To be or not to be

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Prerequisites for this Turkish Grammar Lesson

Vowel harmony

I-type vowel harmony
E-type vowel harmony


ben, sen, o, biz, siz, onlar
bu, şu, o

Distinguishing between “to be” forms

In the Turkish language, there is a special grammar form for the verb “to be.” In some cases, the verb “olmak” (to be, to become) is used instead and this verb operates similarly to other verbs. But in the simple case where someone or something is a noun or adjective, this special form is used instead of the olmak verb. For example, to say, “I am happy,” it is, “Ben mutluyum.” However, if you were to say, “I became happy,” you would say, “Ben mutlu oldum,” which is the normal past tense verb form of the olmak verb. In this topic we will focus on the different ways of using the special grammar form used in the sentence, “Ben mutluyum.”

Forming a basic “to be” sentence

Grammar form:

  • (Optional pronoun)    (optional descriptive words)    (noun or adjective) + (y) + (personal ending)

In order to make this grammar form, the sentence sometimes begins with a pronoun followed by a noun or adjective with a word ending attached to it. This word ending is called the personal ending because it indicates what person we are talking about. When the personal ending is included in any sentence in Turkish, the addition of the pronoun at the beginning of the sentence is entirely optional. In fact, in most cases the pronoun is dropped. However, when you are starting out in Turkish you may find it helpful to include the pronoun in every sentence in order to make sure they are communicating clearly.

In order to construct the personal ending, if the word ends with a vowel and the sentence is in the first person singular or first person plural, we will add the letter y before adding the rest of the ending. This is called a “y buffer” because it is used as a buffer between two vowels. Since Turkish usually tries to keep two vowels from being right next to each other, this “y buffer” is also used in some other word endings. In each of the different personal endings, there is an i-type vowel that will be either ı, i, u, or ü depending on the last vowel in the word. In the case of the third person plural, however, the ending is either “-lar” or “-ler,” according to the e-type vowel harmony. It is also worth noting that when a plural third person subject is specified (either a pronoun like “onlar” or another subject like “adamlar” ‑ the men), the third-person personal ending ‑lar/ler is often dropped. Notice also that the third person singular version of this grammar form does not add any ending to the word at all. This is also true of the third person singular version of most Turkish grammar forms.

(Ben) güçlüyüm I am strong
(Sen) güçlüsün You are strong
(Biz) güçlüyüz We are strong
(Siz) güçlüsünüz You (all) are strong
(O/bu/şu) güçlü He (or she, it, this or that) is strong
(Onlar/bunlar/şunlar) güçlü(ler) They/these/those are strong
    Ben iyiyim.
    I am well.

    Çok yaşlıyım.
    I am very old.

    Sen çok zekisin.
    You are very smart.

    Çok sabırlı bir adamsın.
    You are a very patient man.

    O çok büyük bir kedi.
    That is a really big cat.

    Bu manzara çok güzel.
    This view is really beautiful.

    Şu market pahalı.
    That market is expensive.

Changing consonants when adding word endings

There is a rule in Turkish that if a word ends with ç, p, t, or k and you add a word ending that starts with a vowel, the last letter of the word will sometimes change to c, b, d or ğ (respectively). However, this doesn’t happen all the time. Some words that end in one of these letters will change and some words will not. See also the discussion of this phenomenon in the compound nouns topic.

    Biz genciz.
    We are young.
    (Notice here that by adding this personal ending to “genç,” the “ç” letter was changed to “c.”)

    Siz gençsiniz.
    You (all) are young.
    (Notice here that the “ç” letter did not change because the “-siniz” ending does not start with a vowel.)

    O erkek.
    He is a man.

    Ben erkeğim
    I am a man.

    Sen çok küçüksün.
    You are really small (or young).

    Ben çok küçüğüm.
    I am very small (or young).

    Biz Türküz.
    We are Turks.
    (Notice that in this word, the “k” letter did not change. This is because “Türk” is an exception to the rule, so the “k” letter will never change to “ğ” when adding word endings to it.)

    Biz eşitiz.
    We are equal.
    (The word “eşit” is another example of an exception to this rule, so the “t” does not change to a “d.”)

Exception: introducing yourself

One exception to the normal grammar form for simple “to be” sentences occurs when someone is introducing themselves. If it followed the normal “to be” sentence structure, then to say “I am Mehmet,” you would say “Ben Mehmet’im” (with the apostrophe for adding a word ending to a proper noun). However, when introducing yourself in Turkish you leave off the personal ending, so Mehmet would simply need to say “Ben Mehmet.”

    Mehmet: Merhaba, ben Mehmet.
    Ayşe: Merhaba Mehmet. Ben Ayşe.
    Mehmet: Hello, I’m Mehmet.
    Ayşe: Hello, Mehmet. I’m Ayşe.

Forming negative sentences

Grammar form:

  • (Optional pronoun)    (optional descriptive words)    (noun or adjective)    değil + (personal ending)

In order to make negative sentences for simple “to be” statements, the word “değil” (not) needs to be introduced into the sentence immediately after the noun or adjective that would have received the personal ending in the positive version of the sentence. Then, the personal ending is placed onto the end of the “değil” word. Since the word “değil” itself does not change, the personal endings will always be the same for the negative form of simple “to be” sentences.

    Ben aptal değilim!
    I’m not stupid!

    Ben doktor değilim.
    I am not a doctor.

    Hasta değilim.
    I’m not ill.

    Sen gerçek değilsin!
    You’re not real!
    (Title of video clip)

    Yalnız değilsin.
    You are not alone.
    (Title of book)

    Masum değiliz.
    We are not innocent.
    (Title of song)

    Biz melek değiliz.
    We are not angels.
    (Title of movie)

    Değersiz değilsiniz!
    You (all) are not worthless!
    (Title of health magazine article)

    Siz komik değilsiniz.
    You (all) are not funny.

    Bu kebap fena değil.
    This kabob (meal) is not bad.

    O bir ay değil.
    That’s no moon.
    (Quote from Han Solo)

    Hazır değiller.
    They are not ready.
    (Title of sports article)

This lesson is a prerequisite for:

With / By / And

Using ile with pronouns
Using "neyle" and "kiminle"

Locative case: at, in, and on

burada, şurada, orada

For, to

için değil
-mak için

Continuous present tense

Handling irregular verbs
Asking yes or no questions

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