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Speak / Lesson 9

How to Use Question Words, More Family Vocabulary, and a Few Filler Words and Phrases

In Iranian culture, family is extremely important. Instead of having just one Persian word for 'aunt,' for instance, we have two-- there are different words for your father's sister (amé) and your mother's sister (khālé). So when referring to one or the other, people know exactly whether you are speaking of your maternal or paternal aunt. Similarly, while there is only one word for 'cousin' in English, there are eight different Persian words for ‘cousin’ depending on their sex and whether they are on your mother's or father's side of the family. This might seem complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it makes figuring out who a given person is referring to quite easy!

In this Persian (Farsi) lesson, we go over all the different words for extended family. In addition, we learn the most important question words to help you form useful questions when having conversations. Questions are a useful tool for getting to know someone, and these question words will allow you to form many different sentences using the vocabulary we've learned so far. The questions words we go over in this lesson are:

  • Who
  • When
  • Where
  • What
  • How
  • Which

We also learn some key questions you can form using these words including:

  • Where are you?
  • What do (would) you like?
  • How's it going?
  • Who is this?
  • Why not?
  • How many?
  • How?
  • Where is it?
  • How much?

At this point of Chai and Conversation, you'll be amazed by how much you can understand of casual Persian conversations.


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?)

Leyla: Hello and welcome to the ninth episode of Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation! We congratulate you on making it this far in the program!

Matt: We’ve been learning so much new vocabulary in each lesson, and we hope that it’s helped you to become more comfortable with learning the Persian language.

Leyla: This ninth episode marks the end of what we’ll be calling Unit 1 of Chai and Conversation. This episode is going to go over some filler material and clarify some of the vocabulary and phrases we learned in the past lessons. The next episode is going to be a comprehensive review of everything we’ve learned so far in Chai and Conversation. Aare you ready to begin the lesson, Matt?

Matt: balé! I’m ready!

Leyla: Great, let’s begin to Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation!


Leyla: So to begin with, in Lesson 1, we covered greetings and asking people how they are. So, Matt, how did we learn to ask ‘how are you?’ in that lesson?

Matt: chetor-ee?

Leyla: Exactly, chetor-ee? And now that we’ve learned a bit more about the Persian language, I can explain that this is a very informal way of asking someone how they are doing, and it uses the informal ‘you’. chetor-ee, or tō chetor-ee? If you want to use the same word to speak to someone with whom you must use formal vocabulary, you can say “chetor-een?” but the more common way of asking how someone's doing is to use the phrase “hālé shomā chetor-é?”

Matt: hālé shomā chetor-é?

Leyla: hāl" means your ‘feeling’ or your ‘being’, so it’s a more direct translation of ‘how are you?’. ‘How is your being?’: hālé shomā chetor-é?

Matt: hālé shomā chetor-é?

Leyla: So this is what you’re going to use from now on to greet your in-laws, Matt: hālé shomā chetor-é? And you could say this to two people at the same time, too, since formal ‘you’ is the same as ‘you’ plural: “hālé shomā chetor-é?” either for one person with whom you use formal language or for more than one person! 

Matt: hālé shomā chetor-é?

Leyla: And if you wanted to use this phrase with someone with whom you don’t need to use formal language, it would be “hālet chetor-é?”

Matt: hālet chetor-é?

Leyla: So the “chetor-ee?” we used in the first program is a less common way of getting at the same thing, but it's very casual, very easy to say: chetor-ee? so we learned that in the first program. So both ways of asking work, but in general, it’s nicer and more common to use the full phrase, either “hālé shomā chetor-é?” or “hālet chetor-é?” So moving on, in Lesson 3, we learned how to introduce our name to people. Now, Matt, how would you say ‘my name is Matt’?

Matt: esmé man matt hast.

Leyla: Great. So this is very good grammar, very well said, but unfortunately, it’s not the way native Persians speak conversationally. The colloquial way to say ‘my name is Matt' is to say “esm-am matt-é.”

Matt: esm-am matt-é.

Leyla: So we’ve heard the suffix “-am” before, like in “khoob-am,” which means ‘I am well’. Similarly, “esm-am” makes “esm” mean ‘my name’, esm-am, so “esm-am” means ‘my name’, and “matt-é” is a combination of matt and “hast,” the word for ‘is’: matt-é. esm-am matt-é.

Matt: esm-am matt-é.

Leyla: So don’t worry if you don’t quite understand how to break down sentences like that yet - you will learn over time. Now, adding “-é,” as in “matt-é," only works if your name ends in a consonant. If your name ends in a vowel like mine, you have to add an “-st” at the end, as in “leylā-st.” So, esm-am leylā-st.

Matt: esm-am leylā-st.

Leyla: So now, let's try a few different names just to see if you've got a grasp of the concept. So I'm going to ask you the name, and, Matt, give the listeners a chance to try out their answer before giving your own. So first, let's say you're named Bobak. How would you say ‘my name is Bobak’?

Matt: esm-am bābak-é.

Leyla: Great, exactly! Since “bābak” ends in a consonant, you say “esm-am bābak-é.” How about the name Sara, as in ‘my name is Sara’?

Matt: esm-am sārā-st.

Leyla: Exactly, “esm-am sārā-st,” so since “sārā” ends in a vowel, we add in an “-st” at the end: esm-am sārā-st. Or how about a harder one? Say your name is Andrew. How would you say ‘my name is Andrew’?

Matt: esm-am andrew-st.

Leyla: Great, “esm-am andrew-st,” so the name andrew also ends in a vowel, so you add an “-st” no matter what the ending vowel is! esm-am andrew-st.

Then, in Lesson 5, we also went over the words for family members. Now, we included a word on our extra bonus material on the PDF guides that is nice to know, and that means ‘spouse’, and the word is "hamsar."

Matt: hamsar.

Leyla: The literal meaning of this word is something along the lines of ‘equal head’, so it means ‘my equal’ or ‘my other’. It can be used for either husband or wife. There were a few other words in the bonus PDF guide that we should go over for use in future lessons. In the Persian language, there is a distinction between aunts and uncles on the maternal and paternal sides of the family. On the maternal side, an aunt is called “khālé.”

Matt: khālé.

Leyla: And your mother’s brother is called “dāyee.”

Matt: dāyee.

Leyla: So khālé and dāyee. On the paternal side, ‘aunt’ is called “amé.”

Matt: amé.

Leyla: And ‘uncle’ is “amoo.”

Matt: amoo.

Leyla: Great, so on the mother’s side, khālé and dāyee, and on the father’s side, amé and amoo. Now that we’ve learned these words, we can learn the words for ‘cousin’. I say “words,” plural, on purpose because in Persian, there is not one word for a general cousin. Rather, you have to describe your cousin based on gender and the side of the family from which he or she is on. For example, if it is your maternal aunt’s daughter, you will call her just that: dokhtar khālé.

Matt: dokhtar khālé.

Leyla: Notice that we don’t use the ezāfé, saying “dokhtaré khālé,” which would more accurately be ‘aunt’s daughter’. It’s simply “dokhtar khālé.” You’re literally just saying ‘daughter aunt’. You can also have a daughter of your uncle on your maternal side, “dokhtar dāyee.”

Matt: dokhtar dāyee.

Leyla: So now let’s learn boy cousins on your mom's side - pesar khālé.

Matt: pesar khālé.

Leyla: And what does that mean, Matt?

Matt: The son of your maternal aunt.

Leyla: Exactly right, and pesar dāyee.

Matt: pesar dāyee.

Leyla: Which is…?

Matt: The son of your maternal uncle.

Leyla: Okay, cool. I think you have the hang of this. Now, let’s go over ‘paternal aunt’ and ‘uncle’ again. ‘Paternal aunt’ is “amé.”

Matt: amé.

Leyla: And ‘paternal uncle’ is “amoo.”

Matt: amoo.

Leyla: So then what would you call your male cousin on your paternal uncle’s side?

Matt: pesar amoo.

Leyla: And the female cousin of your paternal uncle?

Matt: dokhtar amoo.

Leyla: Female cousin of your paternal aunt!

Matt: dokhtar amé.

Leyla: And male cousin of your paternal aunt!

Matt: pesar amé.

Leyla: Okay, now there is one last thing that I want to go over in this lesson, and that is the question words. One of the most powered tools of communication is asking questions. We’ve been learning how to ask a variety of questions throughout the weeks and have been learning key question words along with them. But let’s quickly go over all the question words in a consolidated fashion right now. We’ll be using these words extensively in the coming weeks, so it will be good to have a grasp of them before we move along.

So first, one that we’ve seen several times, the word for 'where', or, in Persian, “kojā.”

Matt: kojā.

Leyla: So this should sound familiar to you because we’ve used it several times. Matt, can you think of an instance when we used the word “kojā”?

Matt: kojā kār meekonee?

Leyla: Right, “kojā kār meekonee?” Next, the word ‘why’ is “cherā.”

Matt: cherā.

Leyla: And this word can easily be used by itself: “cherā?” ‘why?'. Next, the word ‘who’ is “kee.”

Matt: kee.

Leyla: We saw this in the conversation I had with my mother in lesson 6, when I asked her “shomā kee hasteed?” or ‘who are you?'.

‘What’ is “ché.” In conversation, you’ll usually hear it pronounced “chee.”

Matt: chee.

Leyla: This is closely related to ‘how’, which is “chetor.”

Matt: chetor.

Leyla: This should sound familiar to you because ‘how are you?’ is “chetor-ee?” Next, the word for ‘when’ is “kay.”

Matt: kay.

Leyla: And ‘which’ is “kodām” in written Persian and “kodoom” in conversation Persian, so let's try “kodoom.” 

Matt: kodoom.


Leyla: Now, let’s try forming simple sentences with words we know to go over these question words. Again, let’s start with “kojā.” We’ve learned several sentences that have this word in them already. You mentioned “kojā zendegee meekonee?” earlier, Matt. Let’s try a different one. To simply say ‘where are you’ in the informal sense, you say “kojā-yee?”

Matt: kojā-yee?

Leyla: And "kojā-yeen?" in the formal. kojā-yeen?

Matt: kojā-yeen?

Leyla: So these simply mean ‘where are you?’ and you can simply reply by saying something like “dar edāré,” which means ‘in the office’, or “dar restoorān,” which means ‘at the restaurant’. Simple enough. Next, “cherā,” or ‘why?'. A very simple phrase you can say using this word is “cherā na?”

Matt: cherā na?

Leyla: And can you guess what this means, Matt?

Matt: 'Why not?'.

Leyla: Exactly, ‘why not?’, “cherā na?” Next, “kee.” A simple sentence you can say with this word is “een kee-?” “kee-” is a combination of “kee” and “hast,” the word for ‘is’. So ‘who is this?’: een kee-?

Matt: een kee-?

Leyla: And we learned several replies to this in Lesson 5, such as “een barādaré man-é.”

Matt: een barādaré man-é.

Leyla: Next, “chee.” If someone has said something you can’t quite understand, you can simply ask “chee?” and this means ‘what?’. So a potential question you can ask with word is “chee doost dāree?”

Matt: chee doost dāree?

Leyla: "dāree" means ‘to do’, and it’s the second person informal conjugation, so this sentence means ‘what do you like?’ in the informal sense: chee doost dāree?

Matt: chee doost dāree?

Leyla: Next, ‘how’ is “chetor.” A question you can form with that is “chetor peesh meeré?”

Matt: chetor peesh meeré?

Leyla: And this means ‘how’s it going?': “chetor peesh meeré?”

Matt: chetor peesh meeré?

Leyla: Let’s go over all of these one last time in a slightly different order. ‘Who’ is “kee.”

Matt: kee.

Leyla: ‘When’ is "kay."

Matt: kay.

Leyla: ‘Where’ is “kojā.”

Matt: kojā.

Leyla: ‘Why’ is “cherā.”

Matt: cherā.

Leyla: ‘How’ is “chetor.”

Matt: chetor.

Leyla: So, obviously, these words are going to come up over and over again in the future, so it would be good to have a working knowledge of them now. As always, thank you so much for joining us for Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation.

Matt: The next lesson is the review edition for Chai and Conversation.

Leyla: And until the next lesson, bé omeedé deedār from Leyla!

Matt: And khodāhāfez from Matt!