Persian grammar

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Persian grammar (Persian: دستور زبان فارسی‎‎) is the grammar of the Persian language, whose dialectal variants are spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It is similar to that of many other Indo-European languages. The language became a more analytical language around the time of Middle Persian, with fewer cases and discarding grammatical gender. The innovations remain in Modern Persian, which is one of the few Indo-European languages to lack grammatical gender.

Word order[edit]

While Persian has a standard subject-object-verb (SOV) word order, it is not strongly left-branching. However, because Persian is a pro-drop language, the subject of a sentence is often not apparent until the end of the verb, at the end of a sentence.

  • کتاب آبی را دیدم ketāb-e ābi-rā didam 'I saw the blue book'
  • کتاب آبی را دیدید ketāb-e ābi-rā didid 'you saw the blue book'

Persian in some ways resembles an object-verb-subject (OVS) language, especially for second-language learners. Verb endings can be thought of as a form of pronoun.

The main clause precedes a subordinate clause, often using the familiar Indo-European subordinator ke ("that").

  • به من گفت که امروز نمی آد be man goft ke emruz nemiyād 'he told me that he wasn't coming today'

The interrogative particle āyā (آیا), that asks a yes-no question, in written Persian, appears at the beginning of a sentence. Grammatical modifiers, such as adjectives, normally follow the nouns they modify by using the ezāfe, but they occasionally precede nouns. Persian is one of the few SOV languages to use prepositions. The only case marker in the written language, (را) (in the spoken language, ro or o), follows a definite direct object noun phrase.

  • کتاب آبی را از کتابخانه گرفت ketāb-e ābi-rā az ketābxāne gereft 'she got the blue book from the library'

Normal sentences are subject-preposition-object-verb. If the object is specific, the order is '(S) (O + ) (PP) V'. However, Persian can have a relatively free word order, often called scrambling, because the parts of speech are generally unambiguous, and prepositions and the accusative marker help to disambiguate the case of a given noun phrase. The scrambling characteristic has allowed Persian a high degree of flexibility for versification and rhyming.

Articles[edit]

In the literary language, no definite article (the) is used; rather, it is implied by the absence of the indefinite article (a, an). However, in the spoken language, the stressed suffix -e is often used as a definite article.

  • Literary: کتاب روی میز است ketāb ru-ye miz ast 'the book is on the table'.
  • Spoken: کتابه روی میزه ketābe ru-ye miz e 'the book is on the table'

For plural nouns, the definite plural marker ها functions as both the plural marker and the definite article.

The indefinite article in both spoken and literary Persian is the number one, یک yek, often shortened to ye.

  • روی میز یک کتاب است ru-ye miz yek ketāb ast 'on the table there is a book'

Nouns[edit]

Main article: Persian nouns

Gender[edit]

Persian nouns and pronouns have no grammatical gender. Arabic loanwords with the feminine ending ة- reduce to a genderless Persian ه-, which is pronounced -e.

Many borrowed Arabic feminine words retain their Arabic feminine plural form -āt, but Persian descriptive adjectives modifying them have no gender. Arabic adjectives also lose their gender in Persian.

Plural[edit]

All nouns can be made plural by the suffix ها-‹hā›, which follows a noun and does not change its form. Plural forms are used less often than in English and are not used after numbers or زیاد ziād 'many' or بسیار(ی) "besyār(ī). -hā is used only when the noun has no numbers before it and is definite.

  • سه تا کتاب se tā ketāb 'three books'
  • بسيارى کتاب besyārī ketāb 'many books'
  • کتاب‌های بسیار "ketāb-hāye-besyār" 'many books'
  • کتاب‌ها ketāb-hā 'the books'
  • من کتاب رو دوست دارم man ketab-o dust dāram 'I like the book'
  • آنها دانشجو هستن unā dāneshju hastan 'They are students'
  • آنها دانشجوها هستن unā dāneshjuhā hastan 'They are the students' (the ones I mentioned before)

In the spoken language, when nouns or pronouns end with a consonant, - is reduced to -ā .

  • Written: آنها ānhā 'they'
  • Spoken: unā 'they'

In the literary language, animate nouns generally use the suffix -ān (or variants -gān and -yān) for plurals, but -hā is more common in the spoken language.[1]

  • Literary: پرندگان parandegān 'the birds'
  • Spoken: پرنده‌ها parandehā 'the birds'

Nouns borrowed from Arabic usually have special plurals, formed with the ending -āt or by changing the vowels. Arabic nouns can generally take Persian plural endings, but the original form is sometimes more common. The most common plural form depends on the individual word.

Cases[edit]

There are two cases in Persian: nominative (or subject) case and accusative (or object) case. The nominative is the unmarked form of a noun, but when the noun is followed by a or suffix -o, it is in the accusative. The other oblique cases are marked by prepositions.

  • Nominative: کتاب آنجاست ketāb ānjāst / کتاب‌ها آنجایند ketābhā ānjāyand ('the book is there/ the books are there')

Inanimate subjects do not require plural verb forms, especially in the spoken language: ketābhā unjāst ('the books "is" there').

  • accusative: کتاب را بده به من ketāb-o (ketāb-rā) bede be man 'give me the book'
  • possession using ezāfe: کتاب آراش ketāb-e Ārash 'Arash's book'

Pronouns[edit]

Subject pronouns[edit]

Persian is a null-subject, or pro-drop, language so personal pronouns (e.g. 'I', 'he', 'she') are optional. Pronouns add when they are used as the object but otherwise stay the same. The first-person singular accusative form من را man rā 'me' can be shortened to marā or, in the spoken language, mano. Pronominal genitive enclitics (see above) are different from normal pronouns, however.

Literary forms
Person Singular Plural
1st man مَن mā ما
2nd to تو shomā شُما
3rd u او (human) ān آن (non-human),
vey وِى* (human only, literary)
ānhā آنہا (non-human/human),
ishān ایشان (human only and formal)

* rarely used

Spoken forms
Person Singular Plural
1st man مَن mā ما
2nd to تو shomā شُما
3rd u او
ishun ایشان* (honorary)
unhā/unā آنها (normal),
ishun ایشان (honorary)

* uses 3rd person plural verb form

Persian resembles French in that the second person plural pronoun 'shomā' is used as a polite form of address. Persian 'to' is used among intimate friends (the so-called T–V distinction). However, Persian also resembles Hindustani in that the third person plural form, with the pronoun ishun, is used for politeness to refer to one person, especially in the presence of that person:[2]

  • ببخشید شما آمریکایی هستین؟ bebakhshid, shomā āmrikāyi hastin? 'excuse me, are you an American?'
  • ایشان به من گفتن بریم تو ishun be man goftan, berim tu 'he said to me, "Let's go in." '

Possessive determiners[edit]

Possession is often expressed by adding suffixes to nouns. The same suffixes are used as object pronouns.

Possessive Determiners (Literary Forms)
Person Singular Plural
1st -am ـم -emān ـمان
2nd -at ـت -etān ـتان
3rd -ash ـش -eshān ـشان
Possessive Determiners (Spoken Forms)
Person Singular Plural
1st -am -emun
2nd -et -etun
3rd -esh -eshun

Examples:

  • کتابتان روی میزه ketābetun ru-ye miz e 'your book is on the table'
  • کتابتم روی میز است ketābam ru-ye miz ast 'my book is on the table'

When the stem to which they are added ends in a vowel, a y is inserted for ease of pronunciation. However, with the plural marker ها, it is also common to drop the -a/-e stem from the possessive marker. For example, 'my cars' could be translated as either ماشین هایم (māshinhāyam) with the y-stem or ماشین هام (māshinhām). It can be simplified even more to the colloquial spoken form by dropping h, for ease of pronunciation, to ماشینام (māshinām). Sometimes, ها is written attached to the word: ماشینها.

Ezāfe[edit]

Another way of expressing possession is by using subject pronouns or a noun phrase with ezāfe.

  • کتاب شما روی میزه ketāb-e shomā ru-ye miz e 'your book is on the table'
  • کتاب من روی میزه ketāb-e man ru-ye miz e 'my book is on the table'
  • کتاب استاد روی میز است ketāb-e ostād ru-ye miz ast 'the professor's book is on the table'

Object pronouns[edit]

The object pronouns are the same as the possessive pronouns but are attached to verbs instead of nouns: 'Yesterday I saw him.'

Direct object incorporation
diruz u rā didam دیروز او را دیدَم Yesterday I saw him.
diruz didamesh دیروز دیدَمَش Yesterday I saw him.

Adjectives[edit]

Adjectives typically follow the nouns they modify, using the ezāfe construct. However, adjectives can precede nouns in compounded derivational forms such as khosh-bakht (literally 'good-luck') 'lucky', and bad-kār (literally 'bad-deed') 'wicked'. Comparative forms ('more ...') make use of the suffix -tar (تَر), and the superlative form ('the most ...') uses the suffix -tarin (تَرین).

Comparatives used attributively follow the nouns they modify, but superlatives precede their nouns.

The word 'than' is expressed by the preposition از (az):

  • سگ من از گربه‌ی تو کوچک‌تر است sag-e man az gorbe-ye to kuchektar ast 'my dog is smaller than your cat'

Verbs[edit]

Main article: Persian verbs

Normal verbs can be formed using the following pattern:

NEG - DUR or SUBJ/IMPER - root - PAST - PERSON - OBJ

  • Negative prefix: na, which changes to ne before the Imperfective prefix (mi)
  • Imperfective or durative prefix: mi
  • Subjunctive/Imperative prefix: be
  • Past suffix: d, which changes to t after unvoiced consonants
  • Personal suffix: e.g. -am 'I', -i 'you (sg.)' etc.
  • Object suffix: the most commonly used is -ash or -esh 'him/her/it'
Person Suffixes (Literary Forms)
Person Singular Plural
1st -am ـم -im ـیم
2nd -i ـی -id ـید
3rd -ad* ـد -and ـند

* In the past tense, the past stem alone is used without any ending (e.g. raft رفت , not *raftad رفتد)

Person Suffixes (Spoken Forms)
Person Singular Plural
1st -am -im
2nd -i -id/-in
3rd -e* -an

* In the past tense, the past stem alone is used without any ending (raft رفت, not *rafte رفته)

Object suffixes (Literary Forms)
Person Singular Plural
1st -am ـم -emān ـمان
2nd -at ـت -etān ـتان
3rd -ash ـش -eshān ـشان
Object suffixes (Spoken Forms)
Person Singular Plural
1st -am -emun
2nd -et -etun
3rd -esh -eshun

Tenses[edit]

Main article: Persian verbs

Here are the most common tenses:

Infinitive[edit]

The infinitive ending is formed with ن- (-an): خوردن (khordan) 'to eat'. The basic stem of the verb is formed by deleting this ending: خورد (khord).

Past[edit]

The past tense is formed by deleting the infinitive ending and adding the personal endings to the stem. In the third person singular, however, there is no personal ending so خوردن (khordan) would become خورد (khord), 'he/she/it ate'.

Imperfect[edit]

The imperfect tense is made by taking the past tense as described above and prefixing it with 'می' (mi-), thus ميخوردم (mikhordam) 'I was eating', 'I used to eat'. This tense can also have a conditional meaning: 'I would eat', 'I would have eaten'.

Perfect[edit]

The perfect tense is formed by taking the stem of the verb, adding ه (e) to the end and then adding the different persons of the present tense of 'to be'. So خوردن (khordan) in the perfect first person singular would be خورده ام (khorde am) 'I have eaten' and the 3rd person singular would become خورده است (khorde ast). However, in the spoken form, ast is omitted, making خورده (khorde) 's/he has eaten'.

Pluperfect[edit]

The pluperfect tense formed by taking the stem of the perfect, e.g. خورده (khorde), adding بود (bud), and finally adding the personal endings: 'خورده بودم' (khorde budam), 'I had eaten'. In the third person singular, بود bud is added (with no ending).

Future[edit]

The future tense is formed by taking the present tense form of 'خواستن' (khāstan), to want, and conjugating it to the correct person; this verb in third person singular is 'خواهد' (khāhad). Next, it is put in front of the shortened infinitive of the verb, e.g. خورد (khord), thus خواهد خورد (khāhad khord) 'he/she/it will eat'. For compound verbs, such as تمیز کردن (tamiz kardan) 'to clean', خواهد goes in between both words, and کردن is reduced to its stem, thus تمیز خواهد کرد (tamiz khāhad kard) 'he/she/it will clean'. In the negative, 'خواهد' receives ن. na- to make نخاهد خورد nakhāhad khord 'he will not eat'. The future tense is generally avoided in colloquial Persian.

Present[edit]

The present tense is formed by taking the present stem of the verb, adding the prefix 'می' (mi-), and conjugating it. The present stem is often not predictable from the infinitive and so is to be learnt separately. The present stem of the verb خوردن (khordan) 'to eat' for example, is خور (khor), so the present first person singular would be می خورم (mikhoram) 'I eat, am eating, do eat'. The third person singular ending is د- (-ad). The negative -ن is pronounced ne before , but in all other tenses, it is pronounced na. Frequently the present tense is used together with an adverb (for example: فردا fardā 'tomorrow') instead of the future tense described above.

  • فردا به سينما مى رود - fardā be sinemā miravad 'tomorrow he will go to cinema'

Present subjunctive[edit]

The present subjunctive is made by changing the prefix mi- of the present tense to be- or bo- (before a verb with the vowel o): بخورم bokhoram 'I may eat', 'let me eat', بنويسم benevisam 'I may write', 'let me write'.

Compound verbs[edit]

Light verbs such as کردن (kardan) 'to do, to make' are often used with nouns to form what is called a compound verb, light verb construction, or complex predicate. For example, the word گفتگو (goftegu) means 'conversation', while گفتگو کردن (goftegu kardan) means 'to speak'. One may add a light verb after a noun, adjective, preposition, or prepositional phrase to form a compound verb. Only the light verb (e.g. kardan) is conjugated; the word preceding it is not affected:

  • dāram goftegu mikonam (دارم گفتگو می‌کنم) ('I am speaking')
  • goftegu karde am (گفتگو کرده ام) ('I have spoken')
  • goftegu khāham kard (گفتگو خواهم کرد) ('I will speak')

Other examples of compound verbs with kardan:

  • farāmush kardan (فراموش کردن), 'to forget'
  • gerye kardan (گریه کردن), 'to cry'
  • telefon kardan (تلفن کردن), 'to call, to telephone'
  • bāzsāzi kardan (بازسازی کردن), 'to fix'

Auxiliary verbs[edit]

  • bāyad (باید) - 'must': Not conjugated. Dependent clause is subjunctive
  • shāyad (شاید) - 'might': Not conjugated. Dependent clause is subjunctive
  • tavānestan (توانستن) - 'can' (literally 'to be able to'): Conjugated. The dependent clause is subjunctive
  • khāstan (خواستن) - 'want': Conjugated. Dependent clause is subjunctive
  • khāstan (خواستن) - 'will': Conjugated. Main verb is tenseless

Simplified spoken verbs[edit]

In the spoken language, certain commonly used verbs are pronounced in a shortened form:

  • رفتن raftan, 'to go' (Literary present form -rav-) Spoken present form -r-. E.g. mi-r-am 'I go.' mi-r-i 'You go.' be-r-im 'Let's go.'
  • دادن dādan, 'to give' (Literary present form -deh-) Spoken present form -d-. E.g. mi-d-am. 'I give.' mi-d-im. 'We give.'
  • گفتن goftan, 'to say' (Literary present form -gu-) Spoken present form -g-. E.g. mi-g-am. 'I say.' mi-g-in 'You say.'
  • آمدن āmadan, 'to come' (Literary present form -āy-) Spoken present form -ā-. E.g. mi-yā-m, 'I am coming'
  • خواستن khāstan, 'to want' (Literary present form -khāh-) Spoken present form -khā-. E.g. mi-khā-m 'I want'

Prepositions[edit]

Prepositions in Persian generally behave like in English and precede their object. They come in two kinds: the basic prepositions such as dar 'in', which are placed directly before the noun or pronoun without an ezāfe, and a more numerous class, made from nouns or adverbs joined to the following noun by an ezāfe (-e or -ye). They include the following:

  • az (از) 'from'
  • (با) 'with'
  • bar' (بر) 'on'
  • barā-ye (برای) 'for'
  • be (به) 'to'
  • bi (بی) 'without'
  • dar (در) 'in'
  • mānand-e (مانندِ) 'like'
  • mesl-e (مثل) 'like'
  • ru-ye (روی) 'on'
  • (تا) 'till, until'
  • zir-e (زير) 'under'

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mahootian, Shahrzad (1997). Persian. London: Routledge. p. 190. ISBN 0-415-02311-4. 
  2. ^ Obolensky et al. (1963), p.87.

Bibliography[edit]

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  • Johnson, Edwin Lee (1917). Historical Grammar of the Ancient Persian Language
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  • Rafiee, Abdi (1975). Colloquial Persian. Routledge.
  • Rosen, Friedrich (reprinted 2010). Modern Persian Colloquial Grammar: Containing a Short Grammar, Dialogues and Extracts from Nasir-Eddin Shah's Diaries, Tales, Etc., and a Vocabulary (originally written in German in 1890).
  • St. Clair-Tisdall, William (1902). Modern Persian Conversation-Grammar; With Reading Lessons, English-Persian Vocabulary and Persian Letters
  • Stilo, Donald L.; Clinton Jerome (1994). Modern Persian: Spoken and Written.
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  • Windfuhr, Gernot L. (1979). Persian Grammar: History and State of Its Study (Trends in Linguistics State of the Art Reports, No 12)
  • Windfuhr, Gernot L. (1980). Modern Persian: Intermediate level 1. University of Michigan Press.
  • Yousef, Saeed & Torabi, Hayedeh (2012): Basic Persian: A Grammar and Workbook. Routledge.
  • Yousef, Saeed & Torabi, Hayedeh (2013): Intermediate Persian: A Grammar and Workbook. Routledge.

External links[edit]

Online Persian verb conjugators[edit]