Persian is an ancient language of Indo-European family. You can find many grammatical similarities between Persian and the other languages of this family. However, Persian is similar more to its coeval languages like Latin than to relatively newer languages. For instance, both Latin and Persian have a SOV word order (they both have free word order, though), which is uncommon among most modern European languages (even the descendants of Latin).
Today, Persian is mainly spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Bahrain. It has official status in the first three countries but was once the official, court, or literary language of many more places ranging from Turkey through India. At this time, many Persian poets emerged from Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the regions under the control of Ottoman Empire. It is still appreciated as a literary and prestigious language among the educated elite. Many people in Iran and neighboring countries know Persian fluently even though it's not their mother tongue. It's because Iran (formerly "Persia" until 1935) was historically much bigger before losing many territories, especially to its neighbor Russia (for more information, see Wikipedia: Greater Iran). After the 1979 revolution, many Iranians migrated to the West and as a result, there are numerous Persian-speaking communities throughout the world, particularly in USA. Persian is the second language of Islam so in many Islamic countries you can find someone knowing Persian.
The local name of the language is Farsi (officially, Fârsiyè Dari (Dari Persian), which means "Official/Court Persian"). The word Farsi has also entered English mainly because West-migrated Iranians didn't know about the native English name of their language (i.e. Persian) and began to use Farsi, which still prevails although somewhat decreased. Persian has three main dialects: Iranian Persian (Farsi), Afghan Persian (Dari) and Tajik Persian (Tajik). They are all mutually intelligible. The written form is the same for Farsi and Dari, both using the Arabic alphabet; Tajik is generally written with the Cyrillc alphabet.
Note - The contents of this page are written in bookish Persian so that you can use them not only in Iran but also in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and other countries. See Dari phrasebook for Afghan Persian and Tajik phrasebook for that dialect.
The Persian writing system derives from that of Arabic, extended with four letters to denote the sounds not found in Arabic. Persian writing system is not an alphabet but an abjad. An abjad has only characters for denoting consonant sounds. Vowels have no specific character; they are indicated either by certain diacritics or by certain consonant characters. Additionally, most letters change shape when they are followed by another letter.
at word initial when followed by ی can denote: i (mostly) and ey
at word initial when followed by و can denote: u (mostly), ow and ave
as o in hot
as in bob
as in put
as in tea
as in sad
as in job
as in cheese
as in head
as ch in Scottish loch, German Buch
as in dad
as in zoo
similar to r in Spanish reloj
as in zoo
as s in vision, pleasure, French j in jardin
as in sad
as in sheet
as in sad
as in zoo
as in tea
as in zoo
similar to r in French écrire, German schreiben
as in feet
similar to r in French écrire, German schreiben
as in keep
as in go
as in leave
as in moon
as in noon
as in van; also used to denote some vowel sounds
as in yet; also used to denote some vowel sounds
as in head
As you may note, there are characters that denote identical sounds e.g. ظ ,ذ,ض, ز are all pronounced z. It's because Persian has preserved the spelling of Arabic loanwords. Each of these characters has distinguished sounds in Arabic but they are all pronounced the same in Persian.
Persian has the following syllable patterns (C = Consonant, V = Vowel):
na, to, ke, mâ, xu, si, u
kar, pol, del, kâr, mur, sir, az, in, âb
kard, goft, zešt, kârd, xošk, rixt, farš, ârd, abr
These patterns can be encapsulated in CV(C)(C). According to the patterns:
A syllable always begins with a consonant sound. Please note that syllables which visually begin with a vowel sound, have a preceding glottal stop merged with their sound. For instance, u (he, she) is actually said øu and ârd (flour) is actually said øârd.
The second component of any syllable is a vowel sound.
Each syllable can only have one vowel sound. Therefore, each vowel indicates a syllable.
As opposed to English and many other languages, Persian does not allow two or more consonants to begin a syllable. Therefore, loanwords with such a characteristic are always Persianized:
To help you understand it better, here are some basic words along with their syllabification:
The stress is on the last syllable. However, a few adverbs do not follow this regularity. In addition, Persian has a number of enclitics, which simply put, are unstressed endings (English example: 's in Peter's book). Enclitics do not change the stress position of the word to which they attach. Therefore, the stress position does not shift to the last syllable e.g. pedaram (my father): pe.dar + enclitic -am = pe.da.ram (rather than expected pe.da.ram)
Note - As an aid to beginners, the grave accent can be placed on the first vowel of enclitics to make them distinguishable from suffixes and final letters of words. This method is used here for the genitive enclitic (è / yè), indefinite enclitic (ì / yì) and enclitic form of "and" (ò).
Persian has a relatively easy and mostly regular grammar. Therefore, reading this grammar primer would help you learn much about Persian grammar and understand phrases better. You should also be able to memorize phrases easier.
Persian is a gender-neutral language. Such languages don't differentiate different grammatical genders (masculine, feminine and neuter) and have identical pronouns, adjectives, etc. for all of them. For example, Persian has one word for both English "he" and "she", "him" and "her", "his" and "her".
There is no definite article in Persian. A bare noun indicates a definite noun (which includes common and generic nouns) e.g. mâšin dar pârking ast: the car is on the parking(literally: car, on parking, is); az mâr mitarsam: I'm afraid of snakes (literally: from snake fear-I)
Indefiniteness is expressed with the enclitic -ì (or -yì after vowels). It is for both singular and plural nouns. English does not have an exact equivalent for the Persian's plural indefinite article. It's often translated as "some" or "a few" or is simply omitted. The indefinite enclitic is added to the end of the noun phrase: mâšinì (a car, some car), mâšinhâyì (some cars)
Nouns are pluralized with the suffix -hâ. It's the only plural suffix used in spoken Persian. In written Persian, there's another plural suffix -ân (-gân after the vowel e and -yân after other vowels) which can only be used for animates and human beings in particular. It is especially useful to restrict the meaning to human beings. For example:
sar means "head", sarhâ means "heads" and sarân means "chiefs, heads, leaders"
gozašte means "past", gozaštehâ means "the past (events, etc.)" and gozaštegân means "the people of the past"
Arabic loanwords have usually brought their irregular plural forms (technically referred to as "broken plurals") into Persian but they can be avoided and you can use -hâ to pluralize them. In spoken Persian, broken plurals are never used except for very few cases where the broken plural has found an extended meaning. Regarding written Persian of today, the use of broken plurals has greatly decreased and it's prevalent to pluralize words with -hâ.
Note - In Persian, nouns are not pluralized when preceded by numbers because the number itself indicates quantity e.g. yek ketâb (one/a book), do/se/panjâh ketâb (two/three/fifty books).
In Persian, the genitive case relates two or more words to each other. The genitive case is marked with the enclitic -è (or -yè after vowels). The genitive enclitic is added to all the words that are connected to the head word and complement it. Look at the following examples:
The accusative case is indicated with the enclitic râ, added to the end of the noun phrase. Despite being an enclitic, it is written apart from the host word in the Persian script. Examples: dar râ bastam (I closed the door), in filmè Hendi râ qablan dide budam (I had already seen this Indian film).
Adjectives have only one form. They agree neither in gender nor in number with the noun they modify. They come after the noun and are related to it with the genitive enclitic: pesarè xub: good boy (template: boy-è good), doxtarhâyè xub: good girls (template: girl-hâ-yè good). As stated before, the indefinite article is added to the end of the noun phrase, so: pesarè xubì (a/some good boy), doxtarhâyè xubì ((some) good girls).
The comparative form of an adjective is always made by adding the comparative suffix -tar to the end of the adjective: bad (bad), badtar (worse); kam (little), kamtar (less); zibâ (beautiful), zibâtar (more beautiful).
The common pattern to compare A with B is: A + comparative + az (from) + B + verb
[došmanè dânâ] [behtar] [az] [dustè nâdân] [ast]: a wise foe is better than a foolish friend (template: foe-yè wise, good-tar, from, friend-è foolish, is). It's a Persian proverb.
The superlative form of an adjective is always made by adding the superlative suffix -in to the comparative: bad (bad), badtar (worse), badtarin (the worst). The superlative comes before the noun e.g. behtarin hotel (the best hotel), behtarin hotelè in šahr (the best hotel of this city)
Demonstrative adjectives come before nouns and like other adjectives, they have only one form. In Persian, we don't say "these books" but "this books". The plural form itself indicates that we are pointing to a plural noun. Basic demonstrative adjectives are ân (distal: that, those) and in (proximal: this, these):
When combined with jâ (place), they make adverbs: injâ (here) and ânjâ (there)
When combined with chon (like), they make demonstratives: chonin (such, like this) and chonân (such, like that)
When combined with ham (also; even), they make demonstratives: hamin (this/the same/one/very) and hamân (that/the same/one/very)
A pronoun (pro-noun) substitutes a noun phrase therefore the quantity (singular or plural) must be indicated. Therefore, demonstrative pronouns agree in number with the noun phrase whose place they take: ân (that), ânhâ (those), in (this), inhâ (these).
Demonstrative pronouns are also used as subjective pronouns. For example, the Persian word for "they" is ânhâ. Distal pronouns (ân, ânhâ, hamân, hamânhâ) are either used neutrally (i.e. not denoting distance from the speaker) or natively (i.e. indicating remoteness); but proximal pronouns (in, inhâ, hamin, haminhâ) are always used natively and indicate proximity to the speaker. English doesn't have such a feature.
Personal pronouns have two forms. One is their normal form called free personal pronouns (free in the sense of "not bound, separate") and the other is their enclitic form called bound personal pronouns. Subjective pronouns of English: "I, you, he, she, etc." are analogous to free personal pronouns but English does not have any equivalent for Persian's bound personal pronouns.
Persian has formal and informal 2nd and 3rd person. In addition, people of higher ranks like kings usually use 1st person plural (we) rather than 1st person singular (I). So, plural forms can be considered as polite and formal forms of singulars.
Bound personal pronouns have various functions depending on the word class to which they attach. For example, when they are added to the end of a noun (phrase), they express possession e.g. pedaram (my father). We'll learn more about their functions.
Direct object pronouns are simply made by adding the accusative enclitic râ to subjective pronouns e.g. man râ (me), u râ (him, her). man râ has developed a truncated form marâ (omission of n from manrâ), which is usually preferred in bookish Persian.
Although Persian has lost the declination system of Old Persian but it does mark different cases with technically called ad-positions (post/pre-positions). That's why Persian has been able to preserve the free word order feature:
As we learned, the accusative case is marked with the enclitic râ (a post-position).
The dative case is marked with the pre-position be (to).
The ablative case is marked with the pre-position az (from).
English marks none of these cases. For example, if you change the word order of "the father kissed the daughter" (accusative) to e.g. "the daughter kissed the father", the meaning completely changes. The same applies to "the father helped the daughter" (dative) and "the father asked the daughter" (ablative). As with Latin, by changing the word order, just the emphasis changes and the basic meaning is preserved:
dative: pedar be doxtar komak kard, be doxtar pedar komak kard
ablative: pedar az doxtar porsid, az doxtar pedar porsid
Hence, Persian has three different sets of "object pronouns" as per the case. They are made from the adposition of the case and subjective pronouns e.g. mâ râ busid (s/he kised us, accusative), be mâ komak kard (s/he helped us, dative), az mâ porsid (s/he asked us, ablative).
Persian does not have possessive adjectives as is found in English. In Persian, possession is expressed by adding "bound personal pronouns" to the end of the noun phrase (NP):
dustam: my friend (template: friend-am)
dustè xubam: my good friend (template: friend-è good-am). Please note that English's possessive adjectives also function on the whole NP. The difference is that in English, the possessive precedes NP. Compare [dustè xub]am with my [good friend].
Possession can also be expressed using the genitive case and subjective pronouns. This form is usually used for emphasis and doesn't have an equivalent in English:
dustè man: my friend (template: dust-è I)
dustè xubè man: my good friend (template: friend-è good-è I).
As for possessive pronouns, they are formed by relating mâl (property) to subjective pronouns with the genitive enclitic e.g. mâlè man (mine), in ketâb mâlè man ast, na mâlè to (this book is mine, not yours)
Learning verb conjugation of Persian is quite easy. The infinitive always ends in -an e.g. budan (to be), dâštan (to have). Each verb has two stems: past and present. The past stem always obtains regularly by removing -an from the infinitive e.g. raftan (to go) = raft. There isn't such a rule for obtaining the present stem of verbs but they can be classified into subgroups whose present stem is obtained according to a regular pattern with no or few exceptions. However, a verb whether regular or irregular has one and only one present stem for all persons. Therefore, as opposed to languages like French, Italian and Spanish, Persian does not have irregular verb conjugations. The past participle forms by replacing the infinitive suffix (-an) with -e. In other words, by adding -e to the past stem e.g. raftan = rafte.
To conjugate verbs in different tenses, conjugative enclitics attach to stems and participles. They only differ in 3rd person singular:
Note - Subjective pronouns (I, you, etc.) are not normally used in Persian because each person has a unique conjugative enclitic, which suffices to indicate the person of the verb. For example, in raftim it is evident that the person of the verb is 1st person plural and therefore, we do not normally say mâ raftim. So, Persian is a "pro-drop" language.
English does not have a grammatical form that corresponds exactly to this aspect. As an example, in languages having imperfective aspect, "I ran five miles yesterday" would use past simple form, whereas "I ran five miles every morning" would use past imperfective form. Romance languages like French, Spanish and Italian have only one imperfective tense, which from the viewpoint of Persian, is the counterpart of "past simple". In contrast, each "past simple", "present perfect", "past perfect", "present simple", etc. have an imperfective tense that are simply made by prefixing "mi" to the stem or participle (depending on the formation of the tense). None of these imperfective tenses has an equivalent in English, though and Romance languages have only an equivalent for the Persian's past imperfective.
Formula: mi + past simple (i.e. past stem + past enclitic).
The past imperfective is also used in conditional tenses and as with "conditionnel" of French, it is used to make polite expressions (that's why this tense has been mentioned in the primer): yek livân âb mixâstam (French: je voudrais un verre d'eau, English: I'd like a glass of water).
Note - Because of a vowel harmony, the negation prefix "na" becomes "ne" before "mi". Therefore, we say nemiraftam rather than expected namiraftam. However, in Afghanistani and Tajikistani Persian, this change hasn't occurred and they still say namiraftam.
Formula: present stem + present enclitic. Regarding usage, the present imperfective has taken the place of this tense. The only exception is dâštan (to have), which is not normally conjugated in the imperfective aspect due to its meaning ("having" something cannot be "imperfective"; you either "have" or "don't have" something). The present stem of dâštan is dâr. Now, its conjugation: dâram (I have), dâri (you /informal/ have), dârad (s/he has), dârim (we have), dârid (you have), dârand (they have; s/he /formal/ has).
The verb budan (to be) has two forms in present simple:
The full form (or free form) is: hastam (I am), hasti (you /informal/ are), (h)ast (he, she, it is); hastim (we are), hastid (you are), hastand (they are; s/he /formal/ is).
The enclitic form (or bound form) is: -am, -i, -ast; -im, -id, -and.
The free form is usually for emphasis and it is the bound form, which is normally used e.g. xubam (I am fine), xubi? (Are you fine?; used in greetings).
As you see, although the stem is irregular but the conjugation is still regular.
Persian has a "future simple" tense but it is not used in spoken Persian. In spoken Persian, "future simple" is expressed with present imperfective accompanied by a "future" adverb like fardâ (tomorrow), baødan (later). Example: fardâ sobh be muze miravim (We'll go to the museum tomorrow morning).
An imperfective tense can also express a progressive (continuous) action because a progressive action is incomplete (imperfect). Therefore, for example "minevisam", which is in "present imperfective", besides "I write", can also mean, "I am writing" depending on the context. On this very basis, there is no progressive tense in written Persian but spoken Persian has developed a full set of progressive tenses built upon the imperfetive tenses with the help of the auxiliary dâštan (to have).
Formula: auxiliary dâštan in present simple + verb in present imperfective. Examples: dâram minevisam (I am writing), dârad minevisad (s/he is writing).
Progressive tenses only appear in affirmative sentences and they have no negative form. For negation, the imperfective form of the verb is used. Example: "I'm writing" (dâram minevisam), "I'm not writing" (neminevisam, not: dâram neminevisam).
Formula: past participle + auxiliary budan (to be) in present simple and in its bound form. Examples:
didan (to see): dideam (I have seen), didei (you /informal/ have seen) , dideast (s/he has seen); dideim, dideid, dideand
raftan (to go): rafteam, raftei, rafteast; rafteim (we have gone), rafteid (you have gone), rafteand (they have gone; s/he /formal/ has gone)
It'd be interesting to speakers of French (and other Romance languages) to know that rafteam is exactly equivalent to "je suis allé" (literally: I'm gone). The difference is that in Persian the auxiliary verb is always "être" (budan) and never "avoir" (dâštan).
As stated before, the negative conjugation is formed with the prefix na: narafteam (I haven't gone).
Formula: past participle + auxiliary budan (to be) in past simple. Examples:
didan (to see): dide budam (I had seen), dide budi (you /informal/ had seen), dide bud (s/he had seen); dide budim, dide budid, dide budand
raftan (to go): rafte budam, rafte budi, rafte bud; rafte budim (we had gone), rafte budid (you had gone), rafte budand (they have gone; s/he /formal/ had gone)
The negative conjugation is formed with the prefix na: narafte budam (I hadn't gone).
As with "present perfect", rafte budam literally means "I was gone". If you consider "gone" as an "adjective" rather than a "past participle", you should be able to understand this construction and its meaning.
Formula: subjunctive prefix be + present simple (present stem + present enclitic). English doesn't practically have any subjunctive tenses and therefore, Persian's subjunctive tenses cannot be exactly translated into English. Therefore, translations are given in French. Examples:
In English we say "I want to go" but in Persian "to go" does not appear in "infinitive" but in present subjunctive: mixâham beravam. We can assume that there is a relative pronoun ke (that) after "I want" that causes the second verb to appear in the subjunctive (similar to French que) i.e. mixâham [ke] beravam (French: je veux qu'aille). In any case, this construction is used very much and you should learn it well. Another example: mitavânam bebinam (I can see).
Persian has a limited number of simple (single-word, light) verbs (about 100, in common use). The majority of Persian verbs are non-simple verbs made with these simple verbs. For example, kardan /kon/, which is equivalent to French "faire" both in usage (making new verbs: faire attention, faire un voyage, etc.) and in basic meaning (to do, to make), has been used to make thousands of verbs from nouns, adjectives and loanwords. Examples: rang kardan (to dye; rang: color), bâz kardan (to open; bâz: open), sefid kardan (to whiten; sefid: white), dânlod kardan (to download; dânlod: download). Therefore, by just knowing the present stem of kardan (/kon/) you can conjugate a countless ever-growing number of verbs. Some useful verbs: telefon kardan (to phone), kopi kardan (to copy), safar kardan (to travel), negâh kardan (to look, to watch), guš kardan (to listen), pârk kardan (to park), komak kardan (to help), tamiz kardan (to clean). Important note: Although kardan basically means "to do, to make" and is so useful, but be careful not to use it alone because when used alone, it has a very bad meaning (vulgar: to have sexual intercourse) in the common language. For "to do", we say "anjâm dâdan" and for "to make" we say "sâxtan". The present stem of dâdan is /deh/, and that of sâxtan is /sâz/.
The non-verbal part of a non-simple verb is called preverb (e.g. "telefon" in "telefon kardan"). When conjugating non-simple verbs, the preverb sits aside and the conjugational elements are added to the verbal part (you should find it quite logical). Example: telefon mikonam (I phone), telefon nemikonam (I don't phone), telefon kardam (I phoned), telefon nakardam (I didn't phone).
Bound personal pronouns can substitute direct object pronouns. They attach to the end of the verb e.g. "I saw you": to râ didam versus didamat. In fact, it's the normal way and full (free) forms like to râ didam are used for emphasis.
To make a question, just change the tone of your voice e.g. didi (you saw), didi? (did you see?), raftei (you have gone), raftei? (have you gone?).
The Persian number system is very similar to that used in Arabic, exceptions being the symbols for four and five. Confusingly, the numerals used in Latin derived languages are called Arabic numerals and those used by in Arabic and Persian languages are called Indian numerals. Persian numerals are written from left to right unlike their alphabetic script.
Note - There are two ways to express "and" in Persian. One is with the enclitic ò (or yò after vowels) and the other is with the word va. The enclitic ò is the common way (and the sole way in spoken Persian).
Iran uses a solar calendar with the New Year on the vernal equinox (March 21 on the Gregorian calendar). Years begin with "spring" and end with "winter". The first six months have 31 days, and the last five have 30 days each. The final month has 29 or 30 depending on whether or not it is a leap year. Leap years are not as simply calculated as in the Gregorian calendar, but typically there is a five year leap period after every 7 four-year cycles. Year 0 of the calendar corresponds to 621 in Gregorian.
The staring point of the Iranian solar calendar is Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. Short date format is yyyy/mm/dd (or yy/mm/dd) and the long date format is dddd, dd MMMM yyyy. For example, today (Monday, August 11, 2008) is:
Notice - In Iran, there are no car rental agencies. Most of the time, you would need to rent a car with a driver from an "âžâns" (taxi agency) who will drive you around. The agencies often have set daily/weekly rental prices which you should make sure to ask for!
I want to rent a car.
mixâstam yek mâšin kerâye konam (میخواستم یک ماشین کرایه کنم)