Hebrew Nuggets, Lesson 17: vav (Part 1)

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First of two part series on the Hebrew letter Vav.

Revised: 1-Oct.-2015
The Hebrew language has a relatively limited vocabulary, but it makes up for this by maintaining a tremendous flexibility. Each Hebrew word can carry a wide range of meaning, and even individual letters often stand for many distinctly different things. Let us look at just one letter—ו (vav). You may be surprised at how many jobs it performs.

Hebrew NuggetsThe letter vav does yeoman service in the Hebrew language. It is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and also the Hebrew word for “and.” In previous lessons we have seen vav as a vowel: a dotted vav (וֹ), called ḥo·LAM, is pronounced “o” as in the word “note,” and a vav with a dot to its left (וּ), called shu·RUK, is pronounced “u” as in “flu.” Primarily, however, vav is a consonant, the Hebrew “v” sound.

As we saw in Lesson 3, Hebrew vowels are not a formal part of the alphabet and were not written until the sixth century C.E. In a text with no vowel signs, one distinguishes between a vav that has the “v” sound and a vav that is pronounced “o” or “u” solely from the context in which it occurs.

Vav also is one of the many Hebrew letters that are words in their own right. Such a word does not stand alone like the English word “a,” but is attached to the word that follows. Vav usually is translated in Eng­lish as “and,” but, as we will see, this is not always an accurate translation.

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To read the next lesson, click here. For the transliteration system used in this series, click here.
This article originally appeared in issue 17 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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