Arabic Language Blog

Questions Words in Arabic (2) Posted by on Apr 6, 2018 in Grammar, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

In the previous post, you mastered how to form questions in Arabic using interrogative words/particles أَدَوَات الاِسْتِفْهَام. You now can make yes-no questions and wh-questions. In this post, you will get to know how to form a negative yes-no question, using negative particles along with interrogative particles. Also, you will pick up how prepositions are used with interrogative nouns.

Asking Negative Yes-no Questions:

To make negative yes-questions, the hamzah أ is used by simply appending it before the negative particles of the verbal or nominal sentences (i.e. لَمْ, لا, مَا with former and لَيْس with the latter), as in (a). To give a positive answer to these questions, use بَلَى. To ascertain the negative question, use نَعَمْ, as illustrated in (b).

أَلا تَتَكَلَّم العَرَبِيَّة؟                           ‘don’t you speak Arabic?’

أَلَمْ تُشَاهِد هَذَا الفِيْلم؟                      ‘didn’t you see this movie?’

أَمَا سَمِعْتَ الأَخْبَار؟                        ‘didn’t you hear the news?’

أَلَيْسَت صَنْعَاء فِي اليَمَن؟                 ‘isn’t Sana’a in Yemen?

أَلَيْسَ عَلِيٌّ ذَكِيًّا؟                            ‘isn’t Ali Smart?’

So, if you say بَلَى in response to أَلا تَتَكَلَّم العَرَبِيَّة, it means that you certainly do. If you say نَعَمْ, it means that you don’t speak it. The following dialogue exchanges illustrates further.


حسَن: أَلا تَتَكَلَّم العَرَبِيَّة؟                             ‘Hassan: Don’t you speak Arabic?’

جُوْن: بَلَى، أَتَكَلَّم العَرَبِيَّة                             ‘John: Yes, I speak Arabic.’

حَسَنْ: والإِسْبَانِيَّة، أَلا تَتَكَلَّمها؟                      ‘Hassan: And Spanish, don’t you speak it?’

جُوْن: نَعَم، لا أَتَكَلَّمُها.                                 ‘John: Yes, I don’t speak it.’

حَسَن: أَلَسْتَ طَالِبًا هُنَا؟                               ‘Hassan: Aren’t you a student here?’

جُوْن: بَلَى، أَنَأ طَالِب هُنَا.                             ‘John: Yes, I am a student here.

حَسَن: أَلَمْ تَدْرُس الإِسْبَانِيَّة؟                          ‘Hassan: Didn’t you study Spanish?’

جُوْن: نَعَم، لَمْ أَدْرُس الإِسْبَانِيَّة.                     ‘John: Yes, I didn’t study Spanish.’

حَسَن: أَمَا طَلَبَتِ الجَامَعَة مِنْك أَنْ تَدْرُسَها؟        ‘didn’t the university require of you to study it?’

جُوْن: نَعَمْ، مَا طَلَبَتِ الجَامِعَة مِنِّي أَنْ أَدْرُسَها.   ‘yes, the university didn’t require me to study it.’

Asking Negative Yes-no questions without the hamzah أَ:

The informal way to ask a negative yes-no question in Arabic is by simply saying the sentence with a rising intonation at the end, as in (c). The answer to this type of question is the same as above.


لَيْسَ عَلِيٌّ ذَكِيًّا؟                             ‘Ali isn’t Smart?’

لَمْ تُشَاهِد هَذَا الفِيْلم؟                       ‘You didn’t see this movie?’

Using Prepositions with Interrogative Nouns:

In the previous post, it was explained how to ask a wh-question in Arabic using the seven interrogative nouns: مَنْ ‘who’, مَا ‘what’, مَتَى ‘when’, أَيْنَ ‘where’, كَمْ ‘how many/much’, كَيْفَ ‘how’, and أَيّ ‘which.’ It was shown that they come at the start of the question; however, some of them can be preceded by prepositions, namely مَنْ, مَا, أَيْنَ, أَيّ, and كَم.

  • مَنْ is also used to ask a question about the human object المَفْعُول, namely the object of a preposition. Therefore, the preposition can move along with مَنْ to the start of the question, as shown below.

يَتَكَلَّم عَلِي عَنْ الوَزِيْر.                    ‘Ali speaks about the minister.’

عَمَّن (عَنْ مَنْ) يَتَكَلَّم عَلِي؟              ‘about whom does Ali speak?’

اِشْتَرَى صَالِح كِتَابًا لِصَدِيْقِه.             ‘Saleh bought a book for his friend.’

لِمَنْ اِشْتَرَى صَالِح كتَابًا؟                  ‘for whom did Saleh buy a book?’

المُدِيْر غَاضِبٌ مِنْ سَلِيْم.                  ‘the boss is angry with Saleem.’

مِمَّن (مِنْ مَنْ) المُدِيْرُ غَاضِب؟          ‘with whom is boss angry?’

In addition, مَنْ is used to ask about possession المِلْكِيَّة, which always has a genitive structure إِضَافَة. In this case, the possessed thing/object precedes مَنْ in both nominal and verbal sentences.

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

كِتَابُ مَنْ هَذَا؟                               ‘whose book is this?’

هَذَا كِتَابُ مُحَمَّد.                            ‘this is Mohammed’s book.’

وَظِيْفَةُ مَنْ مُمْتَعَة؟                         ‘whose job is interesting?’

وَظِيْفَةُ خَالِد مُمْتَعَة.                        ‘Khalid’s job is interesting.’

Verbal: The question is about the subject الفَاعِل or the object المَفْعُول.

رُوَايَةُ مَنْ قَرَأ الأُستَاذ؟                    ‘whose novel did the teacher read?’

قَرَأ الأُسْتَاذ رُوَايَةَ هِيْمِنجواي.           ‘the teacher read Hemingway’s novel.’

اِبْنُ مَنْ يُشَارِكُ فِي المُسَابَقة؟            ‘whose son participates in the competition?’

اِبْنُ مُحَمَّد يُشَارِك فِي المُسَابَقَة.         ‘Mohammed’s son participates in the competition.’

  • مَا, besides asking about the subject الفَاعِل, is used to ask a question about the non-human object المَفْعُول, especially the object of a preposition. In this case, the preposition is placed before the interrogative مَا in the question, as in these examples.

يَتَكَلَّم عَلِي عَنِ اليَمَن.                        ‘Ali speaks about Yemen.’

عَمَّ (عَنْ مَا) يَتَكَلَّم عَلِي؟                     ‘about what does Ali speak?’

بَنَى جَوْن بَيْتًا لِلْكَلْب.                        ‘John built a house for the dog.’

لِمَ (لـ مَا) بَنَى جُوْن بِيْتًا؟                    ‘for what did John build a house?’

المَرِيْض يِشْتَكِي مِنْ صَدْرِه.                 ‘the patient complained of his chest.’

مِمَّ (مِنْ مَا) يَشْتَكِي المَرِيْض؟              ‘of what does the patient complain?’

  • أَيْنَ is used to ask about place المَكَان. When this place is an object of a preposition (i.e. comes after a preposition), the preposition precedes it in questions as in these examples.

مِنْ أَيْنَ أَنْتَ؟                                ‘where are you from?’

أَنَا مِنَ اليَمَن.                                ‘I am from Yemen.’

مِنْ أَيْنَ يَشْرَبُ النَّاس؟                    ‘from where do people drink?’

يَشْرَبُ النَّاس مِنَ البِئْر.                   ‘people drink from the well.’

إِلَى أَيْنَ ذَهَبَ الوَزِيْر؟                      ‘to where did the minister go?’

ذَهَبَ الوَزِيْرُ إِلَى الهِنْد.                    ‘the minster went to India.’

  • أَيّ with a preposition is used to ask about someone, something, or someplace very specific. The preposition must precede it, like other interrogative nouns, as in these examples:

عَنْ أَيّ طَالِبٍ يَبْحَث الأُسْتَاذ؟             ‘for which student does the teacher search?’

يَبْحَثُ الأُسْتَاذ عَنْ مُحَمَّد عَلِي.           ‘the teacher searches for Mohammed Ali.’

فِي أَيّ فُنْدُق تُرِيْدُ أَن تَسْكُن؟             ‘in which hotel do you want to stay?’

أُرِيْدُ أَنْ أَسْكُنَ فِي فُنْدُق الجَزِيْرَة.        ‘I want to stay in Al Jazeera hotel.’

مِنْ أَيّ مَدِيْنَةٍ أَنْتَ؟                         ‘from which city are you?’

أَنَا مِنْ (مَدِيْنَةِ) سَان دِييغُو.               ‘I am from San Diego (city).’

إِلَى أَيّ دَوْلَةٍ سَافَر الوَزِيْر؟               ‘to which country did the minster travel?’

سَافَرَ الوَزِيْر إِلَى (دَوْلَة) الهِنْد.          ‘the minster travelled to (the country of) India.’

  • كَمْ is used to ask about number العَدَد. If the number is preceded by a preposition in the statement, it also precedes كَمْ in the question.

بَاعَ صَالِح السَّيَّارَةَ بِـثَلاثَةِ آلاف دُوْلار.             ‘Saleh sold the car for 3 thousand dollars.’

بِـكَمْ بَاعَ صَالِح السَّيَّارَة؟                               ‘for how much did Saleh sell the car?’

سَيَطْبُخ جُوْن لِـعْشْرِيْنَ نَزِيْلاً.                         ‘John will cook for twenty guests.’

لِـكَمْ نَزِيْلاً سَيَطْبُخ جُوْن؟                              ‘for how many guests will John cook?’

سَيَدْفَع عَلَي عَنْ عشْرِيْن شَخْصًا.                   ‘Ali will pay for twenty persons.’

عَنْ كَمْ شَخْصًا سَيَدْفَعُ عَلِي؟                         ‘for how many persons will Ali pay?’

Orthographical and Pronunciation note:

  • When the interrogative nouns مَنْ and مَا are preceded by a preposition that ends in نْ, such as عَنْ and مِنْ, the نْ of the preposition gets assimilated to the first letter of the interrogative noun (i.e. the مَـ) because they share the same place of articulation, and hence the مَـ is pronounced as a geminate (double sound). And due to their frequency in Arabic مِنْ مَنْ is written as مِمَّن and عَنْ مَنْ is written as عَمَّن. Likewise, مِنْ مَا and عَنْ مَا are written as مِمَّ and عَمَّ, respectively.
  • In the case of مَا, the alif is dropped when a preposition is appended to it, hence: بِـ مَا becomes  بِمَ and  لِـ مَا becomes لِمَ and عَنْ مَا becomes عَمَّ, and مِنْ مَا becomes مِمَّ.
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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.