Q&A: How do I know if a verb in Hebrew is Pa’al type, Piel type or other?

The short answer is that you fairly quickly develop an intuitive sense, from hearing (or reading) how other people use that verb. But if you’re looking for a broad rule of thumb to get you going, here it is:

  • If it’s a simple, straightforward verb that doesn’t operate ‘on’ anything and just minds its own business, it’s probably pa’al — e.g. ani holekh, aokhel, ro’eh (walk/go, eat, see).
  • It has certain passivity to it, it may be niph’al — e.g. nimtza (is present); nir’eh (seen); nistar (he/it is hidden); norah (he/it was shot). The passive corollary to pa’al.
  • If it involves a certain amount of manipulation, it’s probably pi’el — e.g. le’abed et haadamah (work the land); leḥaleq et hazman (divide the time). Also almost invariably the binyan of choice for Hebraized verbs of foreign origin — e.g., letalphen (to phone); lesamess (to SMS); lefabreq (to fabricate).
  • If it involves actually operating something that would otherwise be inanimate or work some other way, it’s hiph’il — e.g. lehaph’il et ham’khonah (operate the machine); lehatnia et ha’oto (to start the car).
  • If it relates to the object at the receiving end of hiph’il: if it is clearly a passive thing that is operated on or manipulated by something else, it’s probably huph’al — e.g., hamekhonah huph’alah (the machine was operated); hatziur mutxag bagaleriah (the painting is exhibited at the gallery).
  • If it involves a certain repetition, reflection, or continuous action, it’s hitpa’el — e.g., lehistovev bareḥov (wander around the street); hakadur mitgalgel (the ball rolls); lehitpaél mehamar’ot (to express wonder at the sights); hadli mitmalé bemaim (the bucket is filling up with water).
  • Last but least: pu’al, which is the passive corollary to pi’el — e.g. dubar (it was spoken/discussed); supar (it was told). It is the rarest of all the binyanim, and somewhat literary or refined.

Here’s a summary table that you can cut out and keep:

Binyan* Verb type Examples Corollary
simple, active okhel אוכל (eat)
ro’eh רואה (see)
passive corollary of pa’al ne’ekhal נֶאֶכָל (eaten)
nir’eh נִראֶה (seen)
involving manipulation of something me’abed מְעָבֵּד (processing)
meḥaleq מְחָלֵק (dividing)
passive corollary of pi’el dubbar דוּבָּר (spoken)
turgam תוּרְגָם (translated)
involving operation of other things, people lehaph’il להַפְעִיל (to operate [machinery])
lehadliq להַדְלִיק (to turn on)
passive corollary of hiph’il hutzat הוּצָת (lit., sparked) hiph’il
involving repetition, reflection, or continuous action mitgalgel מתגלגל (rolling)
mitmalé מתמלא (filling up)


*Binyan in this context means “construction.”


4 thoughts on “Q&A: How do I know if a verb in Hebrew is Pa’al type, Piel type or other?

  1. An excellent, clear, and usable explication of… of one of the facets of Hebrew I actually love to depend on; all languages should have such an insightful ‘game-plan’ in the verb biz.
    Also satisfying to see my own hard-won ‘feel’ for the ‘binyans’ be corroborated by an expert. I now lack only for my Subaru “to have been caused to have been started’, or some such, ha
    / JS/ Qadima

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: How do I know if a verb in Hebrew is Pa’al type, Piel type or other? post by Jonathan Orr-Stav – Notes by Autum Light | Talmidimblogging

  3. Pingback: Q: Is there a rule for determining the vowels in Hebrew conjugation (present, past, future and passive)? | Notes by Autumn Light

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