Turkish Vowel Harmony & Consonant Assimilation

Lessons > Speaking Turkish in 30 Days

Now that you know how to read and write the Turkish alphabet, the second most important thing you will learn in this lesson is called Vowel Harmony. I’ve mentioned before that Turkish is a phonetical language. In order to correctly form grammatical structures in Turkish, you need to understand how the vowel harmony in Turkish works.

Turkish Vowel Harmony

Almost all words in Turkish can be changed by adding suffixes (certain letters) added at the end of a word. Vowel Harmony is used to decided which vowels should be used when adding suffixes. There are two types of Vowel Harmony: Internal Vowel Harmony which is the harmony of the vowels in a word and External Vowel Harmony, which is used for suffixes.

For Internal Vowel Harmony, a word can either have all front vowels or all back vowels in Turkish. A word can’t have both a back and front vowel inside it. The only words that have both front and back vowels are borrowed words from other languages.

Internal Vowel Harmony isn’t something that you should be worried about, you should put your focus on External Vowel Harmony. It is important that you master External Vowel Harmony as soon as possible. In Turkish, we add suffixes to a word to change it from a Noun to an Adjective or an Adverb. We can also change a noun to a Verb with suffixes. When you add a suffix to a word, you need to look at the last vowel of the word before you attach the suffix.

First let’s remember the 8 vowels in the Turkish alphabet:

Back
(Unrounded)
Aa
Back
(Rounded)
OoUu
Front
(Unrounded)
Eeİi
Front
(Rounded)
ÖöÜü

Look at these examples and see how words change with the addition of certain suffixes:

NounAdjectiveAdjectiveAdverb
Hız
(Speed)
Hızlı
(Speedy)
Zeki
(Smart)
Zekice
(Cleverly)
Güneş
(Sun)
Güneşli
(Sunny)
Yavaş
(Slow)
Yavaşça
(Slowly)
Öfke
(Anger)
Öfkeli
(Furious)
Ucuz
(Cheap)
Ucuzca
(Cheaply)

One way to turn a noun into an adjective is by adding the suffix “-lı/li” to the end of a noun. If you want to turn an adjective into an adverb, the suffix “-ce/ca” is added to the end of an adjective.

As you can see from the above examples, if the last vowel of the word is a front vowel, the suffix will also need to have a front vowel inside it. Similarly, if the last vowel of the word is a back vowel, suffix also has to have a back vowel in it.

Let’s look at Back and Front Vowel Harmony in more detail.

Back Vowel Harmony

If the last vowel of a word has a back vowel, the suffix can only have back vowels inside it. Here are some words with back vowels inside them. Let’s try add different types of suffixes to the end of these words.

The “-ler/lar” suffix adds (plural) meaning to a noun:

SingularPlural
Arkadaş
(Friend)
Arkadaşlar
(Friends)
Hayvan
(Animal)
Hayvanlar
(Animals)
Araba
(Car)
Arabalar
(Cars)
Kadın
(Woman)
Kadınlar
(Women)

The “ça/ca/ce” suffix turns an adjective into an adverb of manner:

AdjectiveAdverb
Yavaş
(Slow)
Yavaşça
(Slowly)*
Hızlı
(Fast)
Hızlıca
(Quickly)

* The reason we have “-ça/ca” is because of Consonant Assimilation. I will describe this topic in just a moment.

This rule applies to almost all the suffixes that you will later see.

Front Vowel Harmony

If the last vowel of a word has a front vowel, the suffix can only have front vowels inside it. Here are some words with back vowels inside them. Let’s try add different types of suffixes to the end of these words.

The “-ucu/ücü/ici” suffix turns verbs into nouns:

VerbNoun
Sür
(Drive)
Sürücü
(Driver)
Böl
(Divide)
Bölücü
(Divider)
Ez
(Crush)
Ezici
(Crusher)

The “-suz/süz” suffix turns nouns into adjectives:

NounAdjective
Süt
(Milk)
Sütsüz
(Without Milk)
Gürültü
(Noise)
Gürültüsüz
(Without Noise)
Öğretmen
(Teacher)
Öğretmensiz
(Without Teacher)

There are some exceptions to vowel harmony that I will explain in the later lessons, you needn’t worry about them for now. Now let’s look at the topic of Consonant Assimilation.

Consonant Assimilation

In Turkish, there are certain consonants than need to be replaced with other letters when suffixes are added to them. We call this phenomena Consonant Mutation or Consonant Assimilation. When we add a suffix to words that end with the below consonants, they change:

BeforeAfter
pb
çc
td
kğ/g

Let’s see some examples of Consonant Assimilation when we add the Accusative Suffix (–ı/-i/-u/-ü), which you will learn later on in this course:

  • Ayşe’nin kitabı (kitap)
  • Ayşe’s book
  • Arabanın rengi (renk)
  • The car’s color
  • Arkadaşımın çocuğu (çocuk)
  • My friends’ child
  • Zeynep’in sözlüğü (sözlük)
  • Zeynep’s dictionary

Words that aren’t affected by Consonant Assimilation are single syllable words, borrowed words and proper nouns (people, thing or place names).

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