- xi (used before a consonant cluster; also a related but distinct word)
Contraction of earlier *iex (compare the reduplicated form xiex), from Arabic أَيّ شَيْء (ʾayy šayʾ, “what thing”), whence also Moroccan Arabic آش (āš), Hijazi Arabic إيش (ēš), Iraqi Arabic -شِ (šə).
- (interrogative) what
Maltese uses several interrelated words for English what, which may be confusing:
- X' is used before a verb: X'għamilt? (“What did you do?”). It becomes xi when the verb starts with a consonant cluster: Xi smajt? (“What did you hear?”). It is usually the object, but it can be the subject when the context is clear: X'jagħmlek kuntent? (“What makes you happy?”).
- Xiex is used after a verb, where it is always the object: Għamilt xiex? (“You did what?”). It is also used in isolation and after a preposition: Xiex? Huwa t-tmiem ta' xiex? (“What? It's the end of what?”).
- X'inhu is used chiefly in nominal sentences: X'inhu l-ingredjent sigriet? (“What's the secret ingredient?”) It has an extended form x'inhuwa, and it inflects for agreement: x'inhi, x'inhija in the feminine singular, x'inhuma in the plural. For example: X'inhi l-imħabba? (“What is love?”). It can also be used as the object of a verb, in which case the agreement is with the verb: X'inhuma jagħmlu? (“What are they doing?”). Ultimately, all of these words are merely special phonetic forms for x' followed by a third-person personal pronoun (thus x'inhuma instead of *x'huma, etc.).
- As the subject of a verb, the form x'inhu li may be used alongside x', literally “what is it that” (compare French qu'est-ce qui). For example: X'inhu li jagħmlek kuntent? (see above).