Arabic Language Blog

Questions Words in Arabic (1) Posted by on Apr 4, 2018 in Grammar, Vocabulary

A question word is a word that is used to ask for information. To ask in Arabic, we use interrogative particles حُرُوْفُ الاِسْتِفْهَام and interrogative nouns أَسْمَاءُ الاِسْتِفْهَام, using Arabic grammatical terms. Combined, they are called أَدَوَاتُ الاِسْتِفْهَام – interrogative particles. The former are used to asked a yes-no questions, while the latter are used to ask information questions. They are used with both nominal and verbal sentences. This post is about how make yes-no- and wh-questions in Arabic.

Asking Yes-no Questions:

Like English, a yes-no question in Arabic asks for an answer that is either yes (i.e. positive) or no (i.e. negative). Besides, it asks for specifying one of two things. To do this, you can use the hamzah أ or هَلْ.

(1) Using the hamzah أ:

The use of hamzah أ is formal. If you use it with verbal sentences, you simply add it as a prefix to the start of the (present or past) verb, as in (a). The answer to a question of this type is either نَعَمْ ‘yes’ or أَجَل ‘yes’ (أَجَل is more formal than نَعَم) if your answer is positive or لا ‘no’ if your answer is negative.


أَتَتَكَلَّم العَرَبِيَّة؟   ‘Do you speak Arabic?’

أَطَبَخَتْ أُمِّي فَاصُوْلِيَا؟   ‘Did my mother cook pinto beans?’

أَشَاهَدتَ هَذَا الفِيْلم؟   ‘Did you see this movie?’

أَيْشْرَبُ خَالِد الخَمْر؟   ‘Does Khalid drink wine?’

If used with nominal sentences, we must use the coordinating conjunction of choice أَمْ so that person who answers chooses one of the two cited things, as in (b).


أأَنْتَ صَالِح أَم سَعِيْد؟   ‘Are you Saleh or Saeed?’

أَبَرْشَلُونَة فَازَ أَمْ رِيَال مَدْرِيْد؟   ‘Did Barcelona win or Real Madrid?’

آلشَّاي تُحِبُّ أَمْ القَهْوَة؟   ‘Do you like tea or coffee?’          أَالشَّاي –> آلشَّاي

أَسَامِي ذَكِيٌّ أَمْ سَلِيْم؟   ‘Is Sami smart or Saleem?’

(2) Using هَلْ:

The use of هَلْ is less formal. It is used with both nominal and verbal sentences in the same way, that is by simply placing it at the start of the sentence. The answer to the question in this case is either نَعَمْ or أَجَل if the answer is yes or لا if the answer is no, as in (c), same examples as in (a) except for replacing أ with هَلْ.


هَلْ تَتَكَلَّم العَرَبِيَّة؟   ‘Do you speak Arabic?’

هَلْ طَبَخَتْ أُمِّي فَاصُوْلِيَا؟   ‘Did my mother cook pinto beans?’

هَلْ شَاهَدتَ هَذَا الفِيْلم؟   ‘Did you see this movie?’

هَلْ يْشْرَبُ خَالِد الخَمْر؟   ‘Does Khalid drink wine?’

The informal way to ask the above questions is by simply saying the sentence with a rising intonation at the end, as in (d).


تَتَكَلَّم العَرَبِيَّة؟   ‘You speak Arabic?’

طَبَخَتْ أُمِّي فَاصُوْلِيَا؟   ‘My mother cook pinto beans?’

Asking Wh-questions:

To ask a wh-question in Arabic, we use one of seven interrogative nouns. These are: مَنْ ‘who’, مَا ‘what’, مَتَى ‘when’, أَيْنَ ‘where’, كَمْ ‘how many/much’, كَيْفَ ‘how’, and أَيّ ‘which.’ The answer must be information that is not known before, by mentioning what is asked about.

  • مَنْ is used for human subject or predicate. It is used with both verbal and nominal sentences:

Verbal: The question is about the subject الفَاعِل (the doer of the action).

مَنْ أَكَلَ التُّفَّاحَة؟   ‘who ate the apple?’

عَلِي أَكَلَ التُّفَّاحَة.  ‘Ali ate the apple.’

مَنْ يَقْرَأُ القُرْآن؟  ‘who reads the Holy Quran?’

الطَّالِبُ الجَدِيْد يَقْرَأُ القُرْآن.  ‘the new student reads the Holy Quran.’

Nominal: The question is about the subject المُبْتَدَأ or the predicate الخَبَر.

مَنْ هَذَا؟   ‘who is this?’

هَذَا مُحَمَّد‘this is Mohammed.’

مَنْ فِي البَيْت؟   ‘who is in the house?’

رَجُلٌ عَجُوزٍ فِي البَيْت.  ‘an old man is in the house.’

  • مَا is used for non-human subject or predicate. It also is used with verbal and nominal sentences.

Verbal: The question is about the subject الَفَاعِل or the object المَفْعُول (the receiver of the action).

مَا قَلَعَ الشَّجَرَة؟  ‘what rooted up the tree?’

العَاصِفَة قَلَعَت الشَّجَرَة.  ‘the hurricane rooted up the tree.’

مَا تَكْتُب سَلْوَى؟  ‘what does Salwa write?’

تَكْتُب سَلْوَى قِصَّة‘Salwa writes a story.’

Nominal: The question is about the subject المُبْتَدَأ or the predicate الخَبَر.

مَا فِي جَيْبِك؟  ‘what is in your pocket?’

فِي جَيْبِي مِحْفَظَة.  ‘a wallet is in my pocket.’

مَا هَذَا؟  ‘what is this?’

هَذَا قَلَم. ‘this is a pen.’

  • مَتَى is used to ask about time الزَّمَان. It is usually associated with verbal sentences.

مَتَى حَضَر المُدِيْر؟  ‘when did the boss come?’

حَضَرَ المُدِيْر السَّاعَة التَّاسَعَة.  ‘the boss came at nine.’

مَتَي يَسْقُط الثَّلْج؟  ‘when does the snow fall?’

يَسْقُط الثَّلْج فِي الشِّتَاء / شِتَاءً.  ‘the snow falls in winter.’

  • أَيْنَ is used to ask about place المَكَان with both nominal and verbal sentences.

Nominal: The question is about the predicate الخَبَر.

أَيْنَ مُحَمَّد؟  ‘where is Mohammed?’

مُحَمَّد فِي الجَامِعَة.  ‘Mohammed is at the university.’

أَيْنَ السَّيَّارَة؟  ‘where is the car?’

السَّيَّارَة أَمَام البَيْت.  ‘the car is in front of the house.’

Verbal: The question is about the location of the action.

أَيْنَ يَسْكُن صَالِح؟  ‘where does Saleh live?’

يَسْكُن صَالِح فِي شَارِع عِشْرِيْن.  ‘Saleh lives on 20th Street.’

أَيْن سَافَر الوَزِيْر؟  ‘where did the minister travel.’

سَافَر الوَزِيْر إِلَى الهِنْد.  ‘the minister travelled to India.’

  • كَمْ is used to ask about number العَدَد or quantity.

كَمْ غُرْفَةٍ فِي البَيْت؟  ‘how many rooms are there in the house?’

فِي البَيْت سِتُ غُرَفٍ.  ‘there are six rooms in the house.’

كَمْ كِتَابًا قَرَأتَ؟  ‘how many books did you read?’

قَرَأتُ عِشْرِيْنَ كِتَابًا.  ‘I read twenty books.’

  • كَيْفَ is used with the verbal sentence to ask about the manner of doing something and with the nominal sentence to ask about the condition of someone or something.


كَيْفَ نَذْهَب إِلَى السُّوْق؟  ‘how do we go to the market?’

نَذْهَب إلى السُّوْق بِالسَّيَّارَة.  ‘we go to the market by car.’

كَيْفَ أَكَلَ الطِّفْلُ الرُّز؟  ‘how did the child eat rice?’

أَكَلَ الطِّفْلُ الرُّز بِالمَلْعَقَة.  ‘the child eat rice with a spoon.’


كَيْفَ أَنْتَ؟  ‘how are you?’

أَنَا بِخَيْر.  ‘I am fine.’

كَيْفَ الاِمْتِحَان؟  ‘how is the exam?’

الاِمْتِحَان سَهْل.  ‘the exam is easy.’

  • أَيّ is used to ask about anything depending on the noun that follows it.

أَيّ كِتَابٍ تَقْرَأ؟ ‘which book are you reading?’

أَقْرَأُ كِتَابُ طَه حُسَيْن.  ‘I read Taha Hussein’s book.’

أَيّ سَيَّارَة اِشْتَرِيْت؟  ‘which car did you buy?’

اِشْتَرِيْتُ السَّيَّارَة الأَلْمَانِيَّة.  ‘I bought the German car.’

In the next post you will learn how to form negative yes-no questions and how prepositions are used with the seven interrogative nouns.

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About the Author: Ibnulyemen اِبْنُ اليَمَن

Marhaban! I am from Yemen. I am a language teacher. I teach English and Arabic. In this blog, I will be leading you through Arabic language learning in a sequential fashion. I will focus on Modern Standard Arabic. To learn more, you can also visit my website Ibnulyemen Arabic or my facebook page.


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    • Ibnulyemen:

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