ما – How tricky and various is this word?

ما is used to negate a verb, mainly in the past tense. But there’s more to it than that.

ما is a genuine jack-of-all-trades. By throwing this tiny word into a sentence, you can change the meaning dramatically. In my opinion the letter ل and the ما are the key to understanding Ar­abic properly. It is essential to under­stand the various meanings of ما.

Here is a list of some possibilities:

1

Negative particle

حَرْف

ما النَّافِية

Normally ما is used to negate a past tense verb (الْماضِي). Theor­etically, however, it is also possible to negate a جُمْلة اِسْمِيّة with ما – see chapter 131.

You could even negate the present tense (الْمُضارِع) with ما. This is very rare and occasionally used with the expres­sion: ما يَزالُ (still)

The students did not show up yes­terday.

ما حَضَرَ الطُّلّابُ أَمْسِ.

 

2

Interrogative pronoun

اِسْم

ما الْاِسْتِفْهامِيّة

What is your name?

ما اسْمُكَ؟

What are you thinking about?

فِيمَ تُفَكِّرُ؟

 

 

3

Definite conjunctive pronoun

اِسْم

ما الْمَوْصُولة

I do understand what you say.

إِنَّني أَفْهَمُ ما تَقُولُهُ.

Read what I wrote.

إِقْرَأْ ما كَتَبْتُهُ.

 

4

Conditional clause

اِسْم

ما الشَّرْطِيّة

Notice the سُكُون at the end of the verb (مَجْزُوم) – it is a شَرْط

Whatever good that you do comes back to you.

ما تَفْعَلْ مِنْ خَيْرٍ تَجِدْ جاءَهُ.

 

5

This is used to strengthen the condi­tional meaning

حَرْف

ما لِتَأْكِيدِ مَعْنَى الشَّرْط

If you had worked hard, you would have succeeded.

(Notice that it is not a negation!)

إِذا ما عَمِلْتَ بِجِدٍّ نَجَحْتَ.

 

6

Used to introduce a clause equi­valent to a مَصْدَر.

حَرْف

ما الْمَصْدَرِيّة

It is used like the particle أَنْ and has the same meaning and im­plications. (See chapter 80)

The student came after the lesson had started.

حَضَرَ الطُّلّابُ بَعْدَ ما بَدَأَ الدَّرْسُ.

 

7

Used to introduce a clause equi­valent to a مَصْدَر in the adverb of time.

حَرْف

ما الْمَصْدَرِيّة الظَّرْفِيّة

I will think of you as long as I live.

سَأَظَلُّ أَتَذَكَّرُكَ ما حَيِيْتُ.

 

8

This ما denotes generality and vagueness

اِسْم

ما الْإِبْهامِيّة

Notice: In this application ما has to be at the end of the sen­tence.

The man who sat next to me in the plane was reading (a kind of) a book.

كانَ الرَّجُلُ الَّذِي جانِبِي فِي الطَّائرَةِ يَقْرَأُ كِتابٍ ما.

some day; sometime in the future

يَوْمًا ما

I lost something.

أَضَعْتُ شَيْئًا ما.

 

9

The hindering ما

حَرْف

ما الْكافّة

In life hope doesn’t go away.

إِنَّما الْحَياةُ أَمَلٌ لايَنْتَهي.

 

10

ما – as expressive of surprise

اِسْم

ما التَّعَجُّبِيّة

What a nice spring!

ما أَجْمَلَ الرَّبِيعَ!

What fortunate I got here!

ما أَسْعَدَنِي بِوُجُودي هُنا!