Inanimate Plurals

Although there is always agreement between the subject of the sentence and the verb in Persian, a rather peculiar characteristic is that under normal circumstances, if the subject is inanimate, a singular verb “to be” or “to become” is used even with a plural subject.

Compare and contrast these examples with English:

This man is great/big. in mard bozorg ast این مرد بزرگ است
These men are great/big. in mardhā (mardān) bozorg hastand این مردها (مردان) بزرگ هستند
This table is big/large. in miz bozorg ast این میز بزرگ است
These tables are big/large. in miz hā bozorg ast این میزها بزرگ است
The clocks were broken. sā’at hā xarāb šod ساعتها خراب شد

There are exceptions, however. For instance, if the words شهر šāhr ‘city’, کشور kešvar ‘country’, etc. are specified by the addition of the demonstrative adjectives این ‘this’ and آن ‘that’, then a plural verb is used with the plural subject.

Compare and contrast the following sentences:

There were some large cities there. šahr hā-ye bozorgi dar ānjā bud شهرهای بزرگی در آنجا بود
Those countries are very old/ancient. ān keshvar hā xeyli qadimi hastand آن کشورها خیلی قدیمی هستند

The rule stays constant with the negative, that is, “not to be”, “did not become”, as well:

گاوهای این ده خیلی بزرگ نیستند
gāv hā-ye in deh xeyli| bozorg nistand
“The cows in this village are not really too big.”
این کتاب ها مال من نیست
in ketāb hā māl-e man nist!
“[but] These books are not mine!”
کارهای ما درست نشد
kār hā-ye mā dorost našod
“Our affairs did not result favorably.”

In colloquial Persian usually the verb agrees with the inanimate subject, if the subject is kinetic and an adjective defines it. Compare and contrast the following sentences:

These tables are very big/large. in miz hā xeyli bozorge این میزها خیلی بزرگه
These airplanes are very beautiful. in havāpeymā hā xeyli qašangan این هواپیماها خیلی قشنگن
These trains are not made here. in qatārā saxt-e injā niss این قطارا ساخت اینجا نیس

In the Persian culture, “trees” are revered and treated as animate beings. For instance, while the plural suffix [-ān] is only for animate nouns (next to [hā]), it is exceptionally used with the word درخت deraxt ‘tree’ as well: مردها / مردان, زن ها / زنان, درخت ها / درختان; while, for instance, we have گل ها, but never گلان, میزها, but never میزان. Hence, in dealing with the word درخت, although the singular verb is used occasionally, the usage of the plural verb is more common. Therefore both of the following forms are acceptable:

این درخت ها قشنگ است.
این درخت ها قشنگ هستند.

Both of these would translate in English as, ‘These trees are beautiful.’

In the past tense the same rule applies: کارهایمان درست نشد.

Many verbs follow the same rule, provided they have to do with state of being or condition, especially if the plural noun represents a unit. In the following two sentences the plural nouns کارها and لباس ها both represent a unit or a set:

کارهایمان خوب پیش رفت
kār hāyemān xub piš raft
“Our affairs progressed well.”
این لباس ها به شما می آید
in lebās hā be šomā mi āyad
“These clothes [you are wearing] are very becoming.”

The singular Arabic loanword میزان mizān ‘scale’ is a different word. It is from the Arabic root وزن wazn ‘weight’ from the verbal root wazana ‘to weigh’.