The tense of a verb expresses its time reference. Traditionally, Persian has two distinct tenses: past and non-past. The non-past tense is used to express actions occurring in the present or future, depending on the context. For example, in the sentence “He leaves tomorrow” the future adverb “tomorrow” indicates that “leaves” points to a time in the future. In the following example, Persian uses “present perfect” to express “future perfect”. It is clear from the context (“by then”) that here, the present perfect refers to a future action.

تا آن موقع، شام‌شان را خورده‌اند
tâ ân mowǧeø, šâm-ešân râ xordeand
They will have had their dinner by then
(literally: They have had their dinner by then)

The written form of Modern Persian has developed tenses to exclusively express future actions. However, future tenses are not used in spoken Persian and even in the written language, non-past forms still prevail.

Tense Terminology

Languages usually have their own way of naming tenses. For example, the tense of “He has gone” has the following names:

Language Tense Name
EnglishPresent perfect
SpanishPast perfect (pretérito perfecto)
FrenchCompound past (passé composé)
ItalianNear past (passato prossimo)

As is evident from the above table, there can be conflicts between tense names: Spanish “past perfect” means a different tense in English (“I had gone”). Another important point is that not all tenses of a language necessarily have an equivalent in another language. The Persian tense رفته بود (“he had gone”) is called “past precedent” in Persian and “past perfect” in English. Its perfective form رفته بوده does not have an equivalent in English. It is not possible to follow English tense terminology and name it as “past perfect perfect”.

For these reasons, it is best to teach the tenses of a foreign language with their original name. In other resources about Persian language, you may see tense names that are similar to what is used in English grammar but please note that not all tenses are discussed there. When it comes to talking about all Persian tenses, the only possible approach is to use literal translations.