Shewa

Having studied three years of Hebrew, I’m already finding that I need to remind myself of some of the basics which are easily forgotten. I’m going to start with a little review of the Hebrew shewa. It can be a little difficult to get it straight in your head what the shewa does, but when you do get it straigh, it really helps you read and pronounce Hebrew.

Marking the absense of a Vowel (Silent Shewa)

The silent shewa is never pronounced and never transliterated. In this case, it marks the absense of a vowel. In a closed syllable (except at the end of a word) the shewa shows that there is no vowel under the second consonant and the syllable is therefore closed. BBH 3.6 puts it like this:

the shewa is silent if it is immediately preceded by a short vowel.

A few examples: מַלְכָּה and פַּרְעֹה. In each case, the shewa appears at the end of a closed syllable. But note that closed syllables at the end of a word do not have a shewa.

As always in Hebrew, there are a few exceptions here: a final kaf (ךְ) will usually have a shewa, possibly to distinguish it from a final nun (ן). Also, I spotted a strange word in Exodus 18:9. The first word (וַיִּחַדְּ) has a final s

A Hurried Vowel (Vocal Shewa)

The shewa represents an indistinct vowel sound. It’s main purpose is to aid pronunciation. It is transliterated with either a superscript ‘e’ or an unside down one.

An outworking of the above rule regarding the silent shewa is that a shewa is vocal if it is not immediately preceded by a short vowel. So, at the start of a word, the second of two consecutive shewas, under any consonant with a daghesh forte, and after a long vowel are all vocal shewas.

Remember that guttural letters (א ע ח ה) and ר cannot take vocal shewas (the take composite shewas instead) but the can take silent shewas.

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