Yod-He-Vav-He, the Consonants and Their Pronunciation

The Pronunciation of the Name of God is in the Hebrew Text

The correct pronunciation of God’s Name, in Biblical Hebrew, is found in the Leningrad Codex, used to translate the Old Testament into English.

The Leningrad Codex was prepared by the Masorites. They made a slight change to all of the names of God: Yihvah, Yaho, and Yahu. They pronounced all of these prefixes with a sheva vowel marking that signified, “Silence, we don’t pronounce it.”


יהיה and יהוה

The Name “He WILL BE” in Hebrew is formed by the Hebrew letters Yod(Y), He(H), Yod (Y), He(H), which we call YHYH in English letters. The Hebrew is read from right to left.

As a verb, these letters are pronounced “Yihyeh.” The earlier form of this verb was Yod(Y), He(H), Vav(V), He(H), YHVH, pronounced “Yihveh,” but as a noun, “Yihvah.”

All Hebrew names are composed of real Hebrew words. They are not just phonetic sounds. Hebrew names are composed of verbs and nouns that give a meaning. Names like Yehovah and Yahweh are not Hebrew names because they are not made of real Hebrew words.

Biblical Hebrew

In order to understand the consonants YHVH and their pronunciation, we need to know Biblical Hebrew, and especially late Biblical Hebrew. Most of the Old Testament was written around 500 B.C. This includes the Books of Judges, Samuel, Chronicles, Kings, and the Prophets. Many of these books were started by earlier authors but completed by other writers around 500 B.C.

But, as we mentioned, the first time the Name YHVH was used was in the Garden of Eden.

Scholars of primitive Hebrew believe the original vowels of the Semitic languages were a, i, and u. Barth-Ginsburg’s law of Semitic languages requires the pronunciation of YHVH, He WILL BE, as Yihvah:

In the Qal (I-guttaral, germinate, II-weak), with the theme vowel u and i the prefix has a, with the theme vowel a, the prefix has i, therefore yaqtul, yaqtil, and yiqtal.1

A name like Yahweh is not possible in early Biblical Hebrew or late Biblical Hebrew, which requires a “v” for the vav consonant. R. Laird Harris comments, “The ‘w’ of Yahweh represents a premosaic pronunciation but the final ‘eh’ represents a post-davidic form.”2 In other words, the Name of God could never have been Yahweh.

The pronunciation markings in the Masoretic Text are considered to represent late Biblical Hebrew. We have significant certainty that the pronunciations of the Masoretic Text agree with the Hebrew pronunciation of the third century B.C. because we can compare these to the Greek Septuagint of that time.  

The Tiberian Pronunciation of the Masorites (6th to 10th Century A.D.)

In the City of Tiberias, on the sea of Galilee, a faithful family of scribes copied the Old Testament from the sixth to 10th century A.D., and they added pronunciation markings to help us to understand how Biblical Hebrew was pronounced.

These markings were quite useful because Hebrew had not been used as the common spoken language for more than 1,000 years. Until this time, the Jews spoke Aramaic.

Yehvah Is the Pronunciation in the Leningrad/Aleppo Codex

Today, we refer to the Westminster Leningrad Codex as our source. This is the online electronic version of the Leningrad Codex. The Leningrad Codex is the oldest, most complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, dated to around 1008 A.D.

In the table below, we present all of the pronunciation used for the consonants YHVH in the Westminster Leningrad Codex.

Pronunciation  Occurrences Explanation
יְהוָה 6,468 Yehvah
יְהוִה 271 Yehvih, the vowels of ELOHIM, with sheva. The dot on the first He is omitted as redundant.
יְהֹוָה 52 Yehovah, the vowels of Yaho, with sheva.
יְהֹוִה 32 Yehovih, the vowels of ELOHIM, with sheva.
יֱהוִה 2 Yehvih, Genesis 15:2, 8, the vowels of ELOHIM. The dot on the first He is omitted as redundant.
יְּהוָה 1 Leviticus 20:38 scribal error, extra mark
יֲהוָה 1 Psalm 144:15 scribal error, extra mark
יֱהֹוִה 1 Yehovih, Judges 16:28, the vowels of ELOHIM

In 95% of these cases, YHVH has been pronounced “Yehvah.”

In 306 occasions, the vowels of ELOHIM have been used. In the eighth century, the common substitution for the Name YHVH was Adonai. To prevent someone from reading Adonai YHVH as “Adonai Adonai,” the scribes used the vowels of ELOHIM to suggest the reading as “Adonai ELOHIM,” i.e., “Lord GOD” in our English text.

Fifty-two times, the vowels of Yaho have crept in. Seventeen of these are in Jeremiah 1 through 5, as if to make fun of Jeremiah, who said, “Their fathers forgot My Name for Baal.”

There are two scribal errors in these 6,828 cases.

The sheva (:) is applied to the yod, Y, to tell the reader not to pronounce YHVH, as we will describe in the next section.

Understanding the Pronunciation of the Masorites

The Sheva (:)—“eh” or No Sound

By the 14th century A.D., the Israelites recognized two names of God, derived from YHVH. These were Yihvah and Yaho. Later on, they developed a substitutionary pronunciation, Yahu.

The prefixes of these three variations of the Name YHVH were all sounded with sheva vowel markings by the Masorites. But only the prefixes of names were affected. “Yahu” as a suffix in names was unchanged.

Hebrew Name Original Pronunciation With Sheva
יהו Yaho Yeho
יהוא Yahu Yehu
יהוה Yihvah Yehvah

The sheva vowel marking does not represent the original pronunciation of any of these three names. But these pronunciations are otherwise correct.

No one knows how the tradition of prefixing the Name with a sheva began, but one theory is that the sheva came from first letter of the Aramaic word “Shima,” שְמִי meaning, “the Name.”

Aramaic was the spoken language of the Jews from 500 B.C., until the Arabs conquered the Holy Land in the seventh century A.D.

From the first century B.C., the Jews read the Bible aloud in Aramaic from the Targums, and they spoke the word “Shima,” שְמִי, when they came to the Name of God because it was not allowed to be pronounced.3

The sheva in “Shima” means “silent”—no sound. In other words, we don’t pronounce it.

In the eighth century A.D., the Masorites used the sheva to sound the YH prefixes in the Aramaic and Hebrew texts. This prevented the true pronunciation of God’s Name and was a signal to the reader they should not pronounce the Name of God.

The Qamatz (T)—“ah” Sound

The “ah” ending of Yihvah is correct. The Name YHVH as a verb is pronounced “Yihveh,” but as a noun, it is pronounced “Yihvah” for the reasons we will explain.

Actually, 97%, or 280 of the 290 names in the Old Testament ending with ה are pronounced with a qamatz, an “ah” sound. This has to do with the Mater Lectionis, the “mothers of reading” in Hebrew. A word ending in ה generally takes on an “ah” ending.

Verbs That Become Nouns as the Name of God End in “AH”

The Names of God always end in a qamatz (T), “ah” sound.

The adjective “Saddai,” or “Almighty” was used to describe the Almighty God. But as a name, “God Almighty” in Exodus 6:3 is pronounced “Saddah.” We can see this in the Leningrad Codex and the Targum.

In A.D. 460, Bishop Theodoret knew the Names of God must rhyme, and he tried to rhyme “Saddai” with “Yabai,” which he presumed must be the correct pronunciation of YHVH. But he did not realize that Saddai as a name was pronounced “Saddah.”

“Now Saddai signifies Him who is sufficient and able, but AIA (ah-yah) Him who is. This also was not to be uttered among the Hebrews. But the Samaritans call it Iabai (Yavai), not knowing the force of the expression.”4

In the above passage, Theodoret cited another Name of God, AIA (ah-yah), “I WILL BE,” which, as a verb, is pronounced “eh-yeh” in the text of the Masorites. Apparently, it was also pronounced with an “ah” ending, but it is difficult to know whether this was really the pronunciation of the Jews because Theodoret said they were not allowed to pronounce it.

The Third Person Imperfect Verbs as Names (Nouns)

As mentioned, 280 of the 290 names in the Old Testament ending with ה are pronounced with a qamatz, “ah” sound.

Among the 290 names with “he” endings are two other names in the third person imperfect, just like YHVH. These names are in 1 Chronicles 7:30, Yishvah—he will be like (resemble); and in 1 Chronicles 8:16, Yishpah—he will sweep. Like Yihveh, once these verbs become nouns (a name), they take on an “ah” ending, which we can also confirm in the Greek Septuagint.

This is one feature of the Hebrew language that is especially useful. Every verb of similar consonants is treated the same. Any verb that has a guttural (weak sounding) “He” in the third character of the root will undergo the same change in pronunciation when conjugated into the third person imperfect tense of the verb. Therefore, it is no surprise that we arrive at the following:

Root Qal, 3rd Person, M, Imperfect As a Noun (Name)  
שָׁוָה יִשְׁוֶה יִשְׁוָה Yishvah
שָׁפָה יִשְׁפֶה יִשְׁפָה Yishpah
הָוָה יִהְוֶה יִהְוָה Yihvah
The Contraction of Yihvah Is Yah

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, we know that the final syllable of Yihvah has an “ah” ending because the contraction of Yihvah is Yah. The Name of God, whether it be Yihvah, or Yaho, in Hebrew, is always contracted by the first and last letter. This is the rule of the nomina sacra, sacred names of God.

  1. The Semitic Languages, An International Handbook, edited by Stephan Weninger, 2012, p. 271.
  2. R. L. Harris, Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, edited by G. Kittel, 1983 reprint, vol. III, p. 1067.
  3. Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon, p. 1027, “Late Hebrew = Biblical Hebrew (especially הַשֵּׁם = יהוה).”
  4. Theodoret, Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium, Migne P. G. 1xxxxiii, v. 3.