…ما…does not always mean “what” or “not” – the adverbial particle in Egyptian Arabic
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:
as soon as
as long as
the time when
since (meaning of time);
from the moment that
مِن يُوم ما
min yoom ma
مِن ساعِة ما
min saa3it ma
as much as;
عَلى قَدِّ ما
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:
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