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"To" or "El"? The Answer is Simpler Than You Think.

One of the questions we keep getting from our students is whether there is a difference between the two prepositions 'to' (ל) and 'el' (אל). If you're wondering too, you should read the following post.

Many Hebrew speakers notice that the prepositions el (אל) and le- (ל־) can be interchanged in many sentences, but this interchange is not possible in the inflected forms of these prepositions. For example:

  1. All rivers flow to the sea = כל הנחלים הולכים לים (Kol hanachalim holchim layam). (And in inflection: כל הנחלים הולכים אליו (Kol hanachalim holchim elav). But the sentence "כל הנחלים הולכים לו" (Kol hanachalim holchim lo) is not correct.

  2. It is forbidden to approach the queen = אסור להתקרב למלכה (Asur lehitkarev lamalka). It is forbidden to approach her = אסור להתקרב אליה (Asur lehitkarev elayha) (and not: "אסור להתקרב לה" (Asur lehitkarev lah)).

How do speakers decide between these two prepositions? And how can we explain these rules to someone for whom Hebrew is not a native language? First, let's pay attention to the many cases where only the preposition le- (ל־) is suitable, both separately and in inflection, and it cannot be replaced by el (אל):

  1. Mom bought Ruthie a balloon. She bought her a blue balloon =

  2. You did not explain your position to the child. You need to explain to him why you think so = לא הסברת את עמדתך לילד. אתה צריך להסביר לו מדוע אתה חושב כך (Lo hisbarta et amdatecha layeled. Atah tzarich lehasbir lo madua atah choshev kach).

  3. The use of plastic is harmful to the environment. It harms it in many ways =

  4. Try to forgive your family members. Forgive them for their mistakes =

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