[ oor-doo, ur-; oor-doo, ur- ]
/ ˈʊər du, ˈɜr-; ʊərˈdu, ɜr- /
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one of the official languages of Pakistan, a language derived from Hindustani, used by Muslims, and written with Persian-Arabic letters.


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Origin of Urdu

<Urdu, Hindi urdū, extracted from Persian zabān i urdū literally, language of the camp (ultimately <Turkic; see horde)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does Urdu mean?

Urdu is the official language of Pakistan. It is derived from the older Hindustani language, and the written form uses Persian-Arabic letters.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a south Asian country with Afghanistan to its north and India to its south. Urdu is a member of the Indic family of languages, which includes other languages spoken by culture groups in Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka.

Urdu is recognized by Pakistan as the official language and it is the fifth most common language spoken in the country.

Why is Urdu important?

Pakistan and India have a complicated relationship, and so do their official languages of Urdu and Hindi (one of India’s many official languages). Both languages come from the older Hindustani language, and Hindustani is still used to collectively refer to both languages.

Spoken Urdu and Hindi are so similar that they are often considered to be “sister languages” and speakers of the two languages can easily understand each other. However, the Urdu written language is based on Arabic script and Persian vocabulary, while Hindi’s written language is based on Sanskrit. Urdu is written and read from right to left, while Hindi is written and read left to right.

Urdu is spoken as a first language by 8 percent of Pakistan’s population. Worldwide, Urdu is spoken by about 100 million people. Outside of Pakistan, it is most common in countries with large Pakistani communities, such as those in India, Bangladesh, and countries in the Middle East. Spoken Urdu and Hindi still remain very similar, although the relations between Pakistan and India remain tense.


Did you know you speak some Urdu words already? Learn about some of the words in English that come from Urdu and Hindi.

Did you know ... ?

The word Urdu comes from the Hindustani, Persian, and Turkic words for “camp.” The “camp” referred to is the army camps of the various rulers who conquered the area where the language was spoken. Despite the name, spoken Urdu was spoken even by members of the royal courts and the highest classes of society.

What are real-life examples of Urdu?

This video demonstrates spoken and written Urdu as compared to Hindi.

Urdu is most familiar to Pakistan natives or people of Pakistani heritage. The Urdu language is also often involved in the complex cultural situation of the Indian subcontinent.

What other words are related to Urdu?

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The Urdu language is based on Sanskrit.

How to use Urdu in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for Urdu

/ (ˈʊəduː, ˈɜː-) /

an official language of Pakistan, also spoken in India. The script derives primarily from Persia. It belongs to the Indic branch of the Indo-European family of languages, being closely related to Hindi but containing many Arabic and Persian loan words

Word Origin for Urdu

C18: from Hindustani (zabāni) urdū (language of the) camp, from Persian urdū camp, from Turkish ordū
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012