The word אַף is often used as a noun meaning "nose", "nostril", or "anger", but here it is used in a different way. The Scholars Gateway parses it as a conjunction, and my iPhone app parses it as a particle. Both the website and my app list "also" and "yea" as definitions, but neither seems to fit the bill. Here is a comparison of translations which offers a couple interpretations.

וְהַנָּחָשׁ֙ הָיָ֣ה עָר֔וּם מִכֹּל֙ חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־הָ֣אִשָּׁ֔ה אַ֚ף כִּֽי־אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֔ים לֹ֣א תֹֽאכְל֔וּ מִכֹּ֖ל עֵ֥ץ הַגָּֽן׃

LXX - ὁ δὲ ὄφις ἦν φρονιμώτατος πάντων τῶν θηρίων τῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ὧν ἐποίησεν κύριος ὁ θεός καὶ εἶπεν ὁ ὄφις τῇ γυναικί τί ὅτι εἶπεν ὁ θεός οὐ μὴ φάγητε ἀπὸ παντὸς ξύλου τοῦ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ

Vulgate - sed et serpens erat callidior cunctis animantibus terrae quae fecerat Dominus Deus qui dixit ad mulierem cur praecepit vobis Deus ut non comederetis de omni ligno paradisi

YLT - And the serpent hath been subtile above every beast of the field which Jehovah God hath made, and he saith unto the woman, `Is it true that God hath said, Ye do not eat of every tree of the garden'

Gn 3:1

The LXX and Vulgate translate אַ֚ף as "why" (using the interrogatives τί and cur respectively). The YLT uses אַ֚ף to form a yes-no question ("is it true that..."). Which interpretation is correct, if any? How would you define אַ֚ף in this context? And what is that punctuation mark beside the patach?

3 Answers 3


The word אף appears not infrequently with the word כי like this. Essentially, אף is acting as an ״emphatic״ (whatever that means1 ) word, and כי is introducing a content clause describing that which is to be "emphasized". Here is the relevant entry from HALOT:

yea, that…! i.e. how much more (or less)! † Pr. 11:31 lo, the righteous is recompensed in the earth אַ֝֗ף כִּי רָשָׁע וְחוֹטֵא ’tis indeed that (= how much more) the wicked and the sinner! 15:11, 17:7, 19:7, 19:10, Jb 9:14, 15:16, 25:6, 1 S 14:30, 1 K 8:27 (= 2 Ch 6:18)...

The twist in Genesis 3:1 is that the context indicates (arguably, see Muraoka) that we are dealing with a question. Although BDB's "yea" is not common in modern English, the words "really" or "indeed" can be used similarly. You can think about the translation of אף כי as:

[Is it] really that...?

Just as in many other questions (rhetorical or not) in Biblical Hebrew, it is primarily the context that leads translators to render this as a question. BDB has given this usage in Gen 3:1 its very own sub-entry under אף כי to point out that it may introduce a question; Muraoka points out that this is an unprecedented usage in Biblical Hebrew.

As for the part of speech, I think it's reasonable to conclude that it is a (coordinating) conjunction, though the lexicons disagree about this. Clearly there is a coordinating use of אף, and this "emphatic" use is often lumped together with it (see BDB, DCH, and HALOT -- though the last terms it a particle). Muraoka's discussion argues that the latter usage is actually an extension of the former, which would justify this approach.

On your final question: that's not a punctuation mark but a prepositive disjunctive accent known as ytiv.

1. On the nature of the emphasis (or lack thereof, as he, unconventionally, concludes) and a quite thorough discussion of אף כי including its unique use in Genesis 3:1, see T. Muraoka, Emphatic Words and Structures in Biblical Hebrew (Brill, 1985) p. 141f.


Instead of imagining a link between AP and the 'nose' > 'anger' would be better to consider the root PLK (as in 2 Sam 3:29) as the derivative source of this term, with the meaning 'to sustain', 'to maintain'. So the correct translation would be: "Do you maintain that God really say that [...]?"

  1. Don't know why Scholar's Gateway uses Strong's #638 (Aramaic) instead of #637 in this instance (and others).

Blue-Letter Bible site give Gesenius entry (which includes #637-639 info.


Scripture4all - Interlinear Scripture Analyer (ISA2) - separates them as:

H637 - conj./primitive particle

H638 - Aramaic (4x; Ezek. and Dan.) - all corresponding to H637 meaning.

H639 - nose and anger meanings, etc.

Hebrew Dictionary (Lexicon-Concordance) may be helpful:


  1. Cantillation character - yetiv


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.