How to Find the Meaning of a Hebrew Word

by Tara Haughney

In Hebrew, the consonant root holds a word's meaning, and each consonant combination has significance. By identifying grammatical patterns, isolating and defining the root, and reexamining the whole word, students can unlock new words and apply them in correct context.

The Importance of the Root Word

Roots may contain two to five consonant letters, with the majority having three. For instance, the Hebrew letters "kap," "taw" and "bet" -- which spell "katob" in Hebrew -- translate as "to write" in English. The order of the root consonants does not change, but other letters can be inserted to yield dozens of related words and ideas, such as he writes, you wrote and let her write tomorrow. Isolating the root from additional characters helps determine a word's meaning.

Identify Affixes

Affixes are word parts that carry meaning and can be combined with root words to form new words. Hebrew affixes are comprised of prefixes and suffixes and may include infixes, or letters inserted between the base characters of the root word. Like affixes are applied to like parts of speech: The pattern for turning infinitives into nouns, for example, would differ from the pattern that results in creating nouns in the male, singular form. Identifying the presence of these patterns allows for discarding the parts that do not pertain to the root.

Confirm the Definition

Hebrew dictionaries categorize words according to the root, so once the student has determined the main consonants of a word -- the root -- he can look for the definition of a related word in the dictionary. Alternatively, a student can discern the root and reapply the affixes that were discarded earlier.

About the Author

Tara Haughney is a dually certified elementary general and special educator, with teaching experience in Baltimore City Public Schools. She has been working to support youth education through community organizations and schools since 2004. Haughney holds a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from Northeastern University and an MAT from Notre Dame of Maryland University.

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