The uses of ما

This section is going to be a bit long, but it may be used as a helpful guide for those seeking to learn colloquial Arabic. For this section, I’ll just go over what I believe to be 3 common definitions for the word  ما (ma). The word is used frequently in both Modern Standard Arabic as well as Levantine Arabic and so it is important to familiarize oneself the various usages.

1st meaning: Negation of verbs

Probably the most common use of ما in spoken Arabic is to negate verbs. It may be placed before both past and present verbs as in the examples below.

ما راح/ما راحش (ma ra7/ma ra7sh) both have the same meaning, “he didn’t go”. Note the negation of the past tense.

ما بكتب/ما بكتبش (ma bakteb/ma baktebsh) would both mean “I do not write”, which is the negation of the present tense.

If you use ما with a present tense verb without the “ب”, then it can denote the negation of a command or an imperative. For instance:

ما تنسى/ما تنساش (ma tinsa/ma tinsaash) would be telling someone “don’t forget!”

ما تكتب/ما تكتبش (ma takteb/ma taktebsh) translates to “don’t write!”

2nd meaning: An expression of being surprised with something

This particular use of ما may be found in MSA as well and means “How [adjective] such-and-such is!”

ما أشطر بنته (ma ashTar bintu!) translates to “how smart his daughter is!” Note that the adjective used would be شاطر/شاطرة (shaaTir/shaaTira), meaning bright, smart, or clever.

3rd meaning: Word used to connect a conjunction and a verb

زي ما بدك (zay ma bidduk) is a phrase that many Jordanians use, translating to “whatever you want” or “whatever you like”. As a side note, when Jordanians speak English, you’ll also hear them say “as you like” as opposed to “whatever you like,” which native English speakers are more accustomed to hearing.

بعد ما رحت على المكتب (ba3d-ma ra7it 3la il-maktub) translates to “after I went to the office…”

You may also find the 3rd form of ما used with conjunctions like قبل ,بدون, and مثل.

As an aside, I’ll begin posting more updates now that I’ve returned from vacation. Hope this section helps you guys in your colloquial Arabic studies!


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