An Overview of Turkish

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An Overview of Turkish

Manisa Turkish explains and answers some of the difficulties and differences in Turkish grammar and usage which the student may encounter along their learning curve.

A Nutshell Overview Turkish

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  1. In Turkish words are changed by suffixing other words on to them. These other little important words show motion towards, location and motion from.
  2. These added words change their spelling according to set rules and they must follow the same vowel pattern (Vowel Harmony) as the word they are being affixed to - sometimes they also have a consonant change for ease of pronunciation.
  3. Thus little words (suffixes) added to the stem of a verb may indicate its positive or negative form. Further suffixes are added for tense and person.
  4. Further meaning to verbs such as - may, might, can, can't are also supplied by an add-on to the original verb, thus producing a new word.
  5. Nouns are also suffixed with possessor and the motion or location words are then added.
  6. There is no word for "the" (the Definite Article) and also there is no gender forms (no "le" or "la" as in French).
  7. Describing words (Adjectives) precede their noun as in English and always remain in their basic form - no gender thus no agreement.
  8. The sentence form is SOV - Subject, Object, Verb.

The Origins of Turkish.

Hello! in Turkish is Merhaba!

The Turkish Language originated in the Altay Mountain Range in Northern Siberia centuries ago.

For this reason it is called an Altaic Language.

As nomads expanded into Asia Minor they brought their language with them to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and into China.

While the Ottoman Empire flourished Turkish was spoken from Vienna to Arabia, Egypt and Northern Africa.

These languages are somewhat mutually intelligible although local usage and vocabulary, spelling and alphabet may differ.

However they all exhibit the same grammatical structures of Agglutination and Vowel Harmony.

In recent times due to modern migration of labour in Europe after the second world war there are many Turkish speakers in Germany and the Netherlands.

The Turkish vocabulary contains many words from Arabic, Persian and European languages.

These imported words follow Turkish grammar rules and been transcribed using the Turkish alphabet.

An Overview of The Turkish Language.

Turkish grammar is regular and is characterized by using post-positions which are suffixed directly to nouns or other parts of speech to modify their meaning.

This is in contrast to English which uses individual prepositions for the same reasons.

In Turkish word meanings are changed by fixing other words on to a word root (radical) as direct suffixes.

This extending words by adding a post-position is called Agglutination. [a 'sticking' onto…]

Most Turkish grammars for foreigners are written by linguists and grammarians, sometimes in consort with a Turkish national, and they tend be based on classical language framework.

Consequently most of these grammars are peppered with such classical language terms, such as accusative, dative, locative and ablative together with such tenses and moods as aorist and subjunctive.

However, Turkish differs in both grammatical structure and vocabulary from English and the Romance Languages of Spanish or French.

Turkish grammar is not looked on by the Turks themselves as a Classically Structured Language.

They have their own grammar rules which are not based on the Classical Systems of Latin and Greek.

Manisa Turkish uses Turkish Grammar Nomenclature and many classical grammar terms have been discarded.

The Structure of Turkish in a Nutshell…

root, word root, radical.
The basic part of a word to which other parts can be added. e.g. argu+ment, prevent+able.
The form of a word after any prefixes and suffixes are removed. e.g. cheer+ful+ly, good+ness, tele+vision.

Turkish grammatical points are all described in detail within the Manisa Turkish website.

The Turkish Alphabet
is phonetic and consists of 26 letters including 8 vowels.

Each letter retains its individual pronunciation.

Words are extended by suffixes post-positions to modify their meaning in a sentence.

Nouns are suffixed with a possessor followed by post-positions which signify static location, motion towards, motion from thus extending and forming a new word.
e.g. ev house can become:
evden [ev+den] from the house
evler [evl+er] houses
evlerim [ev+ler+im] my houses
evlerimde [ev+ler+im+de] in my houses
evlerine [ev+ler+in+e] to your houses.

Verbal Suffixation
Verbs are suffixed to indicate the positive or negative form.
e.g. gelmek [gel+mek] to come, gelmemek [gel+me+mek] to not come, not to come.

Further verbal mood suffixes may, might, can, can't, must are also added to the original verb stem.
e.g. koşmak [koş+mak] to run, koşabilmek [koş+abil+mek] to be able to run.

Other suffixes are then added for tense and person.
e.g. koşabilmek [koş+abil+mek] to be able to run, koşabilirim [koş+abil+ir+im] I can run

Vowel Harmony.
Turkish vowels must harmonize with the previous vowels in a word.

Suffixed vowels change their spelling according to set rules.

They must follow the same vowel pattern Vowel Harmony as the word to which they are being added.

Consonant Mutation.
Any change in pronunciation which causes a change in spelling.

Turkish uses a phonetic alphabet.

Adding the -im my to köpek dog causes a change in pronunciation.

This change must be reflected in written spelling.
e.g. köpek dog, köpeğim (köpeğ+im NOT köpekım) my dog.

Buffer letters
can be added to words and suffixes to aid pronunciation.

There are grammatical rules which govern the addition of buffer letters.

Buffer letter -s- is inserted to prevent suffixed vowels forming diphthongs.
e.g. kedi cat, kedisi (kedi+s+i NOT kedii) his cat.

Definite Article
In Turkish there is no definite article "the" as a subject.

The subject is unsuffixed Adam beni gördü. The man saw me.
e.g. adam means the man.

There is a direct object suffix -ı, -i, -u, -ü meaning the.

The object is suffixed and made definite (specified), Adamı gördüm. I saw the man.
e.g. adamı [adam+ı] the man

Ownership Condition
in Turkish the is a Possessive Constuction where both the owner and owned are suffixed.

It is a type of "Reflexive Genitive."

This construction does not occur in classical grammar so many teachers have resorted to using a Persian name "izafet."

Manisa Turkish follows Turkish grammar nomenclature, calling it the Possessive Relationship.

The meaningless term (to us) "izafet" is not used to describe this Turkish genitive constuction.

Both the the possessor adam man and the possessed şapka hat are suffıxed.
e.g adamın şapkası adam+ın şapka+sı The man's hat, the hat of the man.

Turkish has no gender forms.

There is no "le", "la", "les" as in French.

The single word "o" is used for he, she, it.

Some exceptions exist in family relationships:
e.g. There are two words for uncle amca paternal uncle, emmi maternal uncle.

The family relationship category has gender variations in its vocabulary.

remain in their basic form.

As Turkish has no gender then no agreement is required.

There are no gender variations of adjective forms as in the Spanish buen, bueno, buenos, buena, buenas all meaning "good".

Turkish sentence structure is SOV - Subject, Object, Verb

Structure of Turkish Words.

The structure of Turkish words is vowel followed by a consonant by a vowel or vice versa.

A vowel always follows a consonant and a consonant always follows a vowel.

Tthere are no diphthongs in Turkish, other than imported foreign exceptions.

To preserve this certain consonants are inserted as buffer letters between vowels.

There are grammatical rules for the addition of buffer letters.

These buffers are Y, N, S.

Y is considered as a consonant in Turkish.

The majority of Turkish Vowels are always pronounced quite short.

There is no lengthening of vowels except in foreign imported words .

For Turkish learners this sometimes makes understanding difficult as there is little and light stress in Turkish pronunciation.

Turkish punctuation normally puts a comma after the subject of a sentence.

It is good practice to do this especially if the subject is extended by a long adjectival description.

Turkish Word Order in the Sentence.

Word order is regular, but differs from English

  1. Adjectival Descriptions of Subject.
  2. The Subject.
  3. Time Clauses.
  4. Adjectival Descriptions of Object.
  5. The Object.
  6. The Verb, which is always last in a sentence.
English Sentence Structure

The man with the fishing rods in his hands will be at your friend's 50th birthday party tomorrow night.

A long described subject.
The man with the fishing rods in his hands

The verb
will be

A long described object.
at your friend's 50th birthday party

Time phrase.
tomorrow night.

Turkish Sentence Structure.

Ellerinde oltası olan adam, yarın gece arkadaşının 50'ci doğum günü partisinde bulunacak.

[El-ler-i-n-de olta-s-ı olan adam, yarın gece arkadaş-ı-n-ın 50'ci doğum gün-ü parti-s-i-n-de bulu-n-acak.]

A described and suffixed subject.
Hands-his-in fishing-rod-the which-are man

Time phrase.
tomorrow night

A described and suffixed object.
friend-your-of 50th birthday party-his-at

At last, the verb in the final position. will be

The Turkish Alphabet

Consists of twenty-one consonants and eight vowels.

Each letter always retains its basic pronunciation.

In English the sound of the letters can change, as the letter a does in fat, fate, fare.

The Turkish alphabet is phonetic: such pronunciation changes cannot happen in Turkish.

Vowel Harmony Basics.

Vowel Harmony
A grammatical rule where subsequent vowels in a suffix follow the vowel properties of the previous vowel.

Vowels of suffixes must mirror the final vowel of the radical or extended already suffixed word.

Both verbs and nouns can be extended by suffixation.

Turkish has eight vowels.

Four pairs A-E, I-İ, O-Ö, U-Ü are divided into two Groups:

A-UnDotted Vowel Group A I O U
back pronounced as in English.

E-Dotted Vowel Group E İ Ö Ü
front pronounced at as in French.

Vowels of suffixes must be of the same group from either the A-UnDotted Group or E-Dotted Group as the last vowel of the radical.

All original Turkic words are pronounced either entirely containing A-UnDotted Vowels or E-Dottted Vowels.

The Turkish Plural

The Turkish plural -lar is suffixed to words of the A-Dotted Group and -ler is suffixed to the E-Dotted Group.

Any further added suffixes also follow vowel harmony.

Singular kapı door becomes plural kapılar [kapı-lar] doors.

The A-UnDotted plural suffix -lar is added to kapı to form the word kapılar. doors

Singular köylü villager becomes plural köylüler [köylü-ler] villagers.

The E-Dotted plural suffix -ler is added to köylü to form the word köylüler villagers.

Exceptions to Turkish Vowel Harmony

Turkish has imported many words from French, such as televizyon télévision, müzisyen musician and kuaför coiffure which have been modified phonetically to accommodate the Turkish Alphabet and incorporated into the language.

These are spelt according to Turkish phonetics and often have both front and back vowels within one word which is unnatural for Turkish.

Such is true also for the numerous Turkish words of Arabic or Persian origin where vowel harmony does not occur in the word itself.

Arabic examples are mektup letter, merhaba hello, and of Persian origin hane office.

In such cases, consistent with the general rule for Turkish Vowel Harmony, the final vowel of the word determines the correct choice of vowels for suffixation.

Vowel Harmony Reference
  1. A-UnDotted Vowels A I O U follow each other.
  2. E-Dotted Vowels E İ Ö Ü follow each other.

Consonant Mutation.

Consonant Mutation
A spelling change of a consonant to reflect a change in its pronunciation.

Changes in spelling are made to preserve phonetic euphony with actual pronunciation. Additional buffer letters may be added to ease pronunciation. If the pronunciation of a consonant changes then the spelling also changes to reflect this.

There is some consonant mutation in English.

The terminal -y of lady changes to an -ie- in the plural ladies.

The terminal -f of knife changes to a -v- in the plural knives.

Due to its phonetic alphabet Turkish has consonant changes on a larger scale than in English.

Voicing of Consonants.

(1) A Soft Consonant (gram. voiced) is one where the voice box is used to produce the sound [d, b, c] are in this category.

(2) A Hard Consonant (gram. unvoiced) is where the voice is silent [ç f h k p s ş t] and only air is expelled to produce the sound.

Consonant Mutation:

Change of k to ğ.
Terminal -k of a radical may change to (soft g) when a vowel is suffixed.

e.g. bacak leg becomes bacağı [bacağ-ı] his leg. (NOT bacakı)

Change of d to t
Adding the suffix -da on initial letter -d of a suffix may change to -t when the suffix is added to a word ending in a hard consonant ç f h k p s ş t

e.g, bacak leg becomes bacakta [bacak-ta] his leg. (NOT bacakda)

There are also some other minor consonant changes which are discussed in the Consonant Mutation section.


The building up of words by suffixation.
e.g. mektup letter becomes mektuplardan [mektup+lar+dan] from the letters.

Agglutination: Post-positions to modify meanings are suffixed to a radicals or already extended words.

In English there are many words which agglutinate extend to form other words.

The word argue can be agglutinated to argument by sticking on a -ment suffix.

This word can take additions of further suffixes: -ative giving argumentative and even further to argumentatively by adding a the -ly suffix.

Suffixes added to verb radicals to indicate positive, negative, passive, reflexive, causative, potential, subjunctive moods.

Further suffixes are the added for tense and person.

English uses separate prepositions

This then is the way of Turkish but even the little words like in, from, at are suffixed to their noun, thus producing an extended word.

For an E-Dotted Word:

ev house.
Adding the suffix -de in, on, at and the suffix -den from.
evde [ev-de] in the house.
evden [ev-den] from the house.
These suffixes harmonize with the vowel in the word ev.

For an A-UnDotted Word:

oda room.
Adding suffix -da in, on, at and -dan from.
odada [oda-da] in the room.
odadan [oda-dan] from the room.
These suffixes harmonize with the final vowel of the word oda.

Turkish Gender

There is no gender distinction in Turkish other than close family relationships.

Definite Article  the

This is one of the difficulties for Turkish leaners.

English does not distinguish between subject the and object the

It uses the definite article the for both.

Turkish does not have a the subject definite article:
e.g. köpek dog, the dog.

The subject the in Turkish is not suffixed.

Turkish makes an object definitive "specific"by adding an object suffix.

This is the suffixed objective the in Turkish.

Objective Definite Article

An Unsuffixed Specific Subject:
Fincan masada.
The cup is on the table.

A Suffixed Specific Object:
Masadaki fincanı bana verin.
Give me the cup which is on the table.
This is a Suffixed Specific Object Condition:
fincanı [fincan-ı] the cup.

The object "the cup" fincan has been made definitive (specific) by the addition of the objective suffix producing fincanı [fincan-ı].

This is the way of saying "the cup" as a definite specific object.

This is one of the most difficult areas for English Speakers when conversing in Turkish.

Turkish Verbs.

  1. There are no irregular verbs in Turkish.
  2. One single conjugation is used for all verbs; there are no exceptions.
  3. All Turkish verb suffixes obey vowel harmony rules.
  4. Verbs are always in the final position in sentences.
Future Tense Suffix Example

A-UnDotted verbs are suffixed with -mak as in almak [al-mak] to take.
The future suffix -acak is suffixed to all -mak verbs.
e.g. bakmak to look becomes bakacak [bak-acak] he will look.

E-Dotted verbs are suffixed with -mek as in gitmek [git-mek] to go.
The future suffix -ecek is suffixed to all -mek verbs.
e.g. gelmek to come becomes gelecek [gel-ecek] He will come.

Hence the choice the future suffix may be -acak or -ecek to follow Vowel Harmony Rules.

The Turkish Six Noun Conditions.

The six conditions are suffixed to the noun root radical according to Vowel Harmony Rules. The vowels of the suffix match the final vowel of the radical. The subject definite article and grammatical gender are lacking.

Subject Condition


The root word which carries no suffix.
el hand, the hand.

Ownership Condition


Suffix -in/-ın/-un/-ün signifies "belonging to"
e.g. adamın [adam+ın] of the man, The man's
e.g. elin [el+in] the hand's, of the hand.

Specific Object Condition


Suffix -i/-ı/-u/-ü signifies specific object "the" in English.
e.g. eli [el-i] the hand (obj.)

Movement Towards Condition


Suffix -a/-e signifies to, towards in English.
e.g ele [el-e] to the hand, towards the hand

Static Position Condition


-da/-de (or -ta/-te after hard consonants ç f h k p s ş t) signifies in, on, at in English.
e.g. elde [el-de] in/on/at the hand.
e.g bıcakta [bıcak-ta] on the knife

Movement Away Condition


-dan/-den (or -tan/-ten after hard consonants ç f h k p s ş t) signifies from, by, via in English.
e.g. elden [el-den] from/via the hand, by hand.
e.g çıkışta [çıkış-tan] from/via the exit.

Turkish Adjectives.

Turkish is a descriptive language, adjectives abound and if Turkish can make something into an adjective then it will do so.

Turkish is a descriptive language.

Turkish adjectives and adjectival phrases precede their noun.

They do not agree in number or case:

kara kedi a black cat

Turkish makes great use of adjectival phrases and clauses to describe nouns, actions and thoughts.

The black cat with the long tail which is sitting on the mat looks hungry.

or a reduced form:

The black cat with the long tail sitting on the mat looks hungry.

The Turkish way will describe the cat not only as black but also where it is sitting and upon what it is sitting together with any other attributes, such as its long tail:

Minderin üstünde oturan uzun kuyruklu kara kedi aç görünüyor.

[Minder-in üst-ü-nde otur-an uzun kuyruk-lu kara kedi aç görün-üyor.]

Lit: Of-the-mat its-top-on sitting-which-is long tail-furnished-with black cat hungry look-ing-is.

In Turkish the subject and object are described adjectivally with regards to place and disposition.

Once all the describing is done, the verb is placed last in the sentence.