The "tonic" syllable is the syllable that receives the stress or accent; the "pretonic" syllable is the syllable before the tonic syllable, and the "propretonic" syllable is the syllable before the pretonic. Don't let this nomenclature intimidate you: in the Scriptures, accented syllables are usually identified with one or more accent marks (see below).
The Masoretes and the Masoretic Text
Between the 7th and 9th centuries A.D, a group of Jewish scribes called the Masoretes added vowel signs (nikkudot), cantillation symbols and accent marks (ta'amim) to the text. This process came to be known as the Masorah (tradition). The marked text was called the Masoretic Text and became the standard text for the Jews around the world.
Accents of the Masoretic Text
Every word in the Tanakh (except those joined by a hyphen or maqqef) carries an accent mark on its "tonic" syllable (i.e., the syllable that receives the stress). In the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia there are 27 prose and 21 poetic accent marks used in the text. These marks (like the vowel marks) may appear above or below the word.
Three Main Accent Marks
Most accent marks can be classified according to whether they are disjunctive (pausal) or conjunctive (connecting).
Disjunctive accents mark a pause or break in the reading of the text, and function something like commas, semicolons, and colons in English. There are 18 disjunctive accent marks you might see in the Masoretic text, but the two most important are:
- Atnach - Placed under the last word of the first half of a verse.
- Silluq - Placed under the last word of the second half of a verse.
Conjunctive accents connect two words in the text. There are 9 conjunctive accent marks you might see in the Masoretic text, but the most important is:
- Munach - Placed under a word that is connected with a following word.
The following shows Genesis 1:1 as you might see it in a typical Masoretic text: