…ما…does not always mean “what” or “not” – the adverbial particle in Egyptian Arabic

Today we focus on some common expressions in Egyptian Arabic that can be very tricky. They are all connected by the word ما.

The word ما is one of the most powerful and difficult ones in Classical but also in Modern Standard Arabic. In Egyptian Arabic it is mainly used for negations (ما+ش) and – our today’s topic – as a function word that links phrases and clauses.

The word ما can be attached to prepositions (حَرْف جَرّ), to adverbs of time or place (ظَرْف), or to nouns (اِسْم). Some grammarians call a ما of this type an adverbial particle. This type of construction is frequently found in Arabic dialects. In Modern Standard Arabic you have similar but also different ways to express it.

Let’s look at some expressions in Egyptian Arabic. The تَشْكِيل follows the Egyptian pronunciation – don’t get confused. Note that you will recognize some of the examples easily as they are close to Modern Standard Arabic:

 

according to

حَسَب ما

7asab ma

after

بَعْدِ ما

ba3di ma

before

قَبْلِ ما

2abli ma

as soon as

أَوِّل ما

2awwil ma

 بِمُجَرَّد ما

bimugarrad ma

as long as

مادام ما

madaam ma

طالَ ما

Taala ma

 while

عَلَى ما

3ala ma

whenever;

the time when

وَقْت ما

wa2ti ma

كُلِّ ما

kulli ma

since (meaning of time);

from the moment that

يُوم ما

yoom ma

مِن يُوم ما

min yoom ma

ساعِة ما

saa3it ma

مِن ساعِة ما

min saa3it ma

until

لِحَدِّ ما

li-7addi ma

لِغايِة ما

li-ghaayit ma

عُقبال ما

3u2baal ma

instead of

بَدَل ما

badal ma

as much as;

however much

قَدِّ ما

2addi ma

عَلى قَدِّ ما

3ala 2addi-ma

 

Watch out! There are two important things:

a) Never use ما in Egyptian Arabic when you want to express whatever or whoever. Instead, always use اِلّلي (“illy”).

b) So-called function words usually must carry the suffix ما when a VERB (فِعْل) follows them. But this is not always the case, because the word order can be tricky. You might find the subject of the second clause between the function word and the verb. Also in these situations the ما is NOT a negation!

The word-order is like this then:

1 2 3 4
function word subject ما verb
لِغَايِة الْمُديِر ما تِمْشِي
until the director leaves

An example:

I will stay with you until the director leaves.

HafDal ma3aak lighaayit elmudeer ma yimshy

حافَضْل مَعاك لِغَاية الْمُديِر ما يِمْشِي

 

Let’s see how the above mentioned expressions work – some examples:

I saw her the moment she left. shuftaha saa3it ma timshy.

شُفْتَها ساعة ما تمشي

Wait here until I come! istanna hina 3ala baal-ma aagi.

إِستَنَّى هِنا لِحَدِّ ما آجِي

As soon as he comes, I’ll tell him. 2awwil-ma yigi ha2ul-lu.

أَوِّل ما يجي هَقول له

Pay however much you can. idfa3 3ala 2addi-ma ti2dar

إدْفَع عَلَى قَدِّ ما تقْدَر

 

 

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