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ما in Egyptian Arabic – is it “what” or “not” or what?

Some expressions in Egyptian Arabic can be very tricky. They are all related to the word ma – ما.

Last updated: 1 year ago

In this article we focus on some common expressions in Egyptian Arabic that can be very tricky. They are all connected by the word ما. 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 examples easily as they are close to Modern Standard Arabic:

according toحَسَب ما7asab ma
afterبَعْدِ ماba3di ma
beforeقَبْلِ ما2abli ma
as soon asأَوِّل ما2awwil ma
بِمُجَرَّد ماbimugarrad ma
as long as مادام ماmadaam ma
whileطالَ ما Taala ma
عَلَى ما 3ala ma
whenever; the time whenوَقْت ما
كُلِّ ما
wa2ti ma
kulli ma
since (meaning of time); from the moment thatيُوم ما
مِن يُوم ما
ساعِة ما
مِن ساعِة ما
yoom ma
min yoom ma
saa3it ma
min saa3it ma
untilلِحَدِّ ما
لِغايِة ما
عُقبال ما
li-7addi ma
li-ghaayit ma
3u2baal ma
instead ofبَدَل ماbadal ma
as much as; however muchقَدِّ ما
عَلى قَدِّ ما
2addi ma
3ala 2addi-ma

Watch out! There are two important things

  1. Never use ما in Egyptian Arabic when you want to express whatever or whoever. Instead, always use اِلّلي (“illy”).
  2. 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:

function wordsubjectماverb
untilthe directorleaves

An example:

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

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