Indefinite Numerical Construct Phrases in Biblical Hebrew

Adina Moshavi, Susan Rothstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


In both Biblical and Modern Hebrew, many of the cardinal numbers have different forms for the absolute and construct states The construct form is used in complex numbers, as in three thousand', and as syntactic heads in definite construct phrases, as inThis paper focuses on a third usage of the numerical construct which is not found at all in Modern Hebrew and is unusual in Biblical Hebrew: As syntactic head of indefinite construct phrases, e.g., three days'. Construct phrases share phonological and syntactic traits with compounds, lexical units formed from a multi-word phrase by a diachronic lexicalization process. A compound has the syntactic status of a word, and typically has a semantically opaque, non-compositional meaning. In this study we show that, in addition to the complex numerals, indefinite numerical construct phrases can be grouped into three semantic categories: 1) measure expressions, 2) frequency/duration expressions, and 3) expressions with non-specific quantity reference. We argue that use of the construct state in these expressions emphasizes a semantic and syntactic resemblance to the compound. Just as the compound designates a unitary concept, measure, frequency and duration expressions designate abstract quantities measured in terms of units. The third category resembles the measure expression in that the counted entities are not significant in and of themselves, but only as part of an overall quantity. The systematic use of constructs in numerical (1) phrases suggests that these phrases have undergone a degree of lexicalization.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)99-123
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Semitic Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes

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