Particle Relative


Relative particles introduce clauses or phrases that usually describe nouns but can also sometimes describe adjectives and/or verbs. In English, relative particles are usually translated as “who,” “that,” “which,” “when,” or “where.”


Biblical Hebrew utilizes three different particles that introduce relative clauses or phrases. The particle אֲשֶׁר and the prefix -שֶׁ function as synonyms: they usually immediately follow nouns and sometimes adjectives. When functioning as a relative particle, the word כִּי usually immediately follows a verb of seeing or perceiving.


אֲשֶׁר follows a noun and introduces a relative clause. Its translation depends on the noun. For example, if the noun is a place, אֲשֶׁר means “where,” if the noun is a person, it means “who”, and if the noun is an object, it means “that”, “what” or “which.”

Example: EXO 3:5
הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו
hammaqom ‘asher ‘attah ‘omed ‘alayw
the-place where you are-standing on-it
the place where you are standing
Example: 1KI 21:4
וַיָּבֹא֩ אַחְאָ֨ב אֶל־בֵּיתֹ֜ו סַ֣ר וְזָעֵ֗ף עַל־הַדָּבָר֙
אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֣ר אֵלָ֗יו נָבֹות֙ הַיִּזְרְעֵאלִ֔י
wayyavo’ ‘ah’av ‘el-bethow sar weza’ef ‘al-haddavar ‘asher-dibber
‘elayw navowth hayyizre’eli
And-he-went-in Ahab to_his-house resentful and-angry on_the-word
that_had-spoken to-him Naboth the-Jezreelite
So Ahab went into his palace resentful and angry because of the
answer Naboth the Jezreelite gave him

Sometimes there is no noun as an antecedent.

Example: NUM 22:6
כִּ֣י יָדַ֗עְתִּי אֵ֤ת אֲשֶׁר־תְּבָרֵךְ֙ מְבֹרָ֔ךְ וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּאֹ֖ר יוּאָֽר
ki yada’ti ‘eth ‘asher-tevarekh mevorakh wa’asher ta’or yu’ar
For I-know [dir.obj] whom_you-bless is-blessed and-whom
you-curse will-be-cursed.
For I know that whomever you bless will be blessed, and
whomever you curse will be cursed.


-שֶׁ has the same function as אֲשֶׁר, but is a prefix. It also doubles the next consonant and follows similar rules regarding the vowel patterns as the definite article.

Example: ECC 1:7
אֶל־מְקֹ֗ום שֶׁ֤הַנְּחָלִים֙ הֹֽלְכִ֔ים
‘el-meqowm shehannehalim holekhim
To_place where-the-rivers go
To the place where the rivers go
Example: ECC 1:9
מַה־**שֶּֽׁהָיָה֙ ה֣וּא **שֶׁיִּהְיֶ֔ה
mah-shehayah hu sheyyihyeh
What_that-has-been that which-will-be
Whatever has been is what will be



כִּי is one of the most flexible words in Biblical Hebrew in terms of its meaning. It can function either as a conjunction or as a particle, with many different potential meanings. If in doubt, it is recommended to always consult a dictionary or lexicon to confirm how the word is being used in any specific instance.

Biblical Hebrew uses the particle כִּי to introduce relative clauses or phrases that describe something that is seen, known, or somehow perceived by a person. Therefore, כִּי usually follows verbs of seeing/perceiving where a reader might expect to find אֲשֶׁר. In English, it is usually translated as “that” in these cases.

Example: GEN 1:3
וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב
wayyar ‘elohim ‘eth-ha’or ki-tov
And-he-saw God [dir.obj]_the-light that_good
God saw the light, that it was good.
Example: GEN 22:12
עַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּֽי־יְרֵ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אַ֔תָּה
‘attah yada’ti ki-yere ‘elohim ‘attah
now I-know that_fearful-of God you
now I know that you respect and obey God