Arabic, like English, adds words to sentences in order to form questions. Here we will deal with some of the most common interrogative words used in Arabic, هَلْ , ما, مَن and أيْن.
هَلْ is an interrogative used in sentences such as “Are you a student?”. In this kind of sentence in English, we take the appropriate form of the verb “to be” and place it first in the sentence. In Arabic, we just put هل as the first word of a statement in order to make that statement into a question. For example, انتَ طالب “You are a student” is made into a question by placing هل first, so we get انتَ طالب؟ هل.
(Note that هل, like all questions words, does not affect the case of any word in the sentence.) Similarly we can make المدير بليد “The director is a moron” into a question by putting هل first and getting:
هل المديرُ بليد — “Is the director a moron?”
ما has many uses in Arabic. One of them is as the question word “what,” used to refer to things. For example, ما هذا؟ means “What is this?” ما is not used to refer to people.
من means “who” and is used to refer to people. من هذا؟ means “Who is this?” من أنتَ؟ means, “Who are you?” Do not get the question word مَنْ confused with the preposition مِنْ which means “from”. When these two words are unvowelled (i.e. always) they look alike and new students tend to read them incorrectly.
أين means “where” and is only used in a question. أين المديرُ؟ means “Where is the director?” If you want to know where someone is from, you use the preposition مِنْ along with أين. For example, “Where are you from?” is rendered in Arabic مِنْ أين انت؟ Note that مِنْ comes before أين and that it will look just like مَنْ since it will not be vocalized. Therefore it is the CONTEXT that tells you what the word is. Context is going to play a big role in your study of Arabic in future lessons.