Here are a few of my favourite simple Persian Proverbs (with English translation), rich with meaning, but light on complicated vocabulary!
Every language has proverbs. But there are tons of Persian proverbs, and they’re used often (as well as many idioms used in everyday life).
I grew up around some but rarely used them. In reviewing books and lists of proverbs I recognised a few and spoke to my teachers about others.
Here’s my list of favourite Persian proverbs that are easy to digest and fun to use.
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Summary table of Persian Proverbs
|مرغ همسایه غازه||morgheh hamsayeh ghaazeh||The neighbour’s chicken is a goose.||The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence|
|ماهی را هروقت از آب بگیری تازه است||maahi raa har vaqt az aab begiri taazeh ast||Whenever you catch the fish it is fresh.||It’s never too late.|
|هم خدا را میخواهد، هم خرما را||ham khodaa raa mikhaad, ham khormaa raa||He wants both God and the date||You can’t have your cake and eat it too.|
|شتر دیدی؟ ندیدی||shotor didi? nadidi||Did you see the camel? No you did not!||You see nothing; you hear nothing.|
|با یک دست نمی توان دو هندوانه بر داشت||baa yek dast nemitunaan do henduneh bardaasht||You can’t lift two watermelons with one hand.||Get some help!|
|جوینده یابنده است.||juyandeh yaabandeh ast||The seeker is the finder||Nothing ventured, nothing gained|
|نمک خوردن و نمکدون شکستن.||namak khordan va namakdun shekastan||They ate salt, and broke the salt shaker||Don’t bite the hand that feeds you|
|هر گردی گردو نیست||har gerdi gerdu nist||Not every sphere is a walnut.||Not everything that glitters is gold|
|با حلوا حلوا گفتن دهان شیرین نمی شود.||baa halvaa halvaa goftan dahaan shirin nemishavad||Saying “Halva” doesn’t make your mouth sweet||Wishes don’t wash the dishes|
|تا تنور داغ است نان باید پخت.||taa tanur daagh ast naan bayad pokht||Bake bread while the oven is hot||Make hay while the sun shines|
|مگه پول علف خرسه||mageh pul alaf-e kherseh?||Why, is money just leaves to a bear?||Does money grow on trees?|
|توانا بود هر که دانا بود||tavaanaa bovad har keh daanaa bovad||Whoever is named (or “wise”) is powerful||Knowledge is power|
مرغ همسایه غازه — “The Neighbour’s chicken is a goose”
This is my favourite Persian proverb. It says so much.
This might be alarming to you! But it implies a goose is more valuable than a chicken. Even though I’ve never eaten goose, I can understand the allegation.
Persian learner’s notes:
- There’s no “e” sound after the word for chicken (مرغ), but it’s pronounced, to indicate ownership. This is called “ezaafeh”.
- This proverb is colloquial. You say “it’s a goose” by saying “غازه”, rather than the formal Persian of “غاز است”. See here for more on colloquial vs formal Persian.
هر گردی گردو نیست — “Not everything that’s round is a walnut”
Persians love walnuts! The core of a walnut is called its “brain” (مغز), for obvious reasons. (I think this is the real reason why also a lot of people believe walnuts are good for your brain… even though research confirms that they actually are.)
Persian learner’s note: the words for “sphere/circle” (گرد) and “walnut” (گردو) are related, though I’m not sure which comes from which.
هم خدا را می خواهد، هم خرما را — “He/She wants both God and the date”
Many Persian quotes relate to greed and fate. This one is no different: you can’t have both God and the date.
If you’re wondering what the connection in this Persian proverb is between god and a date… it’s just that they rhyme! God is khodaa, and date is khormaa.
Dates are prized in Persian culture, just like they are in most of the Middle East.
Note that Iranian dates are a little different. Softer, and gentler, and preferred by Iranians. (Personally I like Middle Eastern medjoul-style dates, but that’s because I grew up in the West.)
Persian learner’s note: This is a Persian proverb not just because the date is prized, but because the words for “God” (خدا, khodaa)and “date” (خرما, khormaa) happen to rhyme.
با یک دست نمی توان دو هندوانه بر داشت — “You can’t lift two watermelons with one hand”
Iranians love watermelons, so I’d expect to see someone trying to carry as many watermelons as possible.
This isn’t unique to Persian, but I’ve never heard it said in any other language
Persian learner’s note: The word for watermelon (هندوانه) is literally pronounced “hendevaaneh”, but nobody says this in Iran — you’ll only hear people saying it “henduneh”. Just another example of colloquial vs formal pronunciation.
مگه پول علف خرسه — “Why, is money just leaves to a bear?”
This proverb means “money doesn’t grow on trees”. Bears just play on piles of leaves, and you wouldn’t do the same with a pile of money, would you?
Persian learner’s note: This saying has the word مگه (mageh) in it, which literally (and sometimes colloquially) is written مگر (magar).
The Persian word magar is difficult to translate, but you hear it at the beginning of sentences where the speaker is a bit surprised. Like the word “why” in “Why, do you want us to be late?” or “Why, do you think it’s a good idea to play with fire?”
توانا بود هر که دانا بود — Power comes to those that are wise
Or literally — “knowledge is power”.
This Persian quote isn’t unique to Persian. But I’m throwing it in as it has my name, “Dana” in it.
Persian learners — can you see it and see how to spell my name, Dana, in Persian?