Translation Notes, Ruth 1:1-7


When a grammatical issue comes up for the first time, I will note it more carefully. As the class progresses, the “Translation Help” notes will grow shorter. I will be rather detailed concerning vs. 1 and more sparse with notes on vss. 2-7.

Vs. 1. Begins with the common Hebrew narration וַיְהִי which is the vav-conversive (a.k.a. vav-consecutive, consecutive imperfect, or preterite) form of היה. See below, “Narration Verbs and Vav-Conversive.” The compound word בִּימֵי may look very confusing but should be broken into its parts: the preposition בּ followed by a plural construct form of יוֹם. If the student is unfamiliar with the construct form, please consult a grammar textbook on the construct or genitive or word pair forms. שְׁפֹט is an Infinitive Construct, and this verbal form is common in clauses about time. As will be the case often in Ruth, a participle form is used as a noun. Thus, הַשֹּׁפְטִים could be rendered woodenly “the ones judging” (keeping the sense of the participle) or simply “the judges.” Note that the simple “to be” verbs (“is” or “was” or “were”) are assumed without requiring any actual verb (this is called the null copula). Consider this in שְׁפֹט הַשֹּׁפְטִים. Remember that ו does not always mean “and.” It is a general conjunction and can be “but” or even “that.” Often in a sequence of vavs, the second one means “that.” Therefore, וַיְהִי can be translated in various ways and the second one in vs. 1 should be treated differently than the first. וַיֵּלֶךְ is the vav-conversive form of הלך. Note that the place name this “man” is from is a triple construct (three words in a construct chain with the first two in construct form). This triple construct chain is preceded by the מ preposition. לָגוּר is the Infinitive Construct with preposition ל. Note that בִּשְׂדֵי is very similar to בִּימֵי and determine its root and form accordingly (which may prove difficult for newer students of Hebrew). It may help to know that a big comma should precede the הוּא and that from this word to the end of the sentence is a parenthetical clause (explanatory, adding more information). To understand more about the ו suffix in אִישְׁתּוֹ and in בָנָיו see below, “Possessive Suffixes.”

Vs. 2. The pronunciation of Naomi is a very tricky matter. In Hebrew when a kametz vowel is used in a closed, unaccented syllable, it is a kametz hatuph and it is pronounced as a long “o.” The ע in Naomi actually closes the first syllable because the vowel under it, hateph kametz (עֳ) is not a new syllable (sheva vowels are only half vowels). For this reason (and such a thing could give a beginner a major headache in learning Hebrew spelling rules), Naomi should technically be pronounced No’omi (noe-oe-MEE) with the accent on the last syllable. See below, “Name Meanings in Ruth 1.” The root of וַיָּבֹאוּ is בוא and וַיִּהְיוּ is the 3rd masculine plural (3mp) version of וַיְהִי.

Vs. 3. וַיָּמָת root is מות. Concerning וַתִּשָּׁאֵר the student should become familiar with feminine verb forms as Ruth is the rare book with many of them. This one is a vav-conversive, so consult the Imperfect chart in your grammar. Concerning בָנֶיהָ you will also need to know your feminine possessive suffixes (see below, “Possessive Suffixes,” and consult your grammar textbook to learn the forms.

Vs. 4. In finding the root of וַיִּשְׂאוּ here is a hint: first-נ drops out when a prefix precedes it in a verb form. In the name Orpah, note that the kametz under ע is a kametz hatuph because the syllable is closed and unaccented. The root of וַיֵּשְׁבוּ is ישׁב. The כ preposition in כְּעֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים is an uncommon usage meaning “about” or “approximately.”

Vs. 5. The מ preposition goes with the verb וַתִּשָּׁאֵר to designate “remained from . . .” In other words, she was the only one left “from” her family.

Vs. 6. The root of וַתָּקָם is קום. The word וְכַלֹתֶיהָ includes a noun from the special vocabulary list provided in this course for Ruth 1-2. The ending is a feminine possessive suffix with a transitional vowel. The root of וַתָּשָׁב is ישׁב. Since you translated בִּשְׂדֵי in vs. 1, recognize that מִשְׂדֵי is a slight variation. בִּשְׂדֵה מוֹאָב is an unusual case in which all the existing manuscripts seem to have a misspelling, failing to use the construct form בִּשְׂדֵי.

Vs. 7. The root of וַתֵּצֵא is יצא. The form הָיְתָה is a feminine form of היה. The ה on the end of שָּׁמָּה is called the locative ה and denotes location. וַתֵּלַכְנָה is a vav-conversive form of הלך and a feminine Imperfect form.

The passage begins with a typical verb of narration. Often sections begin with a Vav attached to a verb. In this case, the chapter begins with Vav attached to the shortened form of “it will be” (יְהִי). The resulting verb (וַיְהִי) looks like it should be “and it will be.” But that is not correct. It means “and it was” or “now it happened.” How can this be?

It is because Vav before a verb often, unless the vowels indicate otherwise, reverses a “future” to a “past” or a “past” to a “future.” This is sometimes call Vav conversive (or Vav consecutive or Vav conservative). It is so common in the Hebrew Bible, a student will get used to it quickly.

In biblical stories (narratives) the common style is to note sequences of action with Vav-conversive forms one after another and with simple Perfect forms in between the Vav-conversives. Hebrew stories are heavy with verbs. The word “and” is prefixed to many of them. Some translations try to render most of the vavs with the “and” translation, but doing this every time sounds awkward in English. Therefore many vavs go untranslated. The Hebrew narrative style will become very familiar as we work through Ruth.

In English we frequently need to designate to whom something belongs, as in the sentence, “He took Jenny’s car to the store” or simply “he took her car to the store.” In the second example the pronoun “her” stands in place of “Jenny’s”.

In Hebrew, there are stand-alone pronouns. The stand-alone pronoun meaning “she” is הִיא. But the stand-alone pronoun is only used when it is the subject of a clause or sentence.

In Hebrew, when we want to use a pronoun to denote possession, we add a possessive suffix to a verb. Any Hebrew textbook will list all of the suffixes for you. But let’s consider some examples in Ruth 1:1-7:

  • The suffix for “his” is usually וֹ and sometimes consonantal ו. We see it twice in verse 1: אִשְׁתּוֹ and בָנָיו (his wife from אשּׁה in construct form אשׁת with וֹ suffixed to it and the plural form sons בָּנִים in construct בְּנֵי with ו suffixed and the first vowel is lengthened).
  • The suffix for “her” is הָ or הּ preceded by the vowel ָ and we have the example בָנֶיהָ in verse 3 (“her sons” which is similar to verse 1 which has “his sons”) and אִישָׁהּ at the end of verse 5 (“her man” or “her husband,” note the subtle difference between this spelling and אִשָּׁה, “woman” or “wife”).

Elimelech means “my God is King.” Naomi is probably short for No’omiyah, which would mean “Hashem is pleasant” or “the kindness of Hashem” or similar. Mahlon is probably a wordplay on חלה (be sick) and might be thought of as “sickly.” Chilion is probably a wordplay on כלה (cease) and might be thought of as “ceases to be.” The names Mahlon and Chilion foretell their early demise!


Vs. 1. Robert Holmstedt (Ruth: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text) notes that vayehi followed by a temporal clause, usually with an infinitive construct in it, is a common way of designating a time period in a new unit of narrative. Compare Jos 1:1; Jud 1:1; 2 Sam 1:1; Ezek 1:1.

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