Persian phrasebook – Wikitravel

Posted: April 15, 2012 in Art, Language, Region
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Persian phrasebook

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 IranAfghanistanTajikistanUzbekistan 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 subcontinentCentral 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.

Pronunciation guide

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.

Vowels and diphthongs

Transcription IPA Sound
a æ as a in ant
â ɒː as aw in law
e e as e in egg
i as ea in eagle
o o as o in hot
u as u in flute
ow as ow in American English
ey as ey in they

Regarding their indication in the Persian script:

  • The sounds aeo can be indicated with certain diacritics but they are practically 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.


Character Transcription IPA Sound
  • at word initial can denote: aeo; 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
آ â ɒː as o in hot
ب b b as in bob
پ p p as in put
ت t t as in tea
ث s s as in sad
ج j as in job
چ ch as in cheese
ح h h as in head
خ x x as ch in Scottish loch, German Buch
ر r r similar to r in Spanish reloj
ز z z as in zoo
ژ ž ʒ as s in vision, pleasure, French j in jardin
س s s as in sad
ش š ʃ as in sheet
ص s s as in sad
ض z z as in zoo
ط t t as in tea
ظ z z as in zoo
ع ø ʔ glottal stop
غ q ɣ similar to r in French écrire, German schreiben
ف f f as in feet
ق q ɣ similar to r in French écrire, German schreiben
ک k k as in keep
گ g g as in go
ل l l as in leave
م m m as in moon
ن n n as in noon
و v v as in van; also used to denote some vowel sounds
ی y j as in yet; also used to denote some vowel sounds
ه h h 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 has distinguished sounds in Arabic but they are all pronounced the same in Persian.


Persian has the following syllable patterns (C = Consonant, V = Vowel):

Pattern Examples
CV na, to, ke, mâ, xu, si, u
CVC kar, pol, del, kâr, mur, sir, azinâb
CVCC kard, goft, zešt, kârd, xošk, rixt, farš, ârdabr

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:

Word Persian Pattern
English: stadium estâdiyom (øes.tâ.di.yom) CVC.CV.CV.CVC
English: traffic terâfik (te.râ.fik) CV.CV.CVC
French: class kelâs (ke.lâs) CV.CVC

To help you understand it better, here are some basic words along with their syllabification:

Word Syllabification Meaning
bimârestân bi.mâ.res.tân hospital
ketâbxâne ke.tâb.xâ.ne library
dâruxâne dâ.ru.xâ.ne drug store
širiniforuši šši confectionery
xiyâbân xi.yâ.bân street
otobus ø bus
metro subway

Persian phrasebook – Wikitravel.


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