Biblical Hebrew Prepositions: Over and Under

Here are two helpful prepositions to learn in Biblical Hebrew – the words for “over” and “under.”

על

This word is pronounced like “all.” It means “over.”

תחת

This word is pronounced “ta-khat” (with the stress on the first syllable). It means “under.”

As usual, I came up with a way to remember these words.

I can remember על (pronounced “all”) because God is Lord over “all.”

For the word תחת I had to get more creative. When you say “ta-khat,” it sounds somewhat like “the cat.” Well, my cat always used to sit under the table. So that’s how I remember the word תחת.

If you have just finished learning the Hebrew alphabet, you will notice that the letters in תחת look very similar to each other. Remember to add the little “foot” when you write your Tav (ת) so it looks different from the Chet (ח).

As you have probably realized by now, the Hebrew words are rich in meaning, so there is more than one way to translate על and תחת. For example, על can also be translated “upon” or “above.” The word תחת can also be translated “beneath.” This is something you will learn contextually and with time and practice.

As you get deeper into grammar, you will find additional nuanced uses of these prepositions. You might find על with a meaning of “because” or “against.” The word תחת can sometimes indicate being at a certain place or even standing in place of something else.

While it is possible to memorize all these additional meanings of prepositions, I find it much easier to just remember the basic meaning of each word. That at least puts me in the right starting place, more or less. Then I keep an intermediate grammar (reference book) on hand to look up more specific meanings.

Over time, the meanings and uses will come to you more naturally, but until then, a grammar reference can be helpful.

The book I recommend is A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi. I find this book very handy for understanding all kinds of grammatical uses and meanings of words as I translate from the Hebrew Bible.

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry so much about nuances. The lexicon will help you translate your favorite Bible verses. But as you begin to grow in your understanding of Biblical Hebrew, you will enjoy digging deeper to experience the rich meaning of each Biblical Hebrew word. Shalom.

Interested in getting a taste of biblical Hebrew? There’s more to learn on my biblical Hebrew blog.

Want to jump into the basics of biblical Hebrew? Here’s a beginning biblical Hebrew course I offer online.