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|
|while||طالَ ما||Taala ma|
|عَلَى ما||3ala ma|
|whenever; the time when||وَقْت ما|
|since (meaning of time); from the moment that||يُوم ما|
مِن يُوم ما
مِن ساعِة ما
min yoom ma
min saa3it ma
|instead of||بَدَل ما||badal ma|
|as much as; however much||قَدِّ ما|
عَلى قَدِّ ما
Watch out! There are two important things
- Never use ما in Egyptian Arabic when you want to express whatever or whoever. Instead, always use اِلّلي (“illy”).
- 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|