The Harry Potter Compendium
"Hannah, he’s a Parselmouth. Everyone knows that’s the mark of a Dark Wizard. Have you ever heard of a decent one who could talk to snakes? They called Slytherin himself Serpent-tongue."
Ernie Macmillan to Hannah Abbott after Harry Potter's ability to speak Parseltongue was revealed.[src]

Parseltongue is the language of serpents (as well as other magical serpent-based creatures, like the Runespoor) and those who can converse with them. An individual who can speak Parseltongue is known as a Parselmouth. It is a very uncommon skill, and is typically hereditary. Nearly all known Parselmouths are descended from Salazar Slytherin with Harry Potter being a notable exception.[1]

Parseltongue is, when spoken, a hissing sound, similar to that of a snake; as such, normal people cannot understand it. Aside from serpent-based creatures, Parselmouths can communicate with each other with the language, as Harry understood Tom Riddle's commands to Salazar Slytherin's basilisk, and the House of Gaunt communicate with each other almost exclusively in Parseltongue. While inherited, Parseltongue usually requires the speaker to face a snake-based creature or object shaped like a snake (i.e. a carving), the Gaunt family was very proficient in the language - enough so for Morfin to speak to Bob Ogden with it.

The ability to actually speak Parseltongue — not just imitate it as Ron Weasley did — is considered an attribute of a Dark Wizard, which is partly due to the fact that both Salazar Slytherin and Lord Voldemort possessed this ability. Another notable Dark Wizard who was also a Parselmouth was Herpo the Foul. However, as Albus Dumbledore pointed out, there are Parselmouths among the good as well, the most well-known of which was Harry Potter. Paracelsus a notable alchemist and a "medical genius" is credited with the discovery of Parseltongue in the sixteenth century, despite the existence of speakers like Herpo the Foul or Salazar Slytherin in the classical and medieval ages.

An unknown member of the Dark Force Defence League once stated when asked regarding the matter by Rita Skeeter - "Personally, I would be highly suspicious of anybody who could converse with snakes, as serpents are often used in the worst kinds of Dark Magic, and are historically associated with evildoers."

Harry Potter as a Parselmouth[]


Harry speaking Parseltongue for the first time.

Harry: "I spoke a different language? But I didn't realise it! How can I speak a language without knowing I can?"
Hermione: "I don't know, Harry, but it sounded like you were egging the snake on or something. Harry, listen to me. There's a reason the symbol of Slytherin House is a serpent. Salazar Slytherin was a Parselmouth. He could talk to snakes too."
Ron: "Exactly! Now the whole school is gonna think you're his great-great-great-grandson or something."
Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley after Harry speaks Parseltongue.[src]

Lord Voldemort passed the ability to speak and understand Parseltongue on to Harry Potter when he attacked him in infancy in 1981, inadvertently and unknowingly making him into a Horcrux[2]. Harry first experienced conversation with snakes at age ten when he was taken to the zoo with his cousin Dudley Dursley and found himself communicating with a snake while in the reptile exhibit. Harry inadvertently caused the glass of the snake's tank to vanish, enabling it to escape. When the glass returned, he trapped his cousin Dudley inside the tank whilst laughing at him, and not knowing what to do about it[3].

Harry was not consciously aware of his ability to speak Parseltongue until 1992; he was pitted against Draco Malfoy in the Duelling Club and was able to communicate with the snake Draco conjured to attack him, telling it not to attack Justin Finch-Fletchley. This caused hysteria among his fellow students because graffiti on the walls of Hogwarts Castle foretold that the Heir of Slytherin would open the Chamber of Secrets, unleashing a monster that would attack the school's Muggle-born students. The Heir of Slytherin was in fact Voldemort, but Harry was able to gain access to the Chamber by speaking the password in Parseltongue, and subsequently killed the basilisk within. It was shortly after this incident that Harry learned how he acquired the ability.[4]

Harry also used his skill in Parseltongue to open Salazar Slytherin's Locket. When Harry, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger returned to Hogwarts to search for Voldemort's final Horcrux, Ron managed a weak imitation of Parseltongue to re-open the Chamber of Secrets so that he and Hermione could fetch basilisk fangs, which Hermione used to destroy Helga Hufflepuff's Cup.[2]

After Lord Voldemort destroyed the fragment of his soul residing in Harry, Harry lost the ability to speak Parseltongue, about which he was glad and relieved.[5]

Known Parselmouths[]

Other incidents of Parseltongue[]


J. K. Rowling has stated that she took the name Parselmouth from an "old word for someone who has a problem with the mouth, like a hare lip".[6]

Behind the scenes[]


Harry and Bathilda Bagshot's body inhabited by Nagini speak Parseltongue.

  • When Harry Potter and Hermione Granger went to Godric's Hollow in 1997, Nagini (inside the corpse of Bathilda Bagshot) tells Harry to "Come!" from the next room in Parseltongue. In reaction, Hermione jumps and clutches Harry's arm, and the two of them obey the command.[7] It is unknown how Hermione seemed to understand this command, though it could be that she did not hear it well, and merely followed Harry. She could also have been frightened by the hissing sound she heard and then followed Harry.
  • In the film version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry converses with a Burmese python, rather than a Boa Constrictor.
  • Whenever it was spoken in the films, Parseltongue went untranslated except for one scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 when Voldemort was speaking to Nagini, where it was given subtitles. It was also heard in English in the first film when Harry was talking in the Zoo.
  • In the films, Parseltongue is depicted as sounding like a sibilant-filled language with readily discernible phonemes created by Dr. Francis Nolan (as listed in the credits for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). In the novels, it is only ever described as a low hissing noise.
  • In the films, as Harry draws near a Horcrux he can hear, in addition to a whining noise, a faint voice which seems to speak in Parseltongue.

External links[]

  • The Parselmouth - provides an aural dictionary that offers visitors the chance to listen to translations of english words and phrases in Parseltongue
  • Parseltongue translator - an official translator into Parseltongue.
  • Parseltongue-inspired - Provides a hypothetical, written breakdown of Parseltongue in universe.


Notes and references[]