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Persian (Fārs) is a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is spoken by an estimated 71 million people, primarily in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The language has several names which will be explained below:

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].

Iran map

Dari is the local name used for the Persian language in Afghanistan. There are several competing theories regarding the origin of the name.

Tajik (Tajiki) is the local name used for Persian in Tajikistan.

Persian enjoys official status in three countries.

  • Iran
    Western Persian is spoken as a 1st language by over 22 million people in Iran, a multilingual country, out of a total population of 68 million. It is the official language of Iran. It is also spoken in a number of countries in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Europe, Australia, and North America. It is estimated that there are 24.5 million speakers of Western Persian worldwide (Ethnologue).
  • Afghanistan
    Eastern Persian (Dari) is the mother tongue 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.
  • Tajikistan
    Tajik is spoken by 4.5 million people in the Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, former Soviet republics in Central Asia (Ethnologue). Tajik is the official language of Tajikistan.

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


Persian is usually divided into the three major dialects which are more or less mutually intelligible. They are treated as separate languages primarily for political reasons. They have diverged in their sound systems, especially in the vowels, and to some extent in the verb systems. Their vocabulary shows differential influences of Arabic (in Iran), Pashto (in Afghanistan), and Russian (in Tajikistan).

  • Western Persian (Farsi) is spoken in Iran. Ethnologue lists 18 dialects of Western Persian. Standard Farsi is based on the variant spoken in and around Teheran, the capital of Iran.
  • Eastern Persian (Dari) is spoken in Afghanistan. It also has a number of regional variants. Until recently, Afghanistan deferred to the Teheran variant as its standard.
  • Tajik is spoken in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia.

When Teheran became the capital of Persia in 1787, its dialect became the basis of Contemporary Standard Persian. The literary language is virtually identical in Iran and Afghanistan, with very minor lexical differences.


Sound system
The sound system of Contemporary 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
Fricatives voiceless
Affricate voiceless
  • /q/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ʔ/ = sound between vowels in uh-oh
  • /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 Persian and Dari 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.
  • There is no grammatical gender.
  • Persian distinguishes between genericity and indefiniteness which 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 suffix -e, e.g., ketāb-e Ali ‘the book of Ali.’
  • Topicalization is marked by the suffix -ra, e.g., be man ketāb-ra Hasan ‘as for the book, he gave it to Hasan.’

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 moodsindicativesubjunctivecounterfactual 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.

Persian contains a large number of Arabic loan words, which 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 Russian words have entered Tajik in Tajikistan. Farsi has borrowed a significant number of words from FrenchGerman, 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 1-10.



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 SaadiHafezOmar 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 4 additional letters to represent Persian sounds not represented in the Arabic alphabet. The alphabet is consonant-based. Like Arabic, it is written from right to left.

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

Sārē insān āzād tē huqūq tē ‘izzat dē lihāz nāl barābar pædā næn. Oh ‘aqal samajh tē cangē mundē dī pachān tē ahisās radhadē ne is dastē lohnān nūn ikk dūjē nāl bhā ‘īcārē wālā salūk karna cāhī dā æ.
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?

Persian words in English
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.

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