On the difference between ما and ماذا

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  • On the difference between ما and ماذا

     Jan updated 1 week, 3 days ago 3 Members · 5 Posts
  • Jan

    June 26, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    In one of my Arabic language apps I came across the sentence ماذا عنك؟ (What about you?) in which I would have expected a verb due to the presence of ماذا. Is there a verb that is omitted/implicit here?

  • Ahmad 

    June 27, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    Hello, Jan!

    This is a very interesting question, thanks.

    This sentence is called جملة استفهامية – interrogative sentence.

    As far as I’m concerned, there has been lots of debate on how to do إعراب to interrogative sentences, but what’s important is that they are considered as جُمَل اسمية – nominal sentences, which don’t require verbs. They mainly consist of مُبتدأ and خبر.

    So in your sentence, we can just say that ماذا is the مُبْتَدَأ, and عنك acts like the خَبَر.

    By the way, some say that ماذا can be just considered one word. Others say that it consists of ما and ذا.

    ما would be the question word in this case, and ذا would be just زائدة – filler; not adding a meaning.



  • Jan

    June 27, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks, Ahmad. Interesting to know!

  • Matthew 

    June 28, 2020 at 9:38 am

    You might be right that there is an implied verb that is omitted, maybe تقول or تذن (what (do you say/think) about…). But the short answer you’ll get from most native speakers* is that ماذا عنك just sounds better than ما عنك… “maybe because it’s too short otherwise.” But ماذا عن plus a longer noun phrase is also more common than ما عن, so I’d say it’s just an exception to be memorized.

    Although the rule of thumb in MSA is ما in nominal sentences and ماذا with verbs, they are technically interchangeable in most cases (but just not in practice because most people follow this rule of thumb nowadays and ما with verbs can be ambiguous). You can find examples that go against this convention in literature (ما تذن أنت؟ What do you think? – Hanna Mina’s novel الولاية) and the Quran (sura 2:133 …مَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ بَعْدِي What will you worship after me?).

    *EDIT: or Arabs. There aren’t any native speakers of MSA, of course. Maybe something important to keep in mind, too.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 3 days ago by  Matthew.
    • Jan

      June 28, 2020 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks for sharing your view, Matthew. I can live with the conclusion, to just take it as it comes. Grinning

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