Asking questions in standard and Egyptian Arabic

Asking informational questions


First, note that in standard Arabic, question words generally come at the beginning of a question, while in colloquial Arabic, these words usually (but not necessarily always) come at the end.

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
whatما | ماذا (maa/maada)ايه (eih)
whichأي (ayya)انهو - انهي - انهم (anhu [masc.] - anhi [fem.] - anhum [pl.])

ما and ماذا are used in different types of questions; the former is used in questions that do not have verbs, while the latter is used in questions that do have verbs. Frequently ما is followed by the pronoun corresponding to the noun being asked about. ايه, on the other hand, is fairly straightforward, and is used anytime you would say "what" in English.

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
What's your name?ما اسمك؟ (ma ismuka?)اسمك ايه؟ (ismak eih?)
What's the difference between us and them?ما (هو) الفرق بيننا وبينهم؟ (ma [huwwa] l-farq beinna wa-beinhum?)ايه الفرق بيننا وبينهم؟ (eih il-far' beinna wa-beinhum?)
What do you want?ماذا تريد؟ (maada turiid?)انت عايز ايه؟ (inta 3aayiz eih?)
What shall I tell you?ماذا أقول لك؟ (maada aquul lak?)اقول لك ايه؟ (a'ollak eih?)

In standard Arabic, اي can be used with a pronoun suffix to mean "which of..." In Egyptian Arabic, you can put اي before a noun to ask "which [noun]..."

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
Which one of them do you prefer?أيهم تفضل؟ (ayyahum tufaDDil?)بتفضل اي واحد منهم؟ (bitfaDDal ayya waaHid minhom?)
Which team do you support?تشجع اي فريق؟ (tušajja3 ayya fariiq?)بتشجع اي فريق؟ (bitšagga3 ayya farii'?)

Egyptian Arabic also has an alternative way to say "which": انهو\انهي\انهم. This can be a little tricky, since it can come either before or after the noun being referred to. The formulation is either:

  1. [ánhu/ánhi/ánhum - stress falling on the first syllable] + [indefinite noun]
  2. [definite noun] + [anhú/anhí/anhúm - stress falling on the second syllable]

Note that you would usually go with the second option only when the "which" question is on its own -- simply asking "Which book? Which girl?" as opposed to "Which book do you like? Which girl do you know?" in which case you'd probably go with the first option.

انت ساكن في انهي شقة؟ (inta saakin fi ánhi ša''a?)
Which apartment do you live in?

انهو دور؟ (ánhu door?) -or- الدور انهو؟ (id-door anhú?)
Which floor?


 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
whereأين (ayna)فين (fein)
to whereالى أين (ila ayna)(على) فين ([3ala] fein)
from whereمن أين (min ayna)منين (minein)

The usage of "where" in Arabic is fairly straightforward.

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
Where is the museum?أين المتحف؟ (ayna l-matHaf?)المتحف فين؟ (il-matHaf fein?)
Where are you going?الى أين ذاهبة؟ (ila ayna daahiba?)رايحة على فين؟ (rayHa 3ala fein?)
Where are you from?من أين انت؟ (min ayna anta?)انت منين؟ (inta minein?)


 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
whyلماذا (li-maada)ليه (leih)
what forلماذا (li-maada)عشان ايه | علشان ايه (3ašaan eih/3alašaan eih)
whenمتى (mata)امتى (imta)

Examples of usage:

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
Why did you go to Egypt?لماذا ذهبت الى مصر؟ (li-maada dahabti ila miSr?)رحتي مصر ليه؟ (roHti maSr leih?)
Why do you hate him?لماذا تكرهه؟ (li-maada takrahu?)بتكرهه ليه؟ (bitikrahu leih?)
Why did he pick her?لماذا اختارها؟ (li-maada ixtaarha?)اختارها عشان ايه؟ (ixtaarha 3ašaan eih?)
When will Hasan return?متى سيعود حسن؟ (mata saya3uud Hasan?)حسن هيرجع امتى؟ (Hasan hayirga3 imta?)
When is your birthday?متى عيد ميلادك؟ (mata 3iid miilaadak?)عيد ميلادك امتى؟ (3iid milaadak imta?)


 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
whoمن (man)مين (miin)
whoseلمن (li-man)بتاع مين | لمين (bitaa3 miin/li-miin)

من or مين is used in any questions that would use "who" or "whom" in English.

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
Who are you?من أنت؟ (man anta?)انت مين؟ (inta miin?)
Whose book is this?لمن هذا الكتاب؟ (li-man haada l-kitaab?)الكتاب ده بتاع مين؟ (il-kitaab da bitaa3 miin?) -or-
  ده كتاب مين؟ (da kitaab miin?)
Whom did you meet?من قابلت؟ (man qaabalt?)قابلت مين؟ ('aabilt miin?)

How/how much

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
howكيف (kayfa)ازاي (izzaayy)
how manyكم (kam)كام (kam)
how muchكم (kam)قد ايه ('adde eih)
how much (price)بكم (bi-kam)بكام (bi-kam)
how long (time)منذ متى (mundu mata)من امتى (min imta)

The use of كيف is fairly simple, but note that in Arabic (both standard and colloquial) كم must be followed by a singular noun (unlike English, in which "how many" is followed by a plural noun). And in standard Arabic, this singular noun must be in the accusative case — and remember that since the noun is singular, it must be nunated.

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
How are you?كيف حالك؟ (kayfa Haaluka?)ازيك؟ (izzayyak?)
How did you know?كيف عرفت؟ (kayfa 3arafta?)عرفت ازاي؟ (3ereft izzaayy?)
What time is it?كم الساعة؟ (kam as-saa3a?)الساعة كام؟ (is-saa3a kam?)
Lit. How much is the hour?
How old are you?كم عمرك؟ (kam 3umruki?)عندك كم سنة؟ (3andik kam sana?)
Lit. How much is your age?Lit. How many years do you have?
How many students are in the university?كم طالبا في الجامعة؟ (kam Taaliban fil-jaami3a?)كام طالب في الجامعة؟ (kam Taalib fig-gam3a?)

Asking "how much money" is pretty simple; you use بكم in standard Arabic and بكام in the Egyptian dialect. For the other meanings of "how much" (to what extent; how much of an uncountable noun), you use كم in standard Arabic and قد ايه (which is quite flexible and can be used for "to what extent, how big, how long, how much" questions) in Egyptian.

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
How much is this book?بكم هذا الكتاب؟ (bi-kam haada l-kitaab?)الكتاب ده بكام؟ (il-kitaab da bi-kam?)
How much do you love Egypt?كم تحب مصر؟ (kam tuHibb miSr?)بتحب مصر قد ايه؟ (bitHebbe maSr 'adde eih?)
How much money do you have (with you?)كم معك من المال؟ (kam ma3ak min al-maal?)معاك فلوس قد ايه؟ (ma3aak filuus 'adde eih?)

"How long" can be a bit tricky to express in Arabic. But before I get into that, an explanation on واو الحال.

Note: واو الحال is the use of the connecting participle و to introduce a clause clarifying the circumstances under which the main action took place. Basically, it's used in a sentence that talks about two things: the main event, and what was going on in the background at the time. واو الحال helps describe the background events. Here are some examples of usage:

سافرت داليا الى أمريكا وهي صغيرة. (saafarat Daalia ila amriika wa-hiyya Saġiira)
Dalia traveled to the US when she was small. — lit. "and she is small"

سافرت وأبوها مريض. (saafarat wa-abuuha muriiD)
She traveled while her father was sick. — lit. "and her father is sick"

وصلت ومعها أختها الكبرى. (waSalat wa-ma3aha uxtuha l-kubra)
She arrived with her older sister. — lit. "and with her, her older sister"

عادت الى مصر وقد حصل على الدكتوراه. (3aadat ila miSr wa-qad HaSalat 3ala d-dukturaah)
She returned to Egypt having received her PhD. — lit. "and she had received her PhD"

عادت تحمل لنا عدة هدايا. (3aadat taHmil lina 3iddat hadaaya)
She returned carrying a number of gifts for us. — lit. "carries for us a number of gifts"

All that said, in standard Arabic, the expression منذ متى (literally "since when") can be combined with واو الحال to ask "How long has something been happening?"

The Egyptian Arabic equivalent of منذ متى is من امتى, which can be combined with an active participle to ask how long something's been happening.

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
How long have you been living here?منذ متى وأنت تعيش هنا؟ (mundu mata wa-anta ta3iiš huna?)انت عايش هنا من امتى؟ (inta 3aayiš hina min imta?)

In colloquial Arabic, there are multiple ways to ask a "how long" question. The expression بقال (ba'aal + a pronoun suffix) means "for [a specified period of time]" if you're talking about an action that began in the past and is still continuing. Like "X amount of time has elapsed since I began doing this."

بقالي ساعة مستنية كدة (ba'aali saa3a mistanniyya kida)
I've been waiting like this for an hour.

بقالها في مصر تلات سنين (ba'alha fi maSr talat siniin)
She's been (living) in Egypt for three years.

So you can ask بقالك كم... (ba'aalak kam...) to ask "How many [singular unit of time] have you been..." or بقالك قد ايه... (ba'aalak 'adde eih...) to ask more generally "How long have you been..." While كم must be followed by a specific, singular unit of time (an hour, a day, a year), قد ايه means a more general "how long."

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
How long did the operation last?كم دامت العملية؟ (kam daamit al-3amaliyya?)العملية بقت قد ايه؟ (il-3amaliyya ba'it 'adde eih?)
How many hours did the operation last?كم ساعة دامت العملية؟ (kam saa3a daamit al-3amaliyya?)العملية بقت كام ساعة؟ (il-3amaliyya ba'it kam saa3a?)

Some additional examples of colloquial questions:

بتشرب سيجاير بقالك كم سنة؟ (bitišrab sagaayir ba'aalak kam sana?)
How many years have you been smoking cigarettes?

بقالك قد ايه عايش هنا؟ (ba'aalak 'adde eih 3aayiš hina?)
How long have you been living here?

الشنطة دى قد ايه؟ (iš-šanTa di 'adde eih?)
How big is this bag?

وصلت من امتى؟ (wiSilt min imta?)
How long ago did you arrive?

Asking yes-or-no questions

In Arabic, if you ask a question with a yes-or-no answer, the question takes the exact same form as the corresponding statement; the only difference is intonation, and the optional addition of هل (hal) at the beginning of the question. هل is standard Arabic, but is also used in colloquial Arabic by educated speakers.

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
Statement: You're Egyptian.انت مصري (anta miSri)انت مصري (inta maSri)
Question: Are you Egyptian?هل انت مصري؟ (hal anta miSri?)هل انت مصري؟ (hal inta maSri?)
Statement: This university is famous.هذه الجامعة مشهورة (haadihi l-jaami3a mašhuura)الجامعة دى مشهورة (ig-gam3a di mašhuura)
Question: Is this university famous?هذه الجامعة مشهورة؟ (haadihi l-jaami3a mašhuura?)الجامعة دى مشهورة؟ (ig-gam3a di mašhuura?)

An alternative to هل is أ. Like هل, it goes at the beginning of the question. Unlike هل, it's used in standard Arabic only, and cannot be used in front of a definite noun or a word beginning with أ. It's also much more uncommon than هل. Examples:

أليس كذلك؟ (a-laysa kadaalika?)
Isn't that so?

أغدا ألقاك؟ (a-ġadan alqaak?)
Will I see you tomorrow? (This is the title of a famous Umm Kalthoum song.)

Asking "alternative" questions

 Standard ArabicEgyptian Arabic
or (used in between two choices)أم (am)ولا (walla)
or (used in between three or more choices)أو (aw)ولا (walla)

An "alternative" question presents two or more choices to pick from. In standard Arabic, أم (am) is used to separate a single pair of choices.

ماذا تفضل: الشاي أم القهوة؟ (maada tufaDDil, aš-šaay am al-qahwa?)
What do you prefer, tea or coffee?

However, if you are presenting more than two choices to pick from, you must use أو (aw) in between each choice.

تفضل السفر بالسبارة أو بالطائرة أو بالقطار أو بالسفينة؟ (tufaDDil as-safar bis-sayyaara aw biT-Taa'ira aw bil-qiTaar aw bis-safiina?)
Do you prefer to travel by car, plane, train, or ship?

That's all for standard Arabic. In Egyptian Arabic, you simply use ولا (walla), "or," in between each choice you're presenting.

مزاجك ايه - سادة ولا عالريحة ولا مزبوط ولا زيادة؟ (mazaagak eih - saada walla 3ar-riiHa walla mazbuuT walla ziyaada?)
What do you feel like - black, a little sugar, sweet, or very sweet? (in reference to coffee/tea)

هنا ولا تيك اواي؟ (hina walla take away?)
For here or to go?

مشيت ولا لسة؟ (mešeit walla lissa?)
Have you left yet? (lit. Did you leave or not yet?)

Additional notes on asking questions in colloquial Egyptian Arabic

Note that in Egyptian Arabic, to politely ask if someone would like to do something, you can use an imperfect-form verb:

تشرب شاي؟ (tišrab šaay?)
Would you like tea?

تشرب ايه؟ (tišrab eih?)
What would you like to drink?

تيجي معانا؟ (tiigi ma3aana?)
Would you like to come with us?

Among some useful colloquial "question" words to know are: اشمعنى (išme3na), "why (in particular)" and أمال ('ummaal), "So [if that's the case, then]..."

اشمعنى انا؟ (išme3na ana?)
Why me?

أمال انا اشمعنى الدنيا معاندة معايا يعني؟ ('ummaal ana šme3na d-donia mi3anda ma3aaya?)
So how come nothing's going my way? (lit. the world is against me) - with a sort of "why me?" emphasis

طالب: يا دكتور هو احنا ليه لازم نكتب كل ده في الامتحان؟؟ الاستاذ: يا حبيبي أمال هنسقطكو ازاي؟ (Taalib: "ya doktoor, howw-eHna leih laazim niktib kulle da fil-imtiHaan?" il-ustaaz: "ya Habiibi, 'ummaal hansa''atku zzaay?")
Student: "Professor, how come we have to write all of that in the exam?" Professor: "[If you didn't, then] how could we fail you?"

لو انت مش انت, أمال انت مين؟ (law inta miš inta, 'ummaal inta miin?)
If you're not you, then who are you?

The expression ما لـ... (+ noun/pronoun) has several meanings:

1. What's the matter with...? What's wrong with...?

ما لك؟ (maalak?)
What's the matter with you?

مال دينا؟ (maal Dina?)
What's wrong with Dina?

2. What's that got to do with...?

أنا مالي؟ (ana maali?)
What business is it of mine? (implying that I don't see what the topic at hand has to do with me)

مالها ومالي؟ (malha wa-maali?)
What's she got to do with me? (implying that I don't want anything to do with her)

مالك وماله؟ (maalik wa-maalu?)
What's he got to do with you? (implying that you should leave him alone and stop interfering with him)

3. وماله؟ (we-maalu?) - can mean either "So what?" or "That's ok."

There are also quite a few "tags" you can tack onto the end of your question to ask for affirmation:

ولا لا؟ (walla la?)
or not?

ولا ايه؟ (walla eih?)
or what?

مش كدة؟ (miš kida?)
isn't that so?

ولا انا غلطان؟ (wallana ġalTaan?)
or am I mistaken?

صح؟ (SaHH?)
right? (correct?)

So you could say انت مصري... (inta maSri...) and add on any of the above expressions to mean "You're Egyptian, aren't you?"

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