EŻĀFA (اضافه)(annexation, suppletion), a grammatical term embracing several types of Persian noun phrase in which the constituents are connected by the enclitic -e/-ye (kasra-ye eżāfa “the eżāfa particle”). The enclitic, pronounced /e/ in standard Persian, /i/ in earlier New Persian (see below) and in eastern dialects such as Kabolī and Tajik, is written optionally with the subscript vowel diacritic kasra; the variant/ye/, /yi/ following a vowel is generally written with final (after vocalic h, it has also been represented by a superposed miniature or, in printing, a hamza). The Arabic construction from which the term is derived by analogy, eżāfa (status constructus), denotes a noun phrase in which the head noun (termed the możāf “conjunct”) governs, or is modified by, another noun in the genitive case (the możāf elayh “that to which [it] is conjoined”), e.g., baytu al-rajoli (the house of the man). The Arabic construction is characterized by the deletion of the article of the head and by the integrity of the basic phrase, such that an adjective that agrees with (and would normally follow) the head must follow the qualifying noun, as baytu al-rajoli al-jadīdu (the man’s new house; Wright, II, pp. 198 ff). Despite the coincidence of terminology and word order, this peculiarity does not apply in Persian, where nouns are modified in right-branching sequential phrases.

As used in Persian, the term is restricted by most traditional grammarians to phrases in which a substantive head (noun, nominal complex or compound, noun phrase, pronoun) is modified by another substantive or noun phrase. It is generally distinguished from the superficially identical type of phrase where a substantive is modified by an adjective (tarkīb-e waṣfī, ṣefat o mawṣūf, eżāfa-ye tawṣīfī: Moʿīn, p. 139; Qarīb et al., p. 43). Western Iranists, however, generally designate all such noun phrases, whatever the nature of the modifier, as eżāfa constructions (cf. Lazard, sec. 44).

The following forms thus qualify for the designation: 1. a noun (etc.) modified by a noun or pronoun: dar-e ḵāna (the door of the house), ḵāna-ye ū (his house), pedar o mādar-e man o šomā (our parents); 2. a noun or pronoun modified by an adjective or adverb: dar-e bozorg (the big door), man-e bīčāra (poor me), rūz-e baʿdaz ān ettefāq (the day after that event). In each case the resulting noun phrase may be modified in turn: dar-e ḵāna-ye man (the door of my house), dar-e bozorg-e ḵāna-ye jadīd-e ū (the big door of his new house), kār-e jānfarsā-ye rūz-e baʿd (the next day’s backbreaking toil), etc. An example of a multiple ezˊµāfa (tatāboʿ-e eżāfāt) phrase from Gilbert Lazard (sec. 44) may serve to illustrate the nested phrase structure: [moṭālaʿa-ye daqīq-e neveštahā-ye [mowarreḵīn-e qadīm]] (careful study of the works of former historians). Eżāfa phrases may also represent a reduced relative clause: dānešjuyān-e az orūpā bargašta (students back from Europe) or, with infinitives and participles, a nominalized verb phrase: koštan-e šīr (killing the lion), košta šodan-e šīr (the lion’s being killed). They also generate prepositional phrases, the heads of which are commonly lexicalized as prepositions: rū-ye dīvār (on the wall; lit: face of the wall), az zīr-e mīz (from under the table; lit: from the underside of the table).

The construction derives from Old Persian hya, a demonstrative and relative particle (e.g., adam Bardiya ahmiy hya Kurauš puça “I am Bardiya, who [am] Cyrus’s son”; DB 1.39; Kent, p. 117; cf. Peisikov, p. 45). This was reduced to ī in Middle Persian, surviving as graphic into the early New Persian period (e.g., būmī šāh “the king’s land”; Ebn al-Balḵī, p. 27). As reduced relative clauses, the two types of eżāfa are motivated by underlying relative clauses respectively with the verb to have (nominal eżāfa, i.e., ḵāna-ī ke ū dārad “the house that he has”) and the verb to be (adjectival eżāfa, e.g., ḵāna-ī ke bozorg ast “the house that is big”), an insight that has been articulated variously by traditional and modern grammarians. Thus Persian scholars distinguish between the two types in that the adjective (ṣefat) relates to the headnoun (mawṣūf), whereas the możāf elayh relates to other than the możāf (e.g. in mard-e dānā “wise man,” dānā “wise” denotes the same person as mard “man”; in āb-e ḥawzµ “the water of/in the pond,” āb “water” and ḥawzµ “pond are distinct entities). Adrian Palmer’s study, using case-grammar theory, further distinguishes between alienable and inalienable possession, arguing that an instance of the latter (e.g., dast-e Ḥasan “Hasan’s hand”) cannot normally be derived from a relative clause (pp. 124-50); he also discusses in depth the infinitival or gerund-eżāfa (type raftan-e Ḥasan “Ḥasan’s going”; pp. 98-123). A structuralist description by Georg Hincha examines the distribution of eżāfa phrases involving the plural suffix - (pp. 148-51). Lazar’ S. Peisikov provides the most detailed general description of the construction (pp. 41-108); for other studies, see Gernot Windfuhr (pp. 57-62).

Traditional Persian grammarians analyzed the eżāfa into semantic or rhetorical rather than formal categories; the Indo-Persian author Moẓaffar-ʿAlī Asīr lists fourteen types in his Resāla-ye eżāfāt. Moḥammad Moʿīn states the primary division of eżāfa phrases in terms of literal (ḥaqīqī) versus metaphorical ones (majāzī), and collapses the literal categories into three types (but with much uneven subcategorizing): (1) appurtenance (eżāfa-ye eḵteṣāṣī), such as ḵāna-ye ʿAlī (ʿAlī’s house) or dar-e bāḡ (the garden gate); (2) specification (bayānī or tabyīnī), indicating the material of which something is made, as kāsa-ye mesī (a copper bowl) or expressing an apposition, as rūz-e jomʿa (lit: the day Friday), or sonship, as Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow (Nāṣer, [son] of Ḵosrow); (3) figurative association (eqterānī), typically a paraphrase of an adverbial, as nāma-rā ba-dast-e adab gereft (he took the letter with the hand of deference, i.e., deferentially).

Lazard (sec. 46) lists five broad categories of relation expressed by the eżāfa: (1) adjectival modification, as āb-e garm (hot water); (2) adverbial modification, as rūz-e baʿd az ān ettefāq (the day after that incident); (3) qualification by a noun or infinitve indicating the source, material, purpose or product, as āb-e ḵordan (drinking water), āb-e zendagī (the water of life); (4) appurtenance, variously expressing possession, origin, aim, partitive, locative, etc. (incl. the idiom māl-e man “mine,” māl-e Ḥasan “Ḥasan’s”); (5) specification of a noun in apposition. (e.g., šahr-e Tehrān “the city of Tehran”).

The connective particle may be omitted under certain circumstances (fakk-e eżāfa “release of the eżāfa”; Moʿīn, p. 206); this applies mainly in common or frequently-occurring expressions such as kinship phrases and forms of address (pedar-zan “father-in-law,” janāb-ʿālī “sir”), and phrases that have in effect become lexical units, such as ṣāḥeb-ḵāna (landlord), jā-namāz (prayer-rug). In modern informal speech the range of this feature is considerably expanded (Lazard, secs. 45, 252-53).

Other morphosyntactic types are sometimes termed forms of the eżāfa: such are the nominal compound with the headnoun in second place, as īrāndūst (Iranophile; eżāfa-ye maqlūb, “reversed eżāfa”; Moʿīn, pp. 206-7). Indian and Turkish grammarians have sometimes applied the term arbitrarily to forms of noun phrase characteristic of their own languages. In earlier Persian, and much non-Persian, usage the term appears in the form eżāfat (Tk. and Russ. izafet).



Moẓaffar-ʿAlī Asīr, Resāla-ye eżāfat, 3rd ed., Lucknow, 1915.

M.-R. Bāṭenī, Tawṣīf-e sāḵtmān-e dastūrī-e zabān-e farsī, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

G. Hincha, “Beiträge zu einer Morphemlehre des Neupersichen,” Der Islam 37, 1961, pp. 136-201.

G. Lazard, Grammaire du persan contemporain, Paris, 1957; tr. S. A. Lyon as Grammar of Contemporary Persian, Costa Mesa, Calif., and New York, 1992.

M. Moʿīn, Ṭarḥ-e dastūr-e zabān-e fārsī 3-4: Eżāfa, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962; 5th ed., 1370 Š./1991.

A. S. Palmer, “The Ezafe Construction in Modern Standard Persian,” Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1971.

L. S. Peisikov, Voprosy sintaksisa persidskogo yazyka (Issues in Persian syntax), Moscow, 1959.

ʿA.-ʿA. Qarīb et al., Dastūr-e zabān-e fārsī, Tehran, 1371 Š./1992.

A. A. Ṣādeqī, Dastūr, Tehran, 1355 Š./1976.

G. L. Windfuhr, Persian Grammar: History and State of its Study, The Hague, 1979.

W. Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, 3rd ed., Cambridge, U.K., 1955.

(John R. Perry and Ali Ashraf Sadeghi)

Originally Published: December 15, 1999

Last Updated: January 20, 2012

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Vol. IX, Fasc. 2, pp. 127-128