Sign up for the free 6-week Summer Learn Persian Bootcamp, starting June 24th! Learn More

Speak / Lesson 15

How to Talk to People in a Formal Manner, and More on Hosting and Being Hosted

Continuing with the theme of hosting and being hosted, the theme of this lesson is a visit to the in-laws on a Saturday afternoon. We follow Matt on a hypothetical visit to his in-laws house, and a potential conversation as they try to serve him food.

We also talk about formal speech- as we've said before, Persian culture errs on the side of formality, especially when talking to elders. Because there's an informal and formal way of addressing 'you', it's very important to choose the correct form, especially when dealing with the in-laws. For this reason, we'll go over how to ask questions in a formal way, and speaking respectfully. This will get you a lot of points with you Iranian in-laws.

We also go over how to talk about whether or not we are hungry or thirsty, because as you may know, Iranians LOVE to feed people and often will not take 'no' for an answer.


  • More about the formal and informal forms of 'you'
  • Formal phrases to use with in-laws
  • How to 'tarof' by asking someone to 'help themselves' or say 'please'
  • Talking about hunger or thirst


how are you?

Note: In Persian, as in many other languages, there is a formal and an informal way of speaking. We will be covering this in more detail in later lessons. For now, however, chetor-ee is the informal way of asking someone how they are, so it should only be used with people that you are familiar with. hālé shomā chetor-é is the formal expression for ‘how are you.’

Spelling note: In written Persian, words are not capitalized. For this reason, we do not capitalize Persian words written in phonetic English in the guides.


I’m well

Pronunciation tip: kh is one of two unique sounds in the Persian language that is not used in the English language. It should be repeated daily until mastered, as it is essential to successfully speak Persian. Listen to the podcast for more information on how to make the sound.

Persian English
salām hello
chetor-ee how are you?
khoobam I’m well
merci thank you
khayli very
khayli khoobam I’m very well
khoob neestam I’m not well
man me/I
bad neestam I’m not bad
ālee great
chetor-een? how are you? (formal)
hālé shomā chetor-é? how are you? (formal)
hālet chetor-é? how are you? (informal)
khoob-ee? are you well? (informal)
mamnoonam thank you
chetor peesh meeré? how’s it going?
ché khabar? what’s the news? (what’s up?)

Matt: Hello everyone, and welcome back to the 15th episode of Chai and Conversation!

Leyla: We're so glad to have you with us! In the 13th episode we began learning about being hosted or hosted. Today we are going to continue along with the same thread, and talk a bit more about formal speech, and about being hosted. We'll begin with a short dialogue, and build up our vocabulary from there.

Matt: As always, this podcast is only one part of Chai and Conversation. Go to our website at with Chai spelled CHAI for bonus materials you can use to enhance your learning experience.

Leyla: These include transcripts of the program with the words and phrases we learn written out phonetically in English so that you can follow along and make sure you're understanding the words and phrases correctly!

Matt: These bonus materials are provided for a very nominal fee on the website. As always, your feedback and support is much appreciated!

Leyla: So in the last episode, we started talking about the concept of tarof, the form of etiquette central to Iranian culture. This week, we are going to continue the discussion by talking about if you are invited to someone's house and are being hosted, or if you yourself are hosting.

Matt: Last week we went over different drinks that you could be offered, and this week we're going to expand on etiquette.

Leyla: Let's first begin with a dialogue. Let's say Matt has decided to visit his in laws, and has gone over to their house on a Saturday afternoon. First Matt, these are your inlaws, would you speak to them in informal or formal language?

Matt: Well, they're older than me, and I need to speak to them respectfully, so I would use formal.

Leyla: So, what was the formal you

Matt: Shomā

Leyla: Exactly, shoma. Now one thing that we haven't discussed before is that shoma has two different conjugations, one is more formal and can be seen in written Persian, and the other is more conversational. So let's take a word you should be very familiar with, because we learned it in the first lesson- chetoreed. So do you remember what this word means Matt?

Matt: How are you, formal.

Leyla: Right, how are you in the formal sense. So, chetor means how, and chetor hasteed means how are you, and combined in speech it becomes chetoreed. However, there's a more colloquial way of conjugated hasteed for formal you, and that is to say 'hasteen'. You may hear this often in conversation. So chetor plus hasteen becomes chetoreen.

Matt: chetoreen

Leyla: The same can be done for many of the other words we have learned in this program, instead of ending the conjugations with a d, they end with an n. So for instance, using this form of conjugation, instead of saying shoma az koja hasteed, which means where are you from, you would say 'shoma az koja hasteen'

Matt: shoma az koja hasteen

Leyla: Koja zendegee meekoneed, which means where do you live would be-

Matt: Koja zendegee meekoneen.

Leyla: Exactly. So for the sake of consistency, we are going to keep the form we have been using. I just wanted you to be aware that there is another valid form of conjugating the formal you in conversation, and you are likely to hear this form from time to time. In Chai and Conversation, we are going to learn the slightly more formal version, but as you become more familiar with the language and have the opportunity to speak with native speakers, you can decide which conjugation to use depending on those who speak most frequently around you.

Now, let's get back to the conversation Matt could possibly have with his inlaws. So I will be playing Matt's mother in law, and Matt will be playing himself in this dialogue. Listen carefully and see if you can pick out the meaning of the conversation. There might be a word or phrase you don't understand, but try to understand through context clue, and we'll go over it afterwards. Here we go:

Leyla: Salam Matt! Khosh amadee!

Matt: Mamnoonam. Shomā chetoreed?

Leyla: Bad neestam, khayli mamnoon. To khoobee?

Matt: Khoobam merci.

Leyla: Befarma besheen.

Matt: Merci.

Leyla: Chāi meekhoree?

Matt: Bale chāi meekhoram.

Leyla: Ba ghand ya sheekar.

Matt: Do ghand lotfan.

Leyla: Bashe, befarma, een ham do ghand.

Matt: Khayli mamnoon.

So it starts off with the mother in law saying 'salam matt, khosh amadee! Khosh amadee means welcome! and it's using the informal you. Khosh amadee

Matt: Khosh amadee

Leyla: Khosh amadee is the informal you version of welcome, so it's more the equivalent of you are welcome. If you would like to say it in the formal language, you would say 'khosh amadeed.

Matt: Khosh amadeed.

Leyla: And then Matt replies 'mamnoonam, shoma chetoreed?' Mamnoonam is a word we haven't learned before. We've learned that thank you is merci, and this is taken directly from the French word for thank you, and is slightly informal. Mamnoonam is the equivalent of something like 'I am thankful'. Mamnoonam

Matt: Mamnoonam.

Leyla: The in law replies 'bad neestam, khayli mamnoon'. We know bad neestam, it means

Matt: I'm not bad

Leyla; And khayli mamnoon means 'many thanks'. Khayli mamnoon

Matt: Khayli mamnoon.

Leyla: Then the inlaw says 'befarma besheen.' Now 'befarma' does not have a direct translation in English, but it means something along the lines of 'please' or 'help yourself'. Befarma is the informal version of the word. Befarma

Matt: Befarma

Leyla: And the formal version is befarmayeed

Matt: Befarmayeed

Leyla: Besheen is the informal way of saying 'sit'. Besheen

Matt: Besheen

Leyla; So together befarma besheen means please sit. befarma besheen

Matt: befarma besheen

Leyla: Used on its own, befarma could mean several things. If Matt comes over and I just say 'befarma' and point to a chair, that could also mean please sit, and he would understand that through context clues. If Matt comes over and I hand him a cup of tea and simply say 'befarma' this means 'please help yourself' or 'here you are.' Or if I'm inviting Matt over to my house, I could say 'befarma khoonam!'

Matt: Befarma khoonam

Leyla: Khoonam means my house, so I'm saying please come over to my house. Overall, you'll hear this word often in conversation, on different occasions, as we've heard. Let's go through the three occasions once again. When offering an invitation, you could say 'befarma khoonam'

Matt: Befarma khoonam

Leyla: Or 'welcome to my house.' When offering a seat, you could say 'befarma besheen'

matt: Befarma besheen

Leyla: Meaning please have a seat. When offering something to drink, you can hand over the drink and simply say 'befarma'

Matt: Befarma

Leyla: Meaning something along the lines of please help yourself. The rest of the conversation was very easy to understand with vocabulary you learned in lesson 13. We'll let you go through that yourself. Let's move on to some more vocabulary you need to know when hosting or being hosted. So let's say Matt is still at his inlaws house, and they ask him 'gorosneyee?'

Matt: Gorosneyee?

Leyla: This means 'are you hungry' in the informal sense. If it was the other way around, and Matt was asking his in laws the question, he would use the formal version of this word, which is gorosneyeed?'

Matt: Gorosneyeed?

Leyla: Another point is that the formal you conjugation of a word is the same as you plural form. So if Matt wants to ask both of his inlaws if they're hungry, he could still use this word. Gorosneyeed?

Matt: Gorosneyeed?

Leyla: And to answer Matt would either say I'm hungry or 'bale gorosnam

Matt: Bale gorosnam

Leyla: Or na, gorosneh neestam

Matt: Gorosneh neestam

Leyla: Now a cultural note here, adhering to the rules of 'tarof,' when you go to someone's house and they ask you if you're hungry, you will rarely say 'yes, I'm hungry.' Rather, you'll shake your head and say something like 'no, I just ate,' and your host will bring you food anyway. So, no thank you, I just ate is 'na, tazeh khordam'.

Matt: Na, tazeh khordam!

Leyla: And are you thirsty, informal, would be 'teshneyee?'

Matt: Teshneyee?

Leyla: And the formal version would be 'teshneyeed?'

Matt: teshneyeed?

Leyla: Now, let's say that the host has prepared a meal for you. In Persian, breakfast is called 'sobhoone'

Matt: Sobhoone

Leyla: Lunch is nahar

Matt: nahar

Leyla: And dinner is sham

Matt: Sham

Leyla: So sobhooneh, nahar, and sham. When a meal is prepared and the host is calling you to it, again the word 'befarmayeed is used- 'befarmayeed sham

Matt: Bafarmayeed sham

Leyla: Or if it's one person and you want to call them to lunch, you say 'befarma nahar'

Matt: Befarma nahar

Leyla: You can also say 'lunch is ready.' Nahar hazere

Matt: Nahar hazere

Leyla: So hazere means it is ready. How would you say dinner is ready?

Matt: Sham hazere

Leyla: And let's go through a few of the most common meals in Persian culture. For breakfast, the most common thing to have is 'noon o paneer'

Matt: noon o paneer

Leyla: Noon is the word for bread, and paneer is feta cheese that is spread on the bread. It's often accompanied by things like honey, asal

Matt: Asal

Leyla: Or jam, moraba

Matt: Moraba

Leyla: So you can have noon o paneer ba asal, or noon o paneer ba moraba, for example. Then, for lunch and dinner, there are certain foods that are staples to every meal. These include rice, which is berenj

Matt: Berenj

Leyla: Which is often served with every meal. Persian food usually consists of rice with a certain type of stew on top of it. The stew is called 'khoresht'

Matt: Khoresht

Leyla: You may have heard of khoreshte ghorme sabzee

Matt: Khoreshte ghorme sabzee

Leyla: One of the most delicious and common stews in Iranian culture. This consists of several types of herbs and greens mixed together with a tiny amount of meat and some kidney beans. Ghorme comes directly from the French gourmet. Sabzee means greens and is another important part of a Persian meal on its own. I've often heard that a Persian plate of food should consist of 1/3 plate sabzee, which is a medley of basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, and other seasonal greens. A handful of greens is usually eaten with each bite of Persian food. Another important part of the meal is mast

Matt: Mast

Leyla: And this is the word for yogurt. Let's also learn the words for something that you often have to add to food and that is salt and pepper. Salt in Persian is 'namak'

Matt: namak

Leyla: And pepper is felfel

Matt: felfel

Leyla: Another important part of lunch and dinner is 'desser

Matt: desser

Leyla: And you can guess what this is

Matt: Dessert

Leyla: Exactly- dessert. Now let's learn a few last things before wrapping up this lesson, and that is some more vocabulary pertaining to hosting and being hosted. The word for hosting in general is 'pazeerayee'

Matt: pazeerayee

Leyla: Now, after Matt has visited his in-laws and he is leaving, he can say 'mamnoon az pazeerayeetoon!'

Matt: Mamnoon az pazeerayeetoon

Leyla: And this means 'thank you for your hosting.' In Iranian culture, with the custom of tarof, there is a phrase for everything you want to do. When you need to leave somewhere, you rarely say 'I have to go.' you usually say it in a roundabout way, something like 'well, the time has come for me to slowly begin thinking about leaving' which translates to 'bayad yavash yavash beram'

matt: bayad yavash yavash beram

Leyla: So this means, I must slowly start leaving, and it gives your host a chance to mentally prepare for your departure, and is nicer than just saying 'I'm leaving!' And to say 'I had a great time' you say 'Khayli khosh gozasht'

Matt: Khayli khosh gozasht

Leyla: More literally this means 'a good time was had' and refers to all, rather than first person singular. And Matt, using vocabulary we learned in unit ii, what is a possible way to say a sfinal goodbye to a host

matt: Khodahafez, beh omeede deedar

Leyla: Perfect! And that brings us to the end of lesson 15.

Matt: We hope you all enjoyed the lesson

Leyla: Thank you so much for joining us. Again our website is at with chai spelled CHAI. In addition, you can listen to the podcasts on youtube or on facebook.

Matt: We look forward to you joining us next time on Chai and Conversation

Leyla: And until then, beh omeede deedar from leyla

Matt: And khodahafez from Matt!