The concept of definiteness in Biblical Hebrew is a way of referring to a person(s) or thing(s). Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and participles can be either definite or indefinite, depending on several factors.


In Biblical Hebrew, nouns and pronouns either can be definite on the basis of their own intrinsic nature or can be made definite by some linguistic marking or grammatical construction. Generally speaking, adjectives and participles (both active and passive) are always intrinsically indefinite, but they can be made definite by an attached definite article or pronominal suffix, or by being connected to a definite noun in a construct relationship.

As a general summary, definiteness in Biblical Hebrew functions in the following ways: 1) to designate a specific person/thing, or a class of person(s)/thing(s) that are intrinsically definite; 2) to match a noun to its accompanying descriptor (often with adjectives or participles); 3) to introduce a relative clause (often with participles); and/or 4) to indicate a superlative or demonstrative (especially in regard to time) referent. However, these are only general designations and do not represent a comprehesive list.


The concept of definiteness works differently in various languages; therefore, definite/indefinite terms should always be translated from Biblical Hebrew into other languages with great sensitivity to the context of each individual use and according to the conventions of definiteness in the target language.

Intrinsically definite terms

There are three types of terms that are intrinsically definite: proper nouns, personal pronouns, and demonstrative pronouns.

Proper nouns

Example: 1SA 9:17

וּשְׁמוּאֵ֖ל רָאָ֣ה אֶת־שָׁא֑וּל וַיהוָ֣ה עָנָ֔הוּ

ushemu’el ra’ah ‘eth-sha’ul wayhwah ‘anahu

And-Samuel saw [dir.obj]_Saul and-Yahweh answered-him

When Samuel saw Saul, Yahweh told him

Example: 1CH 21:4
וַיֵּצֵ֣א יֹואָ֗ב וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ֙ בְּכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל

וַיָּבֹ֖א יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם׃

wayyetse yow’av wayyithhallekh bekhol-yisra’el wayyavo


And-he-went-out Joab and-he-walked in-all_Israel

and-he-came-in Jerusalem.

So Joab left and went throughout all Israel. Then he came

back to Jerusalem.

Personal pronouns

Example: JER 12:1

צַדִּ֤יק אַתָּה֙

tsaddiq ‘attah

righteous you

you are righteous

Example: GEN 27:34

בָּרֲכֵ֥נִי גַם־אָ֖נִי אָבִֽי

barakheni gam-‘ani ‘avi

Bless-me also_me my-father

Bless me, me also, my father

Demonstrative pronouns

Example: JDG 7:4
וְהָיָ֡ה אֲשֶׁר֩ אֹמַ֨ר אֵלֶ֜יךָ זֶ֣ה ׀ יֵלֵ֣ךְ

אִתָּ֗ךְ ה֚וּא יֵלֵ֣ךְ אִתָּ֔ךְ

wehayah ‘asher ‘omar ‘eleykha zeh yelekh ‘ittakh hu yelekh


And-it-is that I-will-say to-you This he-will-go-with-you he

he-will-go with-you

If I say to you, “This one will go with you,” he will go with you

Example: ISA 6:3

וְקָרָ֨א זֶ֤ה אֶל־זֶה֙

weqara zeh ‘el-zeh

And-he-called this to_this

And each one called to another

Terms made definite by linguistic marking or grammatical construction

Biblical Hebrew has three ways to make a term definite: by adding the definite article, by adding a pronominal suffix, or by connecting it to a definite term in a construct relationship.

Definite article prefix

Example: DEU 1:23

וַיִּיטַ֥ב בְּעֵינַ֖י הַדָּבָ֑ר

wayyitav be’enay haddavar

And-it-seemed-good in-my-eyes the-thing

The advice pleased me well

Example: ISA 5:11

הֹ֛וי מַשְׁכִּימֵ֥י בַבֹּ֖קֶר

howy mashkime vabboqer

Woe who-rise-up in-the-morning

Woe to those who rise up early in the morning

Pronominal suffix

Example: 2SA 17:23

וַיָּ֜קָם וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ אֶל־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אֶל־עִיר֔וֹ

wayyaqom wayyelekh ‘el-betho ‘el-‘iro

And-he-stood-up and-he-went to_his-house to_his-city

He went home to his own city

Example: EZR 9:12

וְ֠עַתָּה בְּֽנֹותֵיכֶ֞ם אַל־תִּתְּנ֣וּ לִבְנֵיהֶ֗ם וּבְנֹֽתֵיהֶם֙ אַל־תִּשְׂא֣וּ לִבְנֵיכֶ֔ם

we’attah benowthekhem ‘al-tittenu livnehem uvenothehem

‘al-tis’u livnekhem

And-now your-daughters not_give to-their-sons and-their-daughters

not_take for-your-sons

So now, do not give your daughters to their sons; do not take

their daughters for your sons

Construction with a definite noun

In the example below, “the heavens and the earth” are made definite by the definite article, and “account” or “events” is therefore also definite.

Example: GEN 2:4

אֵ֣לֶּה תֹולְדֹ֧ות הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ בְּהִבָּֽרְאָ֑ם

‘elleh thowldowth hashamayim weha’arets behibbare’am

This account-of the-heavens and-the-earth when-they-were-created

These were the events concerning the heavens and the earth, when

they were created

In the example below, “Egypt” is an intrinsically definite word and “land” is therefore also definite.

Example: DEU 10:19

כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

ki-gerim heyithem be’erets mitsrayim

for_foreigners you-were in-land-of Egypt.

for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Function of definiteness

Refers to a specific person, thing, or idea

Sometimes the definite article can indicate a demonstrative unit of time.

Example: GEN 19:14 -– “the night” = “this” night = tonight

אַיֵּ֧ה הָאֲנָשִׁ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אוּ אֵלֶ֖יךָ הַלָּ֑יְלָה

‘ayyeh ha’anashim ‘asher-ba’u ‘eleykha hallaylah

Where the-men who_came-in to-you the-night

Where are the men that came in to you tonight?

Example: 1SA 18:21 -– “the day” = “this” day = today

תִּתְחַתֵּ֥ן בִּ֖י הַיֹּֽום׃

tithhatten bi hayyowm

You-will-become-son-in-law to-me the day.

Today you will be my son-in-law.

Sometimes a definite adjective can indicate a superlative member of a group.

Example: 1SA 16:11

עֹ֚וד שָׁאַ֣ר הַקָּטָ֔ן וְהִנֵּ֥ה רֹעֶ֖ה בַּצֹּ֑אן

‘owd sha’ar haqqatan wehinneh ro’eh batson

Still remains the-youngest and-see tending to-the-sheep.

There remains yet the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.

Example: SNG 1:8

הַיָּפָ֖ה בַּנָּשִׁ֑ים

hayyafah bannashim

the-fair among-the-women

the fairest among women

Sometimes a definite term refers to an item that has been mentioned previously in some way, either directly or indirectly.

Example: 1KI 3:24

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ קְח֣וּ לִי־חָ֑רֶב וַיָּבִ֥אוּ הַחֶ֖רֶב לִפְנֵ֥י הַמֶּֽלֶךְ

wayyomer hammelekh qehu li-harev wayyavi’u haherev lifne


And-he-said the-king take to-me_sword and-they-brought the-sword

before the-king.

The king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before

the king.

Example: ZEC 3:5

וָאֹמַ֕ר יָשִׂ֛ימוּ צָנִ֥יף טָהֹ֖ור עַל־רֹאשֹׁ֑ו וַיָּשִׂימוּ֩ הַצָּנִ֨יף הַטָּהֹ֜ור עַל־רֹאשֹׁ֗ו

wa’omar yasimu tsanif tahowr ‘al-roshow wayyasimu

hatsanif hattahowr ‘al-roshow

And-I-said put turban clean on_his-head and-they-put

the-turban the-clean on_his-head

I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head!” So they set

a clean turban on his head

Example: JDG 4:15

וַיָּ֣הָם יְ֠הוָה אֶת־סִֽיסְרָ֨א וְאֶת־כָּל־הָרֶ֧כֶב וְאֶת־כָּל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֛ה

wayyahom yehwah ‘eth-sisera we’eth-kol-harekhev


And-he-confused Yahweh [dir.obj]_Sisera

and-[dir.obj]_all_the-chariots and-[dir.obj]_all_the-army.

Yahweh made Sisera’s army confused, all his chariots, and all

his army.

Example: 1SA 16:23

וְלָקַ֥ח דָּוִ֛ד אֶת־הַכִּנּ֖וֹר

welaqah dawid ‘eth-hakkinnor

and-he-took David [dir.obj]_the-harp

David took his harp

Sometimes a definite term refers to an unidentified item with the assumption that the reader already understands the referent, either from the context of the narrative or from simple knowledge of the world.

Example: GEN 8:7

וַיְשַׁלַּ֖ח אֶת־הָֽעֹרֵ֑ב

wayshallah ‘eth-ha’orev

He-sent [dir.obj]_the-raven

He sent out a raven

Example: GEN 22:6

וַיִּקַּ֨ח אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶת־עֲצֵ֣י הָעֹלָ֗ה … וַיִּקַּ֣ח בְּיָד֔וֹ אֶת־הָאֵ֖שׁ וְאֶת־הַֽמַּאֲכֶ֑לֶת

wayyiqqah ‘avraham ‘eth-‘atse ha’olah … wayyiqqah beyado

‘eth-ha’esh we’eth-hamma’akheleth

And-he-took Abraham [dir.obj]_wood-for the-burnt-offering …

and-he-took in-his-hand [dir.obj]_the-fire and-[dir.obj]_the-knife

Then Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering … he took in his

own hand the fire and the knife

Example: 2KI 3:22

וְהַשֶּׁ֖מֶשׁ זָרְחָ֣ה עַל־הַמָּ֑יִם

wehashemesh zorhah ‘al-hammayim

and-the-sun shone on_the-water.

and the sun reflected on the water.

Example: NEH 9:6
עָשִׂ֡יתָ אֶֽת־הַשָּׁמַיִם֩ שְׁמֵ֨י הַשָּׁמַ֜יִם

וְכָל־צְבָאָ֗ם הָאָ֜רֶץ וְכָל־אֲשֶׁ֤ר עָלֶ֨יהָ֙

‘asitha ‘eth-hashamayim sheme hashamayim wekhol-tseva’am

ha’arets wekhol-‘asher ‘aleyha

You-have-made [dir.obj]_the-heavens heaven-of the-heavens

en-all_their-host the-earth en-all_that-is on-it

You have made heaven, the highest heavens, with all their

host, and the earth and everything on it

Example: 1KI 18:39

יְהוָ֖ה ה֥וּא הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃

yhwh hu ha’elohim

Yahweh he the-God.

Yahweh, he is God!

Refers to a general class/category of items

Sometimes a definite term refers to a general class or category instead to referring to a specific item. This can be a general category of people, a general class of objects, a generic type of material, etc. Usually the meaning is clear from the context.


In the example below, the definite article is incorporated in the prepositions כַ and כָּ (like).

Example: GEN 18:25

וְהָיָ֥ה כַצַּדִּ֖יק כָּרָשָׁ֑ע

wehayah khatsaddiq karasha’

and-they-are like-the-righteous like-the-wicked

so that the righteous should be treated the same as the wicked

Sometimes the definite article is used in this way when a person directly addresses another person.

Example: 1SA 17:58

בֶּן־מִ֥י אַתָּ֖ה הַנָּ֑עַר

ben-mi ‘attah hanna’ar

Son-of_whom you the-young-man

Whose son are you, young man?

Example: 2KI 6:26

הוֹשִׁ֖יעָה אֲדֹנִ֥י הַמֶּֽלֶךְ

hoshi’ah ‘adoni hammelekh

Help my-lord the-king

Help, my master, king


Example: 1KI 15:18

וַיִּקַּ֣ח אָ֠סָא אֶת־כָּל־הַכֶּ֨סֶף וְהַזָּהָ֜ב

wayyiqqah ‘asa ‘eth-kol-hakkesef wehazzahav

And-he-took Asa [dir.obj]_all_the-silver and-the-gold

Then Asa took all the silver and gold

Example: 1CH 29:2
הֲכִינֹ֣ותִי לְבֵית־אֱלֹהַ֗י הַזָּהָ֣ב׀ לַ֠זָּהָב וְהַכֶּ֨סֶף

לַכֶּ֜סֶף וְהַנְּחֹ֣שֶׁת לַנְּחֹ֗שֶׁת הַבַּרְזֶל֙ לַבַּרְזֶ֔ל וְהָעֵצִ֖ים לָעֵצִ֑ים

hakhinowthi leveth-‘elohay hazzahav lazzahov wehakkesef lakkesef wehannehosheth lannehosheth habbarzel labbarzel weha’etsim la’etsim

I-have-provided for-house-of_my-God the-gold for-the-gold and-the-silver for-the-silver and-the-bronze for-the-bronze the-iron for-the-iron and-the-wood for-the-wood.

I have provided for the temple of my God: gold for the things to be made of gold, silver for the things to be made of silver, bronze for the things to be made of bronze, iron for the things to be made of iron, and wood for the things to be made of wood.

Matches an adjective to a noun

In Biblical Hebrew, when a definite common noun is followed by a definite attributive adjective, an adjectival participle, or a noun in apposition, the definite article on both terms shows that they belong together. In other words, that particular adjective is describing that particular noun.

Example: JOS 21:45

מִכֹּל֙ הַדָּבָ֣ר הַטֹּ֔וב

mikkol haddavar hattowv

of-all the-word the-good

among all the good promises

Example: DEU 7:19

הַמַּסֹּ֨ת הַגְּדֹלֹ֜ת אֲשֶׁר־רָא֣וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ

hammassoth haggedoloth ‘asher-ra’u ‘eneykha

the-sufferings the-great which_saw your-eyes

the great sufferings that your eyes saw

Introduces a verbal relative clause

When the definite article is used in front of a verb, it refers to the person(s) doing the action described by the verb and is translated very much like a Particle Relative. The definite article is used in this way usually with infinitives (construct or absolute) or participles (active or passive), and only rarely with finite verbal forms.

with a non-finite verb

Example: JOS 8:19

וְהָאֹורֵ֡ב קָם֩ מְהֵרָ֨ה מִמְּקֹומֹ֤ו

weha’owrev qam meherah mimmeqowmow

And-the-people-laying-in-ambush stood quickly from-their-place

The soldiers hiding in ambush quickly rushed out of their place

Example: GEN 12:7

לַיהוָ֖ה הַנִּרְאֶ֥ה אֵלָֽיו

layhwah hannir’eh ‘elayw

to-Yahweh the-appeared to-him

to Yahweh, who had appeared to him

with a finite verb

Example: JOS 10:24

הֶהָלְכ֣וּא אִתּ֔וֹ

heholkhu ‘itto

the-walked with-him

who had gone with him

Definiteness in poetry

The definite article is used very rarely in Hebrew poetry. In poetry, therefore, definite terms and indefinite terms often look exactly alike and must be recognized based on other indicators or discerned simply from the context.

Example: PSA 2:2

יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ

yithyatsevu malkhe-‘erets

They-take-their-stand kings-of_earth

The kings of the earth take their stand

In “normal” narrative texts the Hebrew would probably read

יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ׀ מַלְכֵי הָאָ֖רֶץ