One Preposition That’s Two

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Guest post by Prof. Shlomo Karni

Shlomo Karni was Professor of Electrical Engineering and Religious Studies at University of New Mexico until his retirement in 1999. His books include Dictionary of Basic Biblical Hebrew:Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Carta, 2002).

The preposition אֵת or אֶת- has two distinct meanings, with some
variants in each one:

A.

  1. It is chiefly used as a marker before a definite, direct object
    following a transitive verb:
    בְּרֵאשִית בָּרָא אֱלֹקִים אֶת הַשָּמַיִם וְאֶת הָארֶץ :בראשית א1
    the transitive verb being ברא and its two definite, direct objects
    השמים and הארץ.
  2. At times, but less frequently, it precedes an indefinite object:
    וְאִיש אֲשֶר יִקַּח אֶת אִשָּה :ויקרא כ 14
    here אשה is the indefinite direct object of the verb יקח.
  3. It may be missing and present in the same verse:
    גָּרֵש הָאמָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת-בְּנָהּ :בראשית כא 10
    4) It may follow an impersonal passive verb, third person, masculine singular:
    יוּמַת נָא אֶת- הָאִיש הַזֶּה ירמ’ לח 4
  4. Sometimes, it appears before a subject, for emphasis [1]:
    וְאֶת-חֻקּוֹתַי לֹא-הָלְכוּ בָהֶם :יחזקאל כ 16
  5. It indicates the meaning of the action, as ‘to’, or ‘in’
    or ‘from’, etc.:
    וּזְרַעְתֶּם אֶת הַשָּנָה הַשְּמִינִת :ויקרא כה 22
  6. Its inflection with the pronominal suffixes is:אוֹתִי, אוֹתְךָ, אוֹתָךְ, אוֹתוֹ, אוֹתָה, אוֹתָנוּ, אֶתְכֶם, אֶתְכֶן, אוֹתָם, אוֹתָן.
    In the vernacular, it is אוֹתְכֶם, אוֹתְכֶן — and a ‘hapax’ in the Bible:
    עַד-הַשְמִידוֹ אוֹתְכֶם… :יהושע כג 15
    where there are also variants like אוֹתְהֶם, אֶתְהֶם, אוֹתָנָה, אֶתְהֶן
    (A historical footnote: David Ben-Gurion waged a campaign to remove this proposition from modern Hebrew. He failed, but in all his speeches, articles, and books there is not a single אֶת!)

B.

  1. Its second meaning is ‘with’, ‘together with’ = עִם:
    יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק אֶת רִבְקָה… :בראשית כו 8
    In Biblical literature and in literary and poetic Hebrew, the inflection
    of עִם is regular: (עִמִּי,(עִמָּדִי), עִמְּךָ, עִמּוֹ… עִמָּנוּ… עִמָּם (עִמָּהֶם…;
    In the Bible, it is also
    אִתִּי, אִתְּךָ,… אִתָּנוּ, אִתְּכֶם,… . In the vernacular, it is only the latter– even though אֶת itself, in the sense of עִם, is no longer used. There’s
    one exception – in names of partnerships (business, law, etc.):
    אַבְרָהָם כֹּהֵן אֶת יִצְחָק לֵוִי – עוֹרְכֵי-דִין
  2. Another meaning is ‘at’ = אֵצֶל
    הַפְּסִילִים אֲשֶר אֶת-הַגִּלְגָּל…. :שופ’ ג 19
  3. אֶת-פְּנֵי = אֶל פְּנֵי
    meaning ‘before’, ‘in front of’:
    וַיִּחַן אֶת- פְּנֵי הָעִיר :ברא’ לג 18
  4. מֵאֵת = ‘from’; ‘by’
    וַיֵּרֵד יְהוּדָה מֵאֵת אֶחָיו ברא’ לח 1
    “מוֹרֶה נְבוּכִים” מֵאֵת הַרַמְבָּ”ם
    In the next note, we consider the association of אֶת with the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘not to have’.

[1]. Abraham Even-Shoshan, “A New Concordance of the Old
Testament (2nd ed.).” Jerusalem: “Kiryat Sefer” Publ. House, 1989.

About Shlomo Karni

14 comments

  1. I cannot see the post

  2. Can you explain the difference between Nusach Edot Mizrach and Nusach Ashkenaz with respect to present/missing את before a definite object, i.e. אוהב (את) עמו ישראל in maariv / aravit. Or ראו בנים /בניו (את) גבורצתו

  3. “David Ben-Gurion waged a campaign to remove this proposition from modern Hebrew. He failed, but in all his speeches, articles, and books there is not a single אֶת!”

    source?

  4. I’m a bit of a grammar geek compared to most but really don’t know much about it so I enjoy your posts. I really enjoyed the sidenote about Ben Gurion. Thanks.

  5. I am under the impression that when used as a marker, the word את goes before specific objects. For example, the first sentence below does not contain את because the camels taken were not specific ones whereas in the second case Avraham took a specific ram.

    1. וַיִּקַּח הָעֶבֶד עֲשָׂרָה גְמַלִּים The slave took ten camels.
    2. וַיִּקַּח אֶת־הָאַיִל Avraham went and took the ram.

    If so why does it say…

    3. וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית He took the book of the treaty – without the word את? Is this an exception or am I missing something?

    Thanks.

    Tzvi

  6. Greg: I am not aware that the distinction is between edot mizrach and
    Ashkenaz. The presence/absence of את is all over the biblical/rabbinical literature.

    Abba: מדינת ישראל המחודשת(2 vols.), proceedings of the Knesset, articles in “דבר” throughout his life
    Tsvi: precisely the point – את can appear or not, fairly arbitrarily, even in the same sentence.

  7. So would this mean that “את” is somewhat optional in nature? i.e. it may or may not be in front of definite direct object. I thought that if I were to say “I see my garden” in Hebrew, I’d say “אני רואה את גני” and never “אני רואה גני”.

  8. though I think the answer is the same as #3 for Tzvi…

  9. A better title for this post would have been “it depends what the meaning of the word is, is…

  10. Can you explain how את-חקותי in example 4 is a subject? The subject of the verb הלכו is the members of the house of Israel, from way back at the beginning of the chapter. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening here, but חקותי is pretty clearly the antecedent of the the pronoun הם, and is functioning in apposition with it. I’d translate very literally as “And they did not follow in them, my laws.” (I’d probably drop the “in” in a more idiomatic translation, and maybe drop the pronoun altogether, as JPS does.) I don’t know what the את is doing there.

  11. Jesse – you are right. Thanks.

  12. Sometimes, it appears before a subject, for emphasis [1]:
    וְאֶת-חֻקּוֹתַי לֹא-הָלְכוּ בָהֶם :יחזקאל כ 16

    Is חֻקּוֹתַי really the subject in this example? Isn’t the subject an implied “they” who did not walk “in” the statutes?

  13. Can you explain how את-חקותי in example 4 is a subject? The subject of the verb הלכו is the members of the house of Israel, from way back at the beginning of the chapter. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening here, but חקותי is pretty clearly the antecedent of the the pronoun הם, and is functioning in apposition with it. I’d translate very literally as “And they did not follow in them, my laws.” (I’d probably drop the “in” in a more idiomatic translation, and maybe drop the pronoun altogether, as JPS does.) I don’t know what the את is doing there.

    Whoops, I need to read the prior comments more carefully :).

    I assumed that the את is there so that it is clear that חקותי is in fact the object of the sentence, despite the fact that it comes before the predicate, and is the same as בָהֶם.

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