The Meaning and the Function of He locale


There is a discussion among the linguists about the meaning and the function of so called He locale. In this short paper we would like to present the origin of this vowel in old Semitic languages (1), its meaning (2), changes it provokes in vocalization (3) and stress in words where it appears (4). We’ll support our presentation with biblical examples.

1. Background

Sometimes in Hebrew language we can find so-called paragogic vowels. There are vowels added to the nouns. The most frequent paragogic vowel we can find is unstressed h­. Sometimes the nouns join also i, o, u (the last two very rare) 1. We have to distinguish the unstressed paragogic He from the stressed paragogic He which is the vowel of the cohortative2.

The origin of these vowels are in the old Semitic declension. The added vowel u, i, a were found in the Canaanite glosses of Tell El Amarna, and also in Ugaritic, Early Phoehician and Akkadian languages. They must have existed, at some stage, in Hebrew, and still exist in Classical Arabic. The old Semitic declension in its complete form had three cases. These cases were corresponding to the Latin nominative, genitive and accusative. To the case vowel of the indeterminate noun, m was added. This phenomenon is known as a mimation. It probably did not exist in Early Hebrew, because is not evidenced nor in Al Amarna glosses, nor in Ugaritic. In Arabic this added m became n (nunation).

For example the declension of the word yawm (jom) ­ day was following3:

  • Determinate Indeterminate
  • Nominative yawmu       yawmum
  • Genitive yawmi     yawmim
  • Accusative  yawma     yawmam

In the words like `ab ”father”, `ah ”brother”, ham ”husband`s father”, which belonged to the nouns of kinship, the declension in the construct state and before the suffixes had a long vowel (e.g.: Nominative ­ `abu, Genitive ­ `abi, Accusative ­ `aba).

Earlier the unstressed paragogic vowel He was considered as a vestige of the old determinate accusative. However, in the light of Ugaritic language, we know that in the form arsh (”to the ground”) the final letter is not mater lectionis, but a consonant. Akkadian morpheme s assures that h had originally consonantal character. Akkadian s often corresponds to Canaanite h. The letter h begun loosing its consonantal value in Ugaritic. So now it is certain that He ”is not a survival of the accusative, but a distinct adverbial suffix”4.

The history of the Hebrew language gives us some evidence, that He locale was originally marked with mappiq5.

2. Meaning

The suffix ­ah added to a noun or to a directional adverb indicates motion toward or destination. This is why we call it He locale or He directive. He locale corresponds in its meaning with Latin ad (in) with accusative. The most frequent He locale is joined to the determinate noun. The noun can be determined by virtue of the article attached to it or by itself. When it is added to the feminine singular noun with the ending ­ah, the primitive taw reappears6.

Although the mainly meaning of He locale is to demonstrate a direction or motion towards, sometimes the notion of this can became weaker or can even disappear7. In Jer 29:15 the expression means: in Babylon ­ without motion. Sometimes ”indicates  the direction away from which an action is directed”8 (e.g. Jer 27:16). It can also mark forward progression through time(e.g.  Ex 13:10). Sometimes we can find He locale ”after prepositions which already express the idea of motion towards”. This suffix can be added both to a proper nouns and common nouns, the latter with or without the article. Sometimes it is also added to directional adverbs.

He locale with nouns

  • without article, e.g.: 1 Kings 19:15; or­ with geographical names (e.g. Carmel; 1 Sam. 25:5).

With the name of cities He locale sometimes become a part of the word. Because of frequent use of the accusative of direction we can observe the same phenomenon in Greek: the name of the city comes from the form of accusative of direction (Stambul­ eij thn polin, Isnik­ eij Nikaia, Stanco­ eij thn Kw)10.

  • with an article, for example11to the mountain; towards the outside; towards the sea; (in) to the house
  • with plural form of the nouns (towards the Chaldeans): Ez 11:24
  • with the construct form of the nouns (to the house of Joseph): Gen 43:17

In this case, when He locale intrudes ”between the construct and the genitive, the result is called a broken construct clain”12.

Sometimes we can find in the Bible the words which joined He locale with segol . There are very rare exceptions and we do not know the reason of this change. He locale with segol appears for example in13towards Nob in 1 Sam 22:9; anywhere in 1 Kings 2:36; towards Denan in Ez 25:13.

He locale with directional adverbs

  • cf. Jer 18:2

3. The changes in vocalization.

The changes of vocalization when He locale is added to the word is very complex and cannot be explained in satisfactory way in this short paper. The general principle about these changes is that as far as possible, the vocalization of the word remains unchanged14.

4. Stress.

The He locale is unstressed. This is why we can distinguish He locale from He of the cohortative form. There are however a few exceptions in the Bible, where suffix ­ah is stressed. In the first example He is stressed probably because of the pause in the noun ”sun”15: Deut 4:41.

In this case He locale is stressed in two proper nouns: Jos 19:13.


[1] A.B.Davidson, J.Mauchline, An Introductory Hebrew Grammar with Progressive Exercises in Reading, Writing and Pointing, Edinburgh 1986, 68.

2 P.Joüon ­ T.Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, vol. 1, Roma 1991, 277­278 and B.K.Waltke ­ M.O`Connor,  An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Winoma Lake, Indiana 1990, 185.

3 P.Joüon ­ T.Muraoka, A Grammar, cit., 278. In modern Arabic these endings almost disappeared. Sometimes they are used among the beduins but without regularity (W.Gesenius, E.Kautzsch, A.E.Cowley Hebrew Grammar, Oxford 1910, 249).

4 B.K.Waltke ­ M.O`Connor,  An Introduction, cit., 185. According to W.Gesenius, E.Kautzsch, A.E.Cowley (Hebrew Grammar, cit., 248) it is no so certain. There is the possibility that He locale  is can to be regarded as real remnants of case endings.

5 A.B.Davidson, J.Mauchline, An Introductory Hebrew Grammar, cit., 68.

6 P.Joüon ­ T.Muraoka, A Grammar, cit., 278.

7 P.Joüon ­ T.Muraoka, A Grammar, cit., 278­279.

8 B.K.Waltke ­ M.O`Connor,  An Introduction, cit., 185 and W.Gesenius, E.Kautzsch, A.E.Cowley Hebrew Grammar, cit., 250.

9 A.B.Davidson, J.Mauchline, An Introductory Hebrew Grammar, cit., 68.

10 P.Joüon ­ T.Muraoka, A Grammar, cit., 280.

11 H.Bauer, P.Leander, Historische Grammatik der Hebraischen Sprache des Alten Testamentes, vol. 1, Halle 1922, 528.

12 B.K.Waltke ­ M.O`Connor,  An Introduction, cit., 140.

13 P.Joüon ­ T.Muraoka, A Grammar, cit., 279.

14 T.O.Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, Norwich 1996, 152.

15 P.Joüon ­ T.Muraoka, A Grammar, cit., 279.



Wśród lingwistów wciąż trwają badania co do pochodzenia i dokładnego znaczenia tzw. He locale, często pojawiającego się w hebrajskim biblijnym i niekiedy pozabiblijnym. Powyższa prezentacja przedstawia pokrótce pochodzenie He locale w języku hebrajskim, omawia jego podstawowe znaczenia oraz zmiany w wokalizacji  i w akcencie słów, w których zjawisko to występuje. W dotychczasowych badaniach przekonywano, że zjawisko bierze początek w deklinacji niektórych nieokreślonych rzeczowników starożytnych języków semickich. Najnowsze analizy tekstów ugaryckich i akkadyjskich każą raczej skłaniać ku tezie, że He locale to pozostałość po przyrostku przysłówkowym. Podstawowe znaczenie He locale związane jest z określeniem kierunku ruchu; niekiedy jednak wskazuje na konkretne miejsce nie wiążąc go z ruchem. Może określać także postęp w czasie. Wokalizacja słów, w których zjawisko to się pojawia pozostaje niezmieniona, na ile pozwalają na to ogólne zasady gramatyki. He locale z zasady pozostaje nieakcentowane.