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Infinitives

Qal Infinitive Construct

וַיָּבֹאוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לִשְׁבֹּר

And the sons of Israel came to buy grain (Gen. 42:5)

The infinitive construct is a verbal noun that has a variety of different uses.  Unlike the infinitive absolute, the infinitive construct may appear with prefixes and/or suffixes. The basic form of the infinitive construct is קְטֹל, which may also appear with a waw matris lectionis, קְטוֹל. Variations to this form arise when the third radical is an ע, ח, or ה. In these circumstances, a furtive patach is inserted under the last root letter, e.g. שְׁמֹעַ. The infinitive construct can be interpreted in a variety of different ways and so understanding the context in which it appears is critical to its interpretation.

         i.            When prefixed with a lamed, the infinitive construct may be used in a purpose clause, expressing the goal or result of a previous finite verb (perfect or imperfect). In such instances, it is usually best to translate the infinitive as “in order to...”. In Genesis 42 below, the finite verb, וַיָּבֹאוּ, “and they came”, appears together with the infinitive construct+lamed. Thus, the phrase formed with the infinitive provides the goal for the sons of Israel coming to Egypt.

וַיָּבֹאוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לִשְׁבֹּר

 And the sons of Israel came in order to buy grain (Gen. 42:5)

       ii.            The infinitive construct together with the prefixes kaph or bet often appear in conjunction with finite verbs to indicate parallel events. A degree of overlap exists in the contexts in which each preposition is used, but some grammarians have noted the following general tendency. The kaph primarily represents two instantaneous actions that occur either at the same time, or one immediately after the other.

וַיְהִי כִּשְׁמֹעַ אֵלִיָּהוּ וַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו בְּאַדַּרְתּוֹ

 Now it happened when Elijah heard, he hid his face in his cloak (1Kings 19:13)

In 1Kings 19, above, the kaph+infinitive describes one action immediately after another. The instant Elijah heard the sound, he hid his face. The bet+infinitive, however, is more frequently used to describe two simultaneous durative events.

וְיוֹסֵף בֶּן־שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה בְּעָמְדוֹ לִפְנֵי פַּרְעֹה

Now Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh (Gen. 41:46)

In Gen 41 above, the two events are durative and simultaneous; Joseph was thirty years old at the same time he stood before Pharaoh. Unlike the example in 1Kings 19, the bet+infinitive is not emphasising instantaneous sequential actions.

      iii.            The primary means of negating the infinitive construct is via the particle לְבִלְתִּי.

וַיהוָה הִתְאַנֶּף־בִּי עַל־דִּבְרֵיכֶם וַיִּשָּׁבַע לְבִלְתִּי עָבְרִי אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּן

 But the Lord was angry with me because of you, and swore that I would not cross

the Jordan (Deut. 4:21)







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