Interrogative Questions with “What”, “Which”, “When” And More!

When it comes to asking questions in Arabic, figuring out “which” is “what” gets a lot easier after reading this article.

Interrogative Questions with “What”, “Which”, “When” And More!

Most of you that have been studying the Arabic language, even if you’re just learning Arabic for beginners, have probably already learned the Arabic equivalent of the English Wh – question words. If you don’t remember, we’ve made this handy table to refresh your memory:

Who in Arabic man مَنْ 
What in Arabic maa ما 
When in Arabic mataa مَتَى
Where in Arabic ʼayna  أَيْنَ 
How many in Arabic kam كَمْ
How much in Arabickamكَمْ
How in Arabic kayfa كَيْفَ 
Which in Arabic ʼayya أَيّ 

Now that we’ve jogged your memory, today we are going to learn about the specific interrogative Arabic question word أَيّ / ʼayya (which), but with a twist, because today we will not only be learning Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) but also be learning Egyptian Arabic, just to introduce you a little to this fun and interesting dialect.

The Interrogative Question Word “What”

First, you’ll note that in Modern Standard Arabic, much as they do in English, question words generally come at the beginning of a question; however, in everyday Arabic, these words typically come at the end of the sentence.

EnglishModern Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
What in Arabic ما (maa)
ماذا (maTHaa)
ايه (eih)
Which in Arabic أي (ʼayya) انهو (‘anhoo – m.)
انهي (‘anhee – f.)
انهم (‘anhum – plural m. and f.)

ما /maa and ماذا / maTHaa are used in different types of questions; ماذا / maTHaa is used in questions that don’t have verbs, while ما / maa is used in questions that do have verbs. Furthermore, ما/ maa is usually followed by the pronoun that matches its antecedent (the noun being asked about.) The Egyptian Arabic ايه / eih, however, is fairly simple, and is used in the same way you would use “what” in English. All of these are important to know if you want to learn to speak Arabic, whether you learn Egyptian Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Here are some examples:

EnglishMSAMSA TransliterationEgyptian ArabicEgyptian Arabic Transliteration
What’s your name in Arabic ما اسمك؟ maa ismuka? اسمك ايه؟ ismak eih?
What’s the difference between us and them in Arabic ما (هو) الفرق بيننا وبينهم؟ maa (huwa) alfarq baynanaa wa baynahum? ايه الفرق بيننا وبينهم؟ eih ilfarʼ beinnaa w beinhum?
What do you want in Arabic ماذا تريد؟ maTHaa tureed? إنت عايز ايه؟ ʼinta ʻaayiz eih?
What shall I tell you in Arabic ماذا أقول لك؟ maTHaa ʼaqool laki? اقول لك ايه؟ aʼullak eih?

The Interrogative Question Word “Which”

اي can be used in Modern Standard Arabic with a pronoun suffix to mean “which of”. Conversely, you can put اي before a noun to ask “which (noun)” in Egyptian Arabic. Once again, here are a couple of examples:

EnglishMSAMSA TransliterationEgyptian ArabicEgyptian Arabic Transliteration
Which one do you prefer in Arabic أيهم تفضل؟  ʼayyuhum tufadhil? بتفضل أي واحد منهم؟  bitfadhal ʼayya waaHid minhum?
Which team do you support in Arabic تشجع أي فريق؟  tushajjiʼ ʼayya fareeq? بتشجع أي فريق؟  bitshagaʻ ʼayya fareeʼ?

There is also another way to say “which” in Egyptian Arabic, but this can be a little tricky to grasp because in this case the “which” can come either before or after the noun being referred to as in the formulation:

“which” انهو\انهي\انهم anhoo/anhee/anhum (stress falling on the first syllable) + (indefinite noun)
(definite noun) + anhoo/anhee/anhum (stress falling on the second syllable)

Notice that you would usually use the second option only when the “which” question is on its own – as in “Which book? or “Which girl?” as opposed to “Which book do you like? Which girl do you know?” where you’d probably use the first option as in:

انهو دور؟ / anhoo door? (Which floor?)-or- الدور انهو؟ (iddoor anhoo?)
إنت ساكن في انهي شقة؟ / ʼinta saakin fee anhee shaʼah? (Which apartment do you live in?)

Like the grammar rules of all other languages, Arabic grammar rules can get a little tricky, especially when you get into the different Arabic dialects; however, with a little practice, Arabic grammar can become as natural as the grammar of your mother tongue.

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