Persian language


Khosh amadid – Welcome

Persian, Fārsi, is a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a macrolanguage spoken by an estimated 110 million people worldwide, primarily in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The language is known by several names. Persian is the more widely used name of the language in English, from Latin Persia, from Greek Persis. The Academy of Persian Language and Literature calls the language Persian. Farsi is the Arabicized form of Parsi, from Pars, the name of the region where the language evolved. Pars is called Fars in Arabic which lacks the sound [p]. Dari is the local name used for Persian in Afghanistan. Tajik (Tajiki) is the local name used for Persian in Tajikistan.



Persian enjoys official status in three countries.

  • Iran
    Western Persian (New Persian, Parsi, Persian) is spoken as a 1st language by 45 million people in Iran, a multilingual country, out of a total population of 81 million. It is the official language of Iran (Ethnologue). It is also spoken in Iraq, Oman, Qatar, and Tajikistan. Standard Persian is based on the dialect spoken in and around Teheran, the capital of Iran.
  • Afghanistan
    Eastern Persian (Dari, Afghan Persian, East Farsi) is the first language of about 7.6 million people in Afghanistan, the Khorasan Province of Iran, and in Pakistan (Ethnologue). It is the co-official language of Afghanistan, along with Pashto.Dari is Afghanistan’s lingua franca and is the native tongue of various Afghan ethnic groups
  • Tajikistan
    Tajiki (Galcha, Tadzhik, Tajik, Tajiki Persian, Tojiki) is spoken by 4.5 million people primarily in the Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, former Soviet republics in Central Asia (Ethnologue). Tajiki is the official language of Tajikistan. It is also spoken in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and

on the MLA Interactive Language Map to find out where Persian is spoken in the U.S.



Ethnologue lists some 20 dialects of Persian that are usually divided into three major mutually intelligible groups whose treatment as separate languages is primarily based on geopolitical considerations. The three groups have diverged in their sound systems, and to some extent, in their structure and vocabulary, the latter showing differential influences of Arabic (in Iran), Pashto (in Afghanistan), and Russian (in Tajikistan). However, the literary language is virtually identical in Iran and Afghanistan, exhibiting only very minor differences.



Sound system

The sound system of Standard Persian has 29 phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. The description below is based on the speech of educated people in Teheran.



Persian has six vowel phonemes which are given below.

  • /æ/ = a in cat



Persian has 23 consonant phonemes.

Stops voiceless p t k
voiced b d g
Fricatives voiceless f s
x h
voiced v z
Affricate voiceless
Nasal m
Lateral l
Rhotic r
Approximant j
  • /x/ has no equivalent in English; similar to German pronunciation of ch in Bach
  • /ʃ/ =sh in shape
  • /ʒ/ = s in measure;
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chat
  • // = j in jet
  • /j/ = y in yet



Stress typically falls on the last syllable of the root.



The grammatical systems of Farsi (Western) Persian and Dari (Eastern) Persian do not differ in any significant way. The description below covers the main grammar points of both languages. Both Dari and Farsi are inflected languages, i.e., they add suffixes to roots to express grammatical relations and to form words. Unlike many other Iranian languages, Dari and Farsi have lost most of their noun and verb inflections.



  • Nouns can be simple or compound.
  • Any unmodified noun in Persian may be generic, i.e., refer to one or more than one items. Plural is not obligatory when more than one item are implied. The marker – signals plural with count nouns, e.g., ketāb-hā ‘books’, and amplification with mass nouns, e.g., āb-hā ‘all kinds of water, lots of water’. Human nouns take –ān, while nouns borrowed from Arabic usually take -in. Adjectives are not marked for number. Some nouns borrowed from Arabic can be pluralized by using the Arabic broken plural.
  • There are no articles.
  • There is no grammatical gender.
  • Case is not marked.
  • Persian distinguishes between genericity and indefiniteness. This applies to both count and mass nouns. It is expressed by the suffix –i, e.g., ketāb-i‘ ‘some/a book’, ketāb-hā ‘some books’. Definiteness is not marked formally.
  • Possession is marked by the particle –e, e.g., ketāb-e Ali ‘the book of Ali’. Modifiers are also connected to the noun modified by the particle -e.



Persian verbs are marked for the following categories:

  • There are three persons: first, second, and third.
  • There are two numbers: singular, and plural.
  • There are three moods: indicative, subjunctive, counterfactual conditional.
  • Aspect is as important as tense. There are two aspects: imperfective and perfective.
  • There are three tenses: present, past, and inferential past. Inferential past expresses second-hand knowledge, information, or conclusions.
  • Causality is marked by the suffix –ān, e.g., xor ‘to eat’ – xorān ‘to feed’.
  • Future is not a tense but a modality (similar to the English want to/wanna + infinitive). All present and past forms may be used in a future context.
  • Subject pronouns are usually dropped since the verb form already carries information about person and number.


Word order

The normal word order in Persian is Subject-Object-Verb. Modifiers follow the nouns they modify.



New words are formed from nouns, adjectives and verbal stems through derivation and compounding. In addition, Persian contains a large number of Arabic loan words. They are more common in the written than in the spoken language. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Farsi, Dari,and Tajik have experienced different influences on their vocabulary. Pashto words have been introduced into Dari in Afghanistan, and a large number of Russian words has entered Tajik in Tajikistan. Farsi has borrowed a significant number of words from French, German, and most recently from English, especially in science and technology.

Below are a few common Persian phrases and words given in romanization.

Hello Salām.
Peace be with you. Salām aleikom.
Good bye Xodāfez.
Please. Lotfān.
Thank you. Tashakor.
God willing. Enshā ‘allah.
Excuse me. Bebaxshīd.
Yes Bale
No Na
Man Mard
Woman Zan


Below are the Persian numerals 0-9.

۰ ۱ ۲ ۳ ۴ ۵ ۶ ۷ ۸ ۹


. ۱ ۲ ۳ ۴ ۵ ۶ ۷ ۸ ۹
sefr yek do se chahār panj shesh haft hasht no



The bulk of the surviving Persian literature comes from the times following the Islamic conquest of Iran in the 7th-8th centuries AD when the Persians, who wrote in both Persian and Arabic, became the scribes and bureaucrats, as well as writers and poets, of the Islamic empire. Persian poets such as Saadi, Hafez, Omar Khayyam and Rumi have left a significant mark on the literature of many countries.

Persian and Dari are written in the Perso-Arabic script, which contains additional letters to represent Persian sounds [p], [ʃ], [ʒ], [g], not represented in the Arabic alphabet. The alphabet is basically consonant-based. Like Arabic, it is written from right to left. Tajik uses a modified Cyrillic alphabet.

In recent years, efforts have been made to introduce alternative alphabets for writing Persian. One such proposed alphabet is UniPers which is given below.

A a
B b
C c
D d
E e
F f
G g
H h
I i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
O o
P p
Q q
R r
S s
Š š
T t
U u
V v
W w
X x
Y y
Z z
Ž ž


Take a look Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Perso-Arabic script and in the Latin script.

Perso-Arabic script

Tæmam e æfrad e bæscær azad be donja mi ajænd o æz læhaz e hejsijæt o hoghugh ba hæm bærabær ænd. Hæme dara je æghl o vedjan mi bascænd o bajæd nesbæt be jek digær ba ruh e bradæri ræftar konænd.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.




Did You Know?

English has borrowed a number of words from Persian. Persian, in turn, borrowed many of these words from Arabic. Most of them came into English indirectly through other languages, mostly French and Greek. A few of them are listed below:

English word
from Persian
baksheesh bakhshish, literally ‘gift’
bazaar bazar ‘market’
caravan karwan ‘group of desert travelers’
caviar khaviyar, from khaya ‘egg’ + dar ‘bearing’
lac lak ‘resinous substance’
magic Old Persian magush ‘magician’
mummy mumiya, from mum ‘wax’
pilaf pilaw, a rice dish with meat
pistachio pista ‘pistachio tree’
shah shah, title of king of Persia
scarlet saqirlat, a kind of rich cloth, not necessarily red
seersucker shir-o-shakkar ‘striped cloth’, literally ‘milk and sugar’, an allusion to the alternately smooth and puckered surfaces of the stripes; from shir ‘milk’ + ‘hakar ‘sugar’



Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Persian?
Persian is considered to be a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.