Farsi/Persian (Iran)


The major Iranian languages are Persian, Kurdish, Pashto and Baluchi. The following section will focus on the Persian (Farsi) language because it is the official language of Iran and is spoken about 50% of the population.

Persian (Farsi)

A total of around 61 million people speak Farsi as a native language and at least another 49 million speak it as a second language. Persian is also spoken by significant populations in other Persian Gulf countries, as well as large communities in the USA.

Farsi is a member of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. There are three major dialect divisions of Persian: Farsi (spoken in Iran), Dari (spoken in Afghanistan), and Tajik (spoken in areas of Central Asia). All are more or less mutually intelligible.

Estimates of Persian-Speaking People Outside Iran:
    •    United States - 1.5 million
    •    Turkey - 800,000
    •    UAE - 350,000
    •    Iraq - 250,000
    •    Germany - 110,000
    •    England - 80,000
    •    Canada - 75,000


Persian Alphabet

The Farsi alphabet is based on the Arabic alphabet, although it has some additional letters that do not exist in Arabic. The Farsi alphabet consists of 32 letters. Farsi is usually written using only consonants and long vowels. Short vowels are not shown in writing, as if the word “container” were written as “cntnr”. This, of course, creates certain ambiguities. There are small marks which can be used above or below letters to indicate short vowels, but these diacritic marks are normally used only by children or by people learning Farsi as a foreign language. The short vowels are pronounced even though they are usually not written.

Farsi is written in a flowing script that runs from right to left, the opposite of English. Most Farsi letters connect to the letters preceding and following them, just as in English cursive writing. Because of these connections, letters often change shape depending on their placement within a word. Generally, a letter will have one shape at the beginning of a word, another shape in the middle of a word, a third shape at the end of a word, and a fourth shape when it is standing by itself.



The Persian language has six vowels and two diphthongs.                                                            


Persian has 23 consonant phonemes. Alveolar stops /t/ and /d/ are either apico-alveolar or apico-dental. The unvoiced plosives /p, t, ʧ, k/ are aspirated much like their English counterparts: they become aspirated when they begin a syllable, though aspiration is not contrastive. When /ɣ/ occurs at the beginning of a word, it is realized as a voiced uvular plosive.

Phological Differences Between Farsi and English

  • Farsi and English phonological systems vary extensively, not only in the range of sounds used, but also in the relative importance of vowels and consonants in expressing meaning
  • Some of the letters in Persian don’t exist in English and vice versa
  • The Farsi phoneme ɣ does not occur in English
  • The English phonemes /w/, /ð/, /θ/, /ŋ/ do not occur in Farsi
  • Persian morphology is an affixal system consisting mainly of suffixes, a few prefixes and a small number of affixes.
  • There are no case forms and no gender distinctions in Persian. Person, number and sometimes animacy, however, are distinguished. Although there is no overt definite marker, a suffix is used on nouns and adjectives to indicate indefiniteness.
  • The elements within a Noun Phrase are linked by the enclitic particle called ezafe. This morpheme is usually an unwritten vowel, but it could also have an orthographic realization in certain phonological environments. The role of the ezafe is to mark nominal determination and it indicates nothing as to the nature of the semantic relation between the linked elements. In most cases, this relation can be translated as a genitive (or possessive) structure.
  • Adjectives follow the same morphological patterns as nouns. They can also appear with comparative and superlative morphemes. Certain adverbs, mainly manner adverbs, can behave like adjectives and can appear with all the adjectival affixes. Personal pronouns can appear either as free forms or as clitics.
  • Most verbal constructions in Persian are formed using a light verb such as kardan (do, make), dâdan (give), zadan (hit, strike).
  • Certain ambiguities arise in a morphological analysis of written text because different morphemes have the same surface form. This, combined with the fact that the short vowels are not written, give rise to a few parallel analyses of inflected words.
Morphological Similarities and Differences Between Farsi and English
  • Like English, Farsi has an affixitive morphology
  • Like English nouns, Farsi nouns are modified to signify possession, agency, and plurality.
  • Farsi verbs are modified more extensively than English verbs. Farsi verb forms vary according to tense, person, negation, and mood.

Word Order

  • Persian has a Subject Object Verb (SOV) word order and it is not strongly left-branching.
  • The main clause precedes a subordinate clause.
  • The interrogative particle āyā (آیا), which asks a yes/no question, appears at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Modifiers normally follow the nouns they modify, although they can precede nouns in limited uses. The language uses prepositions, uncommon to many SOV languages. The one case marker, rā (را), follows the accusative noun phrase.
  • Normal sentences are structured subject-preposition-object-verb. If the object is specific, then the order is ”(S) (O + “rā”) (PP) V”. However, Persian can have relatively free word order, often called “scrambling.” This is because the parts of speech are generally unambiguous, and prepositions and the accusative marker help disambiguate the case of a given noun phrase.


  • Persian nouns have no grammatical gender.
  • Persian nouns mark with an accusative marker only for the specific accusative case; the other oblique cases are marked by prepositions.
  • Possession is expressed by special markers: if the possessor appears in the sentence after the thing possessed, the ezāfe may be used; otherwise, alternatively, a pronominal genitive enclitic is employed.


  • The most common and productive form of pluralization for Persian nouns is with the suffix hā (ها). This is typically used for non-human nouns.
  • Another productive plural suffix is ān (ان), used for human nouns.
  • Many nouns borrowed from Arabic feminine forms pluralize using the āt (ات) suffix. Nouns borrowed from Arabic human forms often pluralize using the in (ین)
  • The most challenging type of nominal pluralization is for the so-called Arabic broken plurals. These nouns pluralize like their Arabic language counterparts: the internal vowels change in unpredictable ways.
  • Persian is a null-subject, or pro-drop language, so nominal pronouns are optional.
  • Pronouns generally are the same for nominative, accusative, oblique, and genitive (ezāfe) cases.
  • The first-person singular accusative form mæn rā can be shortened to mærā. Pronominal genitive enclitics (see above) are different from the normal pronouns, however.                                                                        


  • Adjectives typically follow the nouns they modify, using the ezāfe construct. However, adjectives can precede nouns in compounded derivational forms, such as khosh-bækht (lit. good-luck) 'lucky', and bæd-kār (lit. bad-deed) 'wicked'. Comparative forms make use of the suffix tær (تَر), while the superlative form uses the suffix tærin (تَرین). 35)


  • Prepositions in Persian generally behave similarly to those in English – they precede their object.

Syntactic Similarities and Differences Between Farsi and English

  • Farsi is a Subject Object Verb (SOV) language. English is predominantly a subject verb object (SVO) language.
  • Yes/No questions in Farsi are indicated by the interrogative particle āyā (آیا)at the beginning of the sentence while in English questions are indicated by rising intonation at the end. 
  • Farsi and English are both predominantly right-branching. 
  • Farsi and English nouns have no grammatical gender.
  • Farsi and English both express pluralization by attaching a suffix to a noun. Farsi has a separate suffix for human and non-human nouns. 
  • In Farsi adjectives typically follow the nouns they modify while in English they typically precede the noun.
  • Farsi and English prepositions typically precede their object.



Detailed information about intonation.


One syllable in each word (or breath group) is stressed, and knowing the rules is conducive to proper pronunciation.

General Rules

  • Stress falls on the last stem syllable of most words.
  • Exceptions and clarifications
  • Stress falls on the first syllable of interjections, conjunctions and vocatives. 
  • Never Stressed
  • Personal suffixes on verbs (-am “I do..”, -i “you do..”, .., -and “they do..”) 
  • A small set of very common noun enclitics: the ezāfe (-e/-ye) “of”, -rā ”[direct object marker]”, -i “a, an”, -o “and”
  • Possessive and pronoun-object suffixes
  • Always Stressed
  • Personal suffixes on the positive future auxiliary verb 
  • Negative verb prefix na-/ne-, if present
  • If na-/ne- is not present, then the first non-negative verb prefix , and the prefix noun in compound verbs
  • The last syllable of all other words, including the infinitive ending -an and the participial ending -te in verbal derivatives, noun suffixes like -i ”-ish” and -egi, all plural suffixes (-hā, -ān), adjective comparative suffixes (-tar, -tarin), and ordinal-number suffixes (-om).

Paralinguistic Similarities and Differences Between Farsi and English

In Farsi stress falls on the last stem syllable of most words, while in English word stress is not always on the same syllable.

Colloquial Persian

When spoken formally, Iranian Persian is pronounced as written. But colloquial pronunciation as used by all classes makes a number of very common substitutions.

  • Written -ɒn- is nearly always pronounced /-un-/. The only common exceptions are high prestige words, like the Qur'an /ɢoɾʔɒn/, and Iran /iɾɒn/, which are pronounced as written. A few words with -ɒm- are pronounced /-um-/, especially the verb “to come”. 
  • The unstressed direct object suffix marker rɒ is pronounced /ro/, or /o/ after a consonant. 
  • The stems of many verbs have a short colloquial form, especially æst “he/she is” is colloquially pronounced /e/ after a consonant. 
  • The 2nd and 3rd person plural suffixes -id and -ænd become /-in/ and /-æn/, respectively. 
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  • Many frequently-occurring verbs become shortened, such as mixɒhæm “I want” to mixɒm, and mirævæm “I go” to miræm.



Taarof (Iranian Politeness)

  • Taarof is a system of politeness that includes both verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Iranians protest compliments and attempt to appear vulnerable in public.
  • They will belittle their own accomplishments in an attempt to appear humble, although other Iranians understand that this is merely courtesy and do not take the words at face value.
  • In adherence to taarof, if you are ever offered something, like a tea or sweet, even if you want it, at first decline it until their insistence becomes greater.

Professional Etiquette

  • Introductions are generally restricted to members of the same sex since men and women socialize separately.
  • Greetings tend to be affectionate. Men kiss other men and women kiss other women at social events. If they meet on the street, a handshake is the more common greeting
  • When Iranians greet each other they take their time and converse about general things. 
  • The most common greeting is “salaam alaykum” or more simply “salaam” (peace). 

If you are invited to an Iranian's house

  • Check to see if the host is wearing shoes. If not, remove yours at the door. 
  • Dress conservatively. 
  • Try to arrive at the invited time. Punctuality is appreciated and seen as a virtue. 
  • Show respect for the elders by greeting them first. 
  • Check to see if your spouse is included in the invitation. Conservative Iranians do not entertain mixed-sex groups. 
  • Expect to be shown into the guests’ room. It is usually lavishly furnished with European furniture. 
  • Shake everyone’s hand individually. 
  • Accept any offer of food or drink. Remember to do ‘taarof’.


According to the CIA World Factbook, from information collected in 2003, 85.6% of males and 73% of females over the age of 15 are literate, Thus 79.4% of the population is literate.

Implications for the SLP

  • Remember that Farsi is written right to left, so one may have to make it explicit that English is written left to right.
  • Be aware that short vowels are not shown when in writing in Farsi, creating certain ambiguities.
  • If a bilingual child is using a Subject-Object-Verb order when speaking English, this may be an overgeneralization from Farsi. 
  • Clinician should be aware that in Farsi adjectives typically follow the nouns they modify while in English they typically precede the noun. 
  • Because word stress falls on the last stem syllable of most words in Farsi, it would not be not uncommon for an English learner to incorrectly place stress on the last syllable of some English words.
  • The English phonemes /w/, /ð/, /θ/, /ŋ/ do not occur in Farsi. Consequently Farsi speakers may find them more difficult to pronounce.
  • Some Iranians may have different views regarding the etiology of diseases and disorders. 
  • Religious practices, such as Ramadan and daily prayer times, should be considered when scheduling appointments. 
  • Since Iranian families generally try to solve problems within the family, they may feel hesitant about seeking outside assistance.
  • The male is head of the family and makes most major domestic and financial decisions. Therefore, be sure his viewpoint is taken into consideration.


Original Contributor: Amy Wahlstrom, Winter term 2007