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Hebrew Greetings

Let’s pause here and take a closer look at the way we greet people at different times of the day:

וֹקֶר טוֹב.‏
boker tov.
Good morning.
עֶרֶב טוֹב.
‘erev tov.
Good evening.
לַיְלָה טוֹב.‏
layla tov.
Good night.

Notice that the word טוֹב  tov (good) is repeated in all three examples, just like in the English translation. This word is an adjective—a descriptive word. In English, adjectives normally precede the nouns they modify, but in Hebrew adjectives follow nouns. Hebrew adjectives also agree with their nouns in gender (masculine, feminine), in number (singular, plural) and in definiteness (definite, indefinite). But don’t worry about that just yet; we’ll talk more about noun-adjective agreement later on.

You also learned the question word מַה  ma (what). You came across it in the question How’s it going? (You will learn about the literal translation of this phrase later.)

 מַה נִשְמָע?‏  
ma nishma?
How’s it going?

There are other ways in Hebrew to ask the question How are you?, depending on who you’re asking. But we will get to them later in the lesson.

You probably noticed that there are a few sounds in the Hebrew words and expressions above that don’t have an equivalent in English. The sound ח, H, is produced by constricting the back of the throat, similar to the pronunciation of ch in the German word Bach and the Scottish word loch. Don’t confuse it with h, written in Hebrew as ה, which is very similar to the English h.

Excuse me./I’m sorry.
Good-bye./See you later.

The word לְהִתְרָאוֹת  lehitra'ot (good-bye/see you later) shows another sound that has no equivalent in English. This is the glottal stop  ' , which sounds like the small catch in your breath when you say uh oh. In Hebrew, it’s a regular consonant represented by either the letter  א or  ע and it may come at the beginning, middle or end of the word.

Finally, the  ר ,  r sound in לְהִתְרָאוֹת  lehitra'ot (good-bye/see you later) is pronounced differently in Hebrew than in English. It is similar to the French r in rue or bonjour, and is produced with the back of the tongue near or against the very back part of the roof of your mouth, called the uvula.