Verbal Clauses

In this video I introduce verbal clauses and explain how they differ in meaning from nominal clauses.

Published by Richard C. McDonald

I am married to Nancy McDonald and we have two boys, Noah and Stephen. I am a high school history teacher at Whitefield Academy in Louisville, KY. I am also an adjunct instructor of Old Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College. I am a fan of LSU, and college football in general. My family and I are members at Sojourn Church-JTown in Louisville, KY.

5 thoughts on “Verbal Clauses

  1. Thanks, very interesting. But how do we really know that the word order carries a lot of weight – that the author’s focus is on action in a verbal clause, and on the initiator in a nominal clause?

    Also on points of detail:

    i) I was surprised to see an adverbial clause categorised as a type of accusative. That’s not true in English or Greek grammar, surely?

    ii) is there any difference between ‘agent’ and ‘subject’ (I noticed you actually started calling the agent the subject).

    iii) You say that in a nominal clause with a verb, the announcement is the verbal clause. But this verbal clause has no agent – so doesn’t seem to fulfil your description of what a verbal clause is.


    1. 1. I’m basing my analysis of Hebrew grammar on Semitic grammar in general, primarily Arabic. Before the advent of modern linguistics, Hebrew grammar was based on Arabic grammar (going all the way back to the beginning of Hebrew grammar with Saadiah Gaon). In Semitic grammar word order is essential. You still see Arabic grammatical categories even in Gesenius-Kautzsch and the older grammars.

      2. In Semitic grammar, the adverbial clause is a type of accusative.

      3. I use the ‘agent’ ‘subject’ interchangeably.

      4. The verb has an agent expressed by the implied or explicit pronoun in the verb form. For example in קָטַל the implied 3ms pronoun is the agent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks a lot, sir. Re 1), I saw that, but why do you think they had it right? Is it because they were native speakers of a related language – I guess Arabic or Medieval Hebrew – knew that word order was of great importance in their language, and deduced that it was so also for biblical Hebrew?

    My impression is that there was a great tendency in the Middle Ages (not saying more than now, necessarily) for dogmas to perpetuate themselves by tradition. Aristotle said this, so it is so, kind of thing. So an early grammarian might have just said OK let’s categorise by whether a noun comes first or a verb, and built a dogma out of it, possibly without proper investigation.


  3. I think they were closer to getting it right because they were native speakers. I believe they saw the close relationship between Hebrew and Arabic and decided to use the categories Arab grammarians had developed over the centuries. I wouldn’t say, and even Jewish grammarians wouldn’t say, that there is a one-to-one correlation between the two languages. There are differences between Arabic and Hebrew, but the similarities are there and they are striking. This is because they descend from a common parent language.

    From what I can tell, Jewish grammarians properly investigated their language. I don’t think they developed these categories for dogmatic reasons. There were two schools of Jewish grammarians: rabbinical and the Karaites. The Karaites were a group of Jewish scholars who sought to study the Hebrew scriptures apart from the traditions of the rabbis. Yet, both schools used Arabic categories in grammatical discussions.

    In studying any language I would listen first to the native speakers. If I wanted to really learn Korean, I would do well to learn from a Korean. For dead languages, it is important to study any extant grammatical works or statements of native speakers. Medieval Jewish scholars, who knew Hebrew and Arabic, saw the benefit of Arabic grammar in the study of Hebrew grammar. I think we would do well to take note. Does this mean they get it right all of the time? No, but I think native speakers of any language have an “in” to their language that non-native speakers lack.

    Chrys Caragounis makes this very argument in relation to Koine Greek. Caragounis is a native Greek speaker and he wrote “The Development of Greek and the New Testament” to provide a Greek-speaker’s perspective on various elements of NT Greek grammar. He particularly focuses on Stanley Porter and his misunderstanding of Greek tense, arguing that the perspective of a Greek speaker is helpful in understanding Greek tense.


    1. Thanks a lot, Richard, that makes sense. I realise you did a PhD on this so know a bit about it! I am actually predisposed to agree with you, since in NT Greek, which I can at least read, I somehow find myself trusting the old grammarians more than the revisionists. Not that I am sufficiently expert in the language to really know for sure.

      But I thought I would present a counter argument, since it had occurred to me.


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