Preposition

Summary

A preposition introduces a phrase that describes another word/concept within a sentence, usually a noun or a verb. However, like adverbs and particles, sometimes a prepositional phrase can describe the sentence as a whole. In Biblical Hebrew, prepositions can also be used with an infinitive construct verb to show its relationship to the main verb of a sentence.

Article

Biblical Hebrew has four main prepositions: the prefix בְּ (in, at, by); the prefix לְ (to, for); the prefix כְּ (as, like); and the prefix מִ (which is a shortened form of the independent preposition מִן, meaning “from”). However, there is also a family of other prepositions in Biblical Hebrew. It is common in Biblical Hebrew for prepositions to be combined together or with a noun to form new words that have their own range of meanings (similar to compound conjunctions) that may or may not overlap with the meaning of the individual component terms.

In Biblical Hebrew, prepositions also function to describe the relationship between a non-finite verbal complement (infinitive construct verbs and active or passive participles) and the finite main verb of a sentence. In some of these instances, the preposition introduces a dependent verbal phrase and thus changes its typical meaning. These specialized uses of prepositions are listed in the article on infinitive construct verbs.

Note

Of all the different kinds of words, prepositions are perhaps the most flexible in their meaning and are often translated in a variety of ways, or sometimes even left untranslated. For this reason, prepositions must always be translated with great sensitivity to the context of each use. A dictionary or lexicon will describe the various possible meanings of each preposition, but generally will not include a complete list of individual uses.

Form

Prefix Preposition (with and without the definite article)
Parsing Hebrew Transliteration Gloss
normal noun נָהָר nahar river
noun + preposition only בְּנָהָר benahar in a river
noun + definite article only הַנָּהָר hannahar the river
noun + preposition + definite article בַּנָּהָר bannahar in the river

Types

In Biblical Hebrew, there are 11 general types of prepositions: indirect object; spatial; locative; temporal; instrumental; correlative; comparative; directional; causal; explanatory; and direct object. However, this are also other types of prepositions in Biblical Hebrew. The specific meanings of individual prepositions can be found in a dictionary or lexicon.

Indirect Object

A common use of the preposition לְ (also אֶל, with verbs of speaking) is to indicate the indirect object or recipient of the verbal action. When used in this way, the preposition is usually transated into English with “to” or “for”, or it can be left untranslated.

GEN 1:5 –– with the prefixed preposition לְ
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ לָ אֹור֙ יֹ֔ום
wayyiqra ‘elohim la’owr yowm
And-he-called to-the-light day
God called the light “day”
GEN 3:2 –– with the independent preposition אֶל
וַתֹּ֥אמֶר הָֽאִשָּׁ֖ה אֶל־הַנָּחָ֑שׁ
insert transliteration
And-she-said the-woman to _the-serpent
The woman said to the serpent

Spatial

Spatial prepositions are translated into English with terms such as “in”, “on”, “under”, “with”, “beside”, etc. This is a common use of the preposition בְּ.

GEN 2:7 –– with the prefixed preposition בְּ
אֶת־קֹלְךָ֥ שָׁמַ֖עְתִּי בַּגָּ֑ן
insert transliteration
[dir-obj]_your-sound I-heard in-the-garden
I heard you in the garden
GEN 1:2 –– with the independent preposition עַל
וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם
weruah ‘elohim merahefeth ‘al-pene hammayim
and-spirit-of God hovering over_face-of the-waters
The Spirit of God was moving above the surface of the waters.

Locative

Locative prepositions are translated into English with terms such as “to” or “from”, etc. This is a common use of the prepositions אֶל and מִן.

GEN 8:9 –– with the prefixed preposition לְ
וַתָּ֤שָׁב אֵלָיו֙ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֔ה
insert transliteration
And-she-returned to him to the ark
and she returned to him in the ark
GEN 3:23 –– with the independent preposition מִן
וַֽיְשַׁלְּחֵ֛הוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים מִגַּן־עֵ֑דֶן
insert transliteration
And-he-sent-him-away Yahweh God from-the-garden-of_Eden
Therefore Yahweh God sent him out from the garden of Eden

Temporal

Temporal prepositions are translated into English with terms such as “in”, “at”, “until”, “before”, “after”, etc. This is a common use of the preposition בְּ.

GEN 1:1 –– with the prefixed preposition בְּ
בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים
insert transliteration
In-beginning he-created God
In the beginning God created
GEN 3:19 –– with the independent preposition עַד
עַ֤ד שֽׁוּבְךָ֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה
insert transliteration
until you-return to_the-ground
until you return to the ground

Instrumental

Instrumental prepositions are translated into English with terms such as “by”, “with”, “by means of”, etc. This is a common use of the preposition בְּ.

GEN 3:19 –– with the prefixed preposition בְּ
בְּזֵעַ֤ת אַפֶּ֙יךָ֙ תֹּ֣אכַל לֶ֔חֶם
insert transliteration
By-sweat-of your-face you-will-eat break
By the sweat of your face you will eat bread
GEN 4:1 –– with the independent preposition ?
וַתֹּ֕אמֶר קָנִ֥יתִי אִ֖ישׁ אֶת־יְהוָֽה
insert transliteration
And-she-said I-acquired man with_Yahweh
She said “I have produced a man with Yahweh’s help.

Correlative

Correlative prepositions are translated into English with terms such as “like”, “as”, “according to”, etc. This is the primary use of the preposition כְּ.

GEN 4:17 –– with the prefixed preposition כְּ
וַיִּקְרָא֙ שֵׁ֣ם הָעִ֔יר כְּשֵׁ֖ם בְּנ֥וֹ חֲנֽוֹךְ
insert transliteration
And-he-called name-of the-city as-name-of his-son Enoch
and named it after his son Enoch.
GEN 12:4 –– preposition כְּ with relative particle אֲשֶׁר
וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ אַבְרָ֗ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר אֵלָיו֙ יְהוָ֔ה
insert transliteration
And-he-went Abram as-what he-had-spoken to-him Yahweh
So Abram went as Yahweh had told him to do

Comparative

Comparative prepositions are translated into English with terms such as “more than” or “greater than”, etc. This is a common use of the preposition מִן.

Gen 29:30 –– with the prefixed preposition מִן
וַיֶּאֱהַ֥ב גַּֽם־אֶת־רָחֵ֖ל מִלֵּאָ֑ה
insert transliteration
And-he-loved also_[dir-obj]_Rachel more-than-Leah
but he loved Rachel more than Leah
GEN 3:1 –– with the prefixed preposition מִן
וְהַנָּחָשׁ֙ הָיָ֣ה עָר֔וּם מִכֹּל֙ חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה
insert transliteration
And-serpent he-was shrewd from-all-of animals-of the-field
Now the serpent was more shrewd than any other beast of the field

Directional

Directional prepositions are translated into English with terms such as “to”, “toward”, etc. This is a common use of the preposition לְ.

ISA 51:6 –– with the prefixed preposition לְ
שְׂאוּ֩ לַשָּׁמַ֨יִם עֵֽינֵיכֶ֜ם
insert transliteration
you-lift to-the-heavens your-eyes
Lift up your eyes to the sky
GEN 18:16 –– with the independent preposition עַל
וַיַּשְׁקִ֖פוּ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י סְדֹ֑ם
insert transliteration
And-they-looked on_face-of Sodom
and looked down toward Sodom

Causal

Causal prepositions are translated into English with terms such as “for” or “because”, etc. This is a secondary use of the prepositions לְ and עַל.

GEN 4:6 –– with the prefixed preposition לְ
וְלָ֖מָּה נָפְל֥וּ פָנֶֽיךָ׃
insert transliteration
and-for-what he-is-fallen your-face
and why are you scowling?
GEN 26:7 –– with the independent preposition עַל
פֶּן־יַֽהַרְגֻ֜נִי אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמָּקוֹם֙ עַל־רִבְקָ֔ה
insert transliteration
Lest_they-kill-me men-of the-place because-of_Rebekah
The men of this place will kill me to get Rebekah

Explanatory

Explanatory prepositions are often translated into English with terms such as “as”, “for”, “to”, or it can be left untranslated. This is a common use of the preposition לְ.

GEN 1:14 –– with the prefixed preposition לְ
וְהָי֤וּ לְאֹתֹת֙ וּלְמ֣וֹעֲדִ֔ים וּלְיָמִ֖ים וְשָׁנִֽים    
insert transliteration    
And-they-are for-signs and-for-seasons and-for-days and-years    
and let them be as signs for seasons for days and years
GEN 12:19 –– with the prefixed preposition לְ
וָאֶקַּ֥ח אֹתָ֛הּ לִ֖י לְאִשָּׁ֑ה
insert transliteration
And-I-took [dir.obj]-her to-me as-wife
I took her to be my wife

Direct Object

A rare use of the preposition לְ is to indicate the direct object of the verb. When used in this way, the preposition is almost always left untranslated in English.

1 CHR 29:22
וַיַּמְלִ֤יכוּ שֵׁנִית֙ לִשְׁלֹמֹ֣ה בֶן־דָּוִ֔יד    
insert transliteration    
And-they-crowned second [dir.obj]-Solomon son-of_David    
They made Solomon David’s son king a second time