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.