What is the protosemitic root for asher(אשר) in:

ehyeh asher ehyeh

אהיה אשר אהיה

from Exodus 3:14

Note: I'm not sure but I'm guessing it's probably either ʔṯr, ʔšr, or ʔśr.

  • You can find a thorough treatment in Huehnergard (2006), 'On the Etymology of the Hebrew Relative šƐ-', in Steven E. Fassberg and Avi Hurvitz (eds.), Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historial Perspectives, pp. 103–125. You are invited to write a summary as an answer to your own question.
    – Keelan
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 20:40
  • not all Semitic vocabulary derives from roots, especially function words and concrete nouns. Absent a pretty convincing argument (I've yet to read the paper Keelan raises), the most likely explanation would seem to be a relation to various other particles with š e.g. še "that" and 'iš "there is"
    – Tristan
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 9:08
  • if it does derive from a root, ʔśr would be unlikely as ś usually becomes sin in Hebrew whereas אשר has a shin (the two are not distinguished in unpointed writing, but in writing with niqqud they are, and the two are pronounced differently, sin merging with samekh as /s/ and shin of course being /ʃ/)
    – Tristan
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 9:10
  • @Tristan Isn't that not always the case (with the niqqud), although it does have a somewhat biased pattern, I think it is not safe to generalize it that way. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't ś become š (shin) in Hebrew, and it became s (sin) in Arabic (ie. with the word for sun in Semitic languages)? Commented May 1, 2020 at 19:56
  • You are correct. Pointing is used on ש to distinguish śin /s/ from šin /ʃ/ in Hebrew, but this is not the only thing for which pointing is used. The two points mentioned by @Tristan (difference in pointing and difference in pronunciation) is really only one, since the former is based on the latter. In Arabic, *š merged with *s, and *ś eventually became /ʃ/. See the table on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semitic_languages#Consonants.
    – Keelan
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 5:52

1 Answer 1


According to the article mentioned in the above comment by Keelan, "On the Etymology of the Hebrew Relative šƐ-," the possible roots and the connection between šƐ- and ašer indicates that ašer probably derived from aṯeru (ʔṯru), meaning "place," to eventually becoming a relative pronoun in certain Semitic languages.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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