לא vs אל

Could someone please explain to me the differences in usage between אל and לא?

I understand they're both particles that contribute to a negation such as in "אני לא חושב" or "אל תעזוב" but I'm not completely sure about when to use one over the other.

Thanks in advance

April 28, 2019


לא = no

אל= un____ ,don't, non

"al" is more about a situation or an object. For example אלתוש is cream for preventing mosquito (יתוש) bites. Another example - "non parental" אל הורי but I don't know if that translates same in English- meant to be a person who does not want children (a person's statues, rather than action).

"lo" will refer to a person more directly- actions, thoughts.

April 28, 2019

Some other examples for אל are אלחוטי "wireless" and אלמות "immortal, deathless."

May 1, 2019

Like in Sanskrit अमृत (amrta), mrt = root to do with 'death' and a- not that concept/the reverse. I am trying to study Sanskrit, interesting because there are many things I recognise from other languages.

May 1, 2019

As far as I figured it out, אל is used to negate an imperative. So, (Do) X becomes (do) not (do) X. I don't think you could say something like אני אל חושב. But correct me if I'm wrong.

April 28, 2019

that's a text book answer. to be a little more precise אל is for the negative imperative. for example:

don't speak! = !אל תדבר

don't do it! = !אל תעשה את זה

April 28, 2019

In Biblical Hebrew, אַל is pretty much only used with commands in the negative sense, attached to a verb, as in "Do not do _". This might be different with Modern Hebrew, but I am fairly sure that Modern Hebrew still uses אַל as a negative command at least sometimes.

On the other hand, לֹא is commonly used without commands but in Biblical Hebrew, and probably Modern Hebrew also, לֹא can be attached to a 2nd person imperfect verb form which can act as a suggestion, or even a command , as in "You should not do ", or "You may not do ".

When it comes to commands, אַל is the more strict form, and is not a suggestion (at least in Biblical Hebrew).

April 28, 2019


As you can see in the example below, 'אל' is used as 'do not' as long as 'do not' is imperative. That's its most used meaning.

For example:

  • Don't think it.

אל תחשוב את זה.                                                                   לא

As you can see in the examples below, 'לא' (it's pronounced as 'law') can replace do/does/is/am/will/did not. You can also replace has/have/had and has/have/had not been (doing) if they are used to form the perfect tenses, because in Hebrew there aren't any perfect tenses.


Present Tense:

  • I don't think it.

אני לא חושב את זה.

Future Tense:

  • I won't think it.

אני לא אחשוב את זה.

Past Tense:

  • I didn't think it.

אני לא חשבתי את זה.

  • I have/had not thought it

אני לא חשבתי את זה.

  • He/She has not thought it

הוא/היא לא חשב/ה את זה.

Moreover, in the past tense, we usually omit the subject 'I' ('אני') or 'you' ('אתה') if the verb is in the past tense and, obviously, negative (the same is sometimes true for verbs in perfect tenses not including the future ones; again if the verb is in a perfect tense and the subject is 'I' or 'you').

Examples  (compare them with the examples above):

  • I didn't think it.

לא חשבתי את זה.

  • You didnt think it.

לא חשבתָּ את זה.

  • I have/had not thought it.

לא חשבתי את זה.

Notice: you can't omit the subjects 'הוא/היא' in the above examples.

You can also use 'לא' with cannot/could not/shall not/should not/must not/ought not to and more negative modal verbs. In these cases 'לא' replaces 'not'.

For example:

  • You shouldn't think it.

אתה לא צריך לחשוב את זה.

If you want to form a question, you don't need to change anything but your tones or the period in the end of the sentence.   For example:

  • Haven't you thought it?

לא חשבת את זה?

  • Didn't she think it?

היא לא חשבה את זה?

If we want to sound formal, we usually use איני, אינו, אינם, and so on, and thus we don't need to use 'לא' in many cases.

The word 'לא' can also mean 'no'.

For example:

  • No, I didn't think.

לא, (אני) לא חשבתי.

May 1, 2019
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