Sunset in İstanbul, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.

Basics of Turkish Grammar

The Sultanahmet Cami (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul

The Sultanahmet Cami (Blue Mosque) in İstanbul. See my travel page for many more pictures.

Pronouns & Nouns, Possession, Postpositions, Adjectives, Adverbs, Conjunctions

We are studying Turkish grammar, and so far we have looked at some fundamentals like the alphabet, vowel harmony, and word order. Now it's time to tackle the first class of words, the things and their modifiers. Nouns and pronouns to start with, and how they decline (or change their forms) with number and case. Then the somewhat complicated, or at least confusing, possession. Plus conjunctions, questions, comparisons, and more.

Pronouns make for a simple place to start, a little more so in Turkish than in many languages. Turkish doesn't have the needless complexity of gender, and the numbers are just one versus more than one. We have just six cases to handle, as in Russian, as opposed to the fourteen in Estonian.

There are several suffixes providing meanings -with, -without, -ish, and so on. Then the postpositions, separate words added after the word of interest, functioning like prepositions in English and creating phrases with many meanings.

Click here for this information summarized on one page!

Click here for the original LATEX

Let's get started:

Pronouns

Absolute /
Nominative
ben biz I we
sen siz you you
o onlar he / she / it they
Accusative /
Direct object
beni bizi me us
seni sizi you you
onu onları he / she / it them
Genitive /
Possessive /
Owner-of, of-X
benim bizim my ... our ...
senin sizin your ... your ...
onun onların his / her / its ... their ...
Dative /
Indirect object /
motion toward
bana bize to me to us
sana size to you to you
ona onlara to him / her / it to them
Locative bende bizde in me in us
sende sizde in you in you
onda onlarda in him / her / it in them
Ablative /
comparison /
motion from/through
benden bizden from/than me from/than us
senden sizden from/than you from/than you
ondan onlardan from/than him / her / it from/than them
Demonstrative
(details below)
bu, bunlar this, these
şu, şunlar that, those (nearby)
o, onlar that, those (far away)

Note the irregularities:

  • In the dative case ben and sen become bana and sana instead of the anticipated *bena and *sena.
  • The plurals of ben and sen are biz and siz instead of the anticipated *benler and *senler.
  • The plural of o is onlar instead of the anticipated *olar.

Question words

kaç? how much?
how many?
ne? what?
kim? who?
kimin? whose?
hangi? which?
niçin?
neden?
why?
ne zaman? when?
nasıl? how?

Nouns

Noun declension

Case Application Singular Plural
Absolute nominative -ler
Accusative direct object -(y)i -leri
Genitive owner-of, of-X -(n)in -lerin
Dative indirect object, motion toward -(y)e -lere
Locative in a place -de -lerde
Ablative motion from -den -lerden

Lewis' book distinguishes between the indefinite accusative case which uses the absolute form, and the accusative case. His examples are as follows, but his explanation is not at all clear to me...

  • Gazete çıkarmak zor bir iş.
    To publish newspapers is a hard job. (absolute form)
  • Bu gazeteyi çıkarmak zor bir iş.
    To publish this newspaper is a hard job. (accusative form)

In the first example, Gazete is indefinite, as in a general example — Generally speaking, the publishing of newspapers is a hard job.

In the second example, Bu gazeteyi is definite, as in a very specific example — Publishing this specific newspaper is a hard job.

While the above are Lewis' examples, they might get the point across better with the following English explanations:

  • Gazete çıkarmak zor bir iş.
    To publish a newspaper — any newspaper in general — is a hard job.
    (indefinite or general accusative, absolute form)
  • Bu gazeteyi çıkarmak zor bir iş.
    To publish this newspaper is a hard job.
    (definite or specific accusative, accusative form)

Noun declensions by example

Front vowels un-round round
house coffee front roof
Absolute ev evler kahve kahveler ön önler örtüörtüler
Accusative evi evleri kahveyi kahveleri önü önleri örtüyüörtüleri
Genitive evin evlerin kahvenin kahvelerin önünönlerin örtününörtülerin
Dative eve evlere kahveye kahvelere öne önlere örtüyeörtülere
Locative evde evlerde kahvede kahvelerde önde önlerde örtüdeörtülerde
Ablative evden evlerden kahveden kahvelerden önden önlerden örtüdenörtülerden
 
Back vowels un-round round
ceiling handle ball neighbor
Absolute tavan tavanlar kabza kabzalar top toplar komşu komşular
Accusative tavanı tavanları kabzayıkabzaları topu topları komşuyukomşuları
Genitive tavanın tavanların kabzanınkabzaların topun topların komşununkomşuların
Dative tavana tavanlara kabzaya kabzalara topa toplara komşuyakomşulara
Locative tavanda tavanlarda kabzada kabzalarda topta toplarda komşudakomşularda
Ablative tavandan tavanlardan kabzadan kabzalardan toptan toplardan komşudankomşulardan
 
Variable
consonants
Dog Book
Absolute köpek köpekler kitap kitaplar
Accusative köpeği köpekleri kitabı kitapları
Genitive köpeğin köpeklerin kitabınkitapların
Dative köpeğe köpeklere kitaba kitaplara
Locative köpekte köpeklerde kitapta kitaplarda
Ablative köpekten köpeklerden kitaptan kitaplardan

Adjectival forms and modified nouns (sections 12.6, 15.1-2, 17.1-7; pp 83, 100, 111-114)

-li with or
with the quality of or
belonging to
sulu = "with water"
atlı = "horseman"
köylü = "villager"
-siz without susuz = "without water"
-çi, -ci The professional gazeteci = "journalist", çaycı = "tea seller", dişçi = "dentist"
-[y]ici The habitual yazmak = "to write", so yazıcı = "writer"
-çe -ish or as for çocukça = "childish[ly]"
türkçe = "Turkish"
bence = "as for me"
-(i)msi,
-(i)mtrak,
-si
-ish or -like duvarımsı = "wall-like"
beyazımtrak = "whitish"
çocuksu = "child-like"
-daş fellow- okuldaş = "schoolmate"
-daş does not follow vowel harmony
-lik abstract noun formation büyüklük = "largeness" or "size"
susuzluk = "waterlessness" or "thirst"
Granted, susuzluk is rather stilted, a Turk would more likely ask "Susadın mı?" for "Are you thirsty?"
-igde, -ligi of the, similar to -lik
-sel abstract adjective formation tarih = "history", tarihsel = "historic"
-ki abstract adjective formation sabahki hava = "morning weather"
Amerikadaki çocuklar = the children in America
Ahmet'inki = "Ahmet's" (with possessive)
-ki added to genitive case to form a possessive pronoun Bu kalem benim değil. = "This is not my pencil." (simple denial)
Bu kalem benimki değil. = "This pencil is not mine (I do have a pencil, but this one is not it)."
Bu köpek benimki. = "This dog is mine."
-çik, -cik, -ceğiz, -ce Diminutive Ahmetçik = "my pal Ahmet"
Köyceğiz = "the dear little village" and a lakeside town in southwestern Turkey.
-[y]iş Add to a verb stem for the noun form girmek = "to enter", so giriş = "entrance"
çıkmak = "to exit", so çıkış = "exit"
-leyin by or at geceleyin = "by night"
akşamleyin = "at evening"
-ken while yazarken = "while writing"
-oğlu son of Köseoğlu Bey = "Mr Son-Of-The-Beardless-Man"

Comparison and superlatives

Comparison For adjectives or adverbs,
use daha for "more":
daha büyük = "bigger" (more big)
daha iyi = "better" (more good)
For nouns, use:
ablative measure
benden büyük = "bigger than me"
benden iyi = "better than me"
Superlatives Use en for "most": en büyük = "biggest" (most big)
en iyi = "best" (most good)

Demonstratives

bu this,
close to the speaker
Bu köpek benimki.
This dog (sitting next to me) is mine.
şu this or that,
not far away
Şu köpek benimki.
That dog (across the room) is mine.
o that
further away
O dağ Ağrı Dağ.
That mountain (in the distance) is Mount Ararat.

The roots bu-, şu-, o- are used to form "such X as these" phrases:

böyle köpekler such dogs as these
şöyle otobüsler such buses as those (across the street)
öyle dağlar such mountains as those (on the horizon)

Locations

Add from/to endings to these stems to build location words:

Stems
nere- where?
bura- here
ora- there
burada here   orada there   nerede? where?
buradan from this place oradan from there nereden? from where?
buraya to this place oraya to there nereye? to where?

Possession

There is what G.L. Lewis terms "indefinite" ownership, in which -i is added to the noun which is owned in a way that is not very possessive. Compare this to the more possessive "definite" version:

Indefinite Sultan Ahmet Camii Sultan Ahmet Mosque Atatürk Bulvarı Atatürk Boulevard
Definite Sultan Ahmed'in türbesi Sultan Ahmet's tomb Atatürk'ün evi Atatürk's house

The definite possessive is complicated, and I'm skipping details here, but the form is:
       owner(n)in ownedX
where X is replaced by:

-(i)m -(i)miz owned by me owned by us
-(i)n -(i)niz owned by you owned by you
-(s)i -leri owned by it owned by them

So, since fil is "elephant" and ev is "house," filin evi means "the elephant's house", and fillerin evleri means "the elephants' houses". Note that you often leave off the possessor, especially when it's a pronoun or can be derived from context. Thus:
       Filim büyük. = My elephant is big.
       Bu benim büyük filim. = Hey, this is my big elephant, get your own!
filim would mean "my elephant", while benim filim would very adamantly make the case that the elephant was, in fact, mine, and not anyone else's.

Sahip means "owner" or "master", and halı means "rug". Note the logic of "the owner of the rug", where the rug has an owner, and thus "rug" is the possessor (of an owner) and the owner is the thing possessed (by the rug). Thus halının sahibi for "the rug's owner".

Finally, note that çocukların bahçeleri is ambiguous, it could mean either "the garden of the children" or "the gardens of the children". It must be derived from context (about the number of gardens), or by intentionally malforming the possessed item as çocukların bahçesi to explicitly mean the one garden of the multiple children.

Postpositions (section 13.1, pp 87-89)

They work somewhat as prepositions do in English, and fall into three classes depending on the declension of the modified word.

Class 0 —
absolute
üzere,
üzre
on
yol üzere = on the road
Class I —
ablative: -den
başka other than, except for
bizden başka = except for us
köpeklerimden başka = except for my dogs
beri since, subsequent to
on saatten beri = for the past 10 hours
saat ondan beri = since 10:00
bu yana since
Cumadan bu yana = since Friday
dolayı because of
Atatürk'ten dolayı, şimdi Turkiye iyi millet.
Because of Atatürk, Turkey is a good country now.
önce
evvel
before, earlier than
bizden önce = earlier than us
saat ondan önce = before 10:00
Evvel is not originally Turkish. It used to be used more commonly during the first years of the Republic, but today önce is used more.
içeri inside, into
Kebapcıdan içeri girdik = We went into a kebap shop.
itibaren with effect from, starting from
Cumadan itibaren her gün, kebapçıdan içiri gireceğiz.
Every day starting from Friday, we will go into a kebap shop.
sonra after, later than
bizden sonra = later than us
saat ondan sonra = after 10:00
Class II —
dative: -(y)e
dair about, concerning
Osmanlı tarihine dair bir kitap = A book about Ottoman history
doğru straight toward
Bu yol İstanbul'a doğru gitiyor.
This road goes straight toward Istanbul
göre according to
Gazeteye göre, hava güzel olacak.
According to the newspaper, the weather is going to be nice.
karşı against, opposite
bana karşı = against me
nazaran compared to, in regard to
Kediye nazaran filim daha büyük. = Compared to a cat, my elephant is larger.
rağmen despite
ona rağmen = despite that
Class III —
genitive for these pronouns:
 ben, sen, o, biz, siz, bu, şu, kim
absolute for all other words
gibi like, similar to
kedi gibi = like a cat
sizin gibi = like you
için because of, for, for the purpose of
bunun için = because of this
ile / -(y)le with, by the
kedi ile -or- kediyle = with a cat
Haşhişi kilo ile satıyorum. = I sell hashish by the kilogram.
kadar up to, until, as far as, as much as
(from Arabic word for amount)
saat ona kadar = until 10:00
evime kadar = as far as my house
Bir saat kadar otobüse bindim. = I rode the bus for one hour.
İndiana'da halk filler kadar şişman. = People in Indiana are as fat as elephants.
Senin kadar zeki değilim. = I'm not as smart as you.
Melek kadar güzeldi. = She was as beautiful as an angel.
Cehenneme kadar yolun var! = Go to Hell! (literally You go until arriving at Hell.)
Yumuşayana kadar kaynat. = Boil it until it gets soft.
Hastalık Amerika'ya kadar yayılmış. = It seems the disease has spread to America.

Other qualifiers or pronouns

bazı, kimi some bazı adam, kimi adam = some man
bazı adamlar, kimi adamlar = some men
her every Bu tren her gün Istanbul'a gidiyor. = This train goes to Istanbul every day.
biraz a little,
from az, little
Az şarapı içerim. = I drink little wine.
Bojangels Bey dedi, "Biraz içerim". = Mr Bojangles said, "I drinks a bit".
kimse whoever,
or no one in the negative
Bir kimse size arıyordu. = Someone was looking for you.
Kimse aldırış etmiyor. = No one is paying attention.

Conjunctions

ve and Evimde sıcak ve soğuk su var. In my house there is hot and cold water
veya
ya da
or İstanbul'e veya Ankara'ya gideceğim. I will go to Istanbul or Ankara.
ki that Diyorlar ki olmayacak. They are saying that it will not happen
de too, also Biz de mi gidelim? Shall we too go?

Morphology, Character Shifts and Some Irregularities and Complications

Many thanks to Fatih Aygün for explaining these to me! These are his examples:

  1. In most nouns ending in -ç, -k, -nk and -p, the last consonant lenites (softens or weakens) before a vowel to become -c, -ğ, -ng and -b, respectively. However, this does not always happen. The word for "tail", "queue", "follower" etc changes as expected to form the accusative -i/ı/ü/u:
    kuyruk —> kuyruğu
    but the word for "law" does not:
    hukuk —> hukuku
  2. In some nouns the final consonant geminates (lengthens) before an added vowel. However, this does not always happen. The word for "forgiveness" changes as expected to form the dative -e/a:
    af —> affa
    but the word for "shelf" does not:
    raf —> rafa
  3. Some nouns lose the vowel before a final consonant when a vowel is suffixed. The word for "breast" does when forming the accusative:
    koyun —> koynu
    but the identically spelled word for "sheep" does not:
    koyun —> koyunu
  4. Sometimes that vowel loss is followed by an internal assimilation where the consonant ending of the previous consonant becomes hard or voiceless; for example, the word for "transcript" or "records":
    zabıt —> zaptı
  5. Some nouns end with a back vowel (a/ıo/u) but take a front vowel (e/i/ö/ü) in suffixes. The word for "left" changes as expected forming the dative:
    sol —> sola
    but the identically spelled word for the musical note does not:
    sol —> sole
    I wonder if this may have something to do with the second of those being a rather arbitrary and borrowed "word" or really just a name.
  6. Some pronouns and some compound nouns formed from noun phrases take n rather than y before a suffixed vowel, and sometimes even before a suffixed consonant. The word for "army" behaves as expected forming the accusative and nominative plural:
    ordu —> orduyu
    ordu —> ordular
    but the word for the plant purslane formed the accusative differently than expected:
    semizotu —> semizotunu
    and the demonstative pronoun "this" forms both differently:
    bu —> bunu
    bu —> bunlar
    Similarly, see the pronoun o with its plural onlar. As for the compound nouns, see the following!
  7. The interrogative pronoun ne or "what" is irregular in forming the possessive:
    ne —> neyim, but nem is also somewhat acceptable
    and the genitive:
    ne —> neyin (and not the expected *nenin)
    The word for "water", su, is similarly irregular.
  8. There is a morphologic process of partial reduplication to make Turkish adjectives and adverbs stronger in meaning. Take the beginning of the word through the first vowel, add m, p, r or s, then repeat the entire adjective. However, there is no pattern for predicting which letter will be used (other than it's always p if the adjective starts with a vowel), and sometimes extra letters appear:
    yeni "new" —> yepyeni "all new", "very new"
    yeşil "green" —> yemyeşil "all green", "very green"
    mavi "blue" —> masmavi "all blue", "very blue"
    temiz "clean" —> tertemiz "all clean", "very clean"
    and worse yet, plus a vowel or even a vowel-consonant pair:
    yalnız "alone" —> yapayalnız "all alone", "very alone" Not the expected yapyalnız
    çıplak "naked" —> çırılçıplak "all naked", "very naked" Not the expected çırçıplak

Now, as for those compound nouns, John Guise pointed out that the word for purslane is a compound noun made of two words that does not follow vowel harmony rules internally. Semiz (fat or meat) + ot-u (its-plant-or-grass). The second of those is already suffixed, so adding a further suffix requires a buffer letter -n- so we have semizotunu (as if it were semiz otunu) and not the expected semizotuyu. As for other examples John pointed out:

Hava + gaz became the compound havagazı (town its-gas):

  • Evet, aşağı yukarı bir sene evvel havagazını açık bırakarak böyle bir iş yapmak istemişti.
  • Yes, about a year ago she had wanted to do such a thing by leaving the town gas open.
    (Cumhuriyet Gazete, possibly reporting a suicide attempt)

Hanım + el became the compound hanımelı (lady her-hand, or honeysuckle)

  • Önce bir tutam hanımelını bir bardak su ile kısık ateşte.
    Siz hiç çocukluğunuzda hanımelını çiçeklerinin balılnı emdiniz mi?
    Çiçeklerden en çok hanımelını seviyorum.
  • Firstly boil a handful of honeysuckle with a tumbler of water.
    Didn't you ever suck the honeysuckle flower's nectar when you were a child?
    Of (all) flowers I like the honeysuckle best.
    (WWW)

Ayak + kap became the compound ayakkabı (foot its-cover, or shoe(s)):

  • Ayakkabını nasıl bağlarsın?
    Kendi ayakkabını tasarlayabilmek ne kadarda süper bir şey.
  • How do you tie your shoes?
    How great to be able to design your own shoes.
    (WWW)

Semiz + ot became the compound semizotu (meat its-grass, or purslane).

  • Semizotunu ayıklayarak bol su ile iyice yıkayıp üçe bölün, dövülmüş sarımsakları, süzme yoğurdu, semizotunu, tuz ve zeytinyağını bir kapta karıştırın.
    Supyalı semizotu'nu seviyorum.
  • Wash the purslane thoroughly with plenty of water and divide into three, crushed garlic, strained yogurt, purslane, and mix in a bowl with salt and olive oil.
    I like cuttlefish with purslane.
    (WWW, Ayvalık Recipe)

All these are compound nouns and the suffix and vowel harmony rules depend on the last word in the compound. Looked at that way, they are not irregular once you realize that the rules depend on the last word component. If that second word is already suffixed, then further accusative suffixes must take the buffer letter -n-. As John says, most Turks cannot explain when the buffer letter -y- is used versus -n-. For example:

  • Kediyi tekmeledim.
    I kicked the cat.
    Buffer letter -y- applies to a plain noun when adding the accusative -i marker.
  • Kedisini tekmeledim.
    I kicked his cat.
    Buffer letter -n- applies to an extended (already suffixed) noun when adding the accusative -i marker.

Verbs are next, here comes the big part!