Verb conjugation I: Simple past tense

We keep running up against the fact that it’s difficult to give examples of vocabulary without using grammar elements that I haven’t introduced, so I’m going to roll out verb conjugations over a series of posts. Doing this across three languages, four if you count the English I’m trying to explain it in, is complicated by the fact that grammarians give different names to the same concepts in different languages, and conversely the same term might mean different things in each language.

First we look at simple past tense (“did”), which is called the “preterite” tense in my Persian grammar book, whatever the hell that means. Compare this same concept’s different names in English (“simple past”), Arabic (“perfect”), and Turkish (“DI- past”) and you’ll see why this verb conjugation stuff is a bit of a pain in the neck when you’re doing it across multiple languages. We are using the typical “example” verb in Persian learning, کَردَن (kardan, “to do, make”).

  • First person, singular: کَردَم (kardam)
  • Second person, singular: کَردی (kardī)
  • Third person, singular: کَرد (kard)
  • First person, plural: کَردیم (kardīm)
  • Second person, plural: کَردید (kardīd)
  • Third person, plural: کَردَند (kardand)

Passive voice is formed by taking the past participle (past stem–the infinitive with the ن lopped off–plus ه, so کَرده kardah in this case), then the past tense of the verb شُدَن (shudan, “to become”). The third person singular passive would look like this: کَرده شُد (kardah shud). Please note that this particular example is only an example! You will NEVER encounter کَرده شُد in an actual sentence, because for کَردَن, and all compound verbs formed with کَردَن, the passive form actually replaces کَردَن with شُدَن.

To negate past tense, simply put a “na-” before the verb: “I didn’t do” would be نَکَردَم (nakardam), and “it wasn’t done” would be نَکَرده شُد (nakardah shud), for active verbs other than کَردَن, and نَشُد (nashud), if the active verb is کَردَن.

To teach

Following on from yesterday’s entry, let’s look at the word “teach.”

There are a few ways to say “teach” in Persian. Recall from yesterday’s entry that the verb آموختَن (āmūkhtan, present stem آموز amūz) can mean either “to learn” or “to teach.” Two other ways use Arabic-derived nouns in combination with the Persian verb دادَن (dādan, “to give,” present stem دَه dah) to make compound verbs that mean “to give instruction”: دَرس دادَن (dars dādan, the Arabic dars means “study” or “lesson”) and تَعلیم دادَن (taʿlīm dādan, the Arabic taʿlīm means “teaching”). Still another way combines یاد (yād, “memory”) with دادَن to make یاد دادَن (yād dādan, “to give memory”). Since دادَن conjugates the same way no matter what noun you pair it with, I’ll stick to آموختَن and دَرس دادَن for our examples.


“She/he teaches us Persian” = به ما فارسی را می آموزَد (bih mā fārsī rā mī āmuzad, “to us he/she Persian is teaching”)

“Last week I taught them the alphabet” = هَفتهٔ گُذَشته به آنها الِفبا دَرس دادَم (haftah-i goẕashtah bih ānhā alifbā dars dādam, “last week to them the alphabet I taught”)

Related vocabulary:

“Teacher”: the Arabic مُدَرِّس and مُعَلِّم are most often used in Persian, with, as in Arabic, مُدَرِّس suggesting a secondary school teacher or college/university lecturer (though not a professor, who is استاد ustād). You may also see the “purer” Persian term آموزگار (āmūzgār), variant spelling آموختار (āmūkhtār).

“School”: so many ways to say this in Persian; most often the Arabic مَدرَسه (madrasah), which covers higher grades, and also مَکتَب (maktab), which refers mostly to primary school but may cover secondary also in some localities. Again there are “purer” Persian terms, like دِبِستان (dibistān, “elementary school”), دَبیرِستان (dabiristān, “middle school”), and آموزِشگاه (āmūzishgāh, “school, place of آموختَن”).

To learn

Let’s learn the verb “learn,” because it seems appropriate.

We are going with “learn” here in the sense of acquiring new knowledge or skills by study, not “learn” in the sense of “found out,” like “I just learned that your moose dented my car!” They are different concepts and translate differently.

“Learn” can be translated two different ways: آموختَن (āmūkhtan, present stem آموز āmūz) or یاد گِرِفتَن (yād giriftan, present stem یاد گیر yād gīr). The latter literally means “to take a memory,” so it can work either in terms of classroom learning or sort of picking up a bit of trivia, but the former mostly carries the sense of formal learning. The complication, because obviously there must be one, is that آموختَن can also mean “teach” (the corresponding alternative is یاد دادَن yād dādan, “to give a memory”), so context is crucial.


“I am learning Persian” = زَبانِ فارسی را می آموزَم (zabān-i fārsī rā mī āmūzam) OR زَبانِ فارسی را یاد می گیرَم (zabān-i fārsī rā yād mī gīram)

“Yesterday they learned the names of the planets” = دیروز نامهای سیارات را آموختَند (dīrūz nāmhā-yi siyārāt rā āmūkhtand) OR دیروز نامهای سیارات را یاد گِرِفتَند (dīrūz nāmhā-yi siyārāt rā yād giriftand)

Related vocab:

“Education” = آموزِش وَ پَروَرِش (āmūzish va parvarish, “aa-moo-zesho-par-var-esh,” lit. “teaching and training”). Also be aware of تَحصیل (taḥṣīl), from the Arabic verb for “acquire” but in Persian meaning “schooling” or “studies.”

“Student” = دانِش آموز (dānish-āmūz, lit. “knowledge learner,” generally used for elementary-secondary students and not for college students, who are instead called دانشجو dānishjū)

Good Evening

We’ll get to our last family entry, in-laws, at some point, but I realized today that way back when we talked about how to say hello and goodbye I promised a future entry on things like “good morning” and “goodnight.” I hate leaving things hanging like that, so this is that entry.

First, some basic vocabulary:

Morning: صُبح (ṣubḥ), بامداد (bāmdād, specifically “dawn” and seldom used in greetings)

Day: روز (rūz), يَوم (yawm, from Arabic)

Afternoon: بَعد از ظُهر (baʿd az ẓuhr, literally “after noon”)

Evening: عَصر (ʿaṣr), شَب (shab), شام (shām)

Night: شَب (shab)

Good: خوب (khūb), خَير (khayr)

Now for the phrases:

Good morning: صُبح به خَیر (ṣubḥ bi-khayr, “sobh-beh-khayr”); could also be rendered صبح بخیر

Good afternoon: بَعد از ظُهر بِخَیر (baʿd az ẓuhr bi-khayr)

Good evening: عَصر بِخَیر (ʿaṣr bi-khayr)

Goodnight: شَب بِخَیر (shab bi-khayr)

Good day: روزِ خوب (rūz-i khūb) or روزِ خوبی (rūz-i khūbī)

“Have a nice day!”: روز خوبی داشته باشید (rūz-i khūbī dāshtah bāshīd); bāsh is the subjunctive stem of the verb “to be,” بودَن (būdan), so this means “May you have a nice day” (change bāshīd to bāshī for the singular/informal second person).

Family vocab VI: cousins

Family vocab I: mother and father

Family vocab II: child, son and daughter

Family vocab III: brothers and sisters

Family vocab IV: aunts and uncles

Family vocab V: grandparents

I wish there were a simple way to do this, but since Persian distinguishes between paternal and maternal aunts and uncles, there are lots of ways to say “cousin” instead of one word as we have in English. Complicating things further, there are actually two ways to say “cousin,” either as “son/daughter of ____” or as “____’s offspring.” “Offspring” is زاده (zādah, “zaa-deh”), so from that we get:

  • Cousin from paternal uncle = عَمّو‌زاده (ʿammū-zādah)
  • Cousin from paternal aunt = عَمّه‌زاده (ʿammah-zādah)
  • Cousin from maternal uncle = دایی‌زاده (dayī-zādah)
  • Cousin from maternal aunt = خاله‌زاده (khālah-zādah)

If we do this the “son/daughter of ____” way, we get (son first, daughter second):

  • Cousin from paternal uncle = پِسَرِ عَمّو (pisar-i ʿammū) and دُختَرِ عَمّو (dukhtar-i ʿammū)
  • Cousin from paternal aunt = پِسَرِ عَمّه (pisar-i ʿammah) and دُختَرِ عَمّه (dukhtar-i ʿammah)
  • Cousin from maternal uncle = پِسَرِ دایی (pisar-i dāyī) and دُختَرِ دایی (dukhtar-i dāyī)
  • Cousin from maternal aunt = پِسَرِ خاله (pisar-i khālah) and دُختَرِ خاله (dukhtar-i khālah)

Family vocab V: grandparents

Family vocab I: mother and father

Family vocab II: child, son and daughter

Family vocab III: brothers and sisters

Family vocab IV: aunts and uncles

Grandfather can be پِدَربُزُرگ (pidar-buzurg, “peh-dar-bo-zorg,” pl. پِدَربُزُرگها, literally “grand father”), نیا (niyā), پیر مَرد (pīr-mard, literally “old man,” more respectful than it sounds in English) or the Arabic جَدّ (jadd, plural اجداد ajdād). Grandmother is مادَربُزُرگ (mādar-buzurg, pl. مادَربُزُرگها mādar-buzurghā), نَنه‌بُزُرگ (nanah-buzurg, note the relation to “nana”), or the Arabic جَدّه (jaddah).

Family vocab IV: aunts and uncles

Family vocab I: mother and father

Family vocab II: child, son and daughter

Family vocab III: brothers and sisters

A number of languages distinguish between maternal and paternal aunts and uncles; English is not one of them, but Persian can be (though it doesn’t have to be). “Uncle” regardless of the side of the family can be عَمّو (ʿammū, pl. عَمّوها ʿammūhā), but this can also specifically mean paternal uncle, with maternal uncle being دایی (dāyī). “Aunt” may be عَمّه (ʿammah, pl. عَمّه‌ها ʿammah-hā), but this can also be specifically paternal aunt, with maternal aunt being خاله (khālah).

One thing to bear in mind is that we’re talking about blood relatives only; in-laws are another entry.