When "This" Is Not "This"

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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 demonstrative term “this” in Hebrew is זֶה for masculine singular, indicating:

  1. someone/something near or far:
    (זֶה סֵפֶר תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם (בר’ 5:1
    (וְזֶה שַעַר הַשָּמָיִם (בר’ 28:17
  2. an implicit abbreviation meaning “this thing”:
    (עַל-זֶה הָיָה דָוֶה לִבֵּנוּ (איכה 5:17
  3. “which”, “in which”, “that” :
    (הַר-צִיּוֹן זֶה שָכַנְתָּ בּוֹ (תהל’ 74:2
  4. a time span:
    (זֶה עֶשְׂרִים שָנָה (בר’ 31:38

It takes on the prefixes ב, ה, כ ל,מ , with their appropriate meanings.

The feminine singular form is זֹאת, זוֹ , and זֹה :
מַצָּה זוֹ שֶאָנוּ אוֹכְלִים… הגדה של פסח
(זֹאת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶר תִּתְנַחֲלוּ (במד’ 34:13
(זֹה הַלִּשְכָּה (יחזק’ 40:45
… And then there is זוּ , sometimes mistaken as the feminine form of זָה.
It is not. Like the third case (c) above, it means “which”, “that”. We
find it twice in שִירַת הַיָּם ,
(עַם-זוּ גָּאָלְתָּ, עַם-זוּ קָנִיתָ (שמ’ 15:13, 15:16
and in twelve other places in the Bible:

  1. In ‘shirat hayam’, ‘zu’ refers to ‘am’ , masculine noun, hence cannot be ‘zot’.
  2. In Isaiah 42:24 , ‘zu’ refers to Hashem, again masculine.(I could cite Radak’s second option here).
  3. In Isaiah 43:21, again ‘am’;
  4. In Habakuk 1:11, it refers to ‘koach’, again masculine.
  5. In Psalm 9:16 it is ‘reshet’, feminine – but the syntax does not favor ‘zot’, rather ‘which’;
  6. In Psalm 10:2, it is feminine plural -again, not good with ‘zot’;
  7. In Psalm12:8, masculine plural, practically demands ‘asher’;
  8. In Psalm 17:9, masculine plural demands ‘asher’;
  9. In Psalm 32:8, ‘derech’ is masc., or fem.,, again ‘asher’ fits better;
  10. In Psalm62:12 ‘shetayim’ may allow ‘zot’;
  11. In Psalm 68:29 refers to Hashem, again ‘asher’, not ‘zot’;
  12. In Psalm 142:4 ‘orach’ is masculine;
  13. In Psalm 143:8 ‘derech’ may allow ‘zot’.

In modern Hebrew literature, we find it, for instance, in Chaim Nachman Bialik’s
poem עִם דִמְדּוּמֵי הַחַמָּה :
אִיֵּי-הַזָּהָב זוּ צָמֵאנוּ אֲלֵיהֶם
“The golden isles which we craved”
and in Shaul Tchernichovsky’s שַׂחֲקִי, שֲׂחַקִי עַל הַחֲלוֹמוֹת :
שַׂחֲקִי ,שַׂחֲקִי עַל הַחֲלוֹמוֹת, זוּ אֲנִי הַחוֹלֵם שָׂח
“Laugh, laugh at the dreams, about which I, the dreamer, am talking”

This song has suffered the ignominy of being “corrected” by several singers:
After all , it is a masculine singular dreamer, so it should be זֶה אֲנִי …, “it is I, the dreamer…”

About Shlomo Karni


  1. When a man betrothes a woman and gives her a ring, is it zoh or zooh?

  2. According to this, it must be zoh. That was the pet peeve of a friend of mine, that people say zoo…

  3. Shalom Rosenfeld

    And let’s not forget “laz”, which never really caught on.

  4. Is there any difference in this between biblical and later stages of Hebrew?

  5. In the examples cited: #2. Radak cites both ‘zot’ and ‘asher’ (as pointed out to me by R’ Gil Student); #9 and #13 may allow ‘zot’, but all the others are ‘which’ (‘asher’).

    Also, a small typo: in the first listing, after #4, it should read “prefixes”, not “suffixes”

    Thank you, Shalom Rosenfeld, for mentioning “laz”! I(Halaz, Halazo,

    To Abba: no difference.

  6. Charlie Hafner

    Prof Karni or others,

    Please address Ta’ba’t Zoo, which after all is a legal formulation for a declaratory act. Shouldnt it be grammatically accurate?

    On a lesser note, “Zkhuso Yogein Aleinu, shouldnt it be Togen.
    But that phrasing doesnt have legal implications.

    HaTzad HaShaveh SheBaHem, they both appear to be commonly accepted grammatical mistakes. There are probably many others, Dikduk Police.


  7. R. J. Mitchell Orlian taught me that the grammatically correct term is “taba’as zo” and not “taba’as zu”. If I recall correctly, that’s what I said at my chuppah.

    In truth, it doesn’t matter because as long as it is conversationally correct language, it is good. Also, “zu” can sometimes mean “zo” (as per Radak, above).

  8. Charlie Hafner

    whats the source for

    “it doesn’t matter because as long as it is conversationally correct language, it is good”

    Does that apply to Gittin as well?

  9. The source is the first perek of Kiddushin. For example, see the Baraisa on 5b that doesn’t even mention taba’as.

    Doesn’t apply to Gittin.

  10. MiMedinat HaYam

    gitten are (?is?) (almost) completely in aramaic, not hebrew. completely different grammar rules.

    my pet peeve — “minyan sh’anachnu monim kan” definitely means March 14th, 2013. not nissan. (a post in this, maybe. we’ll ignore the famous issue of ketuba written while still day, but dated the (next) nite. or versa vica.)

    you dont need a “tabbat” / ring for kiddushin. but try using something else.

  11. I looked in several siddurim (ashkenazic and sephardic) under wedding ceremony, and all said zoh, except Artscroll said zoo.

    Maybe zoo is Aramaic?

    Timely post, considering the opening verse of this week’s haftarah.

  12. Charlie Hafner: Yes, zchut (zchus) is fem., and the correct form should be “tagen”. It happens. A cynic once noted, טָעוּת- לְעוֹלָם חוֹזֶרֶת.

    Ironically, the same great Bialik made also this mistake in his short story “The Trumpet”, וְשוּב מַעֲשֶׂה בְּהַסָּבָא מִשְפּוֹלָא, זְכוּתוֹ יָגֵן

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