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Why Do We Say "רוסִייה" but "סורית"?

Understanding the Preference for Feminine Adjectival Suffixes in Hebrew


When it comes to adjectival suffixes in Hebrew, there isn't a strict grammatical rule dictating the choice of the feminine ending for gentilics (adjectives denoting belonging to a nation, country, city, etc.). Both endings are valid as evidenced by biblical usage: מוֹאֲבִיָּה (Ruth 1:22) and מוֹאָבִית (2 Chronicles 24:26).


Why Do Hebrew Speakers Prefer רוסִייה, ספרדייה, צרפתייה, יוונייה, אנגלִייה, גרמנייה, But סורית, לבנונית, יפנית, סינית, שוודית, בלגית, אוסטרית?


It seems that the choice between the endings ־ִית or ־ִיָּה in modern Hebrew is influenced by the stress placement in the masculine form of the gentilic: When the gentilic is pronounced with penultimate stress (mil‘el), such as סיני (with stress on the first syllable), the feminine form takes the ending ־ִית: סינית. Similarly, כורדי–כורדית, סורי–סורית, בלגי–בלגית, and so on. Conversely, when the stress is on the final syllable (milra‘), as in the gentilics צרפתי, אנגלי, רוסי, מצרי, the feminine form takes the ending ־ִיָּה such as: צרפתייה, אנגלייה, רוסייה, מצרייה.


Exception: ישראלית


The term ישראלית is an exception to this rule, influenced by its exact form appearing in the Torah and rabbinic literature.


Not Prescriptive


These observations do not set a strict standard, as per Hebrew grammar, all gentilics – in masculine, feminine, and other forms – are supposed to have final stress.



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