Persian is an ancient language of Indo-European family. Therefore, there many grammatical similarities between Persian and other Indo-European languages. 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. There are many people in Iran and neighboring countries who know Persian fluently even though it's not their mother tongue. It's because Iran (formerly "Persia" until 1935) was much bigger until 200 years ago when it lost 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.
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. Persian has three main dialects: Iranian Persian, Afghanistani Persian and Tajikistani Persian. They are all mutually intelligible and in fact, written language is almost the same.
Note - Although you can use the contents of this page in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and other countries but this page is directed towards Iranian Persian and Afghanistani Persian and Tajikistani Persian should have their own pages for a closer coverage.
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 and are either indicated by certain diacritics or by certain consonant characters. Additionally, most letters change shape when they are followed by another letter.
Vowels and diphthongs
as a in ant
as o in hot
as e in egg
as i in eagle
as o in forty
as u in flute
as ow in American English show but shorter
as ey in they
Regarding their indication in the Persian script:
The sounds a, e, o can be indicated with certain diacritics but they are virtually only used in elementary-school books. The vowel o is sometimes denoted with the consonant و (v).
The sounds â is always indicated: with آ at word initial and with ا elsewhere.
The sounds i and ey are indicated with ای at word initial and with the consonant ی (y) elsewhere.
The sounds u and ow are indicated with او at word initial and with the consonant و (v) elsewhere.
at word initial can denote: a, e, o; elsewhere: â
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
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 ,ض, ز are all pronounced z. It's because Persian has preserved the spelling of Arabic loanwords. Each of these characters have 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, there are a few adverbs that 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. So, 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 employ 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 in the garage (literally: car, in garage, 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 father of Ali, Ali's father
the prophet of Islam
the name of the book, book's name
the country of Iran
north of Tehran
The accusative case is indicated with the enclitic râ (which, despite being an enclitic, it is written apart from the host word in the Persian script) e.g. dar râ bastam (I closed the door).
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 (mold: boy-è good), doxtarhâyè xub: good girls (mold: 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 for comparing 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 (mold: 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 worse). The superlative comes before the noun e.g. behtarin dust (the best friend)
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 (that, those) and in (this, these).
A pronoun (pro-noun) substitutes a noun phrase therefore the quantity (singular or plural) must be indicated. Consequently, demonstrative pronouns have plural forms, which is made with the plural suffix -hâ: 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) are either used neutrally (i.e. not denoting distance from the speaker) or natively (i.e. indicating remoteness) but proximal pronouns (in, inhâ) 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.
you (formal, singular and plural)
you (informal, plural)
he, she (formal)
he, she, it
il, elle, ça
ils, elles, on
In spoken Persian, there is also šomâhâ used as the plural form of both informal and formal "you" (to and šomâ).
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.
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 (mold: friend-am)
dustè xubam: my good friend (mold: 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 (mold: dust-è I)
dustè xubè man: my good friend (mold: 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 fairly 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:
Note - Subject pronouns (I, you, etc.) are not normally used in Persian because each person has a unique conjugative enclitic and consequently, the person of the verb is obvious from the conjugated form. For example, in raftim it is evident that the person of the verb is 1st person plural (i.e. we) and therefore we do not normally say mâ raftim. The conjugative enclitics are expressively called šenâse (ID) in Persian. If you know Spanish and Italian, you are already familiar with this feature. However, these languages are not so in all tenses (e.g. in past imperfect) whereas Persian is a perfect pro-drop (from "pronoun-dropping") language.
Formula: past stem + past enclitic. Examples:
didan (to see): didam (I see), didi (you /informal/ saw) , did (s/he saw); didim, didid, didand
To negate verbs just add the negation prefix na to the stem: naraftam (I didn't go), naraft (s/he didn't go).
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, Persian has more than one imperfective tense. One for each "past simple", "present perfect", "past perfect", "present simple", etc. that all are simply made by prefixing "mi" to the component of the verb used in conjugation (stem or participle). None of these imperfective tenses have an equivalent in English, though.
Formula: mi + past simple (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 - As a result of a vowel harmony, the negation prefix "na" becomes "ne" before the imperfective prefix "mi". So, we say nemiraftam rather than expected namiraftam. However, in Afghanistani and Tajikistani Persian, there isn't such a change and they say namiraftam.
Formula: present stem + present enclitic. Regarding today Persian, 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"). 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 has).
The verb budan (to be) has two forms in present simple. The full 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 is). The enclitic form is: -am, -i, -ast, -im, -id, -and. The full form is usually for emphasis and it is the enclitic form, which is normally used e.g. xubam (I am fine), xubi (you are fine).
Formula: imperfective prefix mi + present simple (present stem + present enclitic). Present stem are placed within two slashes / /.
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 in 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).
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 (f*ck) in the common language (it's a slang word). 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 non-simple verbs is called preverb (e.g. "telefon" in "telefon kardan"). When conjugating non-simple verbs, the preverb sits aside and the congregational 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).
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. However, the enclitic form of budan is used and not its full 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 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)
As stated before, the negative conjugation is formed with the prefix na: narafte budam (I hadn't gone).
Mišavad az telefonetân estefâde konam (میشود از تلفنتان استفاده کنم)
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).
šastò šeš (شصت و شش)
haftâdò haft (هفتاد و هفت)
haštâdò hašt (هشتاد و هشت)
hezârò yek (هزار و یک)
bistò yek (بیست و یک)
navadò noh (نود و نه)
hezârò sad (هزار و صد)
bistò do (بیست و دو)
do hezâr (دو هزار)
sadò dah (صد و ده)
do hezârò hašt (دو هزار و هشت)
siyò se (سی و سه)
dah hezâr (ده هزار)
devistò bistò do (دویست و بیست و دو)
bist hezâr (بیست هزار)
chehelò chahâr (چهل و چهار)
sad hezâr (صد هزار)
sisadò siyò se (سیصد و سی و سه)
yek milyun (یک میلیون)
panjâhò panj (پنجاه و پنج)
do milyun (دو میلیون)
yek milyârd (یک میلیارد)
number ~ (train, bus, etc.)
šomâreye ~ (شمارهی ~)
one o'clock AM
yekè sobh (یک صبح)
two o'clock AM
doè sobh (دو صبح)
one o'clock PM
yekè baød-az-zohr (یک بعدازظهر)
two o'clock PM
doè baød-az-zohr (دو بعدازظهر)
Tip - In Persian, nouns are not pluralized when a number precedes them. The plurality is clear from the "number". Therefore, we say, for example:
three to five week: se tâ panj hafte (سه تا پنج هفته)
in hafte (این هفته)
hafteyè gozašte (هفتهی گذشته)
hafteyè âyande (هفتهی آینده)
Tip - In Iran, weeks being with "Saturday" and end with "Friday". So, the holiday is "Friday" and the weekend starts from "Thursday".
Iran uses a solar calendar with the new year on the vernal equinox (March 21 on the Gregorian calendar). So, 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.
Farvardin (31 days)
21 Mar. – 20 Apr.
Ordibehešt (31 days)
21 Apr. – 21 May
Xordâd (31 days)
22 May – 21 June
Tir (31 days)
22 June – 22 July
Mordâd (31 days)
23 July – 22 Aug.
Šahrivar (31 days)
23 Aug. – 22 Sep.
Mehr (30 days)
23 Sep.– 22 Oct.
Âbân (30 days)
23 Oct.– 21 Nov.
Âzar (30 days)
22 Nov.– 21 Dec.
Dey (30 days)
22 Dec.– 19 Jan.
Bahman (30 days)
20 Jan. – 18 Feb.
Esfand (29/30 days)
19 Feb. – 20 Mar.
Gregorian month names are borrowed from French.
Me (مه), also Mey (می)
Žuiye (ژوئیه), also Julây (جولای)
Ut (اوت), also Âgust (آگوست)
Writing time and date
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:
short date format: 1387/05/21 (or 87/05/21)
long date format: došanbe, 21 Mordâd 1387
Time is written like English e.g. 8:34 (۸:۳۴).
siyâh (سیاه), also meški (مشکی)
qermez (قرمز), also sorx (سرخ)
Bus and train
How much is a ticket to ~?
belitè ~ cheqadr ast? (بلیط ~ چقدر است)
One ticket to ~, please.
lotfan yek belit barâye ~ (لطفا یک بلیط برای ~ )
Where does this train/bus go?
in qatâr/otobus kojâ miravad? (این قطار/اتوبوس کجا میرود)
Farhangè Engelisi be Engelisi ~. (فرهنگ انگلیسی به انگلیسی)
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)