Relative particles introduce clauses or phrases that usually describe nouns but can also sometimes describe adjectives and/or verbs. In English, relative particles are usually translated as “who,” “that,” “which,” “when,” or “where.”
Biblical Hebrew utilizes three different particles that introduce relative clauses or phrases. The particle אֲשֶׁר and the prefix -שֶׁ function as synonyms: they usually immediately follow nouns and sometimes adjectives. When functioning as a relative particle, the word כִּי usually immediately follows a verb of seeing or perceiving.
אֲשֶׁר follows a noun and introduces a relative clause. Its translation depends on the noun. For example, if the noun is a place, אֲשֶׁר means “where,” if the noun is a person, it means “who”, and if the noun is an object, it means “that”, “what” or “which.”
|הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו|
|hammaqom ‘asher ‘attah ‘omed ‘alayw|
|the-place where you are-standing on-it|
|the place where you are standing|
Sometimes there is no noun as an antecedent.
|כִּ֣י יָדַ֗עְתִּי אֵ֤ת אֲשֶׁר־תְּבָרֵךְ֙ מְבֹרָ֔ךְ וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּאֹ֖ר יוּאָֽר|
|ki yada’ti ‘eth ‘asher-tevarekh mevorakh wa’asher ta’or yu’ar|
-שֶׁ has the same function as אֲשֶׁר, but is a prefix. It also doubles the next consonant and follows similar rules regarding the vowel patterns as the definite article.
|אֶל־מְקֹ֗ום שֶׁ֤הַנְּחָלִים֙ הֹֽלְכִ֔ים|
|‘el-meqowm shehannehalim holekhim|
|To_place where-the-rivers go|
|To the place where the rivers go|
|מַה־שֶּֽׁהָיָה֙ ה֣וּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶ֔ה|
|mah-shehayah hu sheyyihyeh|
|What_that-has-been that which-will-be|
|Whatever has been is what will be|
כִּי is one of the most flexible words in Biblical Hebrew in terms of its meaning. It can function either as a conjunction or as a particle, with many different potential meanings. If in doubt, it is recommended to always consult a dictionary or lexicon to confirm how the word is being used in any specific instance.
Biblical Hebrew uses the particle כִּי to introduce relative clauses or phrases that describe something that is seen, known, or somehow perceived by a person. Therefore, כִּי usually follows verbs of seeing/perceiving where a reader might expect to find אֲשֶׁר. In English, it is usually translated as “that” in these cases.
|וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב|
|wayyar ‘elohim ‘eth-ha’or ki-tov|
|And-he-saw God [dir.obj]_the-light that_good|
|God saw the light, that it was good.|
|עַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּֽי־יְרֵ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אַ֔תָּה|
|‘attah yada’ti ki-yere ‘elohim ‘attah|
|now I-know that_fearful-of God you|
|now I know that you respect and obey God|