Arabic Language Blog

Question words in Arabic Posted by on Jun 12, 2009 in Grammar

In Modern Standard Arabic, questions begin with question words. However, in some colloquial dialects like Egyptian, question words often appear at the end of the sentence, e.g. what is your name? in MSA (ما اسمك؟), and in ECA (اسمك إيه؟). It is interesting to note also that question words differ from standard and colloquial and from one dialect to another.

The table below gives questions words in Arabic and some examples of their use:

What (ما)

ما اسمك؟

What is your name?

What (ماذا)

ماذا تفعل؟

What are you doing?

Who (مَن)

مَن هو؟

Who is he?

Where (أين)

أين تسكن؟

Where do you live?

When (متى)

متى يرحل القطار؟

When does the train leave?

How (كيف)

كيف الخروج من هنا؟

How to get out of here?

How many (كم)

كم طالباً في الفصل؟

How many students are there in the class?

How much (بكم)

بكم هذا الكتاب؟

How much is this book?

We have 2 words for what. The first one is (ما) which is used when questions do not have a verb in them, i.e. the question is not about an action, e.g. what is your name? (ما اسمك؟). When questions have a verb, i.e. when they are about actions, we use (ماذا), e.g. what are you doing? (ماذا تفعل؟).

Yes/No questions in Arabic begin with the question word (هل)

هل أنت عربي؟

Are you Arab?

هل تدرس في الجامعة؟

Do you study at university?

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  1. Meyra:

    Found this one very useful, shukran. I had no idea that هل is used for yes/no questions or that there is a difference between ما and ماذا in terms of usage.

  2. mastura:

    i already subsribe this blog. It help me a lot.
    I’m in mustawa ar rabiq (level 4 arabic)
    . I love and enjoy study arabic language.

  3. uthmaan:

    what is the difference between ‘a’ and ‘hal’ question words?

  4. Aziza:

    Ahlan Uthmaan,
    Thank you very much for the question. There is a lot of overlap between both, especially when the question is affirmative, they are interchangeable, e.g.
    هل تدرس العربية؟
    أتدرس العربية؟
    Both questions are fine, but the first one is more common. However, if the question is based on a negative propostion, then we can only use /أ/, e.g.
    ألاتدرس العربية؟
    There will be another posting on question words in the future, in sha’ Allah.
    Shukran wa salam,

  5. Aziza:

    Ahlan Meyra, wa shukran!

  6. Aziza:

    أهلا ميرا ومستورة وشكراً،

  7. zaharh:

    Where is the word “why” … ?

    • aziza:

      @zaharh Thank you for your question Zahrah,
      Why is لماذا