Discover more from Ajab
Learning Persian I. Dictionaries
A guide to using the best Persian dictionaries available
There is no one single best Persian dictionary. Instead, different dictionaries are useful for different purposes. What follows is not an exhaustive list of all the dictionaries available, but an introduction to my favorite print and online dictionaries, both bilingual (English/Persian) and monolingual (Persian-Persian), and some tips on their use. Unless otherwise noted, these dictionaries focus on modern Iranian Persian.
For total beginners who are not yet comfortable with the Perso-Arabic script, I recommend Yavar Dehghani’s bidirectional (Persian-English and English-Persian) dictionary. It allows users to look up Persian words by their roman transliteration, which is great for learners who can’t yet guess how words might be spelled.
a page from the Persian-English portion of Yavar Dehghani’s dictionary
For more intermediate to advanced learners I recommend the Millennium (Hezāre) English-Persian dictionary. It’s geared towards native Persian speakers but can be very useful for English-speaking Persian learners, as it’s reasonably up to date and provides a range of examples and equivalents for English words and idioms.
Print dictionaries that are available online as well (Hayyim, Steingass, Dehkhodā) are discussed in the following section.
These dictionaries often require you to type in Persian. If you haven’t yet learned how to do so, you can copy and paste from a virtual Persian keyboard online.
Hayyim: Soleymān Hayyim was an Iranian Jewish lexicographer and his Persian-English dictionary, published in the 1930s, remains one of the best of its kind. Given its age, it doesn’t have newer coinages in the language, but since written Persian is conservative and changes only very slowly, it’s still very useful, especially when reading 19th and 20th century written material. NB: when searching the digitized version, final ک and گ must be written as ك . For example, to find کشک you must search for کشك . The search also uses an idiosyncratic character for the intermedial ه, making it difficult to search for words like نگهبان.
Steingass: This is a late 19th century Indo-Persian dictionary, and is the best Persian-English dictionary for Indian materials. Hayyim, for example, won’t have a word like پان pān , but you’ll find it in Steingass. It shares the character issues that the digital version of Hayyim has. In addition, it often has ة rather than a final ه or ت in words of Arabic origin, so for example حالت and خلیفه would appear as حالة and خلیفة , respectively, in Steingass.
Farsi123: This is probably the best English-to-Persian online dictionary. Its sample sentences are great for seeing words in context and better understanding their use. The dictionary is best used by searching for a single word. If you want to look up “play a role,” for example, search for “play” and then look for “play a role” among the entries. This takes a bit of guesswork; to find “hit the spot” you’d need to search under “spot.” Farsi123 can also be used for looking up Persian words but is much less useful in that direction.
Glosbe: This resource searches other dictionaries and online sources and is great for looking up tricky things like idioms and more contemporary language, as you can search for entire phrases. It will often show you a range of ways your query could be translated. As such, it’s better for intermediate or advanced learners, as it returns actual usages rather than dictionary definitions and thus requires a good level of knowledge in order to be used effectively. The Persian-to-English search is also good.
واژهیاب: Probably the best site for searching multiple Persian-Persian dictionaries, most importantly the encyclopedic Dehkhodā dictionary. Dehkhodā is usually your best option, as it is itself a compendium of other dictionaries.
فرهنگ اصطلاحهای زبان فارسی: Good resource for looking up Persian idioms.
لام تا کام: Also good for searching multiple dictionaries (select لغتنامهها).
Diwan Hafez dynamic lexicon: nice tool for looking up how specific words of Hāfez’s divān have been translated into English (and German).
Wiktionary: this dictionary is, like Wikipedia, freely editable, so its entries should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless it’s often a very useful resource and its etymological information tends to be solid.
Etymological Dictionary of Astronomy and Astrophysics: This English-French-Persian dictionary is specific to vocabulary related to astronomy and astrophysics. It gives etymologies for its entries and is best searched in roman transliteration (eg. barf), though you can also search in Perso-Arabic script (برف).
MacKenzie’s Concise Pahlavi Dictionary: while I’ve focused on New Persian in this post, this Middle Persian dictionary is indispensable for those interested in Persian etymology and historical linguistics.
Should I use a bilingual or monolingual dictionary?
You should use whatever you feel comfortable with! That being said, the sooner you can start using a monolingual dictionary (especially Dehkhodā), the better. Definitions might include other words you don’t know, leading you to look those up as well, creating a virtuous cycle of learning.
Should I use a print or online dictionary?
Both have their pros and cons for learners. Online dictionaries can be quicker to use, but generally require you to be able to type in Persian. Print dictionaries require users to know the order of the Persian alphabet, but they also have a special advantage: the serendipitous learning that occurs when you notice other interesting words on the same page as the word you searched for.
How do I know how to pronounce written Persian words?
There are three ways to find out:
Look in a dictionary that provides transliteration. Hayyim, Steingass, Wiktionary, and even واژهیاب generally offer transliteration. Note that Hayyim does not distinguish between long and short vowels, so حالت hālat is transliterated as ‘halat.’
Look the word up on Forvo.com, where you can hear audio recordings of many words.
Look in Dehkhodā, which uses diacritics for disambiguation. For example, in the word حالت , the only ambiguous consonant is the letter ل , so the diacritics for this letter is given in brackets, indicating a short ‘a’ (fathe, zebar) on that letter.
Have other questions? A favorite dictionary I left out? Leave a comment and let me know. I plan to write more posts in the future about how to learn Persian, as well as posts on other topics.
Thanks for reading Ajab! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.