Introduction to Tajik Persian 4 – Differences in Grammar

Posted  26 Jun 2020

The Persian language, at its core, represents a continuum of regional dialects standardised in history through convergence and literary prestige, and in modern times through nation building. Although Iranian Persian, Afghan Persian, and Tajik Persian came from one and same literary standard moulded through a long history of common usage, the three Persian-speaking nation states had separate visions for the language and therefore separate efforts to standardise within their respective political borders in the 20th century. Soviet Tajik linguists purposefully selected varieties of Persian as different as possible from Iranian and Afghan Persian for the standardised Tajik Persian to be based on. Therefore, although Tajik Persian, especially in its written form, is almost identical to Iranian Persian in grammar, there are some pronounced differences that learners and speakers of Iranian Persian should pay attention to when trying to access it. This week, we will look at these main differences in grammar. Bear in mind, though, that the differences are not absolute – not all Tajik speakers use these grammatical features in their speech or their writing and some may frown upon them, considering them to be substandard.



1. Lack of ب/bi- in the subjunctive, optative, and imperative

The verb prefix /bi- used frequently in subjunctive, optative, and imperative phrases in Iranian Persian has the same usage in Tajik Persian, only with reduced frequency. In this respect, Tajik Persian is more similar to Classical Persian. In the subjunctive, you will find Tajiks saying, for example, Бояд равам/Bāyad ravam ‘I must go’ and Мехоҳам кунам/Mēkhāham kunam ‘I want to do (it)’ more readily than Мехоҳам биравам/Bāyad biravam (Iranian Persian باید بر(و)م/Bāyad bera(va)m) and Мехоҳам бикунам/Mēkhāham bikunam (Iranian Persian می‌خواهم بکنم/Mīkhāham bokonam), Ӯ кунад /Ū kunad ‘Let him do (it)’ more readily than Ӯ бикунад/Ū bikunad (Iranian Persian او بکند/Ū bokonad), and Рав/Raw! ‘Go!’, Бин/Bīn! ‘Look!’ instead of Бирав/Biraw!, Бу(и)бин/Bu(i)bīn! (Iranian Persian برو/Boro, ببین/Bebīn). And by the way, the Tajik Persian for ‘Stop!’ is Ист/Īst.


2. The present and past continuous

In Iranian Persian, the continuous, i.e. the verb form used to say you are or were doing something, is expressed through the present tense of داشتن/dāshtan ‘to have’ plus the present tense of a verb with می/mī-: دارم میایم/dāram mīāyam ‘I am coming’. In Tajik Persian, however, it is expressed by the past participle of the verb, plus the past participle of the verb истодан/īstādan ‘to stand, to stop’, plus the conjugated forms of будан/būdan ‘to be’ in the present or the past. For example:

Рафта истодаам/Rafta īstāda’am ‘I am going’.

Карда истода будам/Karda īstāda budam ‘I was doing (it).

If you are familiar with Turkic, you must have realised that this construction is, in form, a calque of the Turkic -b tur- form.


3. Verb of intentionality

Another classical feature preserved in Tajik Persian is what Tajik grammarians call феъли хоҳишмандӣ/fe’l-i khāhishmandī ‘verb of intentionality’. The formation is verb infinitive + + personal endings. It denotes an action you intend to carry out, which is in between the future tense and simply expressing a wish, e.g. Ман имрӯз ба деҳа рафтаниям/Man imrōz ba deha raftaniyam ‘I intend to/am to go to the village today’. In modern Iranian Persian, infinitive + –ī also exists but mostly functions as an adjective, meaning ‘worthy of…’ (e.g. دیدنی/dīdanī ‘worthy seeing’, گفتنی/goftanī ‘to be said’) and ‘-able’ (e.g. کردنی/kardanī ‘feasiable, doable’).


4. The باش/bāsh- present stem of Persian

Tajiks use the باش/bāsh– present stem of Persian more frequently than Iranians, especially in factual statements that have some sort of formality. For example, Ман донишҷӯ мебошам ва ӯ коргар мебошад /Man dānishjō mēbāsham va ū kārgar mēbāshad ‘I am a student and she is a worker’, where Iranians tend to prefer the هست/hast– present stem, i.e. هستم/hastam, هست/hast etc.



Syntax is the area which exhibits the major differences between Tajik Persian and Iranian Persian.

1. Postpositions

Persian speakers are familiar with prepositions – those little words placed before a noun, such as به/be ‘to, towards’, در/dar ‘in’, برای/barā-ye ‘for’, etc. Postpositions are like prepositions but are placed, as the name suggests (post means ‘after’ in Latin), after a noun. Postpositions do not exist in any standardised versions of Persian, but in colloquial Tajik, the use of postpositions is abundant. Many would say that this is evidently under the influence of Turkic – although this is a reasonable assumption, given that Tajik Persian is surrounded by Turkic languages. But because postpositions are attested in Iranian languages throughout history, it is impossible to make a decisive judgement on the provenance of the use of postpositions in Tajik. Most postpositions in Tajik are in fact the prepositions you are familiar with simply placed after the noun. The most widely used ones are:

a) ба/ba

Ба/ba, of course, is the به/ba of Classical Persian (pronounced be in Iranian Persian), which, classically, means both ‘to’ and ‘in, at’, and these are the two meanings it still has in Tajik. When preposed, ба/ba only has the meaning ‘towards’ in Tajik, because ‘in, at’ is дар/dar, like in modern Iranian and Afghan Persian. Thus, in Tajik, colloquially, you will hear инҷоба/īnjāba ‘(over) here’, Бухороба рафтам/Bukhārāba raftam ‘I went to Bukhara’. The instrumental ба/ba ‘with, by’ is never postposed in Tajik. In Bukhara and Samarkand dialects, the use of ба/ba as a locative and allative (motion towards) postposition is almost universal.

b) да/da

Да/da has the same usage as ба/ba, i.e. the locative or the allative preposition. Despite the fact that it is identical with the Turkic locative case marker -da, it is unlikely that the Tajik да/da is borrowed from Turkic. It is most likely a shortened form of the preposition дар/dar ‘in, into’, which, indeed, is habitually pronounced as da in colloquial Afghan Persian. This is cognate with the postposition ‘in, at’ in Talysh, and the preposition di ‘in, at’ in Kurmanji Kurdish – two of Persian’s closest relatives. Another piece of evidence is that in some Tajik dialects, да/da is in the form of анда/anda, which is evidently the Classical Persian اندر/andar ‘inside’, the emphatic form of در/dar, with the final r left out. اندر/andar in Classical Persian can often be used after a noun, usually together with the locative به/ba placed in front of the noun, forming a circumposition به… اندر/ba… andar (e.g. به خانه اندر/ba khāna andar = اندر خانه/andar khāna = در خانه/dar khāna ‘at home, in the house’), which would explain the origin of the Tajik анда/anda.

c) Қати (кати)/qati (kati)

Қати/qati, sometimes also pronounced кати/kati, is of Turkic origin (qat in Turkic means ‘fold’) and means ‘with’ (although in Turkic, it does not mean ‘with’ at all), both in its comitative (i.e. ‘together with’) sense and its instrumental (i.e. ‘by means of, using’). Thus, colloquially, a Tajik may say, for example, Мошин қати рафтам/Māshīn qati raftam ‘I went by car’ and also Оила қати рафтам /Āila qati raftam ‘I went with family’. Қати (кати)/qati (kati) may also be used as a preposition, which is also the most common way of saying ‘with’ in Afghan Persian. It does not exist in Iranian Persian.


2. The Turkic yes-no question marker ми/mi

In colloquial Tajik, a yes-no question can often be asked with the particle ми/mi tagged on the end, e.g. Рафтӣ ми/Raftī mi? ‘Did you go?’. Unlike in Turkic, however, this is not a compulsory syntactic feature in Tajik, as it is a borrowing from Turkic, and its use depends on the speaker’s background. Many Tajiks never ask a yes-no question with ми/mi in the end, just like Iranian and Afghan speakers; those who use ми/mi may use it in one question but not the next.


3. The –дагӣ/-dagī

In Tajik Persian, in addition to the usual past participle ending in -да/-da (pronounced de in Iranian Persian) e.g. карда/karda ‘done’, дида/dīda ‘seen’, рафта/rafta ‘gone’ (the d becomes t after a voiceless consonant) etc., there exists another past participle ending -дагӣ/-dagī (presented, perhaps erroneously, by most grammarians as -агӣ/-agī) used mostly in colloquial Tajik. The -дагӣ/-dagī ending consists of the usual past participle ending –da with the resurfacing historical sound g (all past participles in Middle Persian end in –dag, of which the g is truncated in New Persian), plus the adjectival ending –ī, and performs various syntactic functions:

a) As an adjective

As an adjective, -дагӣ/-dagī replaces the subordinate clause introduced by که/ki in Classical Persian (and in other modern Persian varieties): кори шудагӣ/kār-i shudagī ‘finished work, the work that has been finished’ (= коре, ки шудааст/kārē ki shuda’st), китоби хондагӣ/kitāb-i khāndagī ‘the book that has been read’ (= китобе, ки хонда шудааст/kitābē ki khānda shuda’st). A possessive suffix can be added to it to specify who completed the action: китоби хондагиям/kitāb-i khāndagiyam ‘the book that I read’ (= китобе, ким ан хондаам/kitābē ki man khānda’am).

b) As a verb

In colloquial Tajik, instead of saying, for example, дидаам/dīda’am ‘I have seen’, one can say дидаги(ям)/dīdagī(yam). Given that past participles function as adjectives in Persian, and adjectives can also function as nouns, the -дагӣ/-dagī can also be used as a noun, which saves the effort of having to resort to subordinate clauses. For example, in colloquial Tajik, you can say Омадагиятонро дидам/Āmadagiyatānrā dīdam ‘I saw you coming, I saw that you had come/were coming’ (lit. ‘your having-come I saw’) instead of the more formal Дидам, ки (шумо) омадаед/Dīdam ki (shumā) āmada’ēd (or, indeed, меоед/mēāyēd).

The -дагӣ/-dagī can be combined with the conjugated form of будан/būdan ‘to be’ in the present tense to express different aspectual values. For example, рафтагистам/raftagistam means ‘I might have gone’, i.e. ‘perhaps I would have gone’. With the ме-/– prefix, it forms the ‘less likely/conjectural future’: Бӯҳрон мегузаштагист/Buhrān mēguzashtagist ‘The crisis may pass/will pass eventually’.

Дагӣ/-dagī also exists in Iranian Persian, not as a productive verb suffix, but forms a handful of abstract nouns from the regular past participle ending in ده/-da, such as in خفتگی/khoftagī ‘latency’ (from خفته/khofte ‘asleep’), سفتگی/softagī ‘perforation’ (from سفته/softe ‘pierced’) etc.


4. Тавонистан/tavānistan and хостан/khāstan

The modal verb тавонистан/tavānistan ‘to be able to’ in Tajik can be used with the subjunctive after it as it is in Iranian Persian, but more often, it is used with the -да/-da past participle before it, which is also the Afghan Persian usage. Thus, the Iranian Persian می‌توانم بکنم/mītavānam bokonam ‘I can do (it)’ is more often карда метавонам/karda mētavānam in Tajik (and Afghan) Persian.

Хостан/khāstan ‘to want, to wish’ in Tajik can also be used with the subjunctive after it, like in Iranian Persian, but equally frequent is the use of the verb infinitive before it, e.g. дидан мехоҳам/dīdan mēkhāham ‘I want to see’, which is also a feature of Classical Persian usage.


5. Although

‘Although’, in all Persian varieties, can be expressed by the word اگرچه/agarchi, or more elevated, هرچند/harchand. In Tajik Persian, there is another expression, namely the verb in the optative plus ҳам/ham ‘too, also’. This construction can be used alone or together with агар/agar, агарчи/agarchi, and ҳарчанд/harchand at the start of the sentence. Let us look at some examples:

Ҳар раис равад ҳам ин ниҳод қавӣ боқӣ мемонад./Har rais ravad ham, īn nihād qavī bāqī mēmānad.

‘Even though every leader goes away, this organisation remains strong.’

Қаддаш баланд буд ва ду сол хурд бошад ҳам, аз ҳаштсолаҳо калонтар буд./Qaddash baland būd va dū sāl khurd bāshad ham, az hashtsālhā kalāntar būd.

‘He was tall, and although he was two years old (lit. small), he was bigger than eight-year-olds.’


6. ‘As for…’

In Tajik Persian, there is a special use of the optative form of будан/būdan to convey the meaning ‘as for…’, ‘when it comes to…’:

Бародарам дар шаҳри дигар хизмат мекард, ман бошам, дар Душанбе таҳсил мекардам./Barādaram dar shahr-i dīgar khizmat mekard, man bāsham, dar Dushanbe tahsīl mekardam.

‘My brother was working in another city, whereas I (as for me) I was studying in Dushanbe.

Ман бошам, эҳсос мекардам, ки кӯдак мемирад./Man bāsham, ehsās mekardam, ki kōdak memīrad.

‘If you ask me/As for me/I, however, felt that the child was dying.’


7. Lack of copula

If you talk with Tajiks from Central Asia, you will quickly realise that the copula (i.e. to be) is often left out in the present tense. It is not at all odd to ask ‘Шумо аз куҷо/Shumā az kujā?’ without saying -ед/-ēd or ҳастед/hastēd, or introduce yourself by just saying ‘Ман/Man + name’ without -ам/-am or ҳастам/hastam. Ringing a close friend with whom you can be informal, you can ask ‘Куҷоба/Kujāba?’ (lit. ‘where at?’ cf. the section above about ba as a postposition) after they pick up the phone.

Iskandar Ding

[Featured image: a Persian-language primary school opened in 1921-22 in the People’s Republic of Bukhara. The caption contains a grammatical point addressed in the post.]