Turkish Grammar

Turkish grammar, in general, is pretty straightforward and not too hard to master. However, it has a few peculiarities that can cause difficulties to learners of Turkish as a foreign language.

Turkish is a highly agglutinative language, meaning that much of its grammar is expressed by adding various suffixes to nouns and verbs. It is very regular compared with many European languages. For example, evlerden "from the houses" can be analyzed as ev "house", -ler (plural suffix), -den (ablative case, meaning "from"). 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. The extensive use of affixes can give rise to long words.

This article gives an overview of Turkish grammar, its general structure and some of the aspects you need to pay particular attention to.

Nouns

Turkish nouns have no grammatical gender, but have six grammatical cases: nominative or absolute (used for the subject or an indefinite direct object), accusative (used for a definite direct object), dative (= to), locative (= in), ablative (= from), genitive (= of). There are two grammatical numbers, singular and plural.

Turkish nouns decline by taking case endings, with all the endings following vowel harmony. For example, köy (village) is nominative and köye is dative. The plural marker -ler immediately follows the noun before any case or other affixes (e.g. köylerin "of the villages").

Additionally, nouns can take suffixes that assign person: for example -imiz, "our" which can be used like ev (house) – evimiz (our house).

There is no definite article in Turkish, but definiteness of the object is implied when the accusative ending is used.

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 ("beautiful ones / people"). The adjectives in Turkish usually precede the nouns they modify.

Adverbs

Many adverbs are derived from verbs by the means of suffixes (such as –e, -erek, -meden and others).

Many adverbs are also formed from adjectives, simply by adding the suffix –ce to the adjective or using the word “bir şekilde” with the adverb.

Some words can be used as an adverb without using any suffixes.

Pronouns

Like Turkish nouns, pronouns have no grammatical gender (the same pronoun o means "he", "she" or "it"), but have six grammatical cases.

The third-person personal pronoun o "she/he/it" is declined as if it were the noun "on". The other persons, ben "I", sen "you (singular/informal)", biz "we", siz "you (plural/formal)", are declined like nouns, except for a vowel change in the dative, and an anomalous genitive; also the plural forms do not involve –ler (for instance, ben “I” – biz “we”).

Verbs

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

Verbs in Turkish have six grammatical persons (three singular and three plural), various voices (active and passive, reflexive, reciprocal, and causative), and a large number of grammatical tenses.

Verbs also have a number of participial forms, which Turkish makes much use of. Clauses which begin with "who" or "because" in English are generally translated by means of participial phrases in Turkish.

Tense

There are 9 simple and 20 compound tenses in Turkish. 9 simple tenses are simple past (di'li geçmiş), inferential past (miş'li geçmiş), present continuous, simple present (aorist), future, optative, subjunctive, necessitative ("must") and imperative.

There are three groups of compound forms. Story (hikaye) is the witnessed past of the above forms (except command), rumor (rivayet) is the unwitnessed past of the above forms (except simple past and command), conditional (koşul) is the conditional form of the first five basic tenses.

There are also so-called combined verbs, which are created by suffixing certain verb stems (like bil or ver) to the original stem of a verb. Bil is the suffix for the sufficiency mood. It is the equivalent of the English auxiliary verbs "able to", "can" or "may". Ver is the suffix for the swiftness mood, kal for the perpetuity mood and yaz for the approach ("almost") mood. Thus, while gittin means "you went", gidebildin means "you could go" and gidiverdin means "you went swiftly".

Word order

In Turkish, verbs generally come at the end of the sentence or clause; adjectives and possessive nouns come before the noun they describe; and meanings such as "behind", "for", "like/similar to" etc. are expressed as postpositions following the noun rather than prepositions before it.

Prepositions

Turkish prepositions link nouns, pronouns, and phrases to other words in a sentence. The word or phrase that the preposition introduces is called the object of the preposition.

Strictly speaking, though, Turkish has not prepositions, but postpositions, as they follow the noun they modify. For example:

Içinde – inside; evin içinde – inside the house

dışında – outside; aracın dışında – outside the car

Final words

This is a very brief overview of Turkish grammar. To truly master it, you will need to study each of the parts of speech in much more detail, paying special attention to various suffixes expressing a multitude of grammatical forms. However, this overview will hopefully give you a general idea of the Turkish grammatical system and of the main points you should consider when learning.


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