A friendly reminder – The Shewa

The shewa (סְ) – those two vertical dots under the consonants – come in 2 varieties, though they will look alike.

Characteristics

  1. Silent Shewa
    • Usually preceded by a short vowel: מַלְכִּי
      • The shewa under the lamed is silent because it follows a short vowel, the patah
    • Never falls on the first letter of a word!
    • Will be found on the last letter of a word: מֶלֶךְ
      • The shewa in the final kaf is silent because it is at the end of a word.
  2. Vocal Shewa
    • Usually preceded by a long vowel: קֹטְלִים
      • The shewa under the tet is vocal because it is preceded by the long holem.
    • Will fall on the first letter of a word: דְּבָרִים
    • Will not fall on the last letter of a word.

Special Considerations

  1. What about words that have two shewas in the middle of a word, like תִּקְטְלוּ?
    • In this situation the shewa on the right is always silent.
      • Notice the short hireq preceding the shewa under the qof.
    • The shewa on the left is always vocal.
  2. What if a consonant has a dagesh and a shewa, like קִטְּלוּ?
    • In situations like this, because of the dagesh, the shewa is vocal.
    • But there is a short vowel preceding the shewa!
      • Yes, but because of the dagesh, the shewa is vocal.
  3. What if a word ends with two shewas, like קָטַלְתְּ?
    • A word can end with 2 silent shewas.
    • If you see this, the two shewas are always silent.
  4. Sometimes I see shewas with vowels next to them, like עֱ עֳ עֲ :
    • These are called composite shewas.
    • They are another type of vocal shewa.
    • They are primarily found under guttural letters.
      • See my post on Guttural letters under the Hebrew 101 link.
    • Don’t think of these as a vowel + shewa!
      • NO!  These are vocal shewas, pure and simple.

Pronunciation

A shewa is essentially the absence of a vowel.

  1. Silent Shewa – the absence of sound.  When pronouncing a word with a silent shewa, the sound stops when you hit the silent shewa.  Take for example the variant spelling of my last name McDonald:
    • MacDonald: when you pronounce this word, the sound stops on the ‘c’ and then picks up again with the ‘D’
      • Mac | Donald
    • In Hebrew: תִקְטֹל
      • tiq | tōl
  2. Vocal Shewa – a very quick sound.  When pronouncing a word with a vocal shewa, the sound is made quickly as you move from one syllable to the next.
    • In English, the ‘e’ in the word ‘because’ is quickly pronounced as you move from the ‘b’ to the ‘c.’
    • Also in English, the ‘o’ in ‘police’ is almost non-existent when we pronounce it: pǝlice
    • In Hebrew: קֹטְלִים
      • qōtǝlīm

References:

  • Fuller and Choi, Invitation to Biblical Hebrew, ch. 3.
  • Gesenius-Katuzsch, §10.
  • Joüon-Muraoka, §8.
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3 thoughts on “A friendly reminder – The Shewa

  1. The following words have a silent Shewa and I understand that one of the reasons is because the preceding vowel is a short vowel:

    אַלְמֻגִּים
    אַלְמֹן

    On the other hand, the following word has a vocal Shewa and I do not know why:

    אַלְלַי

    Your article was very helpful to me. For instance, the dagesh and the Shewa.

    Like

    1. It’s possible that the lamed with the shewa is implying a dagesh forte, which would make the shewa vocal. Certain letters, and lamed is one of them, that have a dagesh forte and a vocal shewa may omit the dagesh. That could be the case here.

      Like

      1. Dear Richard,

        First of all, thanks for your Website and for your support! I think I found the answer to my question regarding אַלְלַי and why it has a vocal or mobile Shewa. I found it under Joüon, P., & Muraoka, T. (2006). A grammar of biblical Hebrew (pp. 48–49). Roma: Pontificio Istituto Biblico. Under the main Shewa section, the authors give the “Five rules formulated by Elias Levita (15th c.) for identifying a shva mobile.” For my question, we are particularly interested in the 5th rule:
        5) “Under the first of two identical consonants, e.g. רוֹמְמוּ.”
        Another example would be the one I provided, אַלְלַי.

        Very best wishes from Chile, Gregorio Billikopf

        Like

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