many times, in the "Biblical hermeneutics" forum. You can go there and do a search for "Elohim". You could start here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/8643/…
    – fdb
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 22:22

1 Answer 1


Lots of confusion here. Hebrew Elohim is morphologically plural but syntactically singular: it governs a verb in the 3rd person singular.

Adonai is likewise syntactically singular.

Dios is from Latin deus. It is singular.

"Some languages" boils down to at most one language (Hebrew).


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