How To Form The Turkish Past Tense

avatarMille Larsen
3 mins read

Last week, I talked about several things we can learn in Turkish just by looking at the login page from Yonja, the Turkish social network. I mostly talked about vocabulary, and showed how we can learn to understand a word's meaning and its use just from a login page.

I also mentioned the activity stream at the bottom of the page. That is what I want to look at further today, because it seems to have provided us with everything we need to learn a new verb tense!

If we look at some examples of those updates, we see such things as:

  • yeni bir fotoğraf ekledi - added a new photo
  • bir itirafta bulundu - found a confession
  • bu itirafını destekledi - supported this confession
  • yeni bir blog yazdı - added a new blog
  • bu blogu beğendi - liked this blog
  • ile arkadaş oldular - is now friends with

In each case, we see a verb ending in -di, -dı, or -du. As always, I am assuming that these are really the same ending, with a mere difference of vowel harmony. It's starting to become somewhat natural for me to group similar sounding syllables together, mentally.

If I jump over to Sesli Sözlük and test some of these words out, I do indeed find that ekledi, bulundu, destekledi, yazdı, beğendi, and oldular have the verb roots eklemek, bulumak, desteklemek, yazmak, beǧenmek, and olmek. This seems to be a pretty clear indication that the -di ending indicates third-person past tense.

There are a couple of other things to ovserve here, too. First, in the case of oldular, the third-person singular was oldu. The -lar ending seems to have made it plural. I will be interested to find out if that's true and if so, whether or not I can do the same thing in first- and second-person.

The second interesting detail to notice here is that the word desteklemek (support) looks like eklemek (add) with the addition of dest- at the beginning. I'm betting that there is something to be learned from this.

Once again, a little experimentation at Sesli Sözlük reveals an answer: the word deste means bundle. So in Turkish, to support is to "add to the bundle". This is an interesting clue into Turkish mentality, as it seems to indicate support as "strength in numbers", rather than the idea of "holding from underneath" that one sees in Russian, for example, where поддержать (to support) is literally "to hold from beneath."

And speaking of experimentation... if we know that Turkish is agglutinative, and we know that -iyor makes verb action ongoing, let's try adding it in these past tenses and see if it is, officially, the imperfective. Google translates the phrase "Mehmet yeni bir blog yazdı" as "Jack wrote a new blog." And with a lot of experimentation (I'm still working out this vowel harmony thing) I was indeed able to change it to "Mehmet yeni bir blog yazıyordu", which Google says is "Jack was writing a new blog."

I don't know about you, but this Turkish language looks easier to me every day.