Syntax: Talking Animals in the Bible

Several readers have requested that we produce more examples of syntax searching. Your wish is my command — at least in this case. I made a video that shows how to make a syntax search to find all the places in the Hebrew Bible where an animal speaks, or more specifically, where a clause has a verb of speaking with a “creature” in the subject. The query uses the semantic categories present in the A-F markup to narrow the hits down to only verbs of speaking with “creature” subjects.

This query, which is mostly just for fun, is a variation on a template that I use often:

  • Clause
    • Clause IC 1: Structure = {Finite Verb}
    • Anything
    • Clause IC 2: Structure = {Subject}

That query is pretty general: It’ll find every clause that has a Finite Verb followed by a Subject, with “Anything” in between. That’s not a very useful query in and of itself, but I can now “hang” segments or phrases or whatever from each of the two clause-immediate constituents (Clause IC) in order to further narrow my search. In the case of the “Talking Animals” query, I added a segment (ie, a single Hebrew word or word-part, such as the prefix prepositions) beneath the Verb clause IC and then, using the semantic properties that are available to text segments in the Andersen-Forbes database, I constrained it to only match words that had “speaking” semantics. Similarly, I constrained the subject to animals by adding a segment that could only match if it had “creature” semantics.

  • verb of utterance + “creature” in the subject = Talking Animals

This pattern can be used to come up with all sorts of more useful queries:

  • verb of destruction + ???? in the subject = What does YHWH destroy?
  • ??? in the verb + noun with “deity” semantics in the subject = What does God love?
  • verb of utterance + ????? in the subject = What does Abraham say?
  • plural in the verb + singular in the subject = Subject/verb disagreement in number

… and so on. By varying the qualifications for the subject and the verb, you can produce any number of useful queries.


  1. That is powerful searching!

  2. Curtis Smitz says

    This query method seems pretty fantastic. However it displays a knowledge of the subject of English far above my abilities. But I would still like to do a particular query in that fashion. How can I query “the commands of Jesus” and then export the verses to a verse list? Perhaps if I could follow the steps to that (in my mind simpler) query I could do others.