How To Negate Verbs In Turkish

avatarMille Larsen
3 mins read

While browsing through referers to my web site, I found a thread on a Turkish forum. Cool! The thread is a discussion of Russian, and they linked to my explanation of Russian prefixes.

I decided to browse the thread and see if I could find something I can understand. But even better, I found something from which I can learn! Here's the relevant portion:

ne xa4u spat = uyumak istemiyorum.
ne xo4etSA spat = uyuyasım gelmiyor.

As you know, sometimes I like to use one language to learn another. Basically, this is an explanation of a somewhat passive voicing in Russian: I don't want to sleep versus I don't feel like sleeping. Probably a little more advanced than what I need to learn now. But the interesting thing is that the Turkish for both of those phrases is only two words!

Let's consider how much information is in there: there's a subject (I), a verb in the ongoing present tense (want), a negation (don't want), and a gerund (to sleep). All that in just two words!

As we discovered last week, the gerund ends in -mek, so it's a safe bet that uyumak means "to sleep." (In fact, we also saw last week that uyudukça was the "sleep" part of the phrase "as I sleep", so now it's clear that we need to explore this -dukça ending later.)

But that leaves a lot of information to be found in that other word!

Peeling back the layers

We also know that -iyor indicates ongoing action, so we can break the verb down to istem-iyor-um.

Through basic observation, it's become pretty clear to me that the -um at the end conjugates for the first-person. That leaves us something that looks like a root, istem-, and which would appear to mean "to not want." Certainly there aren't two verbs, a regular and a negated form, for every verb! Are there?

Well, Sesli Sözlük says that the verb istememek means "to reject". Okay, that's the kind of verb that would be included as an opposite of "to want," so maybe we're starting with a bad example.

But wait... what's the verb for "to want", anyway? Oh, interestingly, Sesli Sözlük says it's istemek.

That's fascinating, don't you think? The only difference is a missing syllable in the middle. Does that mean adding an -me- before the -mek ending adds negation?

Let's try another verb and see if we can find out: the verb "to smile" comes up as gülmek. And if I stick a little -me- in there before the ending, and try the word gülmemek...

Wow! Right there in the definition, at the very top, it says: "(neg. form of gülmek) not to laugh".

Trying this with a few more verbs yields similar results. The important detail appears to be the /m/ sound, and the vowel seems to be inserted where necessary to aid phrasing. So I feel pretty confident that I have discovered negation in Turkish.

So now the full agglutinated verb in its final dissected form is actually iste-m-iyor-um. One word which means "want-not-now-me", or "I don't want it right now."

Incredible. Efficient. Fascinating!