Turkish 101

Unlike many languages, Turkish forms words by a process known as "agglutination", where prefixes and suffixes are attached to words to mark different parts of speech and so on. Thus, an English phrase such as "I am an Australian" is rendered in Turkish with the one word "Avustralyalıyım - Avustralya-lı-y-ım".


Turkish is an agglutinative language and frequently uses affixes, or endings. One word can have many affixes and these can also be used to create new words, such as creating a verb from a noun, or a noun from a verbal root (see the section on Word formation). Most affixes indicate the grammatical function of the word. The only native prefixes are alliterative intensifying syllables used with adjectives or adverbs: for example sımsıcak ("boiling hot" < sıcak ) and masmavi ("bright blue" < mavi ).

The extensive use of affixes can give rise to long words. It is jokingly said that the longest Turkish word is Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız , meaning "You are said to be one of those that we couldn't manage to convert to a Czechoslovak". This example is of course contrived; but long words do frequently occur in normal Turkish, as in this heading of a newspaper obituary column: Bayramlaşamadıklarımız (Bayram [festival]-Recipr-Impot-Partic-Plur-PossPl1; "Those of our number with whom we cannot exchange the season's greetings").

Nouns

There is no definite article in Turkish, but definiteness of the object is implied when the accusative ending is used (see below). Turkish nouns decline by taking case-endings, as in Latin. There are six noun cases in Turkish, with all the endings following vowel harmony (shown in the table using the shorthand superscript notation. The plural marker -ler ² immediately follows the noun before any case or other affixes (e.g. köylerin "of the villages").

Case Ending Examples Meaning
köy "village" ağaç "tree"
Nominative Ø (none) köy ağaç (the) village/tree
Genitive -in 4 köyün ağacın the village's/tree's
of the village/tree
Dative -e ² köye ağaca to the village/tree
Accusative -i 4 köyü ağacı the village/tree
Ablative -den ² köyden ağaçtan from the village/tree
Locative -de ² köyde ağaçta in the village/on the tree

The accusative case marker is used only for definite objects; compare ağaç gördük "we saw a tree" with ağacı gördük "we saw the tree". The plural marker -ler ² is not used when a class or category is meant: ağaç gördük can equally well mean "we saw trees [as we walked through the forest]"—as opposed to ağaçları gördük "we saw the trees".

The declension of ağaç illustrates two important features of Turkish phonology: consonant assimilation in suffixes ( ağaçtan, ağaçta ) and voicing of final consonants before vowels ( ağacın, ağaca, ağacı ).

Additionally, nouns can take suffixes that assign person: for example -imiz 4, "our". With the addition of the copula (for example -im 4, "I am") complete sentences can be formed. The interrogative particle mi 4 immediately follows the word being questioned: köye mi? "[going] to the village?", ağaç mı? "[is it a] tree?".

Turkish English
ev (the) house
evler (the) houses
evin your house
eviniz your (pl./formal) house
evim my house
evimde at my house
evlerinizin of your houses
Evinizdeyim. I am at your house.
Evinizde miyim? Am I at your house?

The Turkish personal pronouns in the nominative case are ben (1s), sen (2s), o (3s), biz (1pl), siz (2pl, or formal/polite 2s), and onlar (3pl). They are declined regularly with some exceptions: benim (1s gen.); bizim (1pl gen.); bana (1s dat.); sana (2s dat.); and the oblique forms of o use the root on . All other pronouns (reflexive kendi and so on) are declined regularly.

Linking Nouns ( Tamlama )

Two nouns, or groups of nouns, may be joined in either of two ways:

  • definite (possessive) compound ( belirtili tamlama ). Eg Türkiye'nin sesi "the voice of Turkey (radio station)": the voice belonging to Turkey. Here the relationship is shown by the genitive ending -in 4 added to the first noun; the second noun has the third-person suffix -(s)i 4.
  • indefinite (qualifying) compound ( belirtisiz tamlama ). Eg Türkiye Cumhuriyeti "Turkey-Republic = the Republic of Turkey": not the republic belonging to Turkey, but the Republic that is Turkey. Here the first noun has no ending; but the second noun has the ending -(s)i 4—the same as in definite compounds.

Adjectives

Turkish adjectives are not declined. However most adjectives can also be used as nouns, in which case they are declined: e.g. güzel ("beautiful") → güzeller ("(the) beautiful ones / people"). Used attributively, adjectives precede the nouns they modify. The adjectives var ("existent") and yok ("non-existent") are used in many cases where English would use "there is" or "have", e.g. süt yok ("there is no milk", lit. "(the) milk (is) non-existent"); the construction " noun 1 -GEN noun 2 -POSS var/yok" can be translated " noun 1 has/doesn't have noun 2 "; imparatorun elbisesi yok "the emperor has no clothes" ("(the) emperor- of clothes- his non-existent"); kedimin ayakkabıları yoktu ("my cat had no shoes", lit. "cat- my - of shoe- plur. - its non-existent- past tense ").

Verbs

Turkish verbs indicate person. They can be made negative, potential ("can"), or impotential ("cannot"). Furthermore, Turkish verbs show tense (present, past, inferential, future, and aorist), mood (conditional, imperative, necessitative, and optative), and aspect. Negation is expressed by the infix -me²- immediately following the stem.

Turkish English
gel- (to) come
gelebil- (to) be able to come
gelme- not (to) come
geleme- (to) be unable to come
gelememiş Apparently (s)he couldn't come
gelebilecek (s)he'll be able to come
gelebilirsen if you can come
gelinir (passive) one comes, people come

All Turkish verbs are conjugated in the same way, except for the irregular and defective verb i- , the Turkish copula, which can be used in compound forms (the shortened form is called an enclitic): Gelememişti = Gelememiş idi = Gelememiş + i- + -di

Word Order

Word order in simple Turkish sentences is generally Subject Object Verb, as in Korean and Latin, but unlike English. In more complex sentences, the basic rule is that the qualifier precedes the qualified: this principle includes, as an important special case, the participial modifiers discussed above. The definite precedes the indefinite: thus çocuğa hikâyeyi anlattı "she told the child the story", but hikâyeyi bir çocuğa anlattı "she told the story to a child".

It is possible to alter the word order to stress the importance of a certain word or phrase. The main rule is that the word before the verb has the stress without exception. For example, if one wants to say "Hakan went to school" with a stress on the word "school" ( okul , the indirect object) it would be "Hakan okula gitti". If the stress is to be placed on "Hakan" (the subject), it would be "Okula Hakan gitti" which means "it's Hakan who went to school".

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