The first column (right-to-left) is a list of segolate nouns.

The second column shows that, when a pronoun is added to segolate noun, the vowel under the first letter of the root reverts to whatever quality, hiriq (אִ) or patach (אַַ), it originally was in whatever language Hebrew developed out of.

The third column shows that even in pause, when the final vowel is re-lengthened back into a segol, the first vowel still retains its original pre-Biblical quality, hiriq (אִ) or patach (אַַ).

  • כֶּרֶם כַרְמְךָ כַּרְמֶךָ vineyard
  • לֶחֶם לַחְמְךָ לַחְמֶךָ bread, food
  • צֶדֶק צִדְקְךָ צִדְקֶךָ righteousness
  • קֶבֶר קִבְרְךָ קִבְרֶךָ grave
  • פֶּלֶא פִּלְאֲךָ פִּלְאֶךָ a wonder
  • קֶרֶב קִרְבְּךָ קִרְבֶּךָ middle, midst
  • עֶבֶד עַבְדְּךָ עַבְדֶּֽךָ slave, servant
  • חֶסֶד חַסְדְּךָ חַסְדֶּךָ goodness, kindness
  • דֶּרֶךְ דַּרְכְּךָ דַּרְכֶּךָ way, road,
  • כֶּסֶף כַּסְפְּךָ כַּסְפֶּךָ silver, money

There is one notable exception to this rule.

  • קֶצֶף קֶצְפְּךָ קִצְפֶּךָ wrath

Here we see that, although the initial vowel reverts in pause (Psalm 102:10[11]), it fails to revert out of pause (Psalm 38:1[2]).

Did this result from a scribal error? Or is there a historical or linguistic explanation for this anomaly?

  • 1
    I'm confused. First (minor, but warrants mention) -- the Hebrew is v. 11. Second, BHS has קִצְפֶּ֑ךָ with a hireq in Ps 102:11. This is in pause. Have you flipped Ps 38:1[2] and 102:10[11] around perhaps?
    – Susan
    Feb 18, 2018 at 17:56
  • (Of note, this may be considered a question about the Hebrew language -- or Masoretic practice -- more than a hermeneutics question. You've labeled it text criticism, which may be a stretch. Regardless, it's OK with me to have it here, but just FYI some may object.)
    – Susan
    Feb 18, 2018 at 18:15
  • 1
    On a side note, you may be interested in the Area51 proposal to have a Stack Exchange site about Semitic languages an sich.
    – user2672
    Feb 18, 2018 at 18:21
  • 1
    Yes, of course, I mean a Masoretic or late scribal error. If it is not a scribal error, I want to understand the reason the Masoretes choose to vocalize the text this way.
    – John Duda
    Feb 19, 2018 at 0:46
  • 1
    My guess is that the segol does not appear to revert in Psalm 38:1[2] because there is no pause here (disjunctive accent). That is, the conjunctive accent Mer’kha is "non-pausal," and connects the single unit, אַל־בְּקֶצְפְּךָ֥, with the following word, תֹוכִיחֵ֑נִי, which is what carries the primary pause in the verse with the disjunctive Athnach accent. The hyphen (metheg) in the term אַל־בְּקֶצְפְּךָ֥ makes the phrase one unit, which contains several syllables. The elision of the segol into a schwa would shorten the term, which (as noted) is non-pausal.
    – Joseph
    Feb 19, 2018 at 5:19

3 Answers 3


According to Bauer-Leander (Historische Grammatik der Hebräischen Sprache des Alten Testaments, 1922), §72y, this is a result of the merger between segol-segol (קֶ֫טֶל) and tsere-segol (קֵ֫טֶל) types:

Da die Type קֶ֫טֶל und קֵ֫טֶל in weitem Umfange lautgesetzlich zusammengefallen sind, kommen natürlich Schwankungen häufig vor. Sehr viele Nomina zeigen im freien Sg. beide Formen, auch schwankt mitunter der Stammvokal vor Suffixen zwischen a, i od. œ: ... קֶ֫צֶף "Zornesausbruch" vor Suff. gew. mit i, aber קֶצְפְּךָ Ps 38:2; ...

My translation:

Since the types קֶ֫טֶל and קֵ֫טֶל have phonetically merged to a large extent, frequent fluctuations are to be expected. Many nouns attest in the free singular both forms, and also the stem vowel for suffices fluctuates from time to time between a, i and œ: ... קֶ֫צֶף "outburst" for suffices usually with i, but קֶצְפְּךָ Ps 38:2; ...

I could not find other literature on this particular form. It seems nobody has a better explanation than this one, which indeed is a little unsatisfying because it explains the form as an exception.


This is too long for a comment on Keelan's helpful answer, so I offer it as a supplemental answer. The following items should also be noted:

  • When Joüon-Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (revised ed; Pontifical Biblical Institute, 2006) discuss the issue of vocalization of original *CVCC nouns (the "segolate" class), he (Muraoka) includes this comment (at § 88C.a*(6)):

    The vowel following the first radical in the pausal form does not always clinch the matter. [Cf. § 96A.f]

    One example provided is beṭen which is pausal bāṭen, but suffixed biṭnî. As their later discussion demonstrates (at § 96), "it is sometimes difficult or even impossible to tell whether a noun was originally a qatl or a qitl, or if both forms existed simultaneously".

  • One fundamental study relating to this area is that by E.J. Revell, "The Voweling of "i Type" Segolates in Tiberian Hebrew", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 44.4 (1985): 319-328, which is supplemented by his later "The Tiberian Reflexes of Short *i in Closed Syllables", Journal of the American Oriental Society 109.2 (1989): 183-203.

    In neither of these, however, does he deal directly with OP's question, nor does he devote any special attention to קֶצֶף. It is mentioned in the "Segolates" article at § 3.3b (p. 321), but only as a member of the class of segolates beginning with q-.

    I think that Revell doesn't attend OP's "problem case" directly since he didn't consider it problematic. Contextual qeṣep has as its pausal form qāṣep (see Josh 22:20; Zech 1:2; Eccl 5:16; Est 1:18), while it also shows the "i" vowel when suffixed as in Isa 60:10. So far, it looks like the messy situation described by Muraoka.

  • What about the form that worries OP (Ps 38:2), cited as קֶצְפְּךָ? As a read through the Revell articles will amply demonstrate, there is more than a single linguistic force at work in these forms, and they are subject to different kinds of conditioning. It should be noted, then, that the full form as it appears in Ps 38 is actually אַל־בְּקֶצְפְּךָ, and here Joseph's comment is indeed relevant. IF qeṣep has an original "i" (*qiṣp), then Revell's observations at § 6.3 (p. 187) of the "Tiberian Reflexes" article are probably enough to suggest that the segol in the form in Ps 38:2 is not entirely bizarre:

    Segol occurs in a closed word-initial syllable under stress in n'εgbɔ and q'εdšɔ (in pause and in context, Gen 13:14, 28:14, Judg 4:9, 10). Segol also occurs in such syllables when unstressed, generally after alef, ḥet or ʿayin...

    And he goes on to give other examples (not including Ps 38:2). Given the kinds of "conditioning" that can shape vowels (structure and position of the syllable; phonetic environment; relation to context, [what he elsewhere described as "supra-segmental contours"] and others), the form in Ps 38:2 shouldn't be seen as entirely inexplicable.

At the very least, one can summarize by saying that the application of a single "rule" (or even pattern) to all cases in a linguistic environment is always going to be limiting -- there are many factors to consider, and languages do exhibit irregularities!

  • First, it matters not that the full form as it appears in Ps 38 is actually אַל־בְּקֶצְפְּךָ. Revell still considers this a word-initial syllable. Indeed, the examples he gives of n'εgbɔ in Gene 13:14 and 28:14 also have a prefix,וָנֶגְבָּה. When Revell says 'word initial', he is contrasting the stereotypical 2-syllable segolate nouns with longer noun forms, such as feminine singular participles qal (which he also analyzes as segolates,§2.c (p. 319) of 'The Voweling...').
    – John Duda
    Feb 23, 2018 at 15:08
  • More importantly, Revell observes in § 6.3 (p. 187) a segol in a closed word-initial syllable UNDER STRESS. Notice the accent markings in the examples he gives: וָנֶ֖גְבָּה, וָנֶ֑גְבָּה, קֶֽדְשָׁה, קֶ֔דְשָׁה - all under stress. The form of the word קֶצֶף meets none of the requirements allowing a segol in § 6.3. That is the thing 'about the form that worries OP, and what makes it 'entirely bizarre' is that Revell concludes § 6.3 stating, ""In other forms, I have noted segol only in an unstressed closed syllable in" four cases, and he lists those cases, and none of them are Psalm 38:1[2].
    – John Duda
    Feb 23, 2018 at 15:12
  • Don't confuse 'under stress' with 'in pause'. A word is 'in pause'. A syllable is 'under stress'. A syllable can be 'under stress' in a word that is not 'in pause'. Conversely, a syllable can be unstressed in a word that is 'in pause'.
    – John Duda
    Feb 23, 2018 at 15:20
  • @chickenhead - Glad you're enjoying this, and you're welcome. I don't think I "confused" stress and pause; I'm aware of the difference. The reason the full form makes a difference is because syllable and even phrase structure contribute to the forces at work, which was my main point. Revell's good, isn't he? (Sadly, recently passed away.)
    – Dɑvïd
    Feb 23, 2018 at 15:34
  • He is great! Thanks for introducing him to me!
    – John Duda
    Feb 23, 2018 at 15:39

Excellent question that has opened a new door to study of the original languages. I have always been fascinated with the spelling in Hebrew and how it is fairly rigid at times and inexplicable at other times.

In Andersen's book Spelling in the Hebrew Bible, he gives a couple of reasons for variations in "defective" spelling of segolate nouns. The first is that a defective spelling entered into the language at an early date and this hardened the usage to become the standard for that word. In other cases Hebrew dislikes consonant clusters and vowels are changed to avoid the clusters. Finally in a few rare circumstances he admits a scribal error may have entered into the text at an early date and that scribal error has become the defacto standard for that Hebrew word.

Andersen did not specifically address the word in Psalm 102:10 that you mentioned.

Andersen made this comment about the spelling in Hebrew:

This complex writing system raises the question of the “correct” spelling of any word containing one or more long vowels. Introductory grammars usually supply simple spelling rules. Example: “… while the usage of vowel letters to indicate final vowels was standardized early, there is no consistency in the use of internal vowel letters in the Bible” (Greenberg 1965: 18). This suggests that there is a rule for spelling a vowel at the end of a word (Spell it plene!), but there is no rule for spelling a vowel within a word. Würthwein (1979: 28) says about the phenomenon of variant spelling: “… the writing of a form plene or defective is completely fortuitous, involving neither consistency of usage nor significance for the meaning of the text.”

Francis I. Andersen and A. Dean Forbes, Spelling in the Hebrew Bible: Dahood Memorial Lecture (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1986), 1–2.

  • Ad "defective spelling entered into the language at an early date" — defective spelling is the older form; plene spelling developed later (at the latest at the end of the classical period) from monophthongization of diphthongs (see e.g. Cross and Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography (1952), 3 (n. 11), 55 (n. 37), 59). I don't see what consonant clusters have to do with the case in Ps 38:1, could you say more?
    – user2672
    Feb 20, 2018 at 21:08
  • Just to make sure we're on the same page: defective spelling is spelling without matres lectiones; plene spelling is the opposite. In both Ps 38:1 and 102:10, קצפר is spelled defectively.
    – user2672
    Feb 20, 2018 at 21:10
  • The comment about the clusters was not this example specifically, just a comment about why there would be variations in spelling to appear to break the rules. yes I would agree that your second comment is a much better way of explaining it. I was trying to summarize Andersen in the first part of the post and got it backwards
    – Ken Banks
    Feb 20, 2018 at 23:04
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    Defective/plene spelling is indeed highly inconsistent for reasons that Andersen and Forbes give. But this does not apply to vowel signs. These were added at one moment in time by very precise and consistent people. So this answer then does not really apply to the question at hand.
    – user2672
    Feb 21, 2018 at 5:08
  • The differences between plene vs. defective spelling are not really related to the question at hand. When pronomial suffixes are appended to segolates, the resulting form is invariably 'defective'. This is true for segolates which revert to a kamatz katan from a holam, חֹדֶשׁ / חָדְשׁוֹ / *חוֹדְשׁוֹ, for segolates which revert to a hiriq from a *sere, נֵזֶר / נִזְרוֹ / *נִיזְרוֹ, and for segolates which revert to a hiriq from a segol, בֶּטֶן / בִטְנוֹ / *בִיטְנוֹ.
    – John Duda
    Feb 21, 2018 at 7:23

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