RevInt III: Reverse Interlinear Symbols

(See also: RevInt I: Reverse Interlinears as Books and RevInt II: Reverse Interlinear Lines)

There are quite a lot of symbols that you need to master in order to read a reverse interlinear alignment. Each of the symbols is has a popup definition in the Libronix resource, so you won’t have to memorize what they mean, but understanding them in the first place will help you with reverse interlinear fluency.

Nearly all of these symbols are in the original language line; it was decided early on in the reverse interlinear design process that we would try to keep the translation text as uncluttered as possible. After all, it is the top line.

So, let’s take a look at those symbols, shall we?

Subscript Numbers

ESV OT Rev. Int. Genesis 1:3

ESV NT Rev. Int. Romans 2:11

First of all, you’ll notice that the words of the reverse interlinear are presented out of order; that is, they come in whatever order is dicated by the top-line ESV Text, not in the order they appear in the original language version. For this reason, we’ve added little subscript numbers that tell you the position of each Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word within the original verse. A subscript 8, for example, means that this is the eighth original word in the verse.


ESV NT Rev. Int. Romans 1:22

Secondly, you may notice arrows pointing leftward or rightward. This indicates that the translation of the ESV word that lies directly above comes from the word that is being pointed to. In Romans 1:22, there is a rightward-pointing arrow under the words “they” and “became”. Each points at the Greek word emôranthêsan*, which is aligned beneath “fools”. The single Greek word is thus translated by the phrase “they became fools”. The word emôranthêsan is put beneath “fools” because it is the most content-bearing of the three words in the opinion of the reverse interlinear editors (John Schwandt of the Institute of Biblical Greek and C. John Collins, who among many things serves on the ESV translation committee). In short, “they became fools” is the whole translation of that one Greek word, but “fools” is the core part of it.

Words that arise from the morphology of the original language, such as “they” in the example above, which comes from the third person plural, or auxiliary “function” words that are subservient to the main translation word, such as “became” above, generally get arrows. For example, the English word “of” often arises from the genitive case in Greek or the construct state in Hebrew. Such words are not “there” in the original in the same way that the nouns and verbs might be, but they are there, somewhere in the luminiferous ether that exists between the the source language and the translation language. The word “the”, as one more example, is often aligned to an arrow where no article exists in the original language but where it forms a natural (even obligatory) part of the noun or noun phrase that does the heavy lifting of the translation, as you can see from Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 below:

ESV Rev. Int. Gen 1:1 (OT), John 1:1 (NT)


ESV NT Rev. Int. Romans 2:11

Thirdly, there are sometimes triangles that point leftward or rightward. These mean the same thing as arrows, except that they point not to an adjacent word, but to a distant word in the direction the arrow is pointing. That’s why they are always coupled with the number of the word that they point to. A right-pointing triangle and the number “4” means to read right in the alignment line to the word that is subscripted with the number “4,” as in the example above, from Romans 2:11. Here, the word prosôpolêmpsia is the one that best accounts for the presence of the word “shows” above the triangle.

ESV OT Rev. Int. Genesis 1:9

Triangular pointers may be quite distant from the words they point at. In the example above from Genesis 1:9, the Hebrew word yiqwu is translated by “Let … be gathered,” even though the word “Let” stands five words away.


ESV NT Rev. Int. Romans 2:11

Sometimes you will see multiple original language words enclosed in brackets aligned beneath a single ESV word. Anyone who has spent any time translating will tell you it’s always a “many-to-many” problem: one word in the source document may be translated by two or more words in the translation, or vice versa, several words in the source may work as one in the translation. Throw in the differences in grammar between the two languages, and you have yourself a fine mess. When there are multiple words in the translation line, we use arrows as described above; when there are multiple words in the source, we bracket them together as a group. Often, as is the case here in Romans 2:11, Greek articles are grouped together with their nouns, for much the same reasons that the word “the” gets an arrow in the top line: It’s part of the translation.


ESV NT Rev. Int. Matthew 1:18

ESV OT Rev. Int. Leviticus 26:35

Lastly, some words in the ESV Text line are marked with italic formatting. This indicates a phrase-to-phrase alignment, where the items make sense to align as phrases but not as individual words. Usually (but not always), this is an idiomatic expression in one language or another. For example, the Greek phrase translated by the ESV with “to be with child” in Matthew 1:18 aligns with the equivalent Greek expression, en gastri echousa, literally “in womb having”. The ESV translation uses an idiomatic English phrase to translate an idiomatic Greek one — thus the many-to-many alignment. In the same way, the idiomatic/natural English phrase “as long as” is used to translate the Hebrew kol-yemêy, literally “all the days”.

ESV NT Rev. Int. Romans 2:11

Sometimes, an idiom is non-contiguous in the translation, that is, all the words aren’t adjacent to one another. In these cases, the top line text is still italicized, and the peripheral/satellite portion of the idiom is aligned to an arrow that points to the more “significant” portion of the idiom.

There is one more symbol that you’ll see in reverse interlinears, but you’ll have to wait until the next installment: RevInt IV: Reverse Interlinear Bullets.

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[*] Don’t bother correcting my subpar transliterations. Trust me, it’s a lost cause …


  1. Steve Maling says:

    Great! I find these help articles well worth checking the Blog on a daily basis. [My wife enjoys joining me for the reports from the Road Trip, which makes the other entries worthwhile, as well. So far, we haven't tried the chili recipies:).]
    The writing and illustrations are written well and clearly.
    One suggestion, an illustration for this sentence cut/pasted from above (of course, I might have overlooked the illustration): “The word ‘the’, as one more example, is often aligned to an arrow where no article exists in the original language but where it forms a natural (even obligatory) part of the noun or noun phrase that does the heavy lifting of the translation.”
    Finally, I am delighted there is a reverse interlinear for the NRSV NT and am glad you are working on the NRSV OT reverse interlinear.

  2. Steve, your wish is my command. The post above now has an illustration from Ge 1:1 and John 1:1, where in each verse, an instance of the word “the” in “the beginning” is “pointed in” to the respective Greek or Hebrew word.

  3. I have enjoyed reading your articles and was not going to say much but saw that you don’t get a lot of comments. Perhaps this may lead you to think that your audience is much smaller than it actually is. Well let me say that I check your blog almost everyday and have been telling my friends in seminary to check it out as well. So… keep up the good work! Thank you for your endeavors to “educate the masses.”

  4. Anonymous says:

    There’s a reverse interlinear for the NRSV NT? How can I get that?

  5. David Udoff says:

    can anyone translate this hebrew computer word into English? Thanks