The Accusative of Specification

In the videos for Genesis 3:15c and 3:15d we ran across the ‘accusative of specification.’  In this post I will provide a description of this adverbial accusative.

  1.  What is the ‘accusative of specification’?
    • It is an adverbial accusative that “specifies the area of application for another noun, for a subject and its verb, a verb and its object” (Fuller, Biblical Hebrew Syntax, §13j).
    • Joüon-Muraoka define ‘specifiction’ this way: “The part to which an affirmation is limited.” (JM, §126g)
    • The ‘accusative of specification’ limits the application of a proposition.
    • For example, in our passage – Genesis 3:15c – the word רֺאשׁ clarifies the verb, indicating where the seed of the woman will bruise the serpent:
      • the action of bruising is limited to the serpent’s head.
    • Generally, without the ‘accusative of specification,’ the statement is somewhat ambiguous.  The ‘accusative of specification’ makes the statement a bit clearer.
  2. Are there indicators to help identify this accusative?
    • the word functioning as the ‘accusative of specification’ is typically:
      • indefinite
      • a primary noun – these are common nouns like feet, head, heel, king, tree, etc.
        • another adverbial accusative takes a descriptive noun (adjective, participle) – so it is important to know that the accusative of specification takes a primary noun and not a descriptive noun!  More on the other adverbial accusative later.
      • Sometimes you’ll come across a word that doesn’t seem to fit the sentence.  If you were to translate Genesis 3:15c literally, it would read “And He will bruise you head.”  That just sounds odd in our ears.  When this happens, you are likely dealing with an adverbial accusative.  Likewise, Psalm 3:8 (below) would read “For you have stricken all of my enemies cheek.”  “Cheek” is an adverbial accusative.


  1. The ‘accusative of specification’ answers the questions:
    • “in terms of what”
    • “by what specifically”
    • or “with respect to what”
    • Genesis 3:15c a more literal translation reads: “and He will bruise you with respect to the head.”
  2. Take Psalm 3:8 as an example:

כִּי־הִכִּיתָ אֶת־כָּל־אֹיְבַי לֶחִי

“For you have stricken all of my enemies with respect to the cheek”

  • In Ps 3:8 the word “cheek” לֶחִי is an indefinite, primary noun.
  • Functioning as an ‘accusative of specification,’ לֶחִי specifies/clarifies the verb הִכִּיתָ – the striking is limited to the cheeks of the enemies.
  • The NASB, KJV, ESV, and NIV identify the adverbial accusative, translating the clause “on the cheek” (ESV, NASB, NIV) or “upon the cheek bone” (KJV).

See also: Waltke-O’Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, pg. 173.


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.

2 thoughts on “The Accusative of Specification

  1. Psalm 134:2

    שְׂאֽוּ־יְדֵכֶ֥ם קֹ֑דֶשׁ וּ֝בָרֲכוּ אֶת־יְהוָֽה

    Most commentators say this is an accusative of direction – towards the sanctuary. Delitzsch cites B. Sota 39a as saying this is an accusative of definition – ‘in holiness’ (‘ie after washing of hands’) – but disagrees.

    I guess this is a ‘descriptive’ noun rather than a ‘primary’ noun – so am interested in your other adverbial accusative, and whether this could possibly be a case of it?

    The LXX has εις τα αγια, which I suppose could be either in the sanctuary, or toward the Most Holy place.

    The latter might perhaps solve my slight difficulty which was that they are already in the house of the Lord, so how could it be ‘toward’?


    1. Good question. I do see קֹדֶשׁ as an adverbial accusative, but more specifically as an accusative of place, in the sanctuary. If it was ‘towards’ I would have expected the qammes-he at the end. Although I wouldn’t argue strongly against ‘towards.’ I’m more confident with rendering it “in the sanctuary” due to the Targums and LXX readings. Hope that helps!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: