Persian Proverbs for Beginners (with English translation)

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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.

Persian proverbs for beginners cover artwork

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Summary table of Persian Proverbs

مرغ همسایه غازهmorgheh hamsayeh ghaazehThe 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 استmaahi raa har vaqt az aab begiri taazeh astWhenever you catch the fish it is fresh.It’s never too late.
هم خدا را می‌خواهد، هم خرما راham khodaa raa mikhaad, ham khormaa raaHe wants both God and the dateYou can’t have your cake and eat it too.
شتر دیدی؟ ندیدیshotor didi? nadidiDid you see the camel? No you did not!You see nothing; you hear nothing.
با یک دست نمی توان دو هندوانه بر داشتbaa yek dast nemitunaan do henduneh bardaashtYou can’t lift two watermelons with one hand.Get some help!
جوینده یابنده است.juyandeh yaabandeh astThe seeker is the finderNothing ventured, nothing gained
نمک خوردن و نمکدون شکستن.namak khordan va namakdun shekastanThey ate salt, and broke the salt shakerDon’t bite the hand that feeds you
هر گردی گردو نیستhar gerdi gerdu nistNot 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 nemishavadSaying “Halva” doesn’t make your mouth sweetWishes don’t wash the dishes
تا تنور داغ است نان باید پخت.taa tanur daagh ast naan bayad pokhtBake bread while the oven is hotMake hay while the sun shines
مگه پول علف خرسهmageh pul alaf-e kherseh?Why, is money just leaves to a bear?Does money grow on trees?
توانا بود هر که دانا بودtavaanaa bovad har keh daanaa bovadWhoever is named (or “wise”) is powerfulKnowledge is power
Persian proverbs table

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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 dates at the core of persian proverbs

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?

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Barbod Rouzbahani
Barbod Rouzbahani
3 years ago

It’s actually “Tavana BOVAD”, not “BUD”.

Felix A. Keller
Felix A. Keller
2 years ago

When l learned Farsi some 30 years ago I came across a proverb: it had to do with “from far away honey (or sweet) from close: Gall (I,think sahreh or similar)”
Can you help me finding it in Farsi?

Mehdi Mousavi
Mehdi Mousavi
Reply to  Felix A. Keller
10 months ago

Az door del mibareh az nazdik zahle. It means someone is charming from far away and scary from close.