Ezāfe (Persian: اضافه), also written as izafet, izafe, izafat, izāfa, and izofa, is a grammatical particle found in some Iranian languages that links two words together; in the Persian language it consists of the unstressed vowel -e- or -i- (-ye- or -yi after vowels) between the words it connects and often approximately corresponds in usage to the English preposition "of ". It is generally not indicated in writing in the Persian script, which is normally written without vowels, but it is indicated in Tajiki, which is written in the Cyrillic script.
Common uses of the Persian ezafe are:
- Possessive: برادرِ مریم barādar-e-Maryam 'Maryam's brother' (it can also apply to pronominal possession, برادرِ من barādar-e man 'my brother', but in speech it is much more common to use possessive suffixes: برادرم barādar-am).
- Adjective-noun: برادرِ بزرگ barādar-e-bozorg 'the big brother'
- Given name/title-family name: Mohammad-e-Mosaddeq Mohammad Mosaddeq, آقای مصدق āghā-ye-Mosaddeq Mr. Mosaddeq
The Persian grammatical term ezāfe is borrowed from the Arabic concept of iḍāfa ("addition"), where it denotes a genitive construction between two or more nouns, expressed using case endings. However, whereas the Iranian "ezafe" denotes a grammatical particle (or even a pronoun), in Arabic, the word iḍāfa actually denotes the relationship between the two words. In Arabic, two words in an iḍāfa construction are said in English to be in "construct state" with each other.
Besides Persian, ezafe is found in other Iranian languages as well as in Turkic languages, which have historically borrowed many phrases from Persian.
Ottoman Turkish made extensive use of ezafe, borrowing it from Persian (the official name of the Ottoman Empire was دولتِ عَليۀ عُثمانيه Devlet-i Âliye-i Osmaniyye), but it is transcribed as -i or ı rather than -e. Ezafe is also used extensively in Urdu although its use is mostly restricted to poetic settings or to phrases imported wholesale from Persian since Urdu usually expresses the genitive with the Hindustani declined possessive postposition kā.
Originally, in Old Persian, nouns had case endings, just like every other early Indo-European language (such as Latin, Greek, and Proto-Germanic). A genitive construction would have looked much like an Arabic iḍāfa construct, with the first noun being in the nominative case, and the second being in the genitive case, as in Arabic or Latin.
However, over time, a relative pronoun such as tya or hya (meaning "which") began to be interposed between the first element and its genitive attribute.
- the will which (is) of Auramazdah
Tisdall states that the modern Persian ezafe stems from this relative pronoun which, which in Eastern Iranian languages (Avestan) was yo or yat. Pahlavi (Middle Persian) shortened it to -ī-, and after noun case endings passed out of usage, this relative pronoun which (pronounced [e] in New Persian), became a genitive "construct" marker. Thus the phrase
- mard-e-xub مردِ خوب
really means "man which (is) good" rather than "good man."
In other modern Iranian languages, such as Northern Kurdish, the "ezafe" particle is still a relative pronoun, which declines for gender and number.  However, rather than translating it as "which," as its etymological origin suggests, a more accurate translation for the New Persian use of ezafe would be a linking genitive/attributive "of", or no translation in the case of adjectives.
Notes and references
- The short vowel "-ِ" (known as Kasra or kasré) is pronounced as -e- or -i- depending on the accent.
- Simin Abrahams, Modern Persian (Routledge, 2005: ISBN 0-7007-1327-1), p. 25.
- Leila Moshiri, Colloquial Persian (Routledge, 1988: ISBN 0-415-00886-7), pp. 21–23.
- John Mace, Basic Arabic Workbook (Hippocrene, 2006: ISBN 0-7818-1126-0), p. 49.
- W. St. Clair Tisdall, Modern Persian Conversation Grammar (London: Nutt, 1902), §40, §208.
- Geoffrey Haig, Linker, relativizer, nominalizer, tense-particle: On the Ezafe in West Iranian available at:http://www.engl.polyu.edu.hk/research/nomz/files/HAI.Iranian.final.pdf, p.2. Accessed 11/22/2013
- Karimi, Yadgar. 2007. "Kurdish Ezafe construction: implications for DP structure". Lingua 117(12):2159-2177.