Vowel Harmony

In order to provide additional help to new learners of Turkish, Hands on Turkish is publishing a series of articles focusing on particular sticking-points in the grammar that often confuse learners whose first language is not Turkic. These are not intended to teach you these concepts from scratch – check out the Hands on Turkish course for that – but to be a handy reference guide for any difficulties later on.

This blog article focuses on vowel harmony, which is often seen as a very difficult problem for new learners. However, with a little practice, it will soon become second nature.

There are two main concepts to grasp in this blog post:

  1. Long vowel harmony (e or a)
  2. Short vowel harmony (i, ı, ü, or u)

Both forms of vowel harmony work to make words easier to pronounce and less of a mouthful. As you come to use Turkish more often, you will increasingly find that you can tell when another speaker has got it “right”.

With long vowel harmony, suffixes on a word take either the letter “e” or the letter “a”.

This happens with nouns, for example when you are specifying something’s location with the suffix -da/-de –

Amerika’dain America dışarıda – outside
İngiltere’dein Britain içeride – inside

And with verbs, for example with the future tense (-acak/ecek)

Yapacak – He/she/it will do Bırakacak – He/she/it will leave
Gelecek – He/she/it will come  Gidecek – He/she/it will go

Whether something takes an “a” or an “e” depends on the last vowel in the word before you add the ending.

a, ı, u, and o take an “a” where the suffix uses long vowel harmony

e, i, ü, and ö take an “e” where the suffix uses long vowel harmony

Short vowel harmony works in much the same way, but with four possible options: i, ı, ü and u.

For example, the simple past tense (-di/dı/dü/du) works like this:

Geldi – He/she/it came  Öl – He/she/it/died
Yan – He/she/it burnt Oldu – He/she/it was

Once again, it is the same with nouns, as we can see with the possessive “my” (-im/ım/üm/um, or just -m after vowels):

TrenimMy train SözümMy word
AdımMy name GururumMy pride

Whether something takes an “i”, “ı”, “ü” or “u” depends again on the last vowel in the word before you add the ending.

e and i take an “i” where the suffix uses short vowel harmony

a and ı take an “ı” where the suffix uses short vowel harmony

ö and ü take a “ü” where the suffix uses short vowel harmony

o and u take a “u” where the suffix uses short vowel harmony