Past tense copula: how to say “was” (idi, ‑(y)dı/di/du/dü, ‑tı/ti/tu/tü)


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Prerequisites for this Turkish Grammar Lesson

Compound noun ending

-(s)ı
Exceptions

Noun possession

-(n)ın/in/un/ün
-(s)ı/i/u/ü
benim, senin, onun

Existence

Var/yok
Var mı? Yok mu?
Using "yok" to mean "no"



How to say “was” in Turkish

In Turkish, to say someone did something, you use the past tense ‑dı ending. But to say that someone was something, use “idi” or ‑(y)dı.

In modern Turkish, the full “idi” form is rare. The shorter ‑(y)dı ending is much more common in everyday speech. The full “idi” form normally occurs only in formal speech and writing. In this way, it’s similar to “ile” (with/by/and) and “ise” (if).

In this lesson, we will focus most of our attention on the ‑(y)dı word ending form and not on the less common “idi” form.


Fun fact: “idi” comes from the Old Turkic “to be” verb 𐰼 (er-) conjugated with the past tense ending: 𐰼𐱅𐰃‎ (erti). In Ottoman times, Turkish speakers reduced “erti” to “idi.” Then in modern times, Turkish speakers reduced the form even more to make “idi” into the short ‑(y)dı/di/du/dü and ‑tı/ti/tu/tü forms.


Grammar form:

  • Noun/adjective     idi
  • Noun/adjective ending with a vowel + y + dı/di/du/dü
  • Noun/adjective ending with a ç, k, p, s, ş or t + tı/ti/tu/tü
  • Noun/adjective ending with a different consonant + dı/di/du/dü

To use the unshortened version of the past tense copula, simply add “idi” after a noun or adjective. In this full form, the vowels in “idi” do not change according to vowel harmony.

To make the short form, first check to see if the base word ends in a vowel (a, ı, o, u, e, i, ö, or ü) or not. If it does, add a “y” sound before you add the rest of the ending.

Next, you need to figure out whether to use a t or a d in the past tense ending. If the word ends in a voiceless consonant (ç, k, p, s, ş or t), you will use a “t.” For all other consonants, you will use a “d.”

Finally, add an “ı,” “i,” “u,” or “ü” according to i-type vowel harmony.

Let’s get started with some simple examples.

Examples of “idi” and ‑(y)dı

Full “idi” form Short form English translation
Güzel idi Güzeldi [It] was good/beautiful
Öğrenci idi Öğrenciydi [He/she] was [a] student
Öğrenciler idi Öğrencilerdi [They] were students
Lise öğrencisi idi Lise öğrencisiydi [He/she] was [a] high school student
Çocuk idi Çocuktu [He/she] was [a] child
Çocuklar idi Çocuklar [They] were children
Kız çocuğu idi Kız çocuğuydu [She] was [a] girl

Note that in these examples there are a few word endings that can go before the ‑(y)dı ending. For example, you can add the plural (‑lar/ler) ending or the compound noun ‑(s)ı/i/u/ü ending.

    Example sentences with ‑(y)dı past tense ending

    Kapı açık.
    The door was unlocked.
    (From the title of a video showing a kangaroo entering a house)

    Porsiyonlar büyük.
    The portion [sizes] were large.
    (Excerpt from a customer’s review of a restaurant)

    Sorular çok zordu.
    The questions were very hard.
    (A student making a complaint about a test)

    İki ay uzun bir süreydi.
    Two months was a long amount of time.
    (Excerpt from an interview with a Trabzonspor player)

    Bu aile, gerçekten çok güzel bir aileydi
    This family really was a very wonderful family…
    (Excerpt from a book)

Using ‑(y)dı with personal endings

The “idi” / ‑(y)dı forms can also be used with personal endings to say “I was…”, “You were…”, etc. The personal endings are added directly onto the “idi” word or the ‑(y)dı ending. Note that the set of personal endings is the same as for the past tense ‑dı ending for verbs.

Grammar form:

  • Noun/adjective     idi + (personal ending)
  • Noun/adjective ending with a vowel + y + dı/di/du/dü + (personal ending)
  • Noun/adjective ending with a ç, k, p, s, ş or t + tı/ti/tu/tü + (personal ending)
  • Noun/adjective ending with a different consonant + dı/di/du/dü + (personal ending)

Examples of ‑(y)dı forms with personal endings

Turkish English
(Ben) gençtim I was young
(Sen) gençtin You were young
(O) gençti He/she was young
(biz) gençtik We were young
(siz) gençtiniz You (pl or formal) were young
(onlar) gençti / gençtiler / gençlerdi They were young

Notice that for the third person plural, the ‑lar/ler ending can either go before the ‑(y)dı ending, or after it, or you can leave it off entirely. Most of the time, you will use the “onlar” pronoun and leave the ‑lar/ler ending off.

    Example sentences with personal endings

    Güzel adamn.
    You were a good man.
    (From the title of a tribute to late actor Kemal Sunal)

    Bir zamanlar gençtiler.
    At one point, they were young.
    (Title of a section in a local newspaper)

    Şişmanm… Ama güzeldim.
    I was fat… But I was beautiful.
    (Title of a newspaper column)

    Büyük bir şirkettik.
    We were a large company.
    (Excerpt from a novel)

    Çok zor ve sıkıntılı bir müşteriydiniz.
    You were a very difficult and annoying customer.
    (A hotel’s response to one customer’s negative review)

Using ‑(y)dı with “değil” to say “wasn’t”

To make a past copula sentence with a negative, you can use “idi” or ‑(y)dı along with “değil” (“not”) to say “was not.” To do this, just add “idi” or ‑(y)di to the end of “değil.”

Grammar form:

  • Noun/adjective     değil    idi
  • Noun/adjective     değil + di

Here are some examples of sentences with “değildi.”

    Examples

    Bu değildi.
    [It] was not this.
    (Title of a song)

    Niyetim kötü değildi.
    My intent was not bad.
    (Title of a song)

    Milli takım seçimi tabii ki kolay değildi.
    Choosing the National Team of course was not easy.[
    (Excerpt from a sports news story.)

Using ‑(y)dı with “var” and “yok”

To make a past tense copula sentence about the existence or absence of something, use “var” (“there is”) or “yok” (“there isn’t”) followed by the past tense copula. The full form would be “var idi” or “yok idi.” The more common, short form is “vardı” or “yoktu.”

Grammar form:

  • Noun/adjective     var    idi
  • Noun/adjective     yok    idi
  • Noun/adjective     var +
  • Noun/adjective     yok + tu

Here are some examples of sentences with “vardı” and “yoktu.”

    Example sentences with “vardı” and “yoktu”

    Bir melek var.
    There was an angel.
    (Title of a song)

    Gerek yoktu.
    There was no need.
    (Commentary on a conflict between two people on the Survivor TV show)

    Haberim yoktu.
    I didn’t know! (Lit. My news did not exist)
    (Quote from a man caught with 416,000TL in counterfeit bills)

Using ‑(y)dı with yes-or-no questions

To make a past tense copula sentence into a yes-or-no question, use the “mı” question word followed by the ‑(y)dı ending. Depending on i-type vowel harmony, it will be “mıydı,” “miydi,” “muydu,” or “müydü.”

Grammar form:

  • Noun/adjective     mı/mi/mu/mü    idi
  • Noun/adjective     mı/mi/mu/mü + ydı/ydi/ydu/ydü

Here are some examples of sentences combining the “mı” question word and the ‑(y)dı ending.

    Example sentences with “mıydı”

    Yalan ydı?
    Was [it] a lie?
    (Title of a song)

    Değer miydi?
    Was [it] worth [it]?
    (Title of a book)

    Pollyanna mutlu muydu?
    Was Polyanna happy?
    (Title of a book)

    Truvalılar Türk ydü?
    Were [the] Trojans Turks?
    (Title of a book)

For further study

There are a lot of ways to use “idi,” but we can’t cover all of them in this lesson. Here are a few more “idi” forms for you to consider learning next:

Turkish English
Yapıyordu He/she was doing it
Yapacak He/she was going to do it
Yapabilirdi He/she was able to do it / could have done it
Yapsaydı If he/she had done it
Yapmış He/she has done it
Yapar He/she used to do it / would have done it
Yapmalıydı, lazım [He/she] needed to do [it], [It] was necessary
Neydi, kimdi, nasıl What was it, who was it, how was it
Banaydı, bendendi [It] was to me, [It] was from me
Oradaydı, buradaydı [It] was there, [It] was here

This lesson is a prerequisite for:

Was doing

-ıyordu
Using -ıyordu to mean "almost"

Adding “quick” or “easy” connotations to verbs

-ıver
-ıverdi



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