Multiple texts in the Hebrew Old Testament use this phrase מִֽי־֭יִתֵּן, which seems to be an idiom because it is not translated literally as something like "who allows/provides." Here are some examples of its usage.

מִֽי־֭יִתֵּן תָּבֹ֣וא שֶֽׁאֱלָתִ֑י וְ֝תִקְוָתִ֗י יִתֵּ֥ן אֱלֹֽוהַּ׃ (Job 6:8)

Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! (Job 6:8, KJV)

מִֽי־֭יִתֵּן הַחֲרֵ֣שׁ תַּחֲרִישׁ֑וּן וּתְהִ֖י לָכֶ֣ם לְחָכְמָֽה׃ (Job 13:5)

O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom. (Job 13:5, KJV)

וַיֹּאמְר֨וּ אֲלֵהֶ֜ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל מִֽי־יִתֵּ֨ן מוּתֵ֤נוּ בְיַד־יְהוָה֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּשִׁבְתֵּ֨נוּ֙ עַל־סִ֣יר הַבָּשָׂ֔ר בְּאָכְלֵ֥נוּ לֶ֖חֶם לָשֹׂ֑בַע כִּֽי־הֹוצֵאתֶ֤ם אֹתָ֨נוּ֙ אֶל־הַמִּדְבָּ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה לְהָמִ֛ית אֶת־כָּל־הַקָּהָ֥ל הַזֶּ֖ה בָּרָעָֽב׃ ס (Exodus 16:3)

And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. (Exodus 16:3, KJV)

Note that in the Exodus example, the word "God" is not actually in the Hebrew, but comes from this "mi yitten" expression.

How should this expression be understood?

  • I have al;ways taken it rather simply as an earnest longing for a situation other than exists; thus, "O that","if only", "would that", etc.
    – Dottard
    Nov 26, 2021 at 20:47
  • If Only we could understand what "Mi Yiten" means. Nov 27, 2021 at 2:25

1 Answer 1


The grammars use terms such as desiderative and/or optative. מִֽי־֭יִתֵּן is basically like an interjection to introduce a sentence expressing something desired. A more literal translation is "Who will give/provide?" It's an interrogative clause, not a relative clause.


               2) Desiderative/Optative (especially in the phrase מִי־יִתֵּן, 
which tends to occur in poetry, particularly in the book of Job).

מִי־יִתֵּן מוּתִי אֲנִי תַחְתֶּיךָ
‍Would that I had died instead of you! (2 Sam 19:1); If only I had died … 
מִי־יִתֵּן אֱלוֹהַּ דַּבֵּר
Would that God might speak, … (Jb 11:5) 

Putnam, F. C. (2002). Hebrew Bible Insert: A Student’s Guide to the Syntax of Biblical Hebrew (p. 12). Quakertown, PA: Stylus Publishing.

§43.3. Factual (or WH-) Questions

These questions are introduced by the following interrogatives. 
In a verbal question the verb follows the interrogative. In a 
nominal clause the predicate follows the question:

Sometimes a fixed expression מִי יִתֵּן is used. This construction, which acts 
syntactically as an interjection, expresses a positive wish. (Cf. §45.3.)

בַּבֹּקֶר תֹּאמַר מִי־יִתֵּן עֶרֶב
‍In the morning you shall say: Would it were evening! (Deut. 28:67).‍

Van der Merwe, C., Naudé, J., Kroeze, J., Van der Merwe, C., Naudé, J., & Kroeze, J. (1999). A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (electronic ed., p. 322-323). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

                     THE OPTATIVE SENTENCE

§ 135. An interrog. sent. with מִי who? expresses a wish. 2 S. 23:15 מִי יַשְׁקֵנִי מַיִם 
O that I had water to drink! (lit., who will let me drink!). Ps. 4:7 מִי יַרְאֵנוּ טוֹב 
O that we saw some success! Nu. 11:4, 2 S. 15:4, cf. Mal. 1:10. — Particularly 
the phrase מִי יִתֵּן who will give? 2 S. 19:1 מִי יִתֵּן מוּתִי אֲנִי תַחְתֶּיךָ would that I had died 
for thee! Ex. 16:3. With impf., Job 6:8 מִי יִתֵּן תָּבוֹא שֶֽׁאֱלָתִי O that my request might 
come! Job 13:5; 14:13.

  Rem. 1. The opt. sense of לוּ, אִם, has arisen out of the conditional use; 
cf. Gen. 24:42, Ex. 32:32, where the transition is seen.
  Rem. 2. A rare opt. part. is אַֽחֲלֵי, אַחְלַי (out of אח and לי = לו), 2 K. 5:3, 
Ps. 119:5 (אָז in apod).
  Rem. 3. The consn. of מי יתן varies. (1</?LLS nbr?>) One acc., Jud. 9:29, 
Deu. 28:67, Ps. 14:7; 55:7, Job 14:4; 29:2 (suff.), 31:31, 35 (ptcp.). 
(2) Two acc., Nu. 11:29, Jer. 8:23; 9:1 (verbs of granting, 2 acc. § 78, 
R. 1; unless the consn. be who will set me in the wild, (in) a lodge, as 
Jos. 15:19, Jud. 1:15 where ארן might be acc. of place). (3) inf. cons. 
2 S. 19:1, Ex. 16:3; acc. and inf., Job 11:5 מִי יִתֵּן אֱלוֹהַּ דַּבֵּר that God would 
speak (anomalous arder perhaps due to emph. on God). (4) Simple impf., 
Job 6:8; 13:5; 14:13; impf. with vav, Job 19:23; vav conv. perf., Deu. 5:26 
O that this mind of theirs might be to them (always), to fear, &c. With perf. 
Job 23:3 (stative v.).

Davidson, A. B. (1902). Introductory Hebrew grammar Hebrew syntax (3d ed., pp. 183–184). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

§ 151. Desiderative Sentences.

A wish may be expressed not only by the simple imperfect (§ 107 n), 
cohortative (§ 108, especially with נָא § 108 c), jussive (§ 109; 
with נָא § 109 b), imperative (§ 110 a), perfect consecutive (§ 112 aa) 
or by a simple noun-clause (§ 116 r, note, and § 141 g) but also in the 
following ways:—
1. By exclamations in the form of interrogative clauses: especially 
sentences with מִי followed by the imperfect as being the mood of that 
which is still unfulfilled but possible, and hence also of that which 
is desired, e.g. 2 S 15:4 מִֽי־יְשִׂמֵ֫נִי שֹׁפֵט who maketh me judge? i.e. O that I 
were made judge! 1 S 20:10, 2 S 23:15. On the other hand, מִי with the 
perfect (Gn 21:7, Nu 23:10, 1 S 26:9, Is 53:1, &c.) or participle (Ps 59:8, 
Pr 24:22, &c.), rather expresses a rhetorical question, i.e. a denial, 
cf. § 150 d. Especially frequent is the use of מִֽי־יִתֵּן (prop. who gives?) 
to introduce all kinds of desiderative clauses (see under b).—In Mal 1:10 
the desiderative clause proper is co-ordinated with an interrogative 
clause, מִי גַם־בָּכֶם וְיִסְגּׄר דְּלָתַ֫יִם would that one were among you and would shut 
the doors, i.e. O that one would shut the doors!

Rem. Sometimes the original sense of מִֽי־יִתֵּן is still plainly discernible, 
e.g. Ju 9:29 מִֽי־יִתֵּן אֶת־הָעָם הַוֶּה בְיָדִי who gives this people into my hand? 
equivalent to, O that this people were given into my hand! cf. Ps 55:7. 
In these examples, however, מִֽי־יִתֵּן is still equivalent to O had I! and in 
numerous other instances the idea of giving has entirely disappeared, מִֽי־יִתֵּן 
having become stereotyped as a more desiderative particle (utinam). Its 
construction is either—
(a) With the accusative (in accordance with its original meaning) of a 
substantive, Dt 28:67 would that it were even!… morning! Ju 9:29, Ps 14:7 
(537), 55:7; with an accusative and a following infinitive, Jb 11:5; with 
two accusatives, Nu 11:29, Jer 8:23; with the accusative of an infinitive, 
Ex 16:3, 2 S 19:1 מִֽי־יִתֵּן מוּתִי אֲנִי תַחְתֶּ֫יךָ would that I had died for thee 
(for אֲנִי cf. § 135 f); of a participle, Jb 31:35; of a personal pronoun 
(as a suffix), Jb 29:2 (with a following כְּ; but מִֽי־יִתְּנֵ֫נִי Is 27:4 and Jer 9:1 
with a following accusative is not simply equivalent to מִֽי־יִתֵּן לִי, but is 
properly who endows me with, &c.; cf. § 117 ff).—With a still greater 
weakening of the original meaning מִֽי־יִתֵּן is used with an adjective in Jb 14:4 
could a clean thing but come out of an unclean! i.e. how can a clean thing 
come, &c.; similarly in Jb 31:31 who can find one that hath not been satisfied!

Gesenius, F. W. (1910). Gesenius’ Hebrew grammar. (E. Kautzsch & S. A. E. Cowley, Eds.) (2d English ed., pp. 476–477). Oxford: Clarendon Press.


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