Numeral construct phrases in Biblical Hebrew: A theoretical perspective

Susan Rothstein, Adina Moshavi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Construct phrases are nominal expressions consisting of a noun in the construct state, termed the construct, and an immediately adjacent nominal phrase, the annex. Biblical Hebrew has four kinds of construct phrases containing numerals: phrases with a definite nominal annex, complex numeral phrases, approximative phrases and phrases with an indefinite nominal annex. The first three constructions are found in Modern Hebrew, but not the fourth. In this paper we provide semantic interpretations for the four numeral construct phrase types, accounting for these constructions within a theoretical approach to the cross-linguistic properties of numeral phrases. Adopting the semantic analysis in Rothstein (2013, 2017b), which treats numerals as a type of property expression in the sense of Chierchia (1985), we show that the four constructions fall into two groups. In the first group, containing the complex numeral and the indefinite measure phrase, the construct numeral is an argument of a function. In the second group, containing the definite numeral phrase and the approximative, the construct numeral is a predicate that expresses intersectional modification. The numeral has a different semantic status in each group: as an argument, the numeral is a saturated property expression designating an individual, while as a modifier it is unsaturated. It is shown that definite numeral construct phrases and approximative phrases can be viewed as types of classifier expressions. The data and interpretations presented in the paper demonstrate that Biblical Hebrew numerals share fundamental semantic characteristics with numeral constructions in other languages, despite having various syntactic properties which are specific to this language.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)101-129
Number of pages29
JournalBrill's Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2021


  • Biblical Hebrew
  • Classifier
  • Construct phrase
  • Formal semantics
  • Numeral
  • Syntax


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