Comprehensive Pronunciation Guide


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Prerequisites

Intro to the Turkish Alphabet

Turkish letters
Audio samples



Reading Turkish is easy. It’s always pronounced the same way! (except when it’s not)

The Turkish alphabet consists of Latin characters like in English. But not all the sounds are the same as their English equivalents. The Turkish alphabet is phonetic. That means that, as a general rule, one letter makes one sound. But don’t let that fool you – there are many exceptions to this rule. In reality, learning to pronounce Turkish words is harder than most people think. This post gives you all the details of each Turkish letter. It also explains the different sounds the letters make in different dialects.

Aa

The Turkish a sounds like the a in “cart” and “bar” in most English dialects (but not in Australian English).

For many English speakers, though, it can be hard to say this letter the right way when it is at the end of a Turkish word. This is because most English speakers pronounce the a at the end of a word like the u in “fun,” not like the a in “cart.” For this reason, many English speakers pronounce “ama” (but) like it’s an English word: “AH-muh.” However, both syllables should sound the same: “AH-mah” (see pronunciation below). This “uh” sound is not common in the Turkish language. But it does get used by some Turkish speakers in certain words. Examples of this are: “yarın” (tomorrow), “yarım” (half), and words containing “ağı” (see section below on the letter ğ).

In the Aegean region, the letter a can sound like the e in “pet” in certain words. For example, “arkadaş” (friend) is sometimes pronounced like “arkedeş.”

Also, in some religious words such as “Allah” (God), some speakers make a different “a” sound farther back of the mouth. This back-of-the-mouth “a” sounds like the way some English speakers say the word, “awe.”

    Normal examples
    (to do)
    (but, however)
    (elongated a sound)
    (raised a sound, similar to English "uh")

    Normal a versus back a in "Allah" (God)
    (normal a)
    (back a)

Ââ

This letter, as well as the î and û letters generally occur in loan words from Arabic. The circumflex accent ("^") is often not indicated in writing except for a few cases where it helps to distinguish similar words, for example, hala (maternal aunt) and hâlâ (still). I have observed the following different functions of this symbol (and sometimes it performs more than one at the same time):

Function #1: elongated vowel

The vowel is elongated. Usually, in this case, the lengthening of the vowel is optional in speech. For example, “lâzım” (necessary) is sometimes pronounced with a long a and sometimes it is pronounced with a normal length.

Function #2: higher tone

The tone of the vowel is significantly higher. For example, “hâlâ” (still) has a raised tone on the first â and a lower tone on the second â (In this example, the vowels also have a longer-than-normal length and the l is palatalized; see below). You can compare it with “hala” (maternal aunt).

Function #3: palatalized consonants

One of the consonants adjacent to the â is palatalized, which means the center of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth. This produces a sound like a combination of the original consonant with an extra y. This happens when the consonant before the â is k, g, or l. These sounds are rarely found in English.

Examples with different functions of â

Pronunciation Function of â English
Elongated a sound Necessary
Elongated a sound Some
Palatalized l sound State, status
Palatalized g sound Wind
None (normal a) Snow
Palatalized k sound Profit
None (normal a) Paternal aunt
Raised tone, palatalized l Still, yet
None (normal a) An old word for "brown"
Raised tone, palatalized l What does that have to do with it?

Bb

Same as English.*

Cc

Pronounced like the j in “jet.” In Turkish, the letter c never produces an s sound like in "lace" or a k sound like in "cat."

Çç

Pronounced like the ch in “cheese.”

Dd

Same as English.*

Ee

Sometimes pronounced like the e in “left” (in most English accents other than the Southern United States) and other times pronounced like the ay in “may” (in most English accents other than Australian). Usually, if a syllable ends in an e or if it is followed by the letter y, it has the “may” pronunciation. If the syllable ends in a consonant, it usually has the “left” pronunciation. For example, “ne” (what) is pronounced like the English “nay,” and “el” (hand) rhymes with “bell.” Some Turkish speakers pronounce the e in certain words similar to the letter a in "cat." One example of this is in the "-ler" ending, such as in "iyi günler" (have a good day).

    Examples
    (normal Turkish e sound)
    (here the vowel is similar to the English word, "cat")
    (rhymes with "may," not "meh")
    (rhymes with "men," not "mane")

Ff

Same as English.*

Gg

Pronounced like the g in “go." Sometimes it gets palatalized (see notes on â). When palatalized, it sounds similar to the g in “argue.” It ends up sounding like “gy.” This sound also occasionally occurs when the g is followed by the “ü” vowel, such as in “güneş” (sun) and “günah” (sin). In Turkish, the letter g does not make the soft g sound like in "gentleman," the silent g like in "light" or the ng sound in words like "ring." There are even some loan words from English like "brifing" (briefing) where the g sounds the same as the g in "go."

    Examples of normal g
    (to go)
    (information)

    Examples of palatalized g
    (sin)
    (counter)

Ğğ

This letter can perform a few different functions depending on the word (and the speaker's accent):

Function #1: elongating a vowel

The most common function of the ğ is to slightly elongate the preceding vowel. This happens more often when the ğ appears before a consonant or at the end of a word. This function is often taught as the only way that the ğ letter functions in Standard (Istanbul) Turkish.

    Examples
    (waterfront mansion)
    (oily)
    (yesterday)
    (wedding)

Function #2: deleting the vowel that follows

Sometimes, when the ğ is between two vowels, the second vowel becomes silent in colloquial speech, although it is often still pronounced in careful speech.

    Examples
    (I will do it)
    (I will do it)
    (heavy)

Function #3: pronounced like the letter y

The ğ letter can function the same as a y sound in English. This only happens when the ğ is adjacent to vowels from the "ince" (thin) vowel set in Turkish: e, i, ö, ü. Most often, it happens when the sequence "eği" occurs in a word. Again, this may vary between speakers, dialects, and between careful speech and colloquial speech.

    Examples
    (to have fun)
    (not a joke)
    (lunch)

Function #4: silent

Sometimes when the ğ is between two vowels it has little or no effect on the pronunciation.

    Examples
    (cold)
    (throat)
    (natural)

Function #5: slightly modifying the previous vowel

In some cases, the presence of the ğ can cause the preceding vowel to be modified so that the tongue is slightly raised. This function is a very subtle change that only occurs in the speech of some native speakers, most commonly in words containing the sequence, "ağı." This can be observed in the following words where the letter a produces a raised "a" sound similar to the "u" in the English word, "fun."

    Example
    (normal elongated a sound)
    (raised a sound)
    (normal elongated a sound)
    (raised a sound)

Function #6: pronounced as a consonant in Eastern dialects

In Eastern provinces near the border with Azerbaijan, the ğ is pronounced as a consonantal sound in the back of the throat that sounds like gurgling. Also in some Eastern dialects, some words such as "eğer" (if) and "ciğer" (lung), the ğ can be pronounced as a normal g sound.

    Example: yağış (precipitation)
    (pronounced as a consonant)
    (elongated a sound)

Hh

The Turkish h is the same as in English, except that it is never silent, and does not combine with other letters to form a single sound (as in English "ch," "ph," "th" and "sh"). Unlike in English, when the letter h is found at the end of a syllable, it is still usually pronounced at least slightly. In some Eastern dialects, the “h” is pronounced further back in the throat. Some English speakers make a similar sound to this when saying “ugh” out of disgust.

    Words with h sound similar to English
    (more)
    (life)

    Words with syllables that end in h
    (history)
    (coffee)
    (garden)

    Speakers from Eastern dialects
    (morning)

İi

Almost always pronounced like the ee in “feet." Sometimes, when the i is in a syllable that is not stressed, and when it is followed by a cluster of consonants (like "lk" or "st"), it can sound similar to the i in "sit." However, these words will still be pronounced with the "ee" sound in careful speech. Note that the lower case version of this letter looks like the English i, but the upper-case version of the letter is also dotted, like this: İ. Sometimes the i letter functions like î (see below) because the ^ symbol is not always used in writing.

    Examples
    (to ask for help)
    (delicious!)

Contrary to what you will read in some textbooks, this sound is not found in English. The closest sound in English is the “oo” in “wood.” Note that the upper case version of this letter looks like an upper case English i, but the lower case version is not dotted, like this: ı.

    Examples
    (girl)
    (secret)
    (crumb)

Îî

This is the same as the Turkish i vowel but sometimes pronounced as a longer vowel than usual (see notes on â). For example, the word “ebedî” can be pronounced normally or with a long i. In some cases, the elongated î sound can be used to distinguish between two meanings of a word. For example, "tarihî" means "historic/historical" and "tarihi" is used as the second part of a compound noun, like "dünya tarihi" (world history).

    Tarihî versus tarihi
    (normal i sound)
    (elongated i sound)

Jj

Pronounced like the s in “pleasure.” Like in English, this sound is rare generally occurs in loan words from French. Sometimes this letter is pronounced like a Turkish c, as in the word "jandarma" (military police).

    Examples
    (garage)
    (energy)

Kk

Usually the same as English.** Sometimes it gets palatalized (see notes on â). When palatalized, it sounds like the c in “cute” or “cue.” Note that this produces a sound like ky. In some accents, the k letter is pronounced further back in the throat, especially for words that end in k. Some English speakers make a similar sound when saying “ugh” out of disgust. Also, some names of places in Central Anatolia (Konya, Ankara, Kırşehir, Kayseri) are pronounced by locals with a back-of-the-throat g sound that is not found in English.

    Examples of normal k sound
    (open)
    (chocolate cake)

    Examples of palatalized k sound
    (condemned)
    (store)

    Different ways to pronounce the k in city names
    (normal k sound)
    (back-of-the throat g sound)
    (normal k sound)
    (back-of-the throat g sound)

Ll

Usually similar to English,* but the tongue is positioned slightly forward, even sometimes touching the back of the teeth. Sometimes the l is palatalized in Turkish, producing a kind of ly sound that is not found in English. This often happens with foreign words ending with l and when the l is adjacent to the letter â with the circumflex symbol (see notes on â). Note that there is a sound like a vowel in English when an l becomes a syllable all by itself, like the le in the word “turtle.” This sound is not found in Turkish. The same is true for the ur sound in "turtle." So while it is tempting to use these sounds in words like "tırtıl” (caterpillar), it is not correct.

    Examples of normal l sound
    (caterpillar)
    (to work)
    (to take)

    Examples of palatalized l sound
    (normal)
    (goal)

Mm

Same as English.*

Nn

Pronounced like the n in “net” or “rend,” but not like the n in “rank” or “ring" (see also notes on the ing sound in the section on the letter g) The Turkish n rarely sounds like the ny consonant sound in “menu.” When a Turkish word does have the ny sound, the writing system makes it clear by spelling the word with "ny." For example, some speakers make this sound in the words “Almanya” (Germany) and “banyo” (bathroom/bath). Note that the Turkish word “menü” (menu) does not have the ny sound.

    English "menu" versus Turkish "menü"
    (English, with "ny" sound)
    (Turkish, with normal "n" sound)

Oo

Pronounced like the o in “cone.”

Öö

This vowel sound is not found in English. It is the same as the German vowel ö. If you don’t know German, try to shape your mouth like you’re going to say a long o as in "cone" but then say an open e as in "left".

    Examples
    (eye)
    (example)

    On (ten) versus ön (front)
    (ten)
    (front)

Pp

Same as English.**

Rr

The Turkish r sound does not generally occur in careful English speech.  However, some English speakers make the sound when pronouncing the t in “water” or the tt in “better" when speaking quickly (although they often pronounce it differently in careful speech). The main difference between the Turkish r and the English r is that the tongue touches the top of the mouth when pronouncing the Turkish r, but not for the English r. Also, Turkish does not have the vowel-type sound that English speakers make when pronouncing the "er" in “water” or “better” (see notes on L).

    Typical Turkish r examples
    (relaxed)
    (yellow)

Pronouncing the Turkish r at the end of a word

Another thing to note is that when the letter r is on the end of a word in Turkish, it often makes a different sound. The sound is between an r sound and an sh sound. This is especially common with the word "var" (there is/there are). If you are having trouble producing this sound, try saying "vaş, vaş, vaş, vaş, var, var, var var." The right positioning of your mouth and tongue will be between those two sounds.

    Examples of r with a sound like "sh"
    (place, ground)
    (heavy)
    (actor)

Does Turkish have a rolled r?

The Turkish r is not usually trilled or "rolled" like the double r in Spanish (pero versus perro). However, some speakers make a rolled r sound when the r appears at the beginning of a word or when a word is spelled with a double r.

    Examples with rolled r
    (normal r)
    (rolled r)

    (normal r)
    (rolled r)

    (normal double r)
    (rolled r)

Ss

Same as English.**

Tt

Same as English.**

Uu

Pronounced similarly to the oo in the English word, “boot.” Sometimes this letter functions like û (see below) because the ^ symbol is not always used in writing.

    Examples
    (dark meat)
    (raspberry)

Üü

This vowel sound is not in English. It is similar to the ue in “cue.” If the vowel is at the end of the word, for example in the word “atasözü” (proverb), it can sometimes be pronounced like the oo in “foot.”

    Düş (dream) versus duş (shower)
    (dream)
    (shower)

    Olumsuz (negative) versus ölümsüz (immortal)
    (negative)
    (immortal)

Ûû

Same as the Turkish u or ü (depending on the word), but used to indicate that the preceding consonant is palatalized (see notes on â). For example, the k in the word “mahkûm etmek” (to condemn) is palatalized, giving a sound like ky.

    Examples
    (palatal k followed by ü, meaning "government")
    (palatal k followed by u, meaning "condemned")

Vv

This letter is slightly different from the v in English. The letter corresponds to three different sounds, depending on the word.  You can produce the most common sound by bringing your lower lip almost into the position where you would make the English v sound but without touching the teeth. Less commonly, in Turkish words where v is between two vowels, most Turkish speakers pronounce it like an English w. In the rare cases where the v follows a letter t, k or s, the Turkish v sounds like the English v. For all Turkish words with the letter v, the degree to which the v sounds more like an English v or w varies between individuals and dialects.

    Typical examples of the Turkish v
    (there is/there are)
    (to give)

    Examples where the v sounds more like English v
    (aquarium)
    (business card)
    (portrayal)

    Examples where the v sounds more like English w
    (chicken)
    (toilet)

Yy

Same as English, except that it never occurs as a standalone vowel (like in the English word “baby").

Zz

Usually the same as English.* When the z letter appears at the end of a word, it can sometimes be pronounced like an s, but not all speakers do this. Turkish speakers in different regions pronounce "tuz" (salt) either with a z sound or an s sound, and some of them have difficulty understanding the word if someone pronounces it differently than how they say it.

    Typical examples of the Turkish z
    (to swim)
    (time)

    Examples where the z sounds like an s
    (parsley)
    (sea)
    (salt)



*These consonants are the same as English, except for when two consonants are side-by-side.  In this case, Turkish speakers usually enunciate the consonants. For example, in the word “kral” (king), the k sounds as if it was separate from the r, as though it has a mini vowel after the k, like "kıral". In fact, some Turkish speakers spell the word this way to note this difference in pronunciation. Also, in the case of repeated consonants, Turkish speakers either pronounce them twice or elongate the consonant sound. For example, the word “anne” (mother) sounds like “ahn-nay,” not “ah-nay.”



**In addition to the exception noted above, these consonants are different from English in that you should always aspirate them. This means that more air comes out of your mouth when pronouncing the letter. For example, a Turkish k sounds like the k in “kill” and “pick” as opposed to the k in “skate.”

Notable pronunciation exceptions

  • Outside of Istanbul, "merhaba" (hello) usually sounds like "meraba" (without the h).
  • Outside of Istanbul, “altmış” (sixty) generally sounds like “atmış” (without the l).
  • The word “değil” (not) has a number of different pronunciations depending on the context and the individual speaker: "de," "di," "deyl," "diğl," etc.
  • The c in “eczane” (pharmacy) sounds like a “d.”
  • The i in “vallahi” (I swear!) is often silent.
  • The i in "dakika" (minute) is often silent.
  • The second i in “iddia” (claim, bet) is silent and the a is elongated, so it sounds like "iddaa".

Pronouncing words with foreign spelling

Some loan words, especially from English, retain the spelling from the original language causing it to break the pronunciation rules of Turkish. Some of these words even retain non-Turkish letters q, x or w. Most of these cases represent imported products and concepts from the last few decades, so many of them are related to technology. Also, some Turkish brands mimic this style in their brand names to appear more Western. The examples below show how each word or phrase would be spelled if its pronunciation conformed to the Turkish alphabet.

    Examples
    Kola light sounds like "kola layt."
    In this phrase that means "diet cola," one loan word uses Turkish spelling (kola) while the other uses the English spelling (light). Note that in this case, "light" sounds the same as it does in English.

    CD sounds like "si di."

    DVD sounds like "di vi di."

    Wifi sounds like "vay fay."

    E-mail sounds like "imeyl."

    Web sitesi sounds like "veb sitesi."
    Note that the word "sitesi" does not retain the English pronunciation.

    www.google.com sounds like "dabılyu dabılyu dabılyu nokta goğgıl nokta kom."
    In this example, there is a mixture of English pronunciation and Turkish pronunciation. Turkish speakers approximate the English pronunciation of "w" with "dabılyu," but they replace "dot" with the Turkish word "nokta." The letter c in "com" retains the k sound like in English, but the letter o has the long o sound as in Turkish words. The Turkish pronunciation of "google" is almost unrecognizable to an English speaker.

    Selfie sounds like "selfi."

    W.C. sounds like "vece."
    This acronym for the British term "water closet" appears so often in tourist areas that it became a separate Turkish word meaning "restroom," especially a restroom designated for guests or customers.

    Pepsi Max sounds like "pepsi meks."

    Turkish brand names
    L.C. Waikiki sounds like "el si vaykiki."
    Turkish clothing store

    Happy Center sounds like "hepi sentır."
    Turkish grocery store

    Turkcell sounds like "türksel."
    Turkish mobile phone provider

    Molfix sounds like "molfiks."
    Turkish diaper brand.

Additional resources

Youglish for Turkish

Youglish for Turkish is a free resource where you can type in a Turkish word and it will show you clips from YouTube videos that contain that word. This tool is great for hearing a word pronounced correctly in the context of a sentence (or many sentences). You can also type in a full phrase or sentence. Check out the widget below to try it out or visit the Youglish Turkish website.

Visit YouGlish.com

Forvo pronunciation dictionary

If you want to listen to different words being pronounced by native Turkish speakers, check out Forvo's extensive Turkish pronunciation dictionary. There are more than 50,000 Turkish words and phrases with pronunciation recordings, including some really tricky words like hâlâ (still) and mükemmel (perfect).

Other pronunciation guides and textbooks

There are many pronunciation guides for Turkish out there and most are inaccurate or overly simplified. However, the Wikipedia page on Turkish phonology and Göksel and Kerslake's Turkish: A Comprehensive Grammar have very detailed and accurate information. Either of these resources would be helpful to anyone with a knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and other linguistic terms.

Using "minimal pairs" to train your ear

One way you can learn the difficult sounds in a language is to do an activity with "minimal pairs." Minimal pairs are words in a language that sound the same as each other except for one sound. For this activity, get a native speaker to randomly switch between saying two similar-sounding words like "ol" (be) and "öl" (die). This will train your ear to hear the difference.

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2 thoughts on “Comprehensive Pronunciation Guide”

  1. The description of pronunciation of ‘a’ is only helpful for Americans! Brits pronounce ‘hot’ and ‘cot’ very differently. For Brits, the ‘a’ in ‘cart’ or ‘baa’ is closer (depending on your British accent!)

    1. Luke, thanks for the feedback! I had originally written the article mainly for Americans to read, but now that it is being used with a wider audience, you’re right that I should make it helpful for people with different English accents. I’ve made a few adjustments to the explanations, although more may still be needed. Please keep the feedback coming if you see any other issues like this.

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