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Pashto, also known as Pakhto, Pashtu, and Pushto, is a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It spoken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan as well as by a large diaspora encompassing India, Iran, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States. It may be spoken by around 50 million people worldwide (Ethnologue).


Afghanistan mapSouthern Pashto is spoken by 6 million people in Afghanistan (Ethnologue). It is a co-official language of Afghanistan along with Dari (Eastern Persian). The relative status of Dari and Pashto are a sensitive topic in Afghan society. Although the Afghan constitution grants Dari and Pashto equal status, many Pashtuns feel that in reality their language is being discriminated against complaining that Dari is the dominant language in Afghan government, official proceedings, the judiciary, and in the print and electronic media, with up to 80% of all official communication being conducted in Dari. Primary and secondary education is available in both Dari and Pashto, as well as in some of Afghanistan’s other languages, and parents are free to choose the language of education for their children. However, most of instruction in Afghan universities is conducted in Dari. Moreoever, Dari serves as a de facto lingua franca among the various ethnic groups in the country.


Northern Pashto is spoken by 9.6 million people In Pakistan (Ethnologue), but it has no official status. It is taught in primary schools, but literacy rates are low. Pashtun children are educated in Urdu. Pashto is used in the print and electronic media.


Pashto can be divided into dialect groups, differentiated mostly by pronunciation and some vocabulary. The major dialect divisions, in turn, have numerous variants. In general, however, speakers of Pashto dialects can understand each other. Lexical similarity between Northern and Southern Pashto is estimated at approximately 80% (Ethnologue).

Northern Pashto Eastern Afghan Pashto, Ningraharian Pashto, Northeastern Pashto, Northwestern Pashto. Northeastern Pashto has a number of subdialects such as Kohat, Yusufzai, Afridi, Shinwari, Mohmand, Shilmani.
Southern Pashto Durani



Sound system

The sound system of Pashto has many similarities to that of other Indo-Iranian languages. At the same time, Pashto stands out among them as having adopted certain features from neighboring Indo-Aryan languages, such as retroflex consonants.

Pashto has the following vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that differentiate word meaning. The inventory of vowels give below may vary somewhat from dialect to dialect. Pashto has a number of diphthongs, e.g., /ay, əy, āy, oy, uy, aw, āw/.

a – ā
  • /ā/ = long /a/
  • /ə/ = a in about
  • In some dialects, the vowels /i/ and /u/ can be either short or long.


Besides the consonants common to most modern Indo-Iranian languages, Pashto also has alveo-dental affricates /ts/, /dz/ and a set of retroflex consonants borrowed from neighboring languages of the Indian subcontinent. They are produced with the tongue curled back so that its underside touches the roof of the mouth. Also, unlike other Indo-Iranian languages, Pashto allows consonant clusters at the beginning of syllables, e.g., xpa ‘foot’, nwar ‘sun’.

The chart below shows the consonant inventory of Pashto as reflected in the Kandahar dialect of Southern Pashto, but does not cover all the existing dialectal variations. In addition, there are some consonants in Pashto that do not occur in the speech of monolingual speakers, but only in the formal speech of bilingual educated people who speak both Pashto and Dari. In the table below, they are given in parentheses.

Retroflex Uvular
Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless
  • There is a contrast between and apical vs. retroflex consonants, e.g., /t/ – /ʈ/, /d/ – /ɖ/, /s/ – /ʂ/, /z/ – /ʐ/ , /n/ – /ɳ/, /r/ – /ɽ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth.
  • /q/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ʔ/ = sound between vowels in uh-oh
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /ʒ/ = s in pleasure
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /ɣ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /j/ = in yet


Stress can fall on any syllable of a word. It can distinguish the meaning of otherwise identical words, e.g., áspa ‘mare’ and aspá ‘spotted fever’.


Pashto is a highly inflected language with a complex system of noun declensions and verb conjugations.

Nouns, adjectives, and pronouns
Pashto nouns, adjectives, and pronouns are marked for the following categories:

  • two genders: masculine and feminine
  • two numbers: singular and plural, with a variety of plural markers
  • three cases: directoblique, and vocative (only in the singular). Cases are marked with prefixes, suffixes or both. Direct case is used for both subjects and objects.
  • There are no articles.
  • There are three declensions for nouns, and five for adjectives.
  • There are first- and second-persons pronouns. Third person is represented by proximate and remote demonstrative pronouns (similar to ‘this’ and ‘yonder’)
  • All modifiers agree with the nouns they modify in gender, number, and case.


Verbs agree with their subjects in person, number and gender. Below are some features of Pashto verbs:

  • Verbs have two stems: present and past.
  • Present stems can be simple or secondary.
  • Simple tenses are formed by the addition of personal endings to the two stems.
  • Secondary stems consist of a root + suffixes that indicate transitivity, intransitivity, and causativity.
  • There are three tenses: present, past, and future.
  • There are two voices: active and passive.
  • There are two aspectsimperfective and perfective. Aspect is as important as tense.
  • There are four moods: indicativeconditionalimperative, and potential.
  • Past tense transitive sentences are formed as ergative constructions, i.e., transitive verbs in the past tense agree with the object, rather than the subject of the sentence.


Word order 

The normal word order in Pashto is Subject-Object-Verb. All modifiers precede the nouns they modify


Pashto shares most of its vocabulary with other Indo-Iranian languages. It has also borrowed words from other languages. For instance, Pashto spoken in Pakistan contains a great many loanwords from Urdu. Due to the influence of Islam, Pashto has also borrowed many words from Arabic. Some of the oldest borrowings from Greek date back to the 3rd-century BC Greek occupation of the territory that is now Afghanistan. Pashto has also borrowed words from neighboring Indo-Aryan languages. Today, the most important source of borrowing is English, particularly in the areas of science, technology, politics, and the military.

Below are a few basic sentences and words in Pashto in romanization.

Hello As salam ‘alaykum
Good-bye Khuda hafiz 
Please Meharbani
Thank you Deyra manana
Excuse me Bakhana ghwaarom
Yes Ho
No Na
Man Saray

Below are Pashto numerals 0-10 in romanization.




The first written records of Pashto date back to the 16th century. Pashto has always been written with a modified Perso-Arabic script that contains additional letters to represent consonants specific to Pashto. Until the spelling system was standardized in the late 18th century, the representation of these consonants varied greatly. With the adoption of Pashto as a national language of Afghanistan in 1936, the writing system underwent some additional modifications that resulted in greater consistency. Various transliteration systems used today for representing Pashto with Latin letters lack standardization and may be confusing.

The Pashto alphabet used to write all varieties of the languages today has 44 letters. It uses all 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, and shares 3 letters with Persian and Urdu.  Since Pashto has more vowels than Arabic and Persian, it has more letters representing vowel sounds than contained in the Perso-Arabic script.

Pashto has an extensive literary tradition. Pashtun folk literature includes stories set to music, and a large number of short poems, traditionally composed by women, reflecting their daily lives.

Below is Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pashto script and romanization.

Article 1UDHR Pashto
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.
Də bašar ṫol afrād āzād naṙəy tâ rāźī au də ḥays̱iyat au ḥuqūqo lâ palwâ sarâ barābar dī. ṫol də aqəl au wijdān ḫāwandān dī au yo lâ bal sarâ də warorəy pâ rūḥiye sarâ bāyad čaland kəṙī.



Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Pashto?
Pashto is considered to be a Category IV language on the Defense Language Institute scale  in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

42 Responses to Pashto

  1. Amir Khan

    The Pashto script is not correctly indented.

  2. Zoomi Shah

    I am a native Pashto speaker from Pakistan. I spoke in the Northern Yousafzai dialect to my father and in the Southern [Waziri) dialect to my mother. I liked your article which is very well written but I did notice that it is all based on Afghani Pashto. Even the few Pashto words examples are all in Afghani Pashto. Also the written script of Pashto reads backwards [left to right] which is not how Pashto is written. Just thought I would share my thoughts. Thank you.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank for your comment. We based the description of Pashto on the Afghani variety because this was the only variety that we could find an adequate linguistic description of, at least one that is available in English. If you know of any reliable descriptions of other Pashto dialects such as Yousafzai or Waziri, we would appreciate it if you could share it with us. But in the meantime, you could provide us with examples of words in the above dialects. We will check the direction of the Pashto script. Keep your comments coming.

  3. Matt

    yeah, it should be:

    د بشر ټول افراد آزاد نړۍ ته راځی او د حيثيت او حقوقو له پلوه سره برابر دی. ټول د عقل او وجدان خاوندان دی او يو له بل سره د ورورۍ په روحيې سره بايد چلند کړی

    (It reads right to left like Hebrew or Arabic; the words in your version are spelled correctly but the order is reversed.)

  4. khan

    Pashto book name (pata khazana) was written in 850Ad by khusro ameer kror


    THE correct one is….
    دبشرټول افرادآزادي نړۍ ته راځي اودحیثیت اوحقوقوله پلوه سره برابردي.ټول دعقل اووجدان خاوندان دي اویو له بل سره بایددورورۍ په روحیی سره چلندوکړي.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you.

    • Haikal

      Dear Irene Thompson,
      Your article is a nice try in introducing Pashto language. As a Pashtu native speaker I would like to point to some mistakes I found.
      -The Pashto sentence on equality has still some mistakes. The latest correction made it better than it was written before.
      – Your assertion about pashto as second language is not correct. Despite the fact that during the riegn of King Zahir all non-pashtoons employees had to attend an official pashtu learning courses, Pashtu was one of the languages though in the schools along with Dari and English. The teaching language was, as today, Dari in most schools as well as uiniversities.


    And if you dear correct these….
    actually it is not das (10) but in pashto it is Las (10)
    alos it is not pashto (khuda hafiz)
    in pashto it is (da Khuday pa aman)


    Sorry for some incorrect info from you…
    in Afghanistan there is 62% pshtons so pashto is spoken in most part of Afghanistan and approximately more thn 17 million people speak pashto in Afghanistan…..

  8. marym

    I am agree with you MAIWAND jan most of people in Afghanistan speaking pashto

  9. noor

    dear, for ten(10) in pashto word is LASS not DAS. so,correct it,please.

  10. noor

    Moreover, i agree with Maiwand.

  11. noor

    Dear, Assalam Alikum is an Arabic phrase rather than that of Pashtoo.However,Pashtoons being muslims use it.

  12. Saqlain SALEEM

    Dear Mr.Thompson you should to comparison b/w two languages like PASHTO and PUNJABI please

    • Irene Thompson

      Both languaguages belong to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family, but there are many differences in the phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, as well as the writing systems between the two. You can can explore these differences by consulting the pages for these two languages on our website.

  13. scylla

    this page is very informative. it would be lovely if you coulkd provide the reference for the statement that Pashto language does not have a an article syte

    • Irene Thompson

      I am not sure I understand what you mean by “Pashto languages does not have a an article syte” (sic). Please explain what you mean.

      • Scylla

        I am an M.phil scholar and currently working on the article system of some languages. The information i found in your page bout article system in Pashto is very valuable. I am a pashto speaker and i am aware that Pashto does not have any article system. But i am required to support  it with evidence. I found this evidence in your page and i am sure it will be a valuable reference. I was wondering if you could provide me with any other source or reference that contain the same information or anything that would help me support my argument.

  14. Scylla

    By article system i mean to say “a,an, the.”

  15. Shahid K-M


    According to my research with evidence the difference between Pashtun and Pakhtun is that the Pakhtun was originally an Iranic tribe. Other Iranic tribes joined the Pakhtuns and formed the Pashtun nation. Hence, every Pakhtun is Pashtun, but not every Pashtun is Pakhtun. Also, the term “Pashto” is used more than “Pakhto” to describe the language. Also, “Pashtun” tends to be used more than “Pakhtun”. I have lots of evidence to support this but I can not disclose too much as it is part of my work. I am a linguist and etymologist.

    Thank you

    • Irene Thompson

      The most common term for the language in the linguistic literature is Pashto (language), Pashtun (person). Any viewing of the linguistic literature will clearly show that.

  16. Atif Karrar

    As Salaam o alaikom. Can anyone tell me who arrange the alphabet of pashtho language first time

    • Irene Thompson

      According to Omniglot ( “Pashto was made the national language of Afghanistan by royal decree in 1936. Since then, the Pashto spelling system has been revised to some extent. Today both Dari and Pashto are official languages there. Pashto first appeared in writing during the 16th century in the form of an account of Shekh Mali’s conquest of Swat. It is written with a version of the Arabic script (Nastal’iq script). There are two standard written forms: one based on the dialect of Kandahar, the other on the dialect of Peshawar.”

  17. Armaan amirkhan

    Pashto is spoken by 45-60% of the afghan population as a native language which is about 11-16 million. And by around 26 million in pakistan (15% of the population)

  18. naseem khan

    Hi, i recently started work on pashto phonology. I reviewed the earlier literature of researchers and they have mentioned in their works that phoneme /f/ and /q/ in pashto are found only in borrowed words.Can you explain?And also what could be the possible number of consonants and vowels in pashto language according to you?

    • Irene Thompson

      My understanding is that these sounds occur exclusively in so-called “elegant” pronunciation of Arabic and Farsi/Dari loanwords. This makes the number of consonant phonemes in Pashto 29. As for vowels, there are 7.

      • naseem khan

        thanks.. can you send me the link of the work of HERBERT PENZL’s pashto phonology.

        • naseem khan

          sir, Do you have any idea about the number of dipthongs in pashto language?

          • Irene Thompson

            Possibly 8 in standard Pashto. The number varies somewhat from dialect to dialect.

        • Irene Thompson

          A Grammar of Pashto A Descriptive Study of the Dialect of Kandahar, Afghanistan ISBN 0-923891-72-2
          A Reader of Pashto ISBN 0-923891-71-4.
          There is no electronic version.


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