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Urdu Poetry
Spoken in: Pakistan, India, Afghanistan 
Region: South Asia,Some concentrated parts of Europe
Total speakers: 61-80 million native,
160 million total 
Ranking: 19–21 (native speakers), in a near tie with Italian and Turkish
Language family: Indo-European
   Central zone
    Western Hindi
Writing system: Urdu alphabet (Nasta'liq script) (Roman Urdu Alphabet) 
Official status
Official language of: Pakistan; India (Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh)
Regulated by: مقتدرہ قومی زبان National Language Authority
Language codes
ISO 639-1: ur
ISO 639-2: urd
ISO 639-3: urd

Urdū (اردو, historically spelled Ordu), is an Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-Iranian branch, belonging to Indo-European family of languages. It developed under Persian and Arabic, to some lesser degree also under Turkic influence in South Asia during the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire (1526–1858 AD).

Urdū refers to a standardised register of Hindustani termed khaṛībolī, that emerged as a standard dialect. The grammatical description in this article concerns this standard Urdū. In general, the term "Urdū" can encompass dialects of Hindustani other than the standardised versions.

Standard Urdū has approximately the twentieth largest population of native speakers, among all languages. It is the national language of Pakistan as well as one of the 23 official languages of India.

Urdū is often contrasted with Hindi, another standardised form of Hindustani. The main difference between the two is that Standard Urdū is written in Nastaliq calligraphy style of the Perso-Arabic script and draws heavily on Persian and Arabic loanwords, while Standard Hindi is written in Devanāgarī and has inherited significant vocabulary from Sanskrit. Linguists therefore consider Urdū and Hindi to be two standardized forms of the same language.

Speakers and geographic distribution

The phrase Zaban-e Urdu-e Mualla written in Nasta'liq.
The phrase Zaban-e Urdu-e Mualla written in Nasta'liq.

There are between 60 and 80 million native speakers of standard Urdū (Khari Boli). Overall, besides the more than 160 million who speak Urdū in Pakistan, there is a considerable Indian population who communicate in Urdū every day. According to the SIL ethnologue (1999 data), Hindi/Urdu is the fifth most spoken language in the world. According to Comerie (1998 data), Hindi-Urdu is the second most spoken language in the world, with 330 million native speakers, after Mandarin and possibly English.

Because of Urdū's similarity to Hindi, speakers of the two languages can usually understand one another, if both sides refrain from using specialized vocabulary. Indeed, linguists sometimes count them as being part of the same language diasystem. However, Urdū and Hindi are socio-politically different, and people who self-describe as being speakers of Hindi would question their being counted as native speakers of Urdū, and vice-versa.

In Pakistan, Urdū is spoken and understood by a majority of urban dwellers in such cities as Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi/Islamabad, Abbottabad, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Multan, Peshawar, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Sukkur and Sargodha. Urdū is used as the official language in all provinces of Pakistan. It is also taught as a compulsory language up to high school in both the English and Urdū medium school systems. This has produced millions of Urdū speakers whose mother tongue is one of the regional languages of Pakistan such as Punjabi, Hindko, Sindhi, Pashto, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Balochi, Siraiki, and Brahui. Urdū is the lingua franca of Pakistan and is absorbing many words from regional languages of Pakistan. The regional languages are also being influenced by Urdū vocabulary. Most of the nearly five million Afghan refugees of different ethnic origins (such as Pakhtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazarvi, and Turkmen) who stayed in Pakistan for over twenty-five years have also become fluent in Urdū.

In India, Urdū is spoken in places where there are large Muslim majorities or cities which were bases for Muslim Empires in the past. These include parts of Uttar Pradesh (namely Lucknow), Delhi, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Mysore. Some Indian schools teach Urdū as a first language and have their own syllabus and exams. Indian madrasahs also teach Arabic as well as Urdū. India has more than 2,900 daily Urdū newspapers. Newspapers such as Daily Salar, Daily Pasban, Siasat Daily, Munsif Daily and Inqilab are published and distributed in Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai.

Outside South Asia, it is spoken by large numbers of migrant South Asian workers in the major urban centers of the Persian Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia. Urdū is also spoken by large numbers of immigrants and their children in the major urban centers of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Norway and Australia.

Countries with large numbers of native Urdū speakers:

  • India (48.1 million [1997])
  • Pakistan (10.7 million [1993])
  • Bangladesh (650,000)
  • United Arab Emirates (600,000)
  • United Kingdom (400,000 [1990])
  • Saudi Arabia (382,000)
  • Nepal (375,000)
  • United States (350,000)
  • South Africa (170,000 South Asian Muslims, some of which may speak Urdū)
  • Oman (90,000)
  • Canada (80,895 [2001])
  • Bahrain (80,000)
  • Mauritius (74,000)
  • Qatar (70,000)
  • Germany (40,000)
  • Norway (26,950 [2005])
  • France (20,000)
  • Spain (18,000 [2004])
  • Sweden (10,000 [2001]
  • Thailand
  • Afghanistan
  • Japan (8,000)
  • Fiji
  • Guyana
  • Suriname
  • Australia
  • Denmark
  • Italy
  • New Zealand
  • World Total: 60,503,579

Official status

Urdū is the national language of Pakistan and is spoken and understood throughout the country. It shares official language status with English. It is used in education, literature, office and court business, media, and in religious institutions. It holds in itself a repository of the cultural, religious and social heritage of the country. Although English is used in most elite circles, and Punjabi has a plurality of native speakers, Urdū is the lingua franca and is expected to prevail. Urdū is also one of the officially recognized state languages in India and has official language status in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttar Pradesh, and the national capital, Delhi. While the government school system in most other states emphasizes Standard Hindi, at universities in cities such as Lucknow, Aligarh and Hyderabad, Urdū is spoken, learned, and regarded as a language of prestige.

Classification and related languages

Urdū is a member of the Indo-Aryan family of languages (i.e., those languages descending from Sanskrit), which is in turn a branch of the Indo-Iranian group (which comprises the Indo-Aryan and the Iranian branches), which itself is a member of the Indo-European linguistic family. If Hindi and Urdū are considered to be the same language (Hindustani or Hindi-Urdū), then Urdū can be considered to be a part of a dialect continuum which extends across eastern Iran, Afghanistan and modern Pakistan—right into eastern India. These idioms all have similar grammatical structures and share a large portion of their vocabulary. Punjabi, for instance, is very similar to Urdū; Punjabi written in the Shahmukhi script can be understood by speakers of Urdū with little difficulty, but spoken Punjabi has a very different phonology (pronunciation system) and can be harder to understand for Urdū speakers.


Urdū has four recognised dialects: Dakhini, Pinjari, Rekhta, and Modern Vernacular Urdū (based on the Khariboli dialect of the Delhi region). Sociolinguists also consider Urdū iself one of the four major variants of the Hindi-Urdū dialect continuum.

Modern Vernacular Urdū is the form of the language that is least widespread and is spoken around Delhi, Lucknow, Karachi and Lahore, it becomes increasingly divergent from the original form of Urdū as it loses some of the complicated Persian and Arabic vocabulary used in everyday terms.

Dakhini (also known as Dakani, Deccani, Desia, Mirgan) is spoken in Maharashtra state in India and around Hyderabad. It has fewer Persian and Arabic words than standard Urdū.

In addition, Rekhta (or Rekhti), the language of Urdū poetry, is sometimes counted as a separate dialect.


Despite Urdū and English both being Indo-European languages, Urdū grammar can be very complex and is different in many ways from what English-speakers are used to. Most notably, Urdū is a subject-object-verb language, meaning that verbs usually fall at the end of the sentence rather than before the object (as in English). Urdū also shows mixed ergativity so that, in some cases, verbs agree with the object of a sentence rather than the subject. Unlike English, Urdū has no definite article (the). The numeral ek might be used as the indefinite singular article (a/an) if this needs to be stressed.

Urdū uses postpositions where English uses prepositions. Other differences include gender, honorifics, interrogatives, use of cases, and different tenses. While being complicated, Urdū grammar is fairly regular, with irregularities being relatively limited. Despite differences in vocabulary and writing, Urdū grammar is nearly identical with that of Hindi. Urdū also has a unique punctuation system. Periods are sometimes used to end a sentence, though the traditional "full stop" (a horizontal line "-") is more generally used. After a heading, a colon followed by a dash (-:) is used. Colons are used in almost the same way as in English. Semi-colons and ellipsis (...) are not generally used in Urdū. However, we can see their use sometimes because Urdū is still evolving and is influenced by English. Urdū punctuation sometimes uses western conventions for commas, exclamation points, and question marks.


Urdū has two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. All male human beings and male animals (as well as those animals and plants which are perceived as being "male") are masculine. All female human beings and female animals (as well as those animals and plants which are perceived as being "female") are feminine. Things, inanimate articles and abstract nouns are also either masculine or feminine according to convention, which must be memorized by non-Urdū speakers if they wish to learn correct Urdū. While this is similar to Hindi and most other Indo-European languages such as French, it is a very challenging learning requirement for speakers of languages which do not have such gender inflection. It is also a challenge for those who are used to only the English language, which although an Indo-European language, has eliminated almost all of its gender inflection.

The ending of a word, if a vowel, usually helps in this gender classification. If a word of Hindi origin ends in long ā, it is normally masculine. If a word ends in ī, i, or iyā, it is normally feminine. Similarly, Urdu tries to match the gender of words borrowed from Arabic, Persian, and other languages that have grammatical gender. The categorisation of Urdū words directly borrowed from English is arbitrary, but may be influenced by how the words end phonologically in English. Adjectives ending in a long [ɑ:] must be inflected to agree with the gender of the noun.

Interrogative pronouns

Besides the standard interrogative pronouns "who" (کون kaun), "what" (کیا kyā), "why" (کیوں kyon), "when" (کب kab), "where" (کہاں kahān), "how" / "what kind of" (کیسا kaisā), "how many" (کِتنا kitnā), etc, the Urdū word (کیا kyā) can be used as a generic interrogative often placed at the beginning of a sentence to turn a statement into a Yes/No question (compare French Est-ce que). This makes it clear that a question is being asked. Questions can also be formed simply by modifying intonation, exactly as some questions are in English.

Personal pronouns

Urdū has pronouns in the first, second and third persons, all of which are undifferentiated for gender. Thus, unlike English, there is no difference between he and she. More strictly speaking, the third person of the pronoun is identical with the demonstrative pronoun ("this" / "that"). Gender distinction is, however, normally indicated in the conjugation of the verb. The pronouns have additional cases of accusative and genitive. There may also be multiple ways of inflecting the pronouns. Note that for the second person of the pronoun you, Urdū has three levels of honorifics:

  • آپ āp/[ɑːp]: Formal and respectable form for you. Used in all formal settings and speaking to persons who are senior in job or age. No difference between the singular and the plural; plural reference can, however, be indicated by the use of "you people" (آپ لوگ āp log)) or "you all" (آپ سب āp sab).
  • تُم tum/[tum]: Informal form of you. Used in all informal settings and speaking to persons who are junior in job or age. No difference between the singular and the plural; plural reference can, however, be indicated by the use of "you people" (تُم لوگ tum log) or "you all" (تُم سب tum sab).
  • تُو tū/[tuː]: Extremely informal form of you, as thou. Strictly singular, its plural form would be تُم tum. Inappropriate use of this form — i.e. other than in addressing children, very close friends, or in poetic language (either with God or with lovers) — risks being perceived as offensive in Pakistan or India.

Imperatives (requests and commands) correspond in form to the level of honorific being used, and the verb inflects to show the level of respect and politeness desired. Because imperatives can already include politeness, the word مہربانی "meharbānī", which can be translated as "please", is much less common than in spoken English; it is generally only used in writing or announcements.

 Word order

The standard word order in Urdū is, in general, Subject Object Verb, but where different emphasis or more complex structure is needed, this rule is very easily set aside (provided that the nouns/pronouns are always followed by their postpositions or case markers). More specifically, the standard order is 1. Subject 2. Adverbs (in their standard order) 3. Indirect object and any of its adjectives 4. Direct object and any of its adjectives 5. Negation term or interrogative, if any, and finally the 6. Verb and any auxiliary verbs. (Snell, p93) The standard order can be modified in various ways to impart emphasis on particular parts of the sentence. Negation is formed by adding the word نہیں nahīn, meaning "no", in the appropriate place in the sentence, or by utilizing نہ na or مت mut in some cases. Note that in Urdū, the adjectives precede the nouns they qualify. The auxiliaries always follow the main verb. Also, Urdū speakers or writers enjoy considerable freedom in placing words to achieve stylistic and other socio-psychological effects, though not as much freedom as in heavily inflected languages.

Tense and aspect of Urdū verbs

Urdū verbal structure is focused on aspect with distinctions based on tense usually shown through use of the verb to be (ہونا honā) as an auxiliary. There are three aspects: habitual (imperfect), progressive (also known as continuous) and perfective. Verbs in each aspect are marked for tense in almost all cases with the proper inflected form of honā. Urdū has four simple tenses, present, past, future (presumptive), and subjunctive (referred to as a mood by many linguists). Verbs are conjugated not only to show the number and person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) of their subject, but also its gender. Additionally, Urdū has imperative and conditional moods.


Urdū is a weakly inflected language for case; the relationship of a noun in a sentence is usually shown by postpositions (i.e., prepositions that follow the noun). Urdū has three cases for nouns. The Direct case is used for nouns not followed by any postpositions, typically for the subject case. The Oblique case is used for any nouns that is followed by a postposition. Adjectives modifying nouns in the oblique case will inflect that same way. Some nouns have a separate Vocative case. Urdū has two numbers: singular and plural—but they may not be shown distinctly in all declinations.

Levels of formality in Urdū

The order of words in Urdū is not as rigidly fixed as it is thought to be by traditional grammarians. Although usually (but not invariably) an Urdū sentence begins with a subject and the ends with a verb. That is why Urdū is often called as SOV language (e.g. Subject-Object-Verb language). However, Urdū speakers or writers enjoy considerable freedom in placing words in an utterance to achieve stylistic effects, see Bhatia and Koul (2000, pp. 34-35).

Urdū in its less formalised register has been referred to as a rekhta (ریختہ, [reːxt̪aː]), meaning "rough mixture". The more formal register of Urdū is sometimes referred to as zabān-e-Urdu-e-mo'alla (زبانِ اردوِ معلہ, [zəba:n e: ʊrd̪uː eː moəllaː]), the "Language of Camp and Court".

The etymology of the word used in the Urdū language for the most part decides how polite or refined your speech is. For example, Urdū speakers would distinguish between پانی pānī and آب āb, both meaning "water" for example, or between آدمی ādmi and مرد mard, meaning "man". The former in each set is used colloquially and has older Hindustani origins, while the latter is used formally and poetically, being of Persian origin.

If a word is of Persian or Arabic origin, the level of speech is considered to be more formal and grand. Similarly, if Persian or Arabic grammar constructs, such as the izafat, are used in Urdū, the level of speech is also considered more formal and grand. If a word is inherited from Sanskrit, the level of speech is considered more colloquial and personal.


Urdū is supposed to be very subtle and a host of words are used to show respect and politeness. This emphasis on politeness, which is reflected in the vocabulary, is known as takalluf in Urdū. These words are generally used when addressing elders, or people with whom one is not acquainted. For example, the English pronoun 'you' can be translated into three words in Urdū the singular forms tu (informal, extremely intimate, or derogatory) and tum (informal and showing intimacy called "apna pun" in Urdū) and the plural form āp (formal and respectful). Similarly, verbs, for example, "come," can be translated with degrees of formality in three ways:

  1. آ‏ئے āiye/[aːɪje] or آ‏ئیں āen/[aːẽː] ( formal and respectful)
  2. آ‏و āo/[aːo] (informal and intimate with less degree)
  3. آ ā/[aː] (extremely informal, intimate and often derogatory).


Urdū has a vocabulary rich in words with Indian and Middle Eastern origins. The borrowings are dominated by words from Persian and Arabic. There are also a small number of borrowings from Turkish, Portuguese, and more recently English. Many of the words of Arabic origin have different nuances of meaning and usage than they do in Arabic.

Writing system

The Urdū Nasta’liq alphabet, with names in the Devanāgarī and Latin alphabets
The Urdū Nasta’liq alphabet, with names in the Devanāgarī and Latin alphabets

Nowadays, Urdū is generally written right-to left in an extension of the Persian alphabet, which is itself an extension of the Arabic alphabet. Urdū is associated with the Nasta’liq style of Arabic calligraphy, whereas Arabic is generally written in the modernized Naskh style. Nasta’liq is notoriously difficult to typeset, so Urdū newspapers were hand-written by masters of calligraphy, known as katib or khush-navees, until the late 1980s.

Historically, Urdū was also written in the Kaithi script. A highly-Persianized and technical form of Urdū was the lingua franca of the law courts of the British administration in Bengal, Bihar, and the North-West Provinces & Oudh. Until the late 19th century, all proceedings and court transactions in this register of Urdū was written officially in the Persian script. In 1880, Sir Ashley Eden, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal abolished the use of the Persian alphabet in the law courts of Bengal and Bihar and ordered the exclusive use of Kaithi, a popular script used for both Urdū and Hindi Kaithi's association with Urdū and Hindi was ultimately eliminated by the political contest between these languages and their scripts, in which the Persian script was definitively linked to Urdū.

More recently in India, Urdū speakers have adopted Devanagari for publishing Urdu periodicals and have innovated new strategies to mark Urdū in Devanagari as distinct from Hindi in Devanagari The popular Urdū monthly magazine, महकता आंचल (Mahakta Anchal), is published in Delhi in Devanagari in order to target the generation of Muslim boys and girls who do not know the Persian script. Such publishers have introduced new orthographic features into Devanagari for the purpose of representing Urdū sounds. One example is the use of अ (Devanagari a) with vowel signs to mimic contexts of ع (‘ain). To Urdū publishers, the use of Devanagari gives them a greater audience, but helps them to preserve the distinct identity of Urdū when written in Devanagari.

The Daily Jang was the first Urdū newspaper to be typeset digitally in Nasta’liq by computer. There are efforts underway to develop more sophisticated and user-friendly Urdū support on computers and the Internet. Nowadays, nearly all Urdū newspapers, magazines, journals, and periodicals are composed on computers via various Urdū software programs. In India, ghazals are often found transliterated into Devanāgarī, as an aid for those Hindī-speakers, who can comprehend Urdū, but cannot read the Perso-Arabic script.

A list of the Urdū alphabet and pronunciation is given below. Urdū contains many historical spellings from Arabic and Persian, and therefore has many irregularities. The Arabic letters yaa and haa are split into two in Urdū: one of the yaa variants is used at the ends of words for the sound [i], and one of the haa variants is used to indicate the aspirated consonants. The retroflex consonants needed to be added as well; this was accomplished by placing a superscript ط (to'e) above the corresponding dental consonants. Several letters which represent distinct consonants in Arabic are conflated in Persian, and this has carried over to Urdū.

Letter Name of letter Pronunciation in the IPA
ا alif [ə, ɑ] after a consonant; silent when initial. Close to an English long an as in Mask.
ب be [b] English b.
پ pe [p] English p.
ت te dental [t̪] Close to French t as in trois.
ٹ ṭe retroflex [ʈ] Close to English T.
ث se [s] Close to English s
ج jīm [dʒ] Same as English j
چ cīm/ce [tʃ] Same as English ch, not like Scottish ch
ح baṛī he [h] voicleless h, partially an Alveolar consonant
خ khe [x] Slightly rolled version of Scottish "ch" as in loch
د dāl dental [d̪]
ڈ ḍāl retroflex [ɖ]
ذ zāl [z]
ر re dental [r]
ڑ ṛe retroflex [ɽ]
ز ze [z]
ژ zhe [ʒ]
س sīn [s]
ش shīn [ʃ]
ص su'ād [s]
ض zu'ād [z]
ط to'e [t]
ظ zo'e [z]
ع ‘ain [ɑ] after a consonant; otherwise [ʔ], [ə], or silent.
غ ghain [ɣ] voiced version of [x]
ف fe [f]
ق qāf [q]
ک kāf [k]
گ gāf [g]
ل lām [l]
م mīm [m]
ن nūn [n] or a nasal vowel
و vā'o [v, u, ʊ, o, ow]
ہ, ﮩ, ﮨ choṭī he [ɑ] at the end of a word, otherwise [h] or silent
ھ do cashmī he indicates that the preceding consonant is aspirated (p, t, c, k) or murmured (b, d, j, g).
ی choṭī ye [j, i, e, ɛ]
ے baṛī ye [eː]
ء hamzah [ʔ] or silent


Urdū is occasionally also written in the Roman script. Roman Urdū has been used since the days of the British Raj, partly as a result of the availability and low cost of Roman movable type for printing presses. The use of Roman Urdū was common in contexts such as product labels. Today it is regaining popularity among users of text-messaging and Internet services and is developing its own style and conventions. Habib R. Sulemani says, "The younger generation of Urdū-speaking people around the world are using Romanised Urdū on the Internet and it has become essential for them, because they use the Internet and English is its language. A person from Islamabad chats with another in Delhi on the Internet only in Roman Urdū. They both speak the same language but with different scripts. Moreover, the younger generation of those who are from the English medium schools or settled in the west, can speak Urdū but can’t write it in the traditional Arabic script and thus Roman Urdū is a blessing for such a population."[citation needed]

Roman Urdū also holds significance among the Christians of North India. Urdū was the dominant native language among Christians of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan in the early part of 1900s and is still used by some people in these Indian states. Indian Christians often used the Roman script for writing Urdū. Thus Roman Urdū was a common way of writing among Indian Christians in these states up to the 1960s. The Bible Society of India publishes Roman Urdū Bibles which enjoyed sale late into the 1960s (though they are still published today). Church songbooks are also common in Roman Urdū. However, the usage of Roman Urdū is declining with the wider use of Hindi and English in these states. The major Hindi-Urdu South Asian film industries, Bollywood and Lollywood, are also noteworthy for their use of Roman Urdū for their movie titles.

Usually, bare transliterations of Urdū into Roman letters omit many phonemic elements that have no equivalent in English or other languages commonly written in the Latin alphabet. It should be noted that a comprehensive system has emerged with specific notations to signify non-English sounds, but it can only be properly read by someone already familiar with Urdū, Persian, or Arabic for letters such as:ژ خ غ ط ص or ق and Hindi for letters such as ڑ. This script may be found on the Internet, and it allows people who understand the language but without knowledge of their written forms to communicate with each other.

Also see Roman Urdū.


English Urdu Transliteration Notes
Hello السلام علیکم assalāmu ‘alaikum lit. "Peace be upon you."
اداب [aˈdaːb] would generally
be used to give respect
و علیکم السلام [ˈwaɭikum ˈaʔsaɭam]
is the correct response.
Hello آداب عرض ہے ādāb arz hai "Regards to you"
(lit Regards are expressed),
a very formal secular greeting.
Good Bye خدا حافظ khudā hāfiz Khuda is Persian for God,
and hāfiz is from Arabic hifz "protection".
So lit. "May God be your Guardian."
Standard and commonly used
by Muslims and non-Muslims OR al vida formally spoken all over
yes ہاں n casual
yes جی formal
yes جی ہاں jī hān confident formal
no نا casual
no نہیں، جی نہیں nahīn, jī nahīn formal;jī nahīn is considered more formal
please مہربانی meharbānī
thank you شکریہ shukrīā
Please come in تشریف لائیے tashrīf laīe lit. Bring your honour
Please have a seat تشریف رکھیئے tashrīf rakhīe lit. Place your honour
I am happy to meet you اپ سے مل کر خوشی ہوئی āp se mil kar khvushī (khushī) hūye lit. Meeting you has made me happy.
Do you speak English? کیا اپ انگریزی بولتے ہیں؟ kya āp angrezī bolte hain?
I do not speak Urdū. میں اردو نہیں بولتا/بولتی main urdū nahīn boltā/boltī boltā is masculine, boltī is feminine
My name is ... میرا نام ۔۔۔ ہے merā nām .... hai
Which way to Lahore لاھور کس طرف ہے؟ lāhaur kis taraf hai?
Where is Lucknow? لکھنئو کہاں ہے؟ lakhnau kahān hai
Urdū is a good language. اردو اچھی زبان ہے urdū acchī zabān hai

Sample text

See also: Hindi#Sample_Text

The following is a sample text in zabān-e urdū-e muʻallā (formal Urdū), of the Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (by the United Nations):

Urdu Text:
دفعہ 1: تمام انسان آزاد اور حقوق و عزت کے اعتبار سے برابر پیدا ہوۓ ہیں۔ انہیں ضمیر اور عقل ودیعت ہوئی ہی۔ اسلۓ انہیں ایک دوسرے کے ساتھ بھائی چارے کا سلوک کرنا چاہیۓ۔
Transliteration (ALA-LC):
Dafʻah 1: Tamām insān āzād aur ḥuqūq o ʻizzat ke iʻtibār se barābar paidā hu’e heṇ. Unheṇ z̤amīr aur ʻaql wadīʻat hu’ī he. Isli’e unheṇ ek dūsre ke sāth bhā’ī chāre kā sulūk karnā chāhi’e.
Gloss (word-to-word):
Article 1: All humans free[,] and rights and dignity *('s) consideration from equal born are. To them conscience and intellect endowed is. Therefore, they one another *('s) brotherhood *('s) treatment do must.
Translation (grammatical):
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, they should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Note: *('s) represents a possessive case which when written is preceded by the possessor and followed by the possessed, unlike the English 'of'.

Common difficulties faced in learning Urdū

  • the phonetic mechanism of some sounds peculiar to Urdū (eg. ṛ, dh etc) The distinction between aspirated and unaspirated consonants will be difficult for English speakers. In addition, the distinction between dental and alveolar (or retroflex) consonants will also pose problems. English speakers will find that they need to carefully distinguish between four different d-sounds and four different t-sounds.
  • pronunciation of vowels: In English, unstressed vowels tend to have a "schwa" quality. The pronunciation of such vowels in English is changed to an "uh" sound; this is called reducing a vowel sound. The second syllable of "unify" is pronounced /ə/, not i. The same for the unstressed second syllable of "person" which is also pronounced /ə/ rather than "oh." In Urdū, English-speakers must constantly be careful not to reduce these vowels.
    • In this respect, probably the most important mistake would be for English speakers to reduce final "ah" sounds to "uh." This can be especially important because an English pronunciation will lead to misunderstandings about grammar and gender. In Urdū, وہ بولتا ہے voh boltā hai is "he talks" whereas وہ بولتی ہے voh boltī hai is "she talks." A typical English pronunciation in the first sentence would be "voh boltuh hai," which will be understood as "she talks" by most Urdū-native speakers.
  • The 'a' ending of many gender-masculine words of native origin, due to romanisation, is highly confused by non-native speakers, because the short 'a' is dropped in Urdū (i.e. ہونا honā).
  • the Verbal concordance; Urdū exhibits split ergativity; see Ergative-absolutive language for an example.
  • Relative-correlative constructions. In English interrogative and relative pronouns are the same word. In "Who are you?" the word "who" is an interrogative, or question, pronoun. In "My friend who lives in Sydney can speak Urdū," the word "who" is not an interrogative, or question-pronoun. It is a relative, or linking-pronoun. In Urdū, there are different words for each. The interrogative pronoun tends to start with the "k" sound:" kab = when?, kahān = where?, kitnā = how much? The relative pronouns are usually very similar but start with "j" sounds: jab = when, jahān = where, jitnā = how much.


Urdū has only become a literary language in recent centuries, as Persian and Arabic were formerly the idioms of choice for "elevated" subjects. However, despite its late development, Urdū literature boasts some world-recognised artists and a considerable corpus.



After Arabic and Persian, Urdū holds the largest collection of work on Islamic literature and Sharia. These include translations and interpretation of Qur'an, commentary on Hadith, Fiqh, history, spirituality, Sufism and metaphysics. A great number of classical texts from Arabic and Persian, have also been translated into Urdū. Relatively inexpensive publishing, combined with the use of Urdū as a lingua franca among Muslims of South Asia, has meant that Islam-related works in Urdū far outnumber such works in any other South Asian language. Two of the most popular Islamic books, originally written in Urdū, are the Fazail-e-Amal and the Bahar-e-Shariat.


Secular prose includes all categories of widely known fiction and non-fiction work, separable into genres.

The dāstān, or tale, a traditional story which may have many characters and complex plotting. This has now fallen into disuse.

The afsāna, or short story, probably the best-known genre of Urdū fiction. The best-known afsāna writers, or afsāna nigār, in Urdū are Saadat Hasan Manto, Qurat-ul-Ain Haider, Munshi Premchand, Ismat Chughtai, Krishan Chander, Ghulam Abbas, Banu Qudsia and Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. Munshi Premchand, became known as a pioneer in the afsāna, though some contend that his were not technically the first as Sir Ross Masood had already written many short stories in Urdū.

Novels form a genre of their own, in the tradition of the English novel.

Other genres include saférnāma (i.e: Odyssey, lit: travel story), mazmoon (i.e: Essay), sarguzisht, inshaeya, murasela, and khud navvisht (i.e: Autobiography).


Mirza Ghalib (1796-1869), a respected poet of Urdū.
Mirza Ghalib (1796-1869), a respected poet of Urdū.

Urdū has been the premier language of poetry in South Asia for two centuries, and has developed a rich tradition in a variety of poetic genres. The 'Ghazal' in Urdū represents the most popular form of subjective poetry, while the 'Nazm' exemplifies the objective kind, often reserved for narrative, descriptive, didactic or satirical purposes. Under the broad head of the Nazm we may also include the classical forms of poems known by specific names such as 'Masnavi' (a long narrative poem in rhyming couplets on any theme: romantic, religious, or didactic), 'Marsia' (an elegy traditionally meant to commemorate the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and his comrades of the Karbala fame), or 'Qasida' (a panegyric written in praise of a king or a nobleman), for all these poems have a single presiding subject, logically developed and concluded. However, these poetic species have an old world aura about their subject and style, and are different from the modern Nazm, supposed to have come into vogue in the later part of the nineteenth century.

  • Diwan (دیوان)
  • Doha (دوہا)
  • Geet (گیت)
  • Ghazal (غزل), as practiced by many poets in the Arab tradition. Mir, Ghalib, Dagh and Faiz are well-known composers of ghazal.
  • Hamd (حمد)
  • Kalam (کلام)
  • Kulyat (کلیات)
  • Marsia (مرثیہ)
  • Masnavi (مثنوی)
  • Musaddas (مسدس)
  • Naat (نعت)
  • Nazm (نظم)
  • Noha (نوحہ)
  • Qaseeda (قصیدہ)
  • Qat'ã (قطعہ)
  • Rubai (a.k.a. Rubayyat or Rubaiyat) (رباعیات)
  • Sehra (سہرا)
  • Shehr a'ashob
  • Soz (سوز)

Foreign forms such as the sonnet, azad nazm (a.k.a Free verse) and haiku have also been used by some modern Urdū poets.

Probably the most widely recited, and memorised genre of contemporary Urdū poetry is naat—panegyric poetry written in praise of the Prophet Muhammad. Nāt can be of any formal category, but is most commonly in the ghazal form. The language used in Urdū nāt ranges from the intensely colloquial to a highly Persianised formal language. The great early twentieth century scholar Imam Ahmad Raza Khan, who wrote many of the most well known nāts in Urdū, epitomised this range in a ghazal of nine stanzas (bayt) in which every stanza contains half a line each of Arabic, Persian, formal Urdū, and colloquial Hindi. The same poet composed a salām—a poem of greeting to the Prophet Muhammad, derived from the unorthodox practice of qiyam, or standing, during the mawlid, or celebration of the birth of the Prophet—Mustafā Jān-e Rahmat, which, due to being recited on Fridays in some Urdū speaking mosques throughout the world, is probably the more frequently recited Urdū poems of the modern era.

Another important genre of Urdū prose are the poems commemorating the martyrdom of imam Hussain and Battle of Karbala, called noha (نوحہ) and marsia. Anees and Dabeer are famous in this regard.

Urdū poetry terminology

Ash'ār (اشعار) (Couplet). It consists of two lines, Misra (مصرعہ); first line is called Misra-e-oola (مصرع اولی) and the second is called 'Misra-e-sānī' (مصرعہ ثانی). Each verse embodies a single thought or subject (sing) She'r (شعر).


Urdū developed as local Indo-Aryan dialects came under the influence of the Muslim courts that ruled South Asia from the early thirteenth century. The official language of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and their successor states, as well as the cultured language of poetry and literature, was Persian, while the language of religion was Arabic. Most of the Sultans and nobility in the Sultanate period were Persianised Turks from Central Asia who spoke Turkish as their mother tongue. The Mughals were also from Central Asia and spoke Turkish as their first language; however the Mughals later adopted Persian. Persian became the preferred language of the Muslim elite of north India before the Mughals entered the scene. Babur's mother tongue was Turkish and he wrote exclusively in Turkish. His son and successor Humayun also spoke and wrote in Turkish. Muzaffar Alam, a noted scholar of Mughal and Indo-Persian history, suggests that Persian became the lingua franca of the empire under Akbar for various political and social factors due to its non-sectarian and fluid nature. The mingling of these languages led to a vernacular that is the ancestor of today's Urdū. Dialects of this vernacular are spoken today in cities and villages throughout Pakistan and northern India. Cities with a particularly strong tradition of Urdū include Hyderabad, Karachi, Lucknow and Lahore.

The name Urdū

The term Urdū came into use when Shahjehan built the Red Fort in Delhi. The word Urdū itself comes from the Turkish word ordu, "tent" or "army", from which we get the word "horde". Hence Urdū is sometimes called "Lashkarī zabān" or the language of the army. Furthermore, armies of India often contained soldiers with various native tongues. Hence, Urdū was the chosen language to address the soldiers as it abridged several languages.

Wherever Muslim soldiers and officials settled, they carried Urdū with them. Urdū enjoyed commanding status in the literary courts of late Muslim rulers and Nawabs, and flourished under their patronage, partially displacing Farsi as the language of elite in the then Indian society.

Urdū continued as one of many languages in Northwest India. In 1947, Urdū was established as the national language of the Islamic Republic of Pakistān in the hope that this move would unite and homogenise the various ethnic groups of the new nation. Urdū suddenly went from a language of a minority to the language of the majority. Today, Urdū is taught throughout Pakistāni schools and spoken in government positions, and it is also common in much of Northern India. Urdū's sister language, Hindī, is the official language of India.

Urdū and Hindī

Because of their great similarities of grammar and core vocabularies, many linguists do not distinguish between Hindī and Urdū as separate languages--at least not in reference to the informal spoken registers. For them, ordinary informal Urdū and Hindī can be seen as variants of the same language (Hindustānī) with the difference being that Urdū is supplemented with a Perso-Arabic vocabulary and Hindi a Sanskritic vocabulary. Additionally, there is the convention of Urdu being written in Perso-Arabic script, and Hindi in Devanagari. The standard, "proper" grammars of both languages are based on Khariboli grammar —the dialect of the Delhi region. So, with respect to grammar, the languages are mutually intelligible when spoken, and can be thought of as the same language.

Despite their similar grammars, however, Standard Urdū and Standard Hindī are distinct languages in regards to their very different vocabularies, their writing systems, and their political and sociolinguistic connotations. Put simply, in the context of everyday casual speech, Hindi and Urdu can be considered dialects of the same language. In terms of their mutual intelligibility in their formal or "proper" registers, however, they are much less mutually intelligible and can be considered separate languages--they have basically the same grammar but very different vocabularies. There are two fundamental distinctions between them:

  • The source of vocabulary (borrowed from Persian or inherited from Sanskrit): In colloquial situations in much of the Indian subcontinent, where neither learned vocabulary nor writing is used, the distinction between the Urdū and Hindī is very small.
  • The most important distinction at this level is in the script: if written in the Perso-Arabic script, the language is generally considered to be Urdū, and if written in Devanagari it is generally considered to be Hindi. Since the Partition of India, the formal registers used in education and the media in India have become increasingly divergent from Urdū in their vocabulary. Where there is no colloquial word for a concept, Standard Urdū uses Perso-Arabic vocabulary, while Standard Hindī uses Sanskrit vocabulary. This results in the official languages being heavily Sanskritised or Persianised, and unintelligible to speakers educated in the other standard (as far as the formal vocabulary is concerned).

Note that for the purpose of linguistics, neither of above two arguments qualify for the purpose of considering Hindī and Urdū to be separate languages. For example, English has about 80-90% of its technical and formal vocabulary coming from Latin (mostly through French). But this fact does not make English a Romance language (i.e., languages descending from Latin) —English is always considered to be a Germanic language, because its "common and everyday vocabulary" and grammar is based upon Old German. Script never causes distinction between languages, because linguistics deals with language as it is "spoken," regarding script as but choice construction.

Hindustani is the name often given to the language as it developed over hundreds of years throughout India (which formerly included what is now Pakistan). In the same way that the core vocabulary of English evolved from Old English (Anglo-Saxon) but includes a large number of words borrowed from French and other languages (whose pronunciations often changed naturally so as to become easier for speakers of English to pronounce), what may be called Hindustani can be said to have evolved from Sanskrit while borrowing many Persian and Arabic words over the years, and changing the pronunciations (and often even the meanings) of those words to make them easier for Hindustani speakers to pronounce. Therefore, Hindustani is the language as it evolved organically.

Linguistically speaking, Standard Hindī is a form of colloquial Hindustānī, with lesser use of Persian and Arabic loanwords, while inheriting its formal vocabulary from Sanskrit; Standard Urdū is also a form of Hindustānī, de-Sanskritised, with its a significant part of formal vocabulary consisting of loanwords from Persian and Arabic. The difference, thus is in the vocabulary, and not the structure of the language.

The difference is also sociolinguistic: When people speak Hindustani (i.e., when they are speaking colloquially) speakers who are Muslims will usually say that they are speaking Urdu, and those who are Hindus will typically say that they are speaking Hindi, even though they are speaking essentially the same language.

The two standardised registers of Hindustānī — Hindi and Urdu — have become so entrenched as separate languages that often nationalists, both Muslim and Hindu, claim that Hindī and Urdū have always been separate languages. However, there are unifying forces. For example, it is said that Indian Bollywood films are made in "Hindī", but the language used in most of them is almost the same as that of Urdū speakers. The dialogue is frequently developed in English and later translated to an intentionally neutral Hindustānī which can be easily understood by speakers of most North Indian languages, both in India and in Pakistan.

Urdū and Bollywood

A typical Bollywood poster
A typical Bollywood poster

The Indian film industry based in Mumbai is often called Bollywood. The language used in Bollywood films is often called Hindī, but most dialogues are actually written in Hindustānī -- they can be understood by Urdū and Hindī speakers alike. The film industry wants to reach the largest possible audience, and it cannot do that if the dialogue of the film is too one-sidedly Hindī or Urdū. This rule is broken only for song lyrics, which use elevated, poetic language. Often, this means using poetic Urdū words, of Arabic and Persian origin. A few films, like Umrao Jaan, Pakeezah, and Mughal-e-azam, have used vocabulary that leans more towards Urdū, as they depict places and times when Urdū would have been used.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, Bollywood films displayed the name of the film in Hindī, Urdū, and Roman scripts. Most Bollywood films today present film titles in Roman, although some also include the Hindī and Urdū scripts.

Dakkhini Urdū

Dakkhini Urdū is a dialect of the Urdu language spoken in the Deccan region of southern India. It is distinct by its mixture of vocabulary from Marathi and Telugu, as well as some vocabulary from Arabic, Persian and Turkish that are not found in the standard dialect of Urdu. In terms of pronunciation, the easiest way to recognize a native speaker is their pronunciation of the letter "qāf" (ﻕ) as "kh" (ﺥ). The Dialect is very reflective of the relaxed attitude of the people which allows the coinage of words, much like ebonics. The majority of people who speak this language are from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mysore and parts of Chennai.

Distinct words, very typical of Dakkhini dialect of Urdu:

Nakko (instead of Nahi in Traditional Urdū) =No

Hau (instead of Han in Traditional Urdū) =Yes

Kaiku (instead of Kyun in Traditional Urdū) =Why

Mereku (instead of Mujhe in Traditional Urdū) = For me

Tereku (instead of Tujhe in Traditional Urdū) =For you

Also see: Dakkhini

Urdu script

As in Ghalib's famous couplet where he compares himself to his great predecessor, the master poet Mir:

ریختے کے تم ہی استاد نہیں ہو غالب
کہتے ہیں اگلے زمانے میں کوئی میر بھی تھا


Rekhta ke tumhin ustād nahīn ho Ghālib
Kahte hainn agle zamāne meinn ko'ī Mīr bhī thā


The language of poetry; you are not alone in its Mastery, O Ghalib,
They will say in the era that follows, 'there was also one called Mir'

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