Hebrew words generally contain two components, root and a grammatical portion. The root, typically three consonants (X-X-X), establishes the semantic field: l-m-d “studying,” g-z-l “stealing,” d-r-sû “searching.” The grammatical portion is a pattern of vowels and certain consonants that fits into the root; for example, XaXXan “one who does,” XaXaX “third-person- masculine, simple past tense.”

Thus, lamdan “scholar,” gazlan “thief,” darsûan “preacher,” lamad “he studied,” gazal “he stole,” darasû “he searched.”

Other patterns give melamed “teacher,” talmid “student,” derasûah “exegesis,” midrasû “commentary.” Analyzing words in an advertisement, Geoffrey Sampson (Writing Systems: A Linguistic Introduction [Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1985], pp. 89–92) finds that only 30 percent have more than one possible reading in isolation; in context none is ambiguous.