7 rules for using “insan” versus “kişi”

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Prerequisites for this Turkish Grammar Lesson

Simple Present Tense or Aorist

12 uses of the aorist

Future tense

Handling irregular verbs
Asking yes or no questions
Pronouncing -acak/ecek

Past tense verbs

-dı/di/du/dü or -tı/ti/tu/tü
Asking yes or no questions

Beginner ‑mış/miş/müş/muş grammar forms


Not the same categories as English!

Most of the time, when someone asks what the difference is between the words, “insan” and “kişi,” the answer given is that they roughly correspond to the English words, “human” and “person,” respectively. This is true a lot of the time, but there’s more to it than that. Some people pick up on the difference eventually through trial and error, but I figured I’d save you the headache and lay it all out for you in a more intuitive way.

    Rule #1: use “insan” to say “human.”

    While it is not true that “insan” can always be translated into English as “human,” it is true that “human” can pretty much always be translated into Turkish as “insan.” In other words, you should use “insan” when you want to specify that the biological entity you are talking about are not animals, gods or inanimate objects but members of the homo sapiens species.

      İnsan genomu Homo sapiens’in genomudur.
      The human genome is the genome for homo sapiens.
      (Excerpt from the Turkish wikipedia page on the human genome)

      Hayvanların insanlardan farkı nedir?
      How are animals different from humans?
      (Title of article on reference website)

      İnsan mısın lan sen?!
      Man, are you even human?!
      (Common insult in response to inappropriate behavior)

      NASA görevlisi 6 kişi Mars’ta insan görmüş!
      Six people working at NASA saw human [life] on Mars!
      (Title of news story)

    Rule #2: use “insan” for general statements about people.

    When making a generalization about all or most people, “insan” is usually preferred over “kişi.” These kinds of generalizations are often found in proverbs or in religious or philosophical discussions.

      Ağacı kurt, insanı dert yer.
      Trees are eaten by the wolf, man is eaten by troubles.
      (A Turkish proverb)

      Merak insanı mezara sokar.
      Curiosity leads one to the grave.
      (A Turkish proverb)

      İnsan düşmanını gözünden tanır.
      A man knows his enemies from their eyes.
      (A Turkish proverb)

      Neden çoğu insan bilimsel yöntemi yanlış kavrar?
      Why do most people misunderstand the scientific method?
      (From the title of a post on a science blog)

      Bütün insanlar iyi olsaydı dünya nasıl olurdu?
      If all people were good, what would the world be like?
      (Title of post on forum)

      Mutlu insanlar başkaları hakkında dedikodu yapmaz.
      Happy people don’t gossip about others.
      (Title of post on health blog)

      Dünyada hala iyi insanlar var.
      There are still good people in the world.
      (Title of photo gallery on news site)

    Rule #3: use “kişi” for one specific person and “insan” for a type of person.

    The phrases, “bir kişi” and “bir insan” are both very common in Turkish and can sometimes be used almost interchangeably. Since “insan” is more often used to refer to people in general, the phrase, “bir insan” is more likely to mean some person or a type of person than it is to mean one specific person. When talking about a specific person, “bir kişi” is more likely to be used.

    When describing a person using an adjective, the form is generally “(adjective) bir insan” or “(adjective) kişi.” In other words, you can say “iyi bir insan” to mean “a good person,” but you can rarely say “iyi bir kişi.” If you did, it would mean, “the one good person.” Instead of saying “iyi bir kişi,” it is normally preferable to say “iyi kişi” (the good person) or “en iyi kişi” (the best person). Likewise, you normally wouldn’t say “iyi insan” in the singular form unless you are trying to say “good human” or if you’re pairing it with the “olmak” verb to give the meaning “to be a good person.”

      Examples with the adjective “iyi” (good)

      Bir kişi A (specific) person Bir insan A person (in general)
      İyi bir kişi One good person İyi bir insan A good person
      En iyi kişi The best person En iyi insan The best human
      İyi kişi olmak To be the good person İyi insan olmak To be a good person
      Example sentences
      Ankara’da doğalgaz patlaması! Bir kişi yaralandı.
      A natural gas explosion in Ankara! One person was injured.
      (Title of news story)

      Bir insan ömrünü neye vermeli?
      What should a person spend their life on?
      (Title of song)

    Note that in the first example above, “bir kişi” was used when talking about one specific person, whereas “bir insan” was used to ask a question about a person in general.

      More example sentences
      Ailenizdeki en uzun kişi kim?
      Who is the tallest person in your family?
      (Title of forum post)

      Katılımcılar arasında çekilen kurada kazanan şanslı bir kişi 5 milyar lira ile ödüllendirilecek.
      The one lucky person who wins the raffle among the participants will be awarded five thousand Turkish Lira.
      (From the explanation of the rules of a contest)

      Neden şanslı bir insan değilim?
      Why am I not a lucky person?
      (Title of post on psychology blog)

    Exception: adjectives with multiple possible meanings

    If an adjective has more than one meaning, each meaning tends to be used more commonly with either “kişi” or “insan.” For example, “doğru kişi” usually means “(the) right person,” whereas “doğru insan” usually means “(a) righteous person.” Also, “güzel insan” usually means “good person,” but “güzel kişi” usually means “beautiful (pretty) person.”

      Examples of adjectives with multiple possible meanings

      doğru kişi (the) right person doğru insan (a) righteous person
      güzel kişi pretty person güzel insan good person
      güçlü kişi person with influence, willpower güçlü insan physically or psychologically strong person
      büyük kişi old person büyük insan important or physically large person
      Example sentences
      Doğru bir insan olmak kolaylaşıyor!
      It’s getting easier to be a good person!
      (Title of blog post)

      Herkes için doğru bir kişi var mı?
      Is there one right person for everyone?
      (Title of column piece)

      Evleneceğiniz kişi doğru kişi mi?
      Is the person you’re going to marry the right person?
      (Title of column piece)

      Güzel bir insan ölünce bir kütüphane yanar.
      When a good person dies, a library burns (i.e. a wealth of knowledge is lost).
      (Title of news story)

      Size göre yaşayan en yakışıklı/güzel kişi kim?
      In your opinion, who is the most handsome/pretty person alive?
      (Title of question on forum)

    Rule #4: use “kişi” when specifying the number of people.

    When talking about a small number of specific people, “kişi” is usually preferred over “insan.” Similarly, “kişi” is preferred when specifying the number of people in a group. So if you were to say “two people” in Turkish, you would say, “iki kişi.” Saying, “iki insan” would normally be understood to mean, “two humans.” When talking about larger groups of people, the word “insan” can be used without connotations of “human.” The bigger a group of people is, the more likely that group will be referred to as “insan” instead of “kişi.”

      Hayatımda bir kişiyi sevdim.
      In my life I have loved [only] one person.
      (Quote from interview)

      Bu arabada kaç kişi var?
      How many people are in this car?
      (Title of photo gallery)

      Asansör 4 kişiliktir.
      This is a 4-person elevator.
      (Common sign in elevator)

      Düğün dondurmasından 40 kişi zehirlendi.
      40 people poisoned by wedding ice cream
      (Headline of news story)

      Dünya’da kaç milyar kişi yaşıyor?
      How many billions of people are in the world?
      (Headline of news story)

      Dünyada toplam kaç insan var?
      How many people are in the world?
      (Title of forum post)
      (Note here that because of the large number of people, it is permissible to use either “insan” or “kişi.”)

      Dünyada Türkçe konuşan kaç insan var?
      How many Turkish-speaking people in the world are there?
      (Headline of news story)

    Exception: combining numbers with descriptive words and phrases

    Sometimes, when the number of people is specified along with an adjective or other descriptive phrase, the word for “person” can be “insan” instead of “kişi.” This type of phrase commonly occurs in the titles of clickbait articles on the Internet.

      Aslında hiç yaşamamış olan 5 insan
      5 people who are actually not real
      (Title of clickbait article)

      Vampir olduklarından şüphelenilen 7 insan
      7 people who are suspected of being vampires
      (Title of clickbait article)

    Rule #5: pay attention to numerical descriptive words.

    There are a number of words in Turkish that can be used to estimate the number of people in a group. For some of these words, it is only normal to use “kişi” unless you are specifying the meaning of “humans.”

      Birkaç kişi A few people
      Birçok kişi Many people
      Çok kişi Many people
      Köyden birkaç kişi geldi yanımıza.
      A few people came to us from the village.
      (Excerpt from interview)

      Bir paketi birkaç kişi paylaşmak mümkün mü?
      Can a few people share one [telephone] package?
      (Question in forum on Vodaphone website)

      Pekin’de birçok kişi işe gitmek için her gün 6 saat harcıyor!
      Many people in Beijing spend 6 hours each day to get to work!
      (Headline of news story)

      Genç-yaşlı kadın-erkek çok kişi aşçı olmak istiyor.
      Young and old, women and men ‑ many people want to become cooks.
      (Part of a headline of a news story)

    Exception: combining “birkaç” or “birçok” with adjectives

    Note that an exception to this rule is when an adjective is included in the phrase along with “birkaç” or “birçok.” In these cases, it is expected that the word for person used is “insan” and not “kişi.” For example, it’s normal to say “birkaç kişi,” but if you add the adjective “iyi,” it would become “birkaç iyi insan.” These types of exceptions are fairly rare, however.

      Cahil birkaç insan bu dine zarar veremez.
      A few ignorant people cannot harm this religion.
      (Quote from a speech at an iftar meal)

      Dünyanın birçok yerinden birçok güzel insan tanıdık.
      We met a lot of good people from a lot of places around the world.
      (Excerpt from article)

    Rule #6: when in doubt, use “insanlar” for plurals, not “kişiler.”

    When talking about people of an unspecified number, “kişiler” is not commonly used, although it is technically correct. It is much more common to see the word “insanlar” than it is to see “kişiler.”

      Examples with “insanlar
      Adana’daki insanlar genelde tarım ve sanayi ila uğraşmaktadır.
      People in Adana generally work in agriculture and industry.
      (Excerpt from middle school test question)

      Bu köyde insanlar ‘6 parmaklı’ doğuyor.
      In this village people are born ‘with 6 fingers’.
      (Headline of news story)

      Bu insanlar çizgi film karakterlerinin hayata gelmiş halleri gibi.
      These people are like cartoon characters come to life.
      (Title of photo gallery)

      Bazı insanlar neden kötüdür?
      Why are some people bad?
      (Title of health news post)

    Exceptions: when to use “kişiler”

    There are a few cases where the word “kişiler” gets used. Rather than meaning “people,” it is more often used to mean “contacts” (as in the list of contacts in a phone), “individuals” (instead of a generalization about a group of people) or “persons” (as you might see in legal documentation).

      Examples with “kişiler
      Telefonu sıfırlamadan önce kişileri gmail hesabıma kaydettim.
      Before formatting my phone I saved the contacts to my gmail account.

      Twitter’da artık blokladığınız kişiler sizi takip edip, tweet’lerinizi okuyabilir.
      Now the contacts you blocked on Twitter can follow you and read your tweets.
      (Headline of news story)

      Ünlü kişiler, markalar ve yerlerle ilgili ilginç gerçekler
      Interesting facts about famous individuals, brands, and places
      (Title of post on news website)

      MADDE 193– (1) Birleşme, bölünme veya tür değiştirme işlemlerine herhangi bir şekilde katılmış bulunan bütün kişiler şirketlere, ortaklara ve alacaklılara karşı kusurları ile verdikleri zararlardan sorumludurlar.
      ARTICLE 193- (1) All persons who have been involved in any way in the processes of merging, dividing, or type changing are responsible for damages made and offenses toward companies, partners and creditors.
      (Excerpt from a legal document)

    Rule #7: break the other rules!

    For one reason or another, Turkish speakers will sometimes break these rules and use “kişi” where “insan” is normally expected or the other way around. Sometimes these rules are broken for dramatic or literary effect. Sometimes I think people just want to sound different. The only rule that doesn’t get broken, however, is rule #1: “human” is always translated as “insan.” Everything else is fair game.

    For each of the examples below, see if you can identify which rule the sentence breaks.

      Rule-breaking example sentences
      Ben bir insanı sevdim
      I loved someone
      (Title of a poem)

      Kişi arkadaşından bellidir.
      A person is understood by who their friends are.
      (Turkish proverb)

      Kişi ne yaparsa kendine yapar.
      Whatever a person does, they do to themselves.
      (Turkish proverb)

      Yüksek zeka seviyelerine sahip kişilerde bazı yönlerden sosyal garipliklere daha sık rastlanmasının sebebi, bu insanların dünyayı diğerlerinden tamamen farklı bir seviyede görmesinden kaynaklanıyor.
      The reason for people who possess a high intelligence to more commonly have some social oddities is that these people see the world from a completely different level than others.
      (Excerpt from article)

    Take the Quiz

    Now that you’ve learned more about the differences between “insan” and “kişi,” take the quiz to see how well you understand it:

    Quiz: “insan” versus “kişi”

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