In all languages a single word can have various meanings. The same is true for Arabic, in fact more so due to the richness of this language. So I think it might help to clarify some of the different usages of some common Arabic words.
The Different ‘Maas’So I t
Some of the usages for the word maa are:
1) Istifhaam: this is used to ask a question. Eg.
ما هاذا ؟
“What is this?”
2) al-Nafi: this is used as a negation. Eg.
.ما قلت لهم
“I did not say to them.”
3) Ism al-Mawsul: this is a relative pronoun. Eg.
.ما عندالله باق
“That which is with Allah will endure.”
4) Maa Masdariyyah: I don’t really know how to properly explain this one in English but when this maa is used with a verb it changes it to an infinitive. Eg.
. وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَكُمْ وَمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
The maa here is maa masdariyyah so therefore it may be paraphrased as:
.وَاَللَّه خَلَقَكُمْ وَعَمَلَكُمْ
“Allah created you and your actions.”
5) Maa al-Ta’ajjabiyyah: this is used to express wonderment or amazement. Eg.
!ما أحسن هاذا
“How excellent this is!”
The Different ‘Laas’
1) Laa is primarily used as a negation. Eg.
.وَاللَّهُ لا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ
“Allah does not guide wrongdoing people.”
2) There is also laa al-Nafiyah li al-Jins. This is a more emphatic and complete negation and it causes the word after to it to become mansub. Eg.
.لا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ
“There is no compulsion in religion.”
3) Laa can also be used as a prohibition. It causes the verb to become majzum. Eg.
.يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لا تَتَّخِذُوا عَدُوِّي وَعَدُوَّكُمْ أَوْلِيَاءَ
“You who have Iman! Do not take my enemy and your enemy as friends.”
The Different ‘Laams’
The particle laam can have different functions.
1) If it is has a kasrah and is connected to a verb then it could be a harf al-Ta’leel and gives the meaning of “in order to” or “so that”. It also causes the verb to become mansub. Eg.
.لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ
“In order that mankind might establish justice / So that mankind might establish justice.”
2) Alternatively it could be a laam al-Amr which conveys a command. It causes the verb to become majzum. Eg.
.ثُمَّ لْيَقْضُوا تَفَثَهُمْ
“Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them.”
3) It could also be a laam al-Qasm which is used when taking an oath.
.لَيَجْمَعَنَّكُمْ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ لا رَيْبَ فِيهِ
Of a surety He will gather you together against the Day of Judgment, about which there is no doubt.
4) Another possibility is that it is simply there for emphasis. This is called al-Tawkid. Eg.
.إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ
“Truly My punishment is terrible indeed.”
5) It could also be a harf al-jar when connected to nouns and gives the meaning of “for”. It causes the noun to be majroor. Eg.
.لَكُمْ فِيهَا خَيْرٌ
“There is good in them for you.”
The importance of knowing all of these can be seen from just how many times the particle laam is used in various ways in only this one ayah:
وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِنَّا مِنْ بَعْدِ ضَرَّاءَ مَسَّتْهُ لَيَقُولَنَّ هَذَا لِي وَمَا أَظُنُّ السَّاعَةَ قَائِمَةً وَلَئِنْ رُجِعْتُ إِلَى رَبِّي إِنَّ لِي عِنْدَهُ لَلْحُسْنَى فَلَنُنَبِّئَنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِمَا عَمِلُوا وَلَنُذِيقَنَّهُمْ مِنْ عَذَابٍ غَلِيظٍ