ما أصعب ذلك

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by aurelien.demarest, May 24, 2015.

  1. aurelien.demarest

    aurelien.demarest Senior Member

    French
    Hi guys,

    I know that أصعب is a superlative and means "harder" however I am not sure to understand the real meaning in the following sentence.
    Could somebody tell me the translation please? (below you'll see my attempt)

    يمكنك الصعود على قدميك
    ما أصعب ذلك! أفضل المصعد

    You can climb stairs by walking
    There's nothing harder! I prefer the elevator


    Thanks
    Aurélien


     
  2. analeeh Senior Member

    English - UK
    This is a different kind of ما called ما التعجبية, 'the maa of exclamation' or exclamatory maa. The form after it is probably originally a form IV verb, since it takes a direct object, and the whole construction probably originally meant 'what made that so X?' It means 'how X Y is!' So ما أصعب ذلك is 'how hard that is/would be!'
     
  3. aurelien.demarest

    aurelien.demarest Senior Member

    French
    Hi Analeeh,

    thank you for this explanation. In the example however ما is not followed by a verb but by the superlative.

    Aurélien
     
  4. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Cantonese
    It's grammatically understood as a causative verb, not as a superlative adjective in this particular structure, as Analeeh explains above.

    Theoretically one can turn any verb into the 2af3ala, i.e. the causative, form (Sa3uba "was difficult" --> 2aS3aba "made something difficult"). ما أصعب ذلك "What made that [so] difficult?"-->"How difficult that is!"
     
  5. aurelien.demarest

    aurelien.demarest Senior Member

    French
    I see, thanks Ghabi ;)
     
  6. analeeh Senior Member

    English - UK
    You can tell it's a verb by the fact it takes an accusative object:

    maa aS3aba 'r-ri7lata!
    maa ajmala-haa!
    maa a7zana-nii!

    But its verbal meaning has been eroded somewhat, and many native speakers interpret it intuitively as a superlative. Not only this, but Badawi's grammar and other sources point towards examples of newly formed words which do not line up well with form IV, like ما أحيجه maa a7yaja-hu 'how in need he is!' Still, the point stands.
     
  7. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Wow, I never knew that about the origin of the structure! I always - natively and naïvely - thought it was a superlative. :D :p

    I remember we once had a thread about superlatives and I think someone said أشهر for "more famous" is an exception since it's not derived from a simple adjective. In light of this new information about the origins of ما أفعل, I wonder if أشهر meaning "more famous" is a back formation derived from ما أشهر ذلك, which would literally be "What made that famous?".

    Analeeh is right that this construction is fairly productive, at least in colloquial Arabic. In Palestinian Arabic we say things like ما أحيونه ("What an asshole!"), which comes from حيوان ("animal"). أحيون can also mean "more of an asshole," which further points to the blending of the two forms, as it were.
     
  8. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Cantonese
    The "causative verb+object" thing is the traditional, pedagogical interpretation, and it certainly helps one to memorise the structure, but whether it makes sense from the perspective of historical linguistics is another matter. I think it's fair to say we don't know about the structure's origin.

    In classical Arabic the structure can take the diminutive form (maa umayli7a), which certainly makes the af3ala thing look very noun-ish!
    How do you pronounce it please?
     
  9. Mahaodeh Senior Member

    Arabic and English
    :D He picked a hard word to pronounce! Unfortunately, I don't know how to use those pronunciation symbols, so I'll try to break it down using English letters: maa 'a-7ei-wan-u or maybe -o. It's a superlative of حيوان = animal

    The expression is used for any superlative adjective really: ما أطوله، ما أقصره، ما أبرده، ما أحلاه. This includes made up superlatives for nouns that are used idiomatically to mean something such as: ما أكلبه، ما أتيسه superlatives of كلب and تيس.
     
  10. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    "ma 2a7áywano" (the ´ indicates stress)
     
  11. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Cantonese
    Thank you, very interesting.:)
     

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