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ما / ماذا

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by awardak, Dec 25, 2011.

  1. awardak New Member

    Both of these words can be used to mean "what" when asking a question, however, sometimes one of them is used and other times the other. What is the rule for when you should use which?
  2. Kinan

    Kinan Senior Member

    I believe ما is only used when you can put هو, هي etc..even if it's hidden, for example:
    ما (هو) الدافع لهذه الجريمة
    ما هذا الشيئ
    ما (هو) رأيك
  3. Anne58 Senior Member


    One is used in verbal sentences, the other in nominal/equational sentences (non verbal)

    ما is used in a nominal sentence -- ما اِسمك؟
    ماذا in a verbal sentence --ماذا فعلت اليوم؟
  4. awardak New Member

    Thank you for the responses.

    Can you point me to references where I can look that up?
  5. Anne58 Senior Member

    I'm not sure where you would find a reference to that. A google search might be able to give you some additional info.
  6. awardak New Member

    So where did you learn it then? :)

    Also, how do you categorize the following as a verbal sentence?
    ماذا على المكتب؟
  7. Abu Talha

    Abu Talha Senior Member

    I think this is a good general rule. However, it is not a strict rule. In many cases either ما or ماذا can be used.

    The ذا in ماذا is nothing but the demonstrative pronoun in هــذا and ذلك . So ماذا can be thought of as meaning "what is it" while ما is simply "what".
    So in this sentence, the literal translation is "What is it (or that) on the desk?"
  8. jmt356 Senior Member

    If ماذا على المكتب؟ can be translated as “What is it (or that) on the desk?,” then wouldn’t ما be used instead, since what is on the desk is a noun and ما is used to express questions relating to nouns in nominal sentences?

    Also, if ما should be used to express questions relating to nouns in nominal sentences, then wouldn’t the question “what is the meaning of X” be translated as:
    ما معنى كذا؟

    I knew a native speaker of Lebanon and Arabic teacher who always said:
    ماذا معنى كذا؟.

    Isn’t that wrong?
  9. Afsar Senior Member

    من اين انت يا اخي العزيز ؟
  10. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    This "rule" is a fiction. Both are used in nominal and in verbal sentences. In most contexts they are interchangeable.
  11. Kinan

    Kinan Senior Member

    Yes it's wrong , it should be ما معنى ذلك
  12. jmt356 Senior Member

    If that's true, then was the native speaker of Lebanon and Arabic teacher speaking proper Arabic when he would say:
    ماذا معنى كذا؟
  13. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    There are no native speakers of classical (fuṣḥā) Arabic. The first language of all Arabs is his or her native dialect. A lot of dialects use kida or the like as a demonstrative pronoun, but in classical Arabic kadhā is an adverb (“like that”).

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