Does Biblical Hebrew have a plural of majesty?

I'm aware there's the word Elohim which can mean God or gods.

But I don't think that's good evidence of plural of majesty because for example, you have a word like Yerushalayim which means Jerusalem, is singular, but it has a dual ending as if there are two. Or Mayim which has dual ending though refers to water. So maybe Elohim is just a word with a plural ending.

I heard some argument from a Dr. Walter Martin , that Biblical Hebrew can't have a plural of majesty, because not ANE/Ancient Near East languages did. And the term came into existence in the 13th century CE, when kings linked themselves to God and said "you may come into our presence", "you may leave us". So it'd be projecting a later term and projecting it back.

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    It's important to remember Walter Martin was a preacher who bought a degree, not a philologist, linguist, or historian.
    – Cairnarvon
    Feb 23, 2021 at 20:02
  • Obviously Hebrew had the majestic plural. See the majestic plural "lord" in Gen 24:9 and 42:30 and the majestic plural "elohim" in Exo 7:1 and Jdg 11:24.
    – user21820
    Feb 24, 2021 at 12:34
  • Genesis 11:7, הָ֚בָה נֵֽרְדָ֔ה וְנָֽבְלָ֥ה שָׁ֖ם שְׂפָתָ֑ם אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁמְע֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ שְׂפַ֥ת רֵעֵֽהוּ: "Come, let us descend and confuse their speech"
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 25, 2021 at 17:46
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    @RebChaimHaQoton for what. nouns? pronouns? examples? A royal we would be a pronoun. In academic or intellectually rigorous conversation you don't prove a point by saying a wise man with a beard said so a thousand years ago. Also you don't invent biblical hebrew grammar.. He may have been one of the first to theorize about it. Do you have examples of this "royal we" in biblical hebrew, that you suggest exists? I can think of "naaseh" "let us make.." though interesting it's translated wtih "us", not we. THough many(rabbis funnily enough), interpert that as plural for God and angels.
    – barlop
    Aug 10, 2022 at 17:56

1 Answer 1


Hebrew has a plural of excellence or majesty for nouns, but not a royal we for pronouns. Some people are confused about this because the terms are not kept separated correctly.

Based on what you write, Walter Martin writes about the royal we, which Biblical Hebrew does not have. However, אֱלֹהִים 'ělōhim (non-Israelite gods or the Israelite God) is a plural of excellence, which Biblical Hebrew does have.

Majestic plural / royal we

Narrowly speaking the majestic plural or royal we is the use of a plural pronoun to refer to a singular monarch, as in (for the reference see the Wikipedia page):

By the Grace of God, We, Alexander I, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias ...

As far as I know, when a pronoun is used to refer to God, a singular form is used. (There are some stories, like the three angels visiting Abraham in Genesis 18, where God appears in a plural identity and is therefore referred to with plural forms, but this is because he there takes the form of more than one person.)

The royal we is related to the T-V distinction in languages like French, which can use the second person plural pronoun (vous) as a polite / honorific form to address singular persons, instead of the singular form (tu). Biblical Hebrew has a different system for polite address; it avoids the second person and uses the third person instead. For example (1 Samuel 26:19):

וְעַתָּ֗ה יִֽשְׁמַֽע־נָא֙ אֲדֹנִ֣י הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ אֵ֖ת דִּבְרֵ֣י עַבְדֹּ֑ו
and now, let listen my lord the king to the words of his servant
And now, my lord the king, please listen to my, your servant's, words.

Joüon & Muraoka (2006: A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Rome: Gregorian & Biblical Press) state plainly (§114eN):

The we of majesty does not exist in Hebrew.

Plural of excellence or majesty

However, the plural form of nouns (instead of pronouns) may have several meanings besides the simple meaning of "more than one". Joüon & Muraoka list a great number of nuances of the plural (§136):

  • Plural of extension: שָׁמַ֫יִם šāmayim (sky, heavens), because the heavens are composed of multiple parts
  • Plural of composition: דָּמִים dāmim (bloods > bloodshed)
  • Plural of intensity: בְּהֵמוֹת Bəhēmōṯ, for its greatness
  • Plural of abstraction: בַּטֻּחוֹת baṭṭuḥōṯ (security, from sure circumstances)

(The word מַ֫יִם mayim (water) which you mention can be explained as a plural of extension or composition.)

There is also the plural of excellence or majesty, which occurs in words like:

  • אֱלֹהִים 'ělōhim (non-Israelite gods or the Israelite God)
  • קְדֹשִים qəḏōšim (the Holy One: Proverbs 9:10; 30:3)
  • אֲדֹנִים 'ǎḏōnim (ordinarily lords or the Lord, especially in 'ǎḏōnāy my Lord)

It seems that this is, at least in poetry, not restricted to the deity: שֹׁלְחָיו šōləḥāw (he who has sent him: Proverbs 10:26); מְרִימָיו mərīmāw (he who lifts it: Isaiah 10:15).

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    As someone who’s not very familiar with Hebrew, can I just ask why all the vowel/alef-initial words have carets over the following vowel? Is there a difference between ’elōhim and ’ělōhim? Feb 23, 2021 at 21:21
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    @JanusBahsJacquet The caret stands for an "ultra-short" (hatuf) vowel. These basically stand in for schwa in environments where schwa can't occur, such as after glottals and pharyngeals.
    – TKR
    Feb 24, 2021 at 1:42
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    G-d does take plural clitic pronouns on prepositions and verbs a few times, but these are all in sentences that feature an explicit plural of majesty in the name of G-d used, so is likely just strict agreement rather than a royal we. I would also argue that שָׁמַיִם & מַיִם cannot be interpreted as a plural as they both end in máyim not mayīm, with the stress on the wrong syllable. Formally they could be interpreted as duals but this is also problematic comparatively. IMO the best explanation for them is that they are preserved mimated forms reanalysed as preserved duals
    – Tristan
    Feb 24, 2021 at 10:36
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    @Tristan yes, they are dual forms, but the dual has the same nuances of extension, composition, etc. The origin of the form is a different matter. Thanks for the edit.
    – Keelan
    Feb 24, 2021 at 11:25
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    @Keelan Oh yes, didn't read quite to the end of the line... this comment & the last will self-destruct Feb 24, 2021 at 11:57

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