Farsi vs Dari: Similarities and Differences

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The similarities and differences between Farsi (the language of Iran) and Dari (the language of Afghanistan) in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

Farsi vs Dari: Similarities and Differences
Street scene in Kabul, where Dari is the common language.

Farsi and Dari are the same language. They’re mutually intelligible, have mostly the same grammar, and the formal forms are almost identical — other than regional accents.

In Iran, Iranians refer to their language as Farsi. In Afghanistan, it depends on who you ask. Officially, the language is called Dari. But the reasons for this are said to be political. Farsi has been called Dari in Afghanistan since 1958.

Many Persian speakers in Afghanistan prefer and use the name Farsi. They say the term Dari has been forced on them by the dominant Pashtun ethnic group as an attempt to distance Afghans from their cultural, linguistic, and historical ties to the Persian-speaking world, which includes Iran and Tajikistan.

The difference between Farsi and Dari could be likened to the difference between British and American English. When two newscasters speak there’s little to distinguish them. But if someone from the countryside of either the UK or America met each other, they’d find a lot of differences in pronunciation, slang, and even shortcuts in spoken grammar.

Thus there is no “correct” pronunciation of Farsi/Dari/Persian. Some Iranians think of Afghans as speaking Iran the way it was spoken 50 years ago — before the Soviet invasion in 1979 that divided the two cultures.

For simplicity here, I’ll refer to Persian as it’s spoken in Afghanistan as Dari, and Persian as it’s spoken in Iran (largely referring to the Tehrani accent) as Farsi, even though I recognise the distinction is not that of two languages.

As I speak Farsi natively and have become exposed to Dari through teachers, film, and news radio, I thought I’d give a brief summary of the differences between the two forms of the language.

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Farsi vs Dari — An Overview

Here’s a quick overview of the differences.

  • Vocabulary: Iranian Farsi has a lot of borrowed vocabulary from French. Dari has a lot of borrowed vocabulary from English. Both languages have a mixture of Farsi and Arabic words, often for the same things, but sometimes they use different Arabic words.
  • Grammar: The grammar is largely identical in formal Dari and Farsi. In spoken form, Dari and Farsi modify conjugation and pronunciation in some ways, and there is a degree of overlap in how they do it.
  • Pronunciation: Dari and Farsi have different accents. Dari retains the Arabic “w” pronunciation of waaw/vaav (و), whereas Farsi pronounces it “v”. Dari more often pronounces qaaf (ق) as a hard “q”, whereas Farsi will simplify it to the “gh” of ghayn (غ). Dari also prefers not to have adjacent consonants.

Dari vs Farsi Vocabulary — The Biggest Differences

There’s no bigger difference between Farsi and Dari than in vocabulary.

To an educated native Dari or Farsi speaker they’re almost entirely mutually intelligible (and that “almost” vanishes with a small amount of effort).

But the differences range from everyday words to complicated ones used in government and business, and cover verbs, adjectives, and nouns.

There’s no over-arching rule about how the vocabularies are different. I’ve heard some claim that Afghani Dari has more Arabic words, and some claim that Afghani Dari is more “pure” than Farsi that modern Iranian Farsi… both claims can be supported by some examples, and refuted by others. The best way to summarise the difference is that the vocabularies of Farsi and Dari evolved independently over time and now do not overlap 100%.

But from my observation (and the opinions of those who speak one language, and understand the other)

  • Dari tends to have more imported words from English than Farsi
  • Dari tends to use as many Arabic words, but sometimes they’re different Arabic words

Some examples of words that are different (or used differently) in Farsi and Dari:

EnglishDariFarsi
To eat a mealنان خوردن
(naan khordan)
lit. “to eat bread”
غذا خوردن
(ghazaa khordan)
uses the Arabic word for “lunch”
To speakگپ زدن
(gap zadan)
ancient Farsi word
حرف زدن
(harf zadan)
uses the arabic word for a “letter”
Bicycleبایسیکل
(baisikel)
loan-word from English
دوچرخه
(do charkheh)
lit. “two wheeled thing”
Thank youتشكر
(tashakor)
Arabic word, used in Iran as a verb (for “to thank”)
مرسی
(mersi)
loan-word from French
Hospitalشفاخانه
shafaa khaaneh
“Healing house”
بیمارستان
(bimaar-estaan)
“Place of patients”
OKخوب، خو
(khob, kho)
Means “good”. “kho” is the colloquial variant
باشه
(baasheh)
Means “let it be”.
Carموتور
(motor)
This means “engine” in Farsi
ماشین
(maashin)
Also means “machine”.
Airportمیدان هوائی
(maydaan-e havaa’i)
“Air field”
فرودگاه
(furud-gaah)
“Landing place”
In/atدر
(dar)
Standard Farsi; also used in Iran (but more formal)
تو
(tu)
Colloquial, but very common
To useاستعمال کردن
(este’maal kardan)
This root is used in modern spoken Arabic. In Farsi this means “to employ”
استفاده کردن
(estefaadeh kardan)
Sonبچه
(bachah)
In Farsi this word (bacheh) means “child”
پسر
(pesar)
Meaning (e.g. of a word)مطلب
(matlab)
In Farsi this means content, or subject.
معنی
(ma’ni)
From a more common Arabic root

Obviously there are many more differences. These are just the ones that have come up most often for me in my studies.

Dari vs Farsi Grammar

Overall, formal Farsi and Dari grammar is the same.

The main difference is that in the present continuous tense in Dari the particle daaram (دارم) is not used. It doesn’t carry any specific meaning in Farsi except to emphasise the present continuous (rather than the simple present or future).

In colloquial Dari, there are simplifications made to grammar that are similar in style to those in Farsi, but different in substance.

For example, in colloquial Dari, the first-person subject pronoun “I”, man (من), is pronounced ma, omitting the final -n. This doesn’t happen in Farsi.

Similarly, in the second-person (he/she) singular conjugation, both Farsi and Dari simplify the pronunciation, but in slightly different ways — Farsi changes the -ad ending to -eh, and Dari changes it to -ah. (In Perso-Arabic script, it’s written the same way.)

EnglishStandard Farsi Colloquial FarsiColloquial Dari
he/she doesایشان می کند
ishan mikonad
او می کنه
u mikoneh
او می کنه
u mikonah
he/she saysایشان می گوید
ishan miguyad
او می گه
u migeh
او می گه
u migah

On the other hand, both Farsi and Dari simplify the second-person plural (“you people”) conjugation of verbs the same way. For example “you (pl) do” is written mikhonid (می کنید) and pronounced mikonin in both Dari and Farsi.

In colloquial Dari people add a -gak or -k ending to make something small, displaying affection. For example dokhtarak means “small daughter” but really “beloved daughter”, and bachagak means “small/beloved son”. In each case the daughter/son isn’t necessarily small, and may be an adult.

Dari vs Farsi Pronunciation

The most obvious difference between Dari and Farsi is in pronunciation.

To a Farsi speaker, Afghanis sound like they’re speaking with an Arabic-speaker’s accent. This happens because of both different pronunciation of some words, as well as different “rhythm”.

Broadly, the Tehrani Farsi accent has a more sing-song quality to it than big-city Dari accents, which are more staccato.

Fewer adjacent consonants in Dari

The staccato sound comes from even less willingness in Dari to have adjacent consonants than in Farsi.

In Farsi, words never start with two adjacent consonants. It’s why Persians can’t say “spaghetti” without it sounding like “espaguetti”. (And forget Persians ever saying “squirrel” successfully). But in Dari, this can happen more often.

A few examples are:

  • فکر (to think): pronounced fekr in Farsi, and fakkar in Dari
  • صحبت کردن (to speak): pronounced sohbat kardan in Farsi, and sahabat kardan in Dari

Pronunciation of letters in Dari

The major pronunciation differences between Farsi and Dari are:

  • The letter qaff (ق): Afghans pronounce this similar to Arabic, as a hard “q” sound from the back of the throat. In most of Iran it’s pronounced as they pronounce the letter ghayn (غ), like a French r as in rouge.
  • Short a and long aa vowels: In Tehrani and Shirazi Farsi, the long aa (alef, ا) is pronounced with a u, and the short a (not written) is often changed to an e. For example, to say “I don’t know” in Farsi (نمیدانم), a Tehrani/Shirazi would say “nemidoonam”, whereas an Afghan would say “namidaanam”, and the word for “one” (یک) is pronounced yek in Iran but yak in Afghanistan.
  • The letter waaw/vaav (و): In Afghan Farsi the waaw/vaav consonant is pronounced as a w sound, as in Arabic, whereas in Iran it is more commonly pronounced as a vowel v. For example, the word for “time” (وقت) is pronounced wakht in Afghanistan but vakht in most of Iran.

Colloquial modifications to Dari vs Farsi

Dari also makes different colloquial modifications to words than Farsi does.

  • Dari often drops a final consonant in everyday speech. For example “here” (این جاه) is pronounced in jaah in Farsi, but i jaah in Dari, and “I/me” (من) is pronounced man in Farsi, but ma in Dari.
  • Dari often prefers an -om ending to first-person present-tense verbs, whereas Farsi prefers an -am (see examples below)

Farsi and Dari speakers simplify verbs in similar ways, but pronounce them differently, particularly in the first person. For example:

Englishفارسی/دریStandard Farsi/DariDari pronunciationFarsi pronunciation
I wantمن می خواهمman mikhaahamma mikhaayomman mikhaam
I come/am comingمن می آیمman miyaayamma miyomman miyom
I goمن می رومman miravamma miromman miram
I sayایشان میگویدman miguyamma migomman migam

But Afghans and Irans sometimes both make the same simplifications to pronunciation. Some of these are

  • The letter qaff (ق) is sometimes pronounced as “kh” instead of “q”: In some words, like “time” (وقت) or “point” (نقطه), the same modification is made to the way qaff is pronounced in both Afghanistan and Iran.
  • No other Arabic letters retain their distinct pronunciation in either region. Only qaff (ق) is pronounced differently in Dari. For example, the letters se (س), se se-nokhteh (ث), and saad (ص) are all pronounced with the same “s” sound.

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