I was doing a word study on הַשָּׁמַיִם in Gen 1:1 when I came across some references which says that it is a plural noun (since the suffix is plural), but some references say that it is a dual noun. Can I be enlightened about what is the actual number of הַשָּׁמַיִם and why?

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    Your question got me thinking about how the Hebrews believed in three heavens: the sky or firmament; the realm of the sun, moon, and stars (i.e., outer space); and the abode of God (the highest heaven). A good follow-up to your question might be, "In his teaching did Jesus also assume there are three heavens? If so, which is which?" References include Mt.5:18, Mt. 24:35 Mk 13:31, Lk 16:17, and Lk 21:33 (all of which contrast the permanence of God's word with the relative transience of heaven and earth); Mt 6:19, 11:25, 16:19, 18:18, 23:9, 24:30, and 28:18; Mk 13:27; Lk 10:21; and Jn 3:31. Jul 26, 2014 at 23:32
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    Possible duplicate of "Under heaven" or "under the heavens" on day three of creation?
    – fdb
    Sep 7, 2018 at 11:26
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    I'm voting to keep this one open as it has better answers, and have voted to close the other one as a dupe of this.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 13, 2018 at 23:01
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    @curiousdannii keep the better question open (I don't mind if it isn't mine) and merge the answers then? Sep 14, 2018 at 8:29

6 Answers 6


The (masculine) dual ending is ־ַ֫יִם -ayim (with stress on the patakh) while the plural ending is ־ִים -îm. See §91b;90b of the grammar of Joüon and Muraoka. (Note that this means that the analysis depends on the vocalization and is not visible in the consonantal text.) Thus, this would suggest a dual for שָׁמַ֫יִם.

However, the root is שׁמי šmy, with a final yod. The plural would be שָׁמַיִים šāmayîm. This, due to phonological rules (which I do not fully understand myself), became שָׁמַ֫יִם šāmayim. Which is exactly the dual ending. Thus, this word is an apparent dual, but actually a plural form. For discussion and comparable instances of this sound change in Aramaic and Arabic, see §91f of Joüon-Muraoka.

The word is used in the plural because in the common Ancient Near Eastern worldview, there are three separate layers of heaven. Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography by Wayne Horowitz (2011, Eisenbrauns) provides a good overview of the topic.


The word שָׁמָיִם is always plural in Hebrew; there is no singular. (We call this a plurale tantum). Gen. 1:8 has שָׁמָיִם without the article and the next verse has the same word with the definite article. You can translate it literally as “heavens”, or you can paraphrase it with the English singular “heaven”. But to translate it as “heaven” in one verse and “heavens” in the next verse is not a good idea.

  • "...not a good idea" - indeed. Although, @JackDouglas, to be fair, the 1901 ASV, the 1952 RSV, and the 1973 NASB (although not the KJV or the 1885 English Revised Version) all had the idea before the ESV, which seems to have inherited it. Perhaps the earlier translators recoiled from having "under the heaven" (sounds a bit stark?) in keeping with the KJV, and opted for the plural and retaining the article rather than adopting the NJB tactic of saying, simply, "under heaven". FWIW.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 26, 2014 at 14:06
  • Any comment fdb or @David about why it appears to be dual rather than plural in form? FYI Jack Douglas - HALOT says "plural of spatial extension" which seems helpful to me. The word for "water" does something similar.
    – Susan
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:19
  • It is plural, not dual.
    – fdb
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:23
  • Right, I wasn't meaning to argue with that point, just noting that it's a plural that looks an awfully lot like a dual. Maybe that's "just how it is."
    – Susan
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:32
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    Found it in Waltke (p. 118): "For complex historical reasons, a few nouns have dual morphology but behave in no way as duals. The two most common are plurals: מים and שמים..." Good enough for me!
    – Susan
    Jul 27, 2014 at 11:46

In Hebrew, the "ayim" (patach-yod-hiriq-mem) ending is characteristic of dual masculine nouns, where as (hiriq-yod-mem) is characteristic of plural masculine nouns. Note that הַשָּׁמַיִם ends in patach-yod-hiriq-mem. You said that the "suffix is plural," but the suffix is actually dual.

Of course, without the Masoretic vowel points, the suffixes would look exactly the same.

Notice how the word for horse changes endings in the diagram below. enter image description here

Of course, just because הַשָּׁמַיִם is grammatically dual doesn't necessarily imply that two heavens are being referred to. Just like the word σαββατον (sabbath) often appears in the NT in the grammatical plural while still having a singular meaning (as in Matthew 28:1 and elsewhere). And in English, we say "a pair of pants."


The King James Bible, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Webster Bible, and other rigidly translated versions translated the word, shamayim in both Genesis 1:1 and in Genesis 1:5 as "the heaven". However, after the waters were divided and made into the earthy world, the heavenly worlds, and other visible matter bodies, Those lights were called the heavens (plural). In Genesis 1:1 the Hebrew text shows that the definite direct object flag (‘eth) is placed before the noun shamayim (heavens) and (ve’et or, and ‘eth) is placed before the noun ‘erets (earth) to flag or mark shamayim and ‘erets as being ‘joint’ definite direct objects of the verb, bara (created). God's Day-One Creation "the heaven and the earth" is a dual phrase, i.e. it means a "single" group of "two watery identities," more particularly described in verse two as "the waters". On day-one, before the waters were divided, the creation was not a pair, but rather, the heaven and the earth was a dual--a single gaseous-like body of waters--undivided--without form and void (having neither shape nor volume). Likewise, "mayim" (the waters of verse two) is also a very special Hebrew dual (Kee, A study on the dual form of mayim' waters--that very heaven-and-earth pair described as a single entity.


God’s Day-One Creation A type of the Word of God. CircumspectNews.com. from http://circumspectnews.com/?page_id=2364

All things visible were made from those invisible gaseous waters and were each classified as being either, heavenly or earthly bodies--one of the two. That single body of invisible waters is a type of the previously invisible WORD of God that was made visible flesh at a certain point in time under the firmament and named, Jesus, the Christ (Heb. 11:1-3 and Romans 1:20)

  • You’re mixed modern secular cosmology with the historical understanding of cosmology and that’s not good hermeneutics. Dec 15, 2019 at 20:01

No. The Hebrew is Ha'shamayim. It means above the water, singular. The reason it appears to be plural is because of an often misunderstanding of the Hebrew language. In this instance, the sentence is a singular construct, meaning it is a singular heaven. Nouns are only plural in Hebrew when the sentence construct is plural. In this way we better understand what the author is attempting to describe.

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    The Hebrew word is plural and is treated as such in verbs and adjectives that agree with it
    – b a
    Dec 31, 2018 at 0:17

Morphologically, shamayim is not plural, but dual, i.e. it means a group of two (two heavens). However, it is usually understood as singular (either heaven or heavens in English) with no real indication of dual or plural in the meaning.

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    That is wrong. The ending for the plural is –īm, and that for the dual is –ayīm. šāmayīm is the plural of an unattested *šāmay; the –ay- is part of the stem (as in Akkadian šamû or Arabic samāʼ) and is not part of the dual ending. In Hebrew the dual is in fact only used for natural pairs. You can read about this is any Hebrew grammar, e.g. en.wikisource.org/wiki/Gesenius%27_Hebrew_Grammar/…
    – fdb
    Jul 27, 2014 at 8:56
  • fdb "only used for natural pairs"? The link that you have provided stated "almost exclusively" for not natural pairs which means that are few exceptions. Please do a double check. Thanks! Waters and heavens are the two words that the number of them are debatable without the Masoretic symbols, since dual and plural for masculine noun have the same suffix. Perhaps the context, even the New Testament as the context, of the third heaven mentioned by Paul helps to decide if heavens in Genesis 1:1 was dual or plural? Since the sky was created on the second day, dual in Genesis 1:1 (2+1=3). Thx Nov 27, 2020 at 11:56

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