Adjective

Summary

An adjective is a word that describes a person(s), place(s), or thing(s). Within a sentence, usually an adjective describes a noun. However, in Biblical Hebrew an adjective itself can function as a noun or even as an adverb (to describe a verb).

Article

In Bibical Hebrew, adjectives always match the noun they describe in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural). However, there are some exceptions to this rule. If a noun is dual, its accompanying adjective will be plural. Also, the gender of some nouns does not match their apparent form (as in נָשִׁים “women”, which is grammatically-feminine although it appears grammatically-masculine); in these cases, an accompanying adjective will match the gender of the noun itself rather than the apparent form. Similarly, for nouns with either collective singular (as in עַם, meaning “people”) or majestic plural (as in אֱלֹהִים, meaning “God”), the accompanying adjective may match the implied number rather than the apparent form.

Form

The forms of the adjective closely resemble the forms of the common noun.

Paradigm

Adjective Paradigm
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
masculine singular absolute טוֹב tov good
masculine singular construct טוֹב tov good
masculine singular determined הַטּוֹב hattov the good
feminine singular absolute טוֹבָה tovah good
feminine singular construct טוֹבַת tovath good
feminine singular determined הַטּוֹבָה hattovah the good
masculine plural absolute טוֹבִים tovim good
masculine plural contruct טוֹבֵי tove good
mascuuline plural determined הַטּוֹבִים hattovim the good
feminine plural absolute טוֹבוֹת tovoth good
feminine plural construct טוֹבוֹת tovoth good
feminine plural determined הַטּוֹבוֹת hattovoth the good

Function

Describes a noun

The most common use of adjectives in Biblical Hebrew is to describe a noun. There are two kinds of adjectives that function in this way, attributive adjectives and predicative adjectives. In almost all instances, an attributive adjective immediately follows the noun that it describes and has the same form in gender, number, and definiteness. Thus, if the noun is masculine, the adjective is also masculine. If the noun is singular, the adjective is also singular. If the noun is definite, the adjective is also definite; and so on.

Note

When a cardinal or an ordinal number functions as an attributive adjective, sometimes it comes before the noun it describes instead of after the noun.

Example: 1SA 18:17
בִתִּ֨י הַגְּדוֹלָ֤ה
vitti haggedolah
my-daughter the-old
my older daughter
Example: JOS 10:2
כִּ֣י עִ֤יר גְּדוֹלָה֙ גִּבְע֔וֹן
 
for city great Gibeon
because Gibeon was a large city

Predicative adjectives are adjectives that describe nouns using a linking verb. Often the linking verb is not present in the Hebrew text and must be supplied when translating into English. Like attributive adjectives, a predicative adjective usually has the same form as the noun it describes in both gender and number. Unlike attributive adjectives, however, a predicative adjective can be indefinite even if it describes a definite noun.

Note

Sometimes, predicative adjectives and attributive adjectives look identical and must be distinguished simply from the context.

Example: 2SA 14:20
וַאדֹנִ֣י חָכָ֗ם
wadoni hakham
And-my-lord wise
My master is wise
Example: 2KI 20:19
טֹ֥וב דְּבַר־יְהוָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבַּ֑רְתָּ
towv devar-yehwah ‘asher dibbarta
Good word-of_Yahweh that you-spoke.
The word of Yahweh that you have spoken is good.

Functions as a noun

Rather than describing a noun, sometimes an adjective itself functions as a noun in the sentence. This is called a nominal adjective.

Example: PSA 3:2
רַ֝בִּ֗ים קָמִ֥ים עָלָֽי
rabbim qamim ‘alay
many are-rising-up against-me
many people are rising up against me
Example: ISA 30:12
לָכֵ֗ן כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ קְד֣וֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל
 
Therefore thus he-says holy-of Israel
Therefore the Holy One of Israel says,

Functions as an adverb

Sometimes an adjective functions as an adverb, meaning that it describes a verb instead of a noun. This is called an adverbial adjective.

Example: JOS 21:10
כִּ֥י לָהֶ֛ם הָיָ֥ה הַגּוֹרָ֖ל רִיאשֹׁנָֽה
 
for to-them it-was the-lot first
For the first casting of lots had fallen to them.

Other uses of adjectives

compares two or more items

In Biblical Hebrew, adjectives are often used with either the preposition מִן (“from”) or the phrase מִכֹּל (“from all”) to express a comparison between two or more items. This is called a comparative adjective.

Example: JDG 14:18
מַה־מָּת֣וֹק מִדְּבַ֔שׁ וּמֶ֥ה עַ֖ז מֵאֲרִ֑י
mah-mmathoq middevash umeh ‘az me’ari
What_sweet than-honey and-what strong from-lion
What is sweeter than honey, and what is stronger than a lion
Example: GEN 3:1
וְהַנָּחָשׁ֙ הָיָ֣ה עָר֔וּם מִכֹּל֙ חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה
wehannahash hayah ‘arum mikkol hayyath hassadeh
And-the-serpent was shrewd from-all beings-of the-field
Now the serpent was more shrewd than any other beast of the field

adjectives with stronger meaning

In Biblical Hebrew, the meaning of an adjective can be strengthened by pairing it either with the word מְאֹד (“very”) or with the phrase לֵאלֹהִים (“to God”). This is called an intensive adjective.

Example: GEN 1:31
וְהִנֵּה־ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד
wehinneh-tov me’od
And-behold_good very
Behold, it was very good
Example: JON 3:3
עִיר־גְּדוֹלָה֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים
‘ir-gedolah lelohim
city_great to-God
a very large city

adjectives with strongest meaning

Biblical Hebrew utilizes different ways to strengthen an adjective to its greatest degree (“the smallest”, “the greatest”, etc.). This is called a superlative adjective. Usually, the superlative meaning of an adjective must be determined from the context.

Example: 1SA 16:11 –– adjective with the definite article
עֹ֚וד שָׁאַ֣ר הַקָּטָ֔ן
‘owd sha’ar haqqatan
Still remains the-young
There remains yet the youngest
Example: MIC 7:4 –– adjective with a pronominal suffix
טוֹבָ֣ם כְּחֵ֔דֶק
tovam kehedeq
good-their like-brier
the best of them is like a brier
Example: SNG 1:8 –– adjective with a prepositional phrase
הַיָּפָ֖ה בַּנָּשִׁ֑ים
hayyafah bannashim
the-fair among-women
the fairest among women