I'm a complete novice in Hebrew, sorry if my question is nonsense.

I wrote down two words: אוהב and אהבה - "to love" (a verb) and "love" (a noun).

So, I wondered what the roots are. Assuming there are two varying prefixes א and או seems quite weird, so, I guess, the root is אהב (which is noted on wiktionary), which occasionally could have this ו appear.

I'm introduced to root alternation (e.g. in Russian: скак/скоч), yet this seems like an idle answer, which does not explain the pattern.

How is this called? Which pattern does it follow? What other instances are presented in the language?

1 Answer 1


Semitic languages work with consonantal roots which can be modified and conjugated using vowel patterns and affixes. See the Wikipedia article on Semitic roots.

To take your root אהב or ʔhb as an example:

The present tense of the basic stem (if you are not yet familiar with stems/binyanim, you can ignore it for the moment) is ʔohev 'he loves'. Here the pattern is CōCēC, where C represents consonants of the roots. There are no affixes here, but the feminine singular is ʔohev-et 'she loves', so there you have one. (That the b of the root changes to v is due to a phonological process, irrelevant for our purposes here.)

The noun ʔahav-a is also built on the same root, but with a different vowel pattern and a feminine singular ending.

Conjugation and declension is done only through affixes. Any changes to the vowel pattern are due to phonological processes. The verbal stem and tense is indicated by the vowel pattern, but sometimes also by a prefix. This is for example the case for the nif'al stem (prefix ni-). In that case the prefix of the verbal stem and tense is closest to the root.

In the old, (pre-)Biblical, writing system, the vowel o would not be written in ʔohev, since this system was strictly consonantal. That strict system might have been less confusing to you that way. However, note that such a system is highly ambiguous. Thus we would have מלך mlk for both mālaḵ 'he reigned' and meleḵ 'king'. See this post for a brief overview of the place of vowels in the ancient Hebrew writing system. Modern Hebrew is normally written without vowel points (except for children books and poetry), but uses a lot of vowel letters: consonants that are used to indicate vowels, like ו in אוהב, which also has the consonantal value v.

  • Thank you for your answer! Can you, please recommend any brief materials on Hebrew morphology? I approach learning a new language via attempting to conduct simple instances of morphological and syntactical analysis - some resources would come in quite handy in order to check my assumptions, which could, obviously, be very wrong. Commented May 14, 2020 at 9:38
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    @ZhiltsoffIgor sorry, I haven't actually learned Modern Hebrew (what I wrote here is based on some limited knowledge of Modern Hebrew and Semitic background). Perhaps ask on the Duolingo forums?
    – Keelan
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 11:13

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