In 2 Samuel 1:25 and 1:27 there appears the sentence:

אֵיךְ נָפְל֣וּ גִבֹּרִ֔ים
Ekh naphelu gibborim
How the mighty have fallen! / How have the mighty fallen?

Is this meant to be understood as a question or as an exclamation?

  • It's just the literary device called rhetoric Mar 4, 2023 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


It's safe to say the statement in question, which occurs three times in 2 Samuel chapter 1, is a declarative sentence, complete with an exclamation point in English.

As my link points out, ancient Hebrew gives us clues to the emotional freight of a sentence by providing us with a key word, as opposed to a punctuation mark in English. One such word is behold (e.g., Psalm 133:1), and other such clues include the English letter O (e.g., Numbers 24:5; Luke 13:34) and the word how (e.g., Isaiah 1:21, and the three verses from 2 Samuel 1 in your question; namely, vv.19, 25, and 27).

I suppose we could "translate" the word How into any of the following, but much less economically:

  • To what an extent . . .

  • Oh, the humanity! How . . . (forgive my jocularity, since this example is from the reporter for Chicago's radio station WLS who witnessed the destruction of the airship Hindenburg at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937. The character "Newman" on the sitcom "Seinfeld" used this expression when the mail truck he was driving caught fire)

  • Be amazed as to how . . .

  • Amazing though it may be . . .

  • Just think of it! The mighty . . .

You could likely think of other words which would convey the plaintive and poignant expression of David, who in this passage is really mourning the death of Saul, "God's anointed," and particularly Jonathan, to whom David was very close (see v.26). By the way, not one of the many Bible versions of these verses from 2 Samuel 1, as found at BibleStudyTools.com, translates the repeated statement in question as an interrogative sentence, but only as an exclamatory sentence.

Other contributors to this website might care to provide other examples of English words which provide clues to the exclamatory nature of many sentences in both Testaments, but I've at least gotten the ball rolling, I hope!

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