The infinitive absolute is an extremely flexible non-finite verbal form and can function as an adverb, a finite verb, a verbal complement, or a noun. Its most common use is to express intensity or certainty of verbal action.
Of all the verbal conjugations in Biblical Hebrew, the Infinitive Absolute is the simplest in form but the most complex in function, demanding the most sensitivity to its context to determine its meaning. The Infinitive Absolute is described as being in the absolute state because it stands on its own as an independent grammatical entity. The form can appear with the conjunction, but it never occurs in any other kind of construction with a prefix or suffix, an attached preposition, or with a noun in a construct chain. The Infinitive Absolute generally has only one form in each stem formation (Qal, Niphal, Piel, etc.), and it does not conjugate according to person, gender, or number like the finite verb forms. Grammatically, the Infinitive Absolute is considered a non-finite verbal form but can function as an adverb, a finite main verb, a verbal complement, or even as a noun. The context must be carefully investigated to discern the precise meaning of an infinitive absolute in each instance.
|Niphal||הִקָּטֹל / נִקְטֹל||hiqqatol / niqtol||be killed|
|Hiphil||הַקְטֵל||haqtel||cause to kill|
|Hophal||הָקְטֵל||hoqtel||causing to be killed|
|Piel||קַטֵּל / קַטֹּל||qattel / qattol||slaughter|
The Infinitive Absolute can express the following range of meanings.
Expresses intensity or certainty of verbal action¶
In most cases, the Infinitive Absolute is paired with a finite verb of the same root. When used in this way, the infinitive absolute functions adverbially, either certifying or intensifying the action of the main verb, depending on the context. Normally an infinitive absolute precedes the main verb, except with Imperative verbs and with participles; in those cases, an infinitive absolute follows.
The following example shows an infinitive absolute expressing intensity of action.
|מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל|
|mikkol ‘ets-haggan ‘akhol tokhel|
|from-every tree-of_the-garden eating you-may-eat|
|From every tree in the garden you may freely eat.|
The following example shows an infinitive absolute expressing certainty of action.
|בְּי֛וֹם אֲכָלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת|
|beyom ‘akholkha mimmennu moth tamuth|
|in-day-of your-eating from-it dying you-will-die|
|on the day that you eat from it, you will surely die.|
Functions as a finite main verb¶
The Infinitive Absolute often substitutes for a finite verb. In these cases, an infinitive absolute can carry an emotive sense and should be treated with great sensitivity to the context for precise nuance of meaning. The examples listed below are not comprehensive, but only provide a sampling of potential options for the exact meaning.
|הֲ֭רֹב עִם־שַׁדַּ֣י יִסּ֑וֹר|
|harov ‘im-shadday yissor|
|[quest.]-contend with_Almighty faultfinder|
The following example shows an infinitive absolute continuing the action of the preceding verb.
|וְנָת֣וֹן אֹת֔וֹ עַ֖ל כָּל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃|
|wenathon ‘otho ‘al kol-‘erets mitsrayim|
|and-placing [dir.obj]-him over whole_land-of Egypt|
|Pharaoh put him over all the land of Egypt.|
The following example shows an infinitive absolute functioning as an emphatic command (either direct or indirect).
|זָכ֛וֹר אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת|
|zakhor ‘eth-yom hashabbath|
|Remember [dir.obj]_day the-Sabbath|
|Remember the Sabbath day|
The following example shows an infinitive absolute functioning ambiguously (could be an adverb or a finite verb).
|דִּבְּר֣וּ דְבָרִ֔ים אָל֥וֹת שָׁ֖וְא כָּרֹ֣ת בְּרִ֑ית|
|dibberu devarim ‘aloth shawe karoth berith|
|they-speak words swearing emptiness cutting covenant|
Complements the action of the main verb¶
An infinitive absolute (or a pair of infinitive absolutes) can follow a finite verb of a different root to describe complementary action.
In the following example, a single infinitive absolute is functioning adverbially.
|‘e’evor bekhol-tsonekha hayyom haser misham kol-seh naqod wetalu|
In the following example, a pair of infinitive absolutes are functioning adverbially.
|בַּיּ֤וֹם הַהוּא֙ אָקִ֣ים … הָחֵ֖ל וְכַלֵּֽה|
|bayyom hahu’ ‘aqim … hahel wekhalleh|
|in-the-day the-that I-will-carry-out … beginning and-ending.|
|On that day I will carry out … from beginning to end.|
Expresses progression or continuance of verbal action (הלךְ)¶
The Infinitive Absolute (and sometimes the Participle) of the specific root הלךְ can be used to express a sense of progression or continuance of the action of a main verb.
|וַיָּשֻׁ֧בוּ הַמַּ֛יִם מֵעַ֥ל הָאָ֖רֶץ הָל֣וֹךְ וָשׁ֑וֹב|
|wayyashuvu hammayim me’al ha’arets halokh washov|
|and-they-returned the-waters from-over the-earth going and-returning|
|The flood waters receded from off the earth continually.|
|וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ הָל֖וֹךְ וְקָרֵֽב|
|wayyelekh halokh weqarev|
|and-he-walked going and-approaching|
|The runner came closer and neared the city.|
|וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ הָלוֹךְ֙ וְאָכֹ֔ל|
|wayyelekh halokh we’akhol|
|And-he-walked going and-eating|
|He … went on, eating as he went|
Functions as a noun¶
This is an extremely rare use of the Infinitive Absolute.
|וְהִנֵּ֣ה׀ שָׂשׂ֣וֹן וְשִׂמְחָ֗ה הָרֹ֤ג׀ בָּקָר֙ וְשָׁחֹ֣ט צֹ֔אן אָכֹ֥ל בָּשָׂ֖ר וְשָׁת֣וֹת יָ֑יִן|
|wehinneh sason wesimhah harog baqar weshahot tson ‘akhol basar weshathoth yayin|
|and-behold joy and-gladness killing cattle and-slaughtering sheep eating flesh and-drinking wine|
|But look, instead, celebration and gladness, killing cattle and slaughtering sheep, eating meat and drinking wine|