"Saheb" redirects here. For the city in Iran, see Saheb, Iran. For the administrative subdivision of Iran, see Saheb Rural District.
Royal and noble ranks in Iran, Turkey, Caucasus, the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan
King / Emperor
Royal Prince
Shahzade / Şehzade
Noble Prince
Royal house

Sahib or Saheb (/ˈsɑːhɪb/, traditionally /ˈsɑː.b/ or /ˈsɑːb/; Arabic: صاحب) is a name of Arabic origin meaning "holder, master or owner." It has passed on to several languages including Pashto, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and Somali; as well as existing in English, as a loanword especially associated with British rule in India.

Derived non-ruling princes titles


Sahibzada is a princely style or title equivalent to, or referring to a young prince.[1] This derivation using the Persian suffix -zada(h), literally 'born from (or further male/female descendant; compare Shahzada) a Sahib', was also (part of) the formal style for some princes of the blood of Muslim dynasties in the Indian sub-continent, e.g.:

This could be further combined, e.g.:

Wali-ahad Sahib

Colonial and modern use

Sahib means "owner" in Arabic and was commonly used in the Indian Sub-continent as a courteous term in the way that "Mister" (also derived from the word "master") and "Mrs." (derived from the word "mistress") is used in the English language. It is still used today in the Sub-continent just as "Mister" and "Mrs.", and continues to be used today by English language speakers as a polite form of address.

In the British Indian Army, a British officer would address a Viceroy's commissioned officer (i.e., a native Indian officer) as "<rank> sahib" or "<name> sahib".

The term sahib was applied indiscriminately to any person whether Indian or Non-Indian. This included Europeans who arrived in the Sub-continent as traders in the 16th Century and hence the first mention of the word in European records is in 1673.

Pukka sahib was also a term used to signify genuine and legitimate authority, with pukka meaning "absolutely genuine".

Sahiba is the authentic form of address to be used for a female. Under the British Raj, however, the word used for female members of the establishment was adapted to memsahib, a variation of the English word "ma'am" having been added to the word sahib.

The same word is also appended to the names of Sikh gurus.

The term sahib (normally pronounced saab) was used on P&O vessels which had Indian and/or Pakistani crew to refer to officers, and in particular senior officers. On P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises vessels the term continued to be used by non-Indian/non-Pakistani junior officers to refer to the senior deck and engine officers for many years, even when no Indian or Pakistani crew featured in the ship's company.

Literary reference

The following dialogue in Dorothy Sayers' 1926 novel Clouds of Witness shows what the term implied in British society at the time.

It is noteworthy that the character referred to had never been in India and had no connection with India.

E.M. Forster also employed the term in his 1924 novel A Passage to India. His Anglo-Indian characters refer to the Collector as Burra Sahib, implying the respect felt for him.[2]

The term is used throughout the children's novel A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.


This title (pl. musāhibān), etymologically the active part. of to associate, or consort (with), means originally companion, associate, friend (the abstract term is musāhabat); not unlike the Hellenistic Greek Philos and the Latin Comes in the Roman empire, it became a title for a favourite (of a Sahib, especially a prince), and such 'personally close' positions as aide-de-camp, in some princely states even a Minister.

Other compound titles

See also


  1. Ramaswal mi, N.S. (2003). Political History of Carnatic Under the Nawabs. India: Abhinav Publications. p. 76. ISBN 978-81-7017-191-1.
  2. Forster, E. M. A Passage to India. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1924. Print
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