Ability, permission and possibility (‑abilir, ‑amaz, ‑mayabilir)

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Prerequisites for this Turkish Grammar Lesson

Simple Present Tense or Aorist

12 uses of the aorist

Locative case: at, in, and on

burada, şurada, orada

3 Ways to use ‑abilir/ebilir

The ‑abilir/ebilir ending in Turkish is similar to the English words “can,” “could,” “may,” and “might.” There are three basic meanings of the ending: ability, permission, and possibility.

1. Ability

Sometimes the ‑abilir/ebilir ending denotes ability. That is, you add it to a verb to say that someone is able to do something.

2. Permission

Other times, the ‑abilir/ebilir ending means that someone is allowed to do something.

3. Possibility

In other cases, the ‑abilir/ebilir ending means that someone might do something.

Sometimes it is not clear which way the ‑abilir/ebilir ending is being used. But most of the time, the meaning is clear from the context.

Forming the ‑abilir/ebilir ending

Grammar form:

  • Verb stem + (y) + a/e + bilir + (personal ending)

To form the ‑abilir/ebilir ending, you first need to find the verb stem (e.g. the “yap” part of “yapmak”). If the verb stem ends in a vowel, you will add a “y” before adding the ‑abilir/ebilir ending. İstemek (to want) and yürümek (to walk) are two examples of verbs where you will need to do this.

Next, add an ‑a or ‑e according to the E-type vowel harmony rules. After that, you add “bilir” followed by the personal ending.

Why does ‑abilir break vowel harmony?

Note that the “bilir” part of this word ending is one of the few parts of Turkish that breaks vowel harmony. This is because the “bilir” part of the sentence was originally a separate word altogether: the verb “bilmek” (to know) in the aorist tense. In fact, some people still write the ‑abilir/ebilir word ending as a separate word: “yapa bilir.”

Examples of ‑abilir with “yapmak” (to do)

For our first example, notice how the same sentence can have three different meanings in English. In this sentence, the ‑abilir ending can either mean ability, permission, or possibility:

(Ben) yapabilirim

Meaning Translation
Ability I can do it
Permission I am allowed to do it
Possibility I might do it

Now let’s take a look at how to form the ‑abilir ending with all the different personal endings. (Note: to make it easier to read, we have chosen to translate ‑abilir as “can.” But you could just as easily switch out “can” for “may” or “might” in these tables).

Turkish English
(Ben) yapabilirim I can do it
(Sen) yapabilirsin You can do it
(O) yapabilir He/she can do it
(Biz) yapabiliriz We can do it
(Siz) yapabilirsiniz You (pl./formal) can do it
(Onlar) yapabilir(ler) They can do it

Examples of ‑ebilir with “yürümek” (to walk)

Turkish English
(Ben) yürüyebilirim I can walk
(Sen) yürüyebilirsin You can walk
(O) yürüyebilir He/she can walk
(Biz) yürüyebiliriz We can walk
(Siz) yürüyebilirsiniz You (pl./formal) can walk
(Onlar) yürüyebilir(ler) They can walk

Example sentences with ‑abilir/ebilir

Let’s take a look at a few example sentences using the ‑abilir/ebilir ending.

    Evde ne iş yapabilirim?
    What job can I do at home?
    (Excerpt from a blog post)

    Nasıl burs verebilirsiniz?
    How can you give a scholarship?
    (Title of a page on an educational institution’s website)

    Instagram ücret isteyebilir!
    Instagram might charge a fee!
    (Title of a news story)

    Görme engelliler görebilir, yatalaklar dünyayı gezebilir.
    The visually impaired can see; the bedridden can explore the world.
    (Excerpt from an interview about Metaverse)

    İşçi ikinci bir işte çalışabilir mi?
    Can an employee work at a second job?
    (Title of an informational blog post)

    Amerika’ya nasıl gidebilirim?
    How can I go to America?
    (Excerpt from travel blog)

    İnşaata başlayabilirsin.
    You can start construction [right away].
    (Title of a listing for a plot of land for sale)

    Taksitle altın alabilir miyim?
    Can I buy gold in installments?
    (Title of an FAQ article on an investment company’s website)

Negative sentences: inability or prohibition

If you use the negative form of this ending, it can mean that someone is not able to do something or that something is not allowed.

Grammar form:

  • Verb stem + (y) + a/e + ma/me/maz/mez + (personal ending)

To use the negative form of this word ending, the first part is the same as with the positive form. First, find the verb stem. If it ends in a vowel, add a ‘y.’ Then add ‑a or ‑e based on vowel harmony. Next, you add the negative aorist form (‑ma/me/maz/mez) followed by the personal ending.

Note that in the negative form of this ending, the ‑bil part of the ending is always left off.

Fun fact: in the Azerbaijani language, a close relative to Turkish, they have a similar grammar form but they leave the ‑bil part in the negative forms.

In the tables below you will see examples of how to use the negative form of this ending.

For simplicity, we have translated the -amaz ending as “can’t.” But keep in mind that -amaz can either mean inability (unable to do something) or prohibition (not allowed to do something).

Examples of ‑amaz ending with “yapmak” (to do)

Turkish Inability or Prohibition
(Ben) yapamam I can’t do it
(Sen) yapamazsın You can’t do it
(O) yapamaz He/she can’t do it
(Biz) yapamayız We can’t do it
(Siz) yapamazsınız You (pl./formal) can’t do it
(Onlar) yapamaz(lar) They can’t do it

Examples of ‑emez with “yürümek” (to walk)

Turkish Inability or Prohibition
(Ben) yürüyemem I can’t walk
(Sen) yürüyemezsin You can’t walk
(O) yürüyemez He/she can’t walk
(Biz) yürüyemeyiz We can’t walk
(Siz) yürüyemezsiniz You (pl./formal) can’t walk
(Onlar) yürüyemez(ler) They can’t walk

Example sentences with ‑amaz/emez

Let’s take a look at a few example sentences using the negative ‑amaz/emez ending.

    Herkes sanatçı olamaz.
    Not everyone can be an artist.
    (Title of an interview)

    Başka işlerimiz var, hemen gelemeyiz.
    We have other things to do, we can’t come right away.
    (Quotation of a news story)

    Ben sensiz yaşayamam, Itır!
    I can’t live without you, Itır!
    (Line from the TV Show, Hangimiz Sevmedik)

    Lise ve lisans öğrencileri çalışma izni alamaz ve çalışamazlar.
    High school and undergraduate students cannot get a work permit and are not allowed to work.
    (Excerpt from an informational page about work permits)

    Epilepsi hastaları kan veremezler.
    Epilepsy patients cannot donate blood.
    (Excerpt from a statement on a hospital website)

    Akne için doğru diyet: Ne yiyebilirsiniz ve ne yiyemezsiniz?
    The right diet for acne: What can you eat and what can’t you eat?
    (Title of a blog post)

    Gelemem diyorum öf öf, sen gel diyorsun.
    I’m saying I can’t come, [sigh] …you’re saying, ‘come.’
    (Line of a folk song)

    Sana bir buket gül veremez miyim?
    Can’t I give you a bouquet of roses?
    (Lyrics from an 80’s hit)

    Parka, bahçeye gidemezler mi?
    Can’t they go to a park or a garden?
    (Excerpt from an opinion piece)

The “other” negative form: ‑mayabilir/meyebilir

There is one other way to make the ‑abilir ending negative. If you use the ‑ma/me negative ending followed by ‑yabilir/yebilir, this can have three different meanings:

1. It might not happen

The first meaning of ‑mayabilir/meyebilir is improbability: it means that something might not happen in the future.

2. It might not be the case

For verbs that refer to an ongoing state like “olmak” (to be / to become) and “bilmek” (to know), this form can sometimes mean that something may not be the case.

3. Someone is allowed to not do something

In some cases, the ‑mayabilir/meyebilir form can mean that someone is giving permission to not do something.

While the ‑mayabilir/meyebilir form is not as common as the ‑amaz/emez form, it still gets used in every day speech.

Grammar form:

  • Verb stem + ma/me + y + a/e + bilir + (personal ending)

In the table below, you can see how this form gets added to the “yapmak” (to do) verb:

Examples of ‑mayabilir ending with “yapmak” (to do)

Turkish English
(Ben) yapmayabilirim I might not do it
(Sen) yapmayabilirsin You might not do it
(O) yapmayabilir He/she might not do it
(Biz) yapmayabiliriz We might not do it
(Siz) yapmayabilirsiniz You (pl. or formal) might not do it
(Onlar) yapmayabilir(ler) They might not do it

Example sentences with ‑mayabilir/meyebilir

Let’s take a look at a few example sentences using the negative ‑mayabilir/meyebilir ending.

    Bilmeyebilirsin ama abartıyorsun.
    You might not know it, but you are exaggerating.
    (Excerpt from an argument in an online forum)

    Ertesi gün çocuklar için bir zorunluluk da yok gelmeyebilirler.
    And the kids don’t have anything they have to do the next day; they are allowed to not come.
    (Excerpt from news story about testing in schools)

    Bu süreden sonra yemek istemeyebilirsin.
    You might not want to eat after this period of time.
    (From an article giving advice on how to quit smoking without gaining weight)

    Sen Leyla olmayabilirsin ama ben Mecnunum!
    You might not be Layla but I am Majnun!
    (Line from TV Show Ekmek Teknesi, with a reference to the “Romeo and Juliet of the East”)

    İnsanları kırmam, incitmem; sevmeyebilirim ama saygı duyarım.
    I don’t offend or hurt people; I might not like someone, but I always respect them.
    (Excerpt from interview)

For further study

There are a lot of ways to use the ‑abil- word ending, and we don’t have space to cover all of them in this lesson. Here are a few more forms of the ‑abil- word ending for you to learn next:

Turkish English
Yapabildi He/she was able to do it
Yapabiliyor He/she is currently able to do it
Yapabilecek He/she will be able to do it
Yapabilirdi He/she would be able to do it
Yapamayabilir He/she may not be able to do it
Yapıyor olabilir He/she may currently be doing it
Yapmış olabilir He/she may have done it

This lesson is a prerequisite for:

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