There is almost no difference in meaning. Both mean question. So when do we use which word? And what kind of words are they? Let’s have a look

The difference

  • سُؤَالٌ is the original masdar of the verb سَأَلَ. It is the so-called الْمَصْدَرُ الْأَصْلِيُّ.
  • مَسْأَلةٌ is the so-called al-Masdar al-Mimy (الْمَصْدَرُ الْمِيمِيُّ).

However, it may indicate a stronger meaning and reinforce the original مَصْدَر, re­garding the action/event of happening.

If you find a ة at the end of a مَصْدَرٌ مِيمِيٌّ, it may indicate an exaggeration of the action or a special focus on the abun­dance/frequency of the action.

(If you are not familiar with the word مَصْدَر scroll down to the end of this blog! (Excursus)

In daily talk and especially in newspapers, you will find a lot of examples for the  الْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّ – and most of the time, it basically has the same meaning as the original مَصْدَر:

translationالْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّ  – جَمْعالْمَصْدَر الأَصْلِيّverb
problem, questionمَسْأَلة, مَسائلسُؤالسَأَلَ
existence, lifeمَعِيشة, مَعاِيشعِيشة or عِيشعاشَ
benefit, utilityمَنْفَعة, مَنافِعنَفْعنَفَعَ
demand, requestمَطْلَب, مَطالِبطَلَبطَلَبَ
killing, murderمَقْتَل, مَقاتِلقَتْلقَتَلَ
foodمَأْكُل, مَآكِلأَكْلأَكَلَ

Patterns to build the الْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّ

I-form verbs (الثُّلاثيّ)

–> Same pattern as for the اِسْم الْمَكان or the اِسْم الْزَّمان

  • مَفْعَل
  • or مَفْعِل (especially for verbs starting with a و, for example: مَوْعِد)

All other verb forms II – X (غَيْر الثُّلاثيّ):

  • same pattern as the اِسْم الْمَفْعُول

Watch out if you have to identify the الْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّ. You will find the word مُسْتَخْرَج in every sentence in the following table – with a different meaning.

translationexampletype
The well is the place of ex­traction for petroleum..البِئْرُ مُسْتَخْرَجُ النَّفْطِاِسْم الْمَكان
Petroleum is extracted from the well..النَّفْطُ مُسْتَخْرَجٌ مِن الْبِئرِاِسْم الْمَفْعُول
The extraction of the oil is in the morning..مُسْتَخْرَجُ النَّفْطِ صَباحًااِسْم الزَّمان
I extracted petroleum quickly.اِسْتَخْرَجْتُ النَّفْطَ مُسْتَخْرَجًا عَجِيلاًالْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّ

Why is there a مَصْدَر مِيمِيّ in Arabic?

The الْمَصْدَر الْمِيميّ is a special form of a مَصْدَر because the poets needed it.

Since it always starts with the letter مit is called مِيميّ.

Usually, it has more rhythm and melody as the original مَصْدَر. It can indicate (somehow) a stronger meaning (compared to the original مَصْدَر).

And there is another reason: The plural form is not so complicated as it is usually formed by the same pattern: مَفاعِل.

Let us see some examples to understand it better:

pl.الْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّpluralالْمَصْدَر الأَصْلِيّmeaningroot
مَضارّمَضَرّةأَضْرارضَرَرdamageضرر
مَنافِعمَنْفَعةنَوافِعنَفْعbenefitنفع

Excursus

What is a masdar (مَصْدَر)?

The Arabic word مَصْدَر means source. It is the most basic, abstract meaning of the root.

In Arabic, a مَصْدَر is a noun (اِسْم) which is derived from a verb (فِعْل). It describes the action without giving you information about the time of the event, nor about the person who is doing the action.

The corresponding English grammar term depends on the function of a مَصْدَر in an Arabic sentence. A مَصْدَر can function as a verbal noun (noun of action), as an infinitive, etc. But don’t forget: A مَصْدَر is not a verb!

A مَصْدَر is a so called اِسْم مَعْنى; something, that is abstract, that has no color, no size – but that is connected to an action, like writing, reading, swimming.

All the other nouns are called اِسْم ذات and can be recognized with your senses – you can see, smell, taste, hear them. For example: a river – نَهْر – or mountainجَبَل – or chair – كُرْسِيّ. These words can’t be a مَصْدَر.

A مَصْدَر doesn’t have a body, nor a concrete shape or form. How can you describe the word reading? You can’t say it is big, blue or loud. Every مَصْدَر needs a هَدَف (goal) and you can only grasp it with your mind.


picture credit: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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