Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar/114. The Infinitive Construct

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§114. The Infinitive Construct.

114a 1. The infinitive construct, like the infinitive absolute, may also represent a nomen verbale (§45a), but of a much more flexible character than the infinitive absolute (cf. §113a). Its close relation with nouns properly so called is especially seen in the readiness with which the infinitive construct may be used for any case whatever; thus,

(a) As the nominative of the subject, e.g. Gn 218 לֹא־טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָֽאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ, literally, not good is the being of man in his separation; Gn 3015, 1 S 2320, Is 713, Pr 1726, 257, 24 (but cf. 21:9 טוֹב לָשֶׁ֫בֶת in the same statement); ψ329 prop. there is not a coming near unto thee, but the text is probably corrupt. With a feminine predicate, 1 S 1823, Jer 217.

114b (b) As genitive, e.g. Ec 34 עֵת סְפוֹד וְעֵת רְקוֹד a time of mourning and a time of dancing; Gn 217, 297, Neh 1246, 2 Ch 2414. This equally includes, according to §101a, all those cases in which the infinitive construct depends on a preposition (see below, d) [and Driver, Tenses, § 206].

114c (c) As accusative of the object, e.g. 1 K 37 לֹא אֵדַע צֵאת וָבֹא I know not the going out or the coming in (I know not how to go out and come in); Gn 216, 3128, Nu 2021, Is 114, 3728 (even with אֵת), Jer 615, Jb 1522 (cf. for the use of the infinitive absolute as object, §113f); as accusative with a verb expressing fullness, Is 119.

114d 2. The construction of the infinitive with prepositions (as in Greek, ἐν τῷ εἶναι, διὰ τὸ εἶναι, &c.) may usually be resolved in English into the finite verb with a conjunction, e.g. Nu 3519 בְּפִגְעוֹ־בוֹ in his meeting him, i.e. if (as soon as) he meets him; Gn 2745 (עַד־שׁוּב); Is 3012 יַ֫עַן מָֽאָסְכֶם because ye despise; Jer 235 עַל־אָמְרֵךְ because thou sayest; Gn 271 and his eyes were dim מֵרְאֹת from seeing, i.e. so that he could not see.

114e This use of the infinitive construct is especially frequent in connexion with בְּ or כְּ‍ to express time-determinations (in English resolved into a temporal clause, as above the combination of the infinitive with יַ֫עַן or עַל־ is resolved into a causal clause), especially after וַיְהִי (see the examples, §111g), e.g. 1 S 227 בִּֽהְיוֹתָם בְּמִצְרַ֫יִם when they were in Egypt; Gn 2430 וַיְהִי כִרְאֹת אֶת־הַנֶּ֫זֶם... וּכְשְׁמְעוֹ וג׳ and it came to pass, when he saw (prop. in the seeing) the ring..., and when he heard (prop. in his hearing), &c.

114f But by far the most frequent is the connexion of the infinitive construct with לְ.[1] Starting from the fundamental meaning of לְ, i.e. direction towards something, infinitives with לְ serve to express the most varied ideas of purpose or aim, and very commonly also (with a weakening or a complete disregard of the original meaning of the לְ) to introduce the object of an action, or finally even (like the infinitive absolute used adverbially, §113h, and the Latin gerund in -ndo) to state motives or attendant circumstances. See the instances in the Remarks.

114g Rem. 1. The original meaning of the לְ is most plainly seen in those infinitives with לְ which expressly state a purpose (hence as the equivalent of a final clause), e.g. Gn 115 and the Lord came down, לִרְאֹת אֶת־הָעִיר to see the city; also with a change of subject, e.g. 2 S 1210 and thou hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite לִֽהְיוֹת לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה to be (i.e. that she may be) thy wife; cf. Gn 284, Jer 3826 (לָמוּת).—If there is a special emphasis on the infinitive with לְ, it is placed, with its complement, before the governing verb, e.g. Gn 429, 474, Nu 2220, Jos 23, 1 S 162 with בּוֹא; Ju 1510, 1 S 1725 with עָלָה.

114h 2. Just as clearly the idea of aiming at a definite purpose or turning towards an object may be seen in the combination of the verb הָיָה to be, with לְ and an infinitive. In fact הָיָה לַֽעֲשׂוֹת may mean, either (a) he was in the act of, he was about to (as it were, he set himself), he was ready, to do something, or (b) he or it was appointed or compelled, &c., to do the action in question. In the latter case הָיָה לַֽעֲשׂוֹת corresponds to the Latin faciendum erat, cf. also the English I am to go. In both cases הָיָה (as elsewhere when copula) is often omitted.

114i Examples of (a) Gn 1512 וַיְהִי הַשֶּׁ֫מֶשׁ לָבוֹא and when the sun was going down (just about to set); 2 Ch 265 וַיְהִי לִדְרשׁ אֱלֹהִים and he set himself to seek God (here with the secondary idea of a continuous action); with the omission of הָיָה Is 3820, יְהֹוָה לְהֽוֹשִׁיעֵ֫נִי the Lord is ready to save me; 1 S 1421 (?), Jer 5149, ψ2514 (et foedus suum manifestaturus est eis); Pr 1824 (?), 19:8 (לִמְצֹא consecuturus est, unless we simply read יִמְצָא with the LXX)[2]; 20:25, Ec 315 אֲשֶׁר לִֽהְיוֹת quod futurum est; 2 Ch 1122, 1212 (in a negative statement); in a question, Est 78 (will he even... ?). Cf. also 1 S 419.

114k Of (b) Jos 25 וַיְהִי הַשַּׁ֫עַר לִסְגּוֹר and the gate was to be shut (had to be shut); Is 3726, ψ10913.[3] Mostly with the omission of הָיָה, e.g. 2 K 413 מֶה לַֽעֲשׂוֹת לָךְ וג׳ what is to be done for thee? (הֲיֵשׁ לְדַבֶּר־לָךְ) wouldest thou be (lit. is it to be) spoken for to the king, &c.? 2 K 1319 לְהַכּוֹת it was to smite equivalent to thou shouldest have smitten; Is 54, ψ329, 6819 (?), Jb 306 (habitandum est iis), 1 Ch 925, 1013, 225, 2 Ch 813 (?), 11:22, 19:2, 36:19 (?), Ho 913, Hb 117. In a question 2 Ch 192; after לֹא 1 Ch 51, 152; after אֵין 1 Ch 2326, 2 Ch 511 and frequently.

114l Of the same kind also are the cases, in which the infinitive with לְ depends on the idea of an obligation or permission (or prohibition); especially in such forms of expression as 2 S 1811 עָלַי לָ֫תֶת לְךָ וג׳ it was upon me, i.e. it would have been my duty to give thee, &c.[4]; cf. Mi 31 (2 Ch 135) it is not for you to (i.e. are ye not bound to)?[5] with a negative, 2 Ch 2618 לֹא לְךָ וג׳ it pertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but only to the priests; also אֵין לְ with an infinitive expresses it is not permitted (nefas est), may not, e.g. Est 42 כִּי אֵין לָבוֹא for none might enter; 8:8, 1 Ch 152;[6] אֵין לְ with an infinitive is used in a somewhat different sense, equivalent to it is not feasible, not possible, e.g. in ψ406, Ec 314, 2 Ch 511.[7]—With either meaning לֹא can be used instead of אֵין, e.g. Am 610 לֹא לְהַזְכִּיר nefas est, to make mention of the name of the Lord: but Ju 119 for it was not possible to drive out, &c., perhaps, however, the text originally stood as in Jos 1712 לֹא יָֽכְלוּ לְה׳; 1 Ch 152.

114m 3. A further class comprises the very numerous cases, in which the infinitive with לְ is used as the object[8] of a governing verb, hence, again, for the direction which an action takes. The verbs (or conjugations) which occur most frequently in this combination with לְ and an infinitive are: הֵחֵל (with an infinitive without לְ, e.g. Dt 225, 31, Jos 37), הוֹאִיל to begin, הוֹסִיף, יָסַף (prop. to add) to continue, very frequently, even in prose, with an infinitive without לְ, as Gn 412, 810, 12, 37:5, 1 S 38, Jb 271, &c.; חָדַל to cease from, to desist; כִּלָּה to complete, to make an end of; תָּמַם to be finished; הִקְרִיב to come near to, Gn 1211; מִהַר to hasten (with an infinitive without לְ Ex 218); אָבָה to be willing (with an infinitive without לְ Is 2812, 309, Jb 399); חָפֵץ to will, to desire; מֵאֵן to refuse (to be unwilling); בִּקֵּשׁ to seek; יָכֹל to be able (with an infinitive without לְ, e.g. Gn 2450, 374, Ex 23, 1823, Nu 2238, Jb 42); נָתַן with an accusative of the person in the sense of to give up to some one, to cause, or permit him to do something, e.g. Gn 206, ψ1611 (with an infinitive abs. Jb 918, see §113d), יָדַע to understand how to do something (in Jb 38 הָֽעֲתִידִם עֹיֵר is analogous); לָמַד to learn; קִוָּה to wait, expect (with a change of subject, e.g. Is 52 and he waited for it to bring forth grapes).

114n We must further mention here a number of verbs in Hiphʿîl (partly denominatives), which express an action in some definite direction (cf. §53f), as הִגְּדִּיל to do greatly, הִשְׁפִּיל to make (it) low, הִגְבִּיהַּ to make (it) high, הֶֽעֱמִיק to make (it) deep, הִרְחִיק to make (it) far, distant, הֵימִיב to make (it) good (with an infinitive without לְ ψ333, but 1 S 1617, in the same combination, with לְ); הִשְׁכִּים to do anything early (ψ1272, along with its opposite אֵחַר to do something late, with an infinitive without לְ); הִרְבָּה to make (it) much, הִפְלָא to make (it) wonderful (even with a passive infinitive 2 Ch 2615),[9] &c.

114o 4. Finally, the infinitive with לְ is very frequently used in a much looser connexion to state motives, attendant circumstances, or otherwise to define more exactly. In English, such infinitive constructions (like the Latin gerund in -do; cf. f) must frequently be turned by that or a gerund; e.g. 1 S 1217 לִשְׁאֹל לָכֶם מֶלֶךְ in asking you a king; 14:33, 19:5, 20:36, Gn 322, 1819, 347, 15, Ex 232, Lv 54, 22, 26, 8:15, Nu 1436, 2 S 310, 1 K 23 f., 14:8, Jer 447 f., ψ633, 7818, 1018, 10320, 10414 f., 111:6, Pr 28, 834, 185, Neh 1318. Sometimes the infinitive with לְ is used in this way simply by itself, e.g. 1 Ch 128 as the roes upon the mountains לְמַהֵר (as regards hasting) in swiftness; Gn 23, 2 S 1425 (לְהַלֵּל); Is 211 (לַֽחֲלוֹף); Jo 226, Pr 22, 262 and so very frequently the infinitive לֵאמֹר dicendo which has become stereotyped as an adverb to introduce direct narration (in the sense of thus, as follows).[10]

114p 5. In a number of instances—especially in the later books—the infin. constr. with לְ appears to be attached by Wāw (like the infinitive absolute, §113z), as the continuation of a previous finite verb. In most examples of this kind it is, however, evident that the infinitive with לְ virtually depends on an idea of intention, effort, or being in the act of, which, according to the sense, is contained in what has preceded, whilst the copula, as sometimes also elsewhere, is used in an emphatic sense (and that too); thus e.g. Ex 3229 (if the text be right) fill your hand to-day (sc. with an offering) for the Lord... and that to bring a blessing upon you, i.e. that ye may be blessed; cf. 1 S 2531 (otherwise in verses 26 and 33 where the infinitive absolute is used, see §113e); ψ10421,[11] Jb 348, Ec 91, Neh 813, 2 Ch 717.—In Lv 1010 f. וּלְהַבְדִּיל might be regarded as an explanatory addition to the command contained in verse 9 b (= this prohibition of wine before the service shall ye observe, and that in order to put a difference, &c.); but probably the text has been disturbed by a redacfor.—In 2 Ch 309 וְלָשׁוּב depends on the idea of receiving favour which lies in לְרַֽחֲמִים. On the other hand, in 1 S 812 it is sufficient to explain and in order to appoint them unto him for captains of thousands (sc. he will take them). In Is 4428 translate and he (Cyrus) shall perform all my pleasure, and that in saying of Jerusalem, &c.

114q 3. The period of time to which an action or occurrence represented by the infinitive construct belongs, must sometimes be inferred from the context, or from the character of the principal tenses; cf. e.g. Gn 24 these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, בְּהִבָּֽרְאָם when they were created (prop. in their being created); Ju 618 עַד־בֹּאִי וג׳ until I come unto thee, and bring forth, &c. Cf. 1 S 1819 (= when she should have been given); 2 K 21, Ho 71.

114r Rem. 1. The constructions of the infinitive with a preposition, described above under d, are almost always continued in the further course of the narrative by means of the finite verb, i.e. by an independent sentence, not by a co-ordinate infinitive. Such a finite verb we regard as governed by a conjunction, which corresponds to the preposition standing before the infinitive. Thus the infinitival construction (frequently even with a change of subject) is continued by a perfect (with לֹא), Jer 912 because they have forsaken (עַל־עָזְבָם) my law ... וְלֹא שָֽׁמְעוּ and have not obeyed my voice; Gn 3910, 1 S 2412, Am 19; without לֹא Jb 2825 (perf. after לְ and infin.); by a perfect with וְ (cf. §112i and § v) Am 111 עַל־רָדְפוֹ וג׳ because he did pursue his brother with the sword, וְשִׁחֵת and did cast off continually all pity (a frequentative perfect; for examples of the perfect consecutive proper see Gn 2745, Ju 618, 1 S 108, 2 K 1832 [Is 3617], always after עַד־בֹּאִי until I come); by a simple imperfect, e.g. Pr 127 (after בְּ); Is 3026 (after בְּיוֹם in the day, a temporal phrase which has here become equivalent to a preposition); Is 524 (after כְּ‍), 10:2, 13:9, 14:25, 45:1, 49:5, 1 S 28, Pr 28, 52, 821 (always after לְ)[12]; by an imperfect consecutive, e.g. Gn 3918 and it came to pass, כַּֽהֲרִימִי קוֹלִי וָֽאֶקְרָא as I lifted up my voice and cried, that ...; 1 K 109, Jb 3813 (after לְ); 1 K 1818, Is 389, Jb 387, 9 ff. (after בְּ); Is 3012, Jer 713, Ez 348 (after יַ֫עַן).

114s 2. The negation of an infinitive construct, on account of the predominance of the noun-element in its character, is effected not by the verbal negative לֹא(except in the compound בְּלֹא, which has come to be used as a preposition, without, Nu 3523, Pr 192), but by בִּלְתִּי, originally a substantive (see the Lexicon), with לְ prefixed (but also Nu 1416 מִבִּלְתִּי), e.g. Gn 311 לְבִלְתִּי אֲכָל־מִמֶּ֫נּוּ not to eat of it; in a final sense, 4:15 lest any finding him should smite him; only in 2 K 2310 is לְ repeated before the infinitive. In ψ329 (if the text be right) בַּל negatives, not the infinitive, but the predicate which is understood.

  1. Cf. §45g, according to which the close union of the לְ with the first consonant of the infinitive (לִכְתֹּב with a firmly closed syllable, as opposed to בִּכְתֹב, כִּכְתֹב, &c.) seems to point to the formation of a special new verbal form. Quite distinct are the few examples where the infinitive with לְ serves to express time, as Gn 2463 לִפְנוֹת עָ֫רֶב at the eventide (prop. at the time of the return of evening); cf. Dt 2312, Ex 1427, Ju 1926; 2 S 1829 when Joab sent the king’s servant.
  2. P. Haupt (SBOT., Proverbs, p. 52, lines 10 ff.; Critical Notes on Esther, p. 170, on 7:8) considers it possible that here and in Pr 28, 624, 75, 1630, 3014, as well as in 14:35, 17:21 before a noun, the ל is a survival of the emphatic ל with an imperf., which is especially common in Arabic. In that case לִמְצֹא must be read לִמְצָא, i.e. ל##יִמַצָא. But all the above instances can be taken as infinitives with ל without difficulty.
  3. Somewhat different are the cases where הָיָה לְ with the infinitive (which is then used exactly as a substantive) implies to become something, i.e. to meet with a particular fate, as Nu 2422 (cf. Is 55, 613) לְבָעֵר for wasting, for which elsewhere frequently לְשַׁמָּה and the like; probably also לְבַלּוֹת ψ4915 is to be explained in this way, the הָיָה being omitted.
  4. 2 S 410 (cui dandum erat mihi) appears to be similar; it may, however, be better, with Wellhausen, to omit the אֲשֶׁר.
  5. But in 1 S 2320 after וְלָ֫נוּ and our part shall be the infinitive without לְ stands as the subject of the sentence.
  6. Quite different of course are such cases as Is 373 וְכֹחַ אַ֫יִן לְלֵדָה and there is not strength to bring forth; cf. Nu 205, Ru 44.
  7. In 2 S 1419 אִשׁ (= יֵשׁ it is, there is) is used in a similar sense after אִם, the negative particle of asseveration, of a truth it is not possible to turn to the right hand or to the left.
  8. This view is based upon the fact, that in numerous expressions of this kind (see the examples above) the לְ may be omitted, and the infinitive consequently stand as an actual accusative of the object (see above, c). However, the connexion of the verb with the object is in the latter case closer and more emphatic (hence especially adapted to poetic or prophetic diction), than the looser addition of the infinitive with לְ; thus לֹא אָבוּ שְׁמוֹעַ Is 2812 is equivalent to they desired not obeying (לֹא אָבוּ also with the infin. abs. in Is 4224; cf. §113d); but לֹא אָבוּ לִשְׁמֹעַ Ez 208 rather expresses they could not make up their mind as to hearkening. When connected with לְ, the governing verb has a more independent sense than when it directly governs the accusative of the object.
  9. In almost all these examples the principal idea is properly contained in the infinitive, whilst the governing verb strictly speaking contains only a subordinate adverbial statement, and is therefore best rendered in English by an adverb; e.g. Gn 2720 how is it that thou hast found it so quickly? (prop. how thou hast hastened to find!), Gn 3127 wherefore didst thou flee secretly? So frequently with הִרְבָּה (= often, abundantly), Ex 365, 1 S 112, 2 K 216, Is 557, Am 44, ψ7838, &c.; with שׁוּב (= again), Dt 309, 1 K 1317, Ho 119, Ezr 914; cf. also 2 S 194, Jer 112, Jn 42, and the analogous instances in §120g; also 2 K 21 thou hast asked a hard thing.
  10. לֵאמֹר is very often so used after וַיְדַבֵּר in the Priestly document (Gn 815, 173, &c., and numberless times in the legal parts of Exod., Lev., and Num.)—a pleonasm which is not surprising considering the admittedly prolix and formal style of the document.
  11. When Delitzsch on ψ10421, referring to Hb 117, explains the infinitive with לְ as an elliptical mode of expressing the coniugatio periphrastica (equivalent to flagitaturi sunt a deo cibum suum), this is, in point of fact, certainly applicable to this and a few other places mentioned above; but all these passages, in which the infinitive with וּלְ follows, are to be distinguished from the cases treated above under h, where the infinitive with לְ without Wāw corresponds to a Latin gerundive, or is actually used to express the coniugatio periphrastica.
  12. The great frequency of examples of this kind, especially in the poetical books, is due to a striving after what is called chiasmus in the arrangement of the parallel members in the two halves of the verse, i.e. in the instances given, the finite verb at the end of the second (co-ordinate) clause is parallel with the infinitive at the beginning of the first. In this way the verbal form necessarily became separated from the וְ, and consequently the imperfect had to be used instead of the perfect consecutive. Such a parallelism of the external and internal members of a verse is frequent also in other cases, and was evidently felt to be an elegance of elevated—poetic or prophetic—style.