way·yō·mer is translated in Genesis 1 as "And God said" or "Then God said". I was hoping someone would have some insight as to which is correct. Is there a future tense ("then") implied in the word or is it just something additional ("and") God said that may have been in the future or past? Thank you!

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    – agarza
    Jan 11 at 4:06

1 Answer 1


The initial waw (וַ) in וַיֹּ֥אמֶר is just the conjunction (e.g., "and" or "then" for stylistic reasons). The verb itself is in the Qal (from אמר) and is third masculine singular ("he said"). This construction is what scholars refer to as the Qal narrative tense (which is the most common use of the preterite in biblical Hebrew). "The narrative verb indicates sequential action in past time" (i.e., past-tense narration).1 The Qal narrative is sometimes confused with the imperfect, but "the narrative has a pataḥ or qameṣ and the doubling of the letter following the waw, whereas a waw + imperfect has a shewa and no doubling of the following letter."2 Making it slightly trickier to parse, "אָמַר shows a slightly different vowel pattern (a ḥolem in the first syllable) in both the imperfect and narrative forms because the first radical is an aleph."3

So it's just a standard (and common) past-tense narration: "and he said."

Using other English conjunctions to translate the conjunction (waw) is fine and for stylistic reasons helps break up the monotony of reading narratives where almost every sentence might otherwise begin with "and." It has nothing to do with future tense (future would be something like "he will say," regardless of the conjunction used).

1 William Fullilove, Introduction to Hebrew: A Guide for Learning and Using Biblical Hebrew (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 145.

2 Ibid., 146.

3 Ibid., 146–7.

  • Thank you for that answer. Does this mean that the "and" MUST mean sequential action in past time, or can it also simply mean "another" without indicating a time sequence? Thank you! Jan 10 at 18:12
  • It's a conjunction. It has no direct relationship with time (i.e., tense and in some instances, aspect, which are derived from the verb). A conjunction's job is to join together sentences. That's it. Any inference of time is not inherent to the conjunction itself. Just like "and" in English. "Then" is ambiguous as to past or future, but is a feature of English and the translator's choice of how to best show a sequence of events in narrative accounts. The Hebrew is simply a conjunction, and its role is to connect two words, sentences, or phrases together.
    – Dan
    Jan 10 at 20:40
  • The verb for "speak" itself implies past tense ("he said"), which has little to nothing to do with the conjunction. If you're trying to build some kind of theological argument on whether these actions took place sequentially or not, you're moving beyond linguistics into other modes of discourse (which is fine, but that's a different question than the one you asked).
    – Dan
    Jan 10 at 20:43
  • Keep in mind that for "time" to be a factor on earth/land, you'd have to have some celestial bodies (e.g., the sun) before it even begins to become a factor in the sense we think of time today, which doesn't even exist until day 4 of the creation. But this is going beyond linguistics....
    – Dan
    Jan 10 at 20:44
  • (but to be clear, a narrative implies a sequence of events, but in respect to the verb, not the conjunction)
    – Dan
    Jan 12 at 19:08

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