The Naw Shvas: Do You Care?


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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

There are two types of people in the world:

  • Those who care about distinguishing between Naw Shvahs and other Shvahs
  • And those who don’t.

Both Rav Chaim Volozhin’s student, author of the Keser Rosh (see Siman 40) and the Aruch HaShulchan (OC 61:9) say to be like the first type of person.

To help out the type one people, and to help convince the type two people to become type one people, there are 5 rules of thumb – and they are BASIC ALEPH BAIS (this is a code to remember the five rules)

  • Rule Aleph (the 1st rule) – Whenever, the Shvah appears under the 1st  letter of a word – it is always a shvah naw.
  • Rule Bais ( the 2nd rule) – Whenever there are two consecutive Shvahs in the middle of the word – the second one is always a shvah naw. If there are two shvahs at the end of the word, as in  אַנְתְּ  – both shvahs are silent. Aleph nun tes is therefore “ant” not “anteh.”
  • Rule Gimel (the 3rd rule) – GEDOLAH [get it? It begins with a gimel].  Gedolah stands for Tenu’ah Gedolah, which means exaaaggerated sound.  So when a shvah appears after an EXAAAGERATED* sound – it is a shvah naw.
  • Rule Dalet (the 4th rule) – whenever the letter above has a DAGESH – a DOT in it – the shvah underneath has a shvah naw.
  • Rule Hay (the 5th rule) – whenever the letters HAPPEN to look alike (in Hebrew “Hadomos”) – the first shvah is a shva naw as in -Hal’lu or Hin’ni


Rule Gimel is the hardest rule of the five.  That the shvah after an exaagerated sound gets a shvah naw.  So what is an exaaagerated sound – a Tnu’ah Gedolah?  There are basically five exaagerated sounds.  The way to remember them is through the following word:

PEEE-TOOO-CHEY! CHOSAM or in Hebrew letters פיתוחי חותם.

  1. PEEE stands for a full cheereek – an exaaagerated EEE sound
  2. TOOO stands for a full vov (the OOOH kind not the V kind) as in, “Well that is just TOOO bad!”
  3. CHEY! Stands for tzayray – the two dot vowel – one on the left and one on the right
  4. CHO stands for Cholem – that vov which makes an OH sound – as in “Land Ho!!” whether or not it is full vov or just that dot on the upper left side
  5. SAM – stands for a kamatz that little tee vowel under a word. Please note, however, that after a komotz kattan which is a mini-sound called a tenuah ketana, the shva does not become a Nah Shvah.

Of course, many siddurim have some sort of sign above the Naw Shvas – such as a line – but some have mistakes in them, so it pays to know the rules.

For those unfamiliar with Naw Shvahs (moving shvahs) and Nach Shvahs (resting shvahs) – here is a definition from a mother-in-law of my son’s spouse.

  1. A regular shva, also called a shva nach, usually does not make any sound at all. We say that a Shva nach “is sleeping.” Examples are, אנשי and משלי. The shva under the nun in anshei and under the shin of mishlei are silent.
  2. When a shva is in the beginning of a syllable (or word), then it does make a sound (shva nah). We say that it’s awake. A driver may not sleep while driving a car but a passenger is allowed to sleep. An example would be p’nai. The shva under the pay makes a sound.


As an interesting aside, in Hebrew grammar there are the “beged kefes” letters, the letters that at times have a dagesh, a dot mark that indicates that the letter is stressed. The general rule is (there are other exceptions) that if the previous syllable ends with a letter that leaves the mouth open, the next beged kefes letter loses its dagesh.

Thus, in the pasuk “Ki miTzion teitzei Sorah” the tav immediately following Tzion retains its dagesh because the nun in Tzion ends with the mouth closed (notice that your tongue is touching the top of your mouth). However, the tav in Sorah (otherwise “Torah”) has lost its dagesh, since the previous word, teitzei ends with an ei, with the mouth open.

This explanation leads us to the conclusion that in the blessings of Borei p’ri ha’eitz and Borei p’ri ha’adamah, the word should really be pronounced “f’ri” rather than “p’ri” since the previous word, borei, ends with the mouth open. Indeed this is the position of Rabbi BenTzion Abba Shaul zt”l, that the word should be pronounced “f’ri.” Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef zt”l (Yavia Omer, Vol. IX No. 22) disagrees with Rav BenTzion Abbah Shaul zt”l, and says that when the word is intimately connected to the next word, there should be a pause between the words so that the beged kefes word will still retain its natural dagesh. Thus, Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l advocates that a slight pause be inserted between the words borei and p’ri.

***There is a Bais Yaakov alumnus who, unfortunately, was hit hard financially by COVID.  It would be a huge help and relief to her if we can get her some financial assistance. Below is a Chessed Fund Link. Tizku l’Mitzvos***

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  1. For a siddur with the Shva Naw and Shva Noch consistently correctly marked, use a copy of the original Otzar Hatefilos. Each shva na is marked by a star.

    (There are two versions of the sidddur out there today. There is a version distorted by someone who converted it to sfard and which was followed by a conversion with errors to ashkenaz. You can quickly tell by checking the end of lcho dodi where in the skewed version the last stanza is nusach sfard.)

  2. The regular artscroll has them marked very nicely TYVM

    Re בעלי דקדוק in general let me remind them

    קרא ולא דקדק יצא
    אבל דקדק ולא קרא… לא יצא

    השגת הראב”ד לרמב”ם הלכות קריאת שמע פרק ב הלכה ט
    א”א לא ידעתי נוד הנח מה הפסד יש בו אם יאמר לבבך בנוד הבי”ת השנית כדי להטעימה שלא תראה וא”ו וכן אם יטעים יו”ד של ישראל שלא תראה אל”ף וכן כל כיוצא באלה יניד הנחים ותבא עליו ברכה

  3. Sometimes the meaning changes if we don’t pronounce the dagesh chazak. Yidmu keoven is similar to a rock whereas yidemu keoven, silent like a rock.

  4. It says metzanenim lo es hagehinom, they cool off the gehinom. The Beis Yosef explains in the name of the Maharya, as he does things against his nature, Hashem also does things against its natureand as Yosef did, so the sea split.

  5. Some thoughts:
    1) I see different siddurim have different markings. Artscroll say that they follow rules of the Gra, implying there are other rules.
    2) I find exceptions to the 5 rules, e.g. the word “Tageilno” (shabbos pesukei dzimrah), which has a tenua’h gedolah (tzeirei) yet not marked for shva na. I was told that there are actually extra rules, depending if the syllable is accented, and depending what the trop is. Would be interested if anyone can comment on this?

  6. The dagesh in beged kesef is not a matter of stress, but rather aspiration. Granted, The soft gimmel, soft daled , soft tav, and properly aspirated bets and peh are lost to most benei Ashkenaz. Some things are relevant to Halacha , such as the lengthening of the daled in ECHAD which is impossible without the soft daled.
    Also, a a cohen who does not distinguish between ayin and alef is not to do birchat cohanim, and the gemara lists a few regional speech defects (such as my litvish gradfather who had no shin) who are disqualified for shatz
    I have seen what seems to be willful ignorance in people who pronounce אחד as if the were a dagesh and a shva na there, often loudly, and when I approached a baal koreh about his lack of degesh in the nun of ויענך changing the meaning, he told me “don’t bother me with your dikduk”.

  7. Also in SA orach hayim 128 discussing physical defects that preclude a cohen from bircas cohanim have exceptions of dash b’iro or discoloration/de3formity covered with talit. It is reasonable to hypothesize that since the halacha of distorted diction dose not mention these exceptions, dash b’iro dose not apply to distorted diction. This also would mean that distorted diction is worse than a physical mum. This hypothesis in not like the MB’s syncretic shita.

  8. What frustrates people who try to improve their dikduk is that there are always exceptions and more exceptions.
    The exception to the “3rd rule” is that if the stress is on the syllable with the Tnu’ah Gedolah, then the shva is nach. Example: from kabolas shabbos — ותגלנה בנות יהודה vatoGAILnoh bnos yehuda. Even though the shva under the lamed is after a tzayray, and should be a shva nah under the 3rd rule. But since the syllable GAIL is the stressed syllable in that word, it is a shva nach.
    And if your head isn’t spinning yet, there is an exception to that exception that most siddurim follow. If the reason the syllable is stressed is because of the “nasog achor” rule, then it remains a shva nah. Example: from kabolas shabbos — יבשו כל עבדי פסל yavoshu kol OVdai fessel. There, the shva under the vais is a shva na (in most siddurim) even though OV is the stressed syllable, because the reason why OV is stressed is because of the “nasog achor” rule.

    What’s the nasog achor rule? In short, if two words form a phrase, and the stress in the second word is on its first syllabe (or it only has one syllable), then the stress on the first word will frequently “move back” to the second to last syllable. As in OVdei FEssel. Since the words form a phrase, and the stress on the second word is on its first syllable, then ovDEI turns into OVdei.

  9. And get this. There is also a 6th rule that most siddurim follow. When a verb has a “ha” (meaning “the”) prefix, and the verb is in present tense that has the letter mem prefix (pi’el), then the shva under the mem is a shva na. Example:המברך את עמו ישראל Hamvoreich es amo yisroel, in most siddurim the shva under the mem is a shva na.

  10. And yet another exception to the “3rd rule”. When a word starts with what is called here a “full vov” (וּ), meaning “and”, then the following shva is a shva nach. Example: in sh’ma ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך – uvchol nafsh’cha uvchol m’odecha. The shvas under the vais in both words are shva nach, despite the fact that they follow a Tnu’ah Gedolah.

    And of course there is an exception to this exception (in many siddurim). When the word is from tanach, and the vov has the “messeg” trop (short vertical line) under it, then the shva is a shva na. Example: in sh’ma וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ uv’shochb’cha (both times it appears). Since there’s a messeg under the vov, many siddurim show the shva under the vais as a shva na (however, I understand many baalei dikduk do not agree, and read the shva under the vais as a shva nach).