Yiddish grammar

An outline of Yiddish grammar and alphabet. Many of the grammatical points have sample sentences with audio. E.g. adjectival agreements, plural nouns. possessive adjectives and verbs.

The Yiddish Alphabet

There are two scripts used for Yiddish: hand written and printed, both of which use a modified version of the Hebrew script.

When written using the Hebrew script, Yiddish reads from right to left.

This basic Yiddish grammar also transliterates the Yiddish script letters using the Roman alphabet, and as at heart Yiddish is a Germanic language, this is relatively easy to do. The transliteration is written from left to right and uses capitals to start sentences and proper nouns.

It uses the transliteration standard as set out by the YIVO institute.

Adjectives

Adjectives and articles in Yiddish decline. They agree with nouns in gender, number and case.

Adjectives. Singular

Gut Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative gut -er gut -e gut, gut -e
Accusative gut -n gut -e gut -e
Dative gut -n gut -er gut -n

The nominative neuter is gut when preceeded by the indefinite article ('a' or 'an'). Masculine nominative adjectives end in 'er'. This is added to the base form or stem.

Examples of adjectival agreement (in the nominative)

The good man Der guter man דער גוטער מאַן
The good woman Di gute froy די גוטע פֿרױ
The good child Dos gute kind דאָס גוטע קינד
A good man A guter man אַ גוטער מאַן
A good woman A gute froy אַ גוטע פֿרױ
A good child A gut(es) kind אַ גוט(עס) קינד
See adjectival agreement for further examples with audio.

Examples of adjectival agreement (in the accusative)

I see the small man Ikh ze dos kleyne mentshele איך זע דאָס קלײנע מענטשעלע
I see the small woman Ikh ze di kleyne froy איך זע די קלײנע פֿרױ
I hear the small dog Ikh her dos kleyne hintele איך הער דאָס קלײנע הינטעלע

When the adjective is used predicatively, it is invariable.

The house is large Dos hoyz iz groys דאָס הױז איס גרױס
The garden is small Der gortn iz kleyn דער גאָרטן אין קלײ
The dog is good Der hunt iz gut דער הונט איז גוט

Adjectives. Plural

Gut Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative gut -e gut -e gut -e
גוטע גוטע גוטע

The nominative, accusative and dative endings are the same when modifying any plural noun and end in 'e'.

Examples of adjectival agreement in the plural

The good dogs run fast Di gute hint loyfn geshvind די גוטע הינט לױפֿן געשװינד
I saw the red houses Ikh hob gezen di royte hayzer איך האָב געזען די רױטע הײַזער
He reads the long books Er leyent di lange bikher ער לײענט די לאַנגע ביכער

Sentence Structure

The basic sentence structure is Subject, Verb, Object.

However, the word order is not fixed and can be varied within limits to change the emphasis and meaning of the sentence. See, for example, these example sentences.

The Definite Article

The definite article depends on the gender on the noun and whether the noun is the singular or plural.

The singular nominative and accusative definite article is as follows for 'tate' father, 'mame' mother and 'bukh' book :-

Singular Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative Der tate Di mame Dos bukh
דער טאַטע די מאַמע דאָס בוך
Accusative Dem (Dos) tate Di mame Dos bukh
דער (דאָס) טאַטע די מאַמע דאָס בוך
Dative Dem Der Dem

In the plural, the definite article is always 'di' regardless of gender or case.

The fathers Di tates די טאַטעס
The mothers Di mames די מאַמעס
The books Di bikher די ביכער

Examples of definite articles in the plural.

I give a present to the children Ikh gib a matone tsu di kinder איך גיב אַ מתּנה צו די קינדער
The cars are fast Di oytos zaynen shnel די אױטאָס זײַנען שנעל
The books are interesting Di bikher zaynen interesant די ביכער זײַנען אינטערעסאַנט

The Indefinite Article

The indefinite article is 'a' or 'an'. 'an' is used before a vowel.

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs (to be able, must, want to, have to) do not need 'tsu' when followed by the infinitive.

Examples of Yiddish modal verbs

I want to speak in Yiddish Ikh vil redn oyf yidish איך װיל רעדן אױף
I can visit you next week Ikh ken dikh bazukhn di kumendike vokh איך קען דיך באַזוכן די קומענדיקע װאָך
You must visit stay with usDu zolst vayln bay undz דו זאָלסט װײַלן בײַ אונדז

Negatives

If the object of the sentence has a definite article (singular or plural), the sentence is made negative by adding 'nit' after the verb. Similarly where these is no object after the verb.

I have the book Ikh hob dos bukh איך האָב דאָס בוך
I do not have the book Ikh hob nit dos bukh איך האָב ניט דאָס בוך
I live in London Ikh voyn in London איך װױן אין לאָנדאָן
I do not live in LondonIkh voyn nit in London איך װױן ניט אין לאָנדאָ

Nouns

Yiddish nouns can be one of three genders - masculine, feminine and neuter.

The man, person masculine der man דער מאַ
The woman feminine Di froy די פֿרױ
The book neuter Dos bukh דאָס בוך

Nouns generally do not decline - apart from names and some commonly used exceptions.

Yiddish Nouns. Plural

The plurals of Yiddish nouns must be learnt as the plural ending varies. Endings which are frequently used to form the plural are 'n', 'en', 's' and 'er'. Further examples of plural nouns with audio are here.

Most nouns with the ending 'e' have a plural ending in 's'. For example,

Noun Singular Plural
The mother Di mame Di mames
The grandfather Der zeyde Di zeydes

These examples illustrate some of the possible endings and variations of plural Yiddish nouns.

Noun Singular Plural
The book Dos bukh Di bikher
דאָס בוך די ביכער
The eye Dos oyg Di oygn
דדאָס אױג די אױגן
The child Dos kind Di kinder
דאָס קינד דדי קינדער
The heart Dos harts Di hertser
דאָס הארץ די הערצער

Possessive Adjectives

These are the possessive form of personal pronouns. Possessive adjectives do not decline - although in the plural and 'e' is added.

Example sentences of possessives with audio are here.

Singular
my house mayn hoyz מײַן הױז
your house (sing) dayn hoyz דײַן הױז
his house zayn hoyz זײַן הױז
her house ir hoyz איר הױז
our house undzer hoyz אונדזער הױז
your house (plural) ayer hoyz אײַער הױז
their house zeyer hoyz זײער הױז

Plural
my houses mayne hayzer מײַנע הײַזער
your (plural) houses dayne hayzer דײַנע הײַזער
her houses ire hayzer אירע הײַזער
our houses undzere hayzer אונדזערע הײַזער
your (plural) houses ayere hayzer אײַערע הײַזער
their houses zeyere hayzer זײערע הײַזער

Question Words

Yiddish question words has further example sentences with audio.

How does it work? Vi azoy arbet es? װי אַזױ אַרבעט עס?
When does it arrive? Ven kumt es on? װען קומט עס אָן?
Who is this? Ver iz dos? װער איז דאָס?
What do you need? Vos darfstu? װאָס דאַרפֿסטו?

Verbs

Yiddish verbs in the infinitive end in - 'n'. E.g. Geyn. (to go) or 'voynen' (to live or reside).

The present tense is formed by removing the 'n' (leaving the stem) and adding the endings in bold.

I talk Ihk redn
You talk Du red -st
He talk Er red -t
She talks Zi red -t
We talk Mir red -n
You talk Ir red -t
They talk Zey red -n

Verbs. Past tense

For most verbs, the past tense is conjugated by using hobn. (to have) and the past participle. The past participle is normally formed by prefixing 'ge' to the verb.

For example, to conjugate the Yiddish verb 'hern' to hear, create participle which is 'ge' + 'hern' making 'gehern'. And then conjugating with 'hobn':-

I heard Iikh hob gehert איך האָב געהערט
You heard (singular) du host gehert דו האָסט געהערט
He heard er hot gehert ער האָט געהערט
She heard zi hot gehert זי האָט געהערט
We heard mir hobn gehert מיר האָבן געהערט
You heard (plural) ir hot gehert איר האָט געהערט
They heard zey hobn gehert זײ האָבן געהערט

The verb to have

To have is of particular importantance as it is one of the verbs used to form the past tense in Yiddish.

to have hobn האָבן
I have ikh hob איך האָב
You have (singular) du host דו האָסט
He has er hot ער האָט
She has zi hot זי האָט
We have mir hobn מיר האָבן
You have (plural) ir hot איר האָט
They have zey hobn זײ האָבן

The verb to be

To be is of particular importantance as it is one of the verbs used to form the Yiddish past tense.

to be zeyn זײַן
I am ikh bin איך בין
You are (singular) du bist דו ביסט
He is er iz ער איז
She is zi iz זי איז
We are mir zaynen מיר זײַנע
You are (plural) ir zayt איר זײַט
They are zey zaynen זײ זײַנע

The verb to go

to go geyn גײן
I go ikh gey איך גײ
You go (singular) du geyst דו גײסט
He goes er geyt ער גײט
She go zi geyt זי גײט
We go mir geyen מיר גײען
You go (plural) ir geyt איר גײט
They go zey geyen זײ גײען

Links

www.yiddishdictionaryonline.com
www.hebrewsongs.com

Sentences