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  • Writer's pictureGalina Blankenship

Branching in Turkish Sentences, Or Why Turkish Is So Difficult to Read (or Write)

Updated: May 6


1. How Do Phrases Branch in Languages
1.1. Phrase Branching in Turkish
1.2. Phrase Branching in English
1.3. Phrase Branching in Turkish and English
2. Sentence Branching in Languages
2.1. English Sentences Branch Anywhere: to the Left, to the Right, and in the Middle
2.1.1. Punctuation and Branching in English
2.1.2. Sentential Interruption in English
2.2. Turkish Sentences Branch to the Left
2.2.1. Recursiveness and Embeddedness in Languages
2.2.2. Sentential Interruption in Turkish, or a Gap Within a Turkish Sentence
2.2.3. More About the Turkish Gap ...
3. Left (Introductory) and Mid (Interrupting) Branches
Introductory Verbals as Adverbial Clauses (Manner & Place)Introductory Postpositional Adverbial Phrase (Concessive) + Adverbial Phrases (Instrumental & Manner)
Introductory Adverbial (Time) + Postpositional Adverbial Clause (Time)
3.1. Embedded Constructions
3.2. Interrupting Verbals (Ara Cümleler)
Interrupting Circumstance-Describing Adverbial (Verbless Absolute Clause)
Complement-Marking Interruptions
Interrupting Adverbial Clauses
Interrupting Appositive Phrases or Clauses
3.3. Interrupting Asides
3.4. Embedded Appositives
3.5. Other Introductory + Interrupting Elements
3.6. Introductory and Interrupting Punctuation
3.7. Adding Modifiers
Modifying Adjectival Phrases
Modifying Universal Conditional Clauses (with a Wh-Phrase)
3.8. Modifying Adverbials
Modifying (-an) and Nonmodifying (-ip) Verbals
4. Enumerations & Excessive Detailing in Turkish
5. Periodic vs. Loose Sentences
6. Left-Branching in English
7. Left-Branching vs. Right-Branching: Which Wins?
8. Right-Branching Sentences in Turkish
8.1. Postponement of Afterthought Remarks as a Right-Branching Strategy
9. The Paradox and Magic of “Irregular” Sentences in Turkish


1. How Do Phrases Branch in Languages

1.1. Phrase Branching in Turkish

The most prominent characteristic of Turkish expressions is that their constituents are generally ordered beginning from the secondary ones (dependents) to the primary (heads).

There are two kinds of dependents: obligatory complements (objects) and optional modifiers, qualifiers, and specifiers (or determiners) (articles, demonstratives, possessives, and quantifiers). This means that, in Turkish, the complement (dependent) precedes the complemented (head), the qualifier (dependent) precedes the qualified (head), the modifier (dependent) precedes the modified (head), and the specifier (dependent) precedes the specified (head).

Grammatically speaking, one head and one dependent together form a phrase, which is the basic unit of any clause or sentence. In any phrase, the head plays a central role, and the grammatical category of the phrase depends on that of the head: in a noun phrase, the head is a noun; in a verb phrase, the head is a verb, etc. The most common types of phrases include noun phrases, adjective phrases, adverb phrases, and verb phrases.

In noun phrases, the modifying adjective, subject participle -(y)an or object participle -diği (functioning as a relative clause), the qualifying noun, or the specifying determiner precedes the noun it modifies, qualifies, or specifies:

güzel kitap okuyan kız okuduğum kitap okul kitabı bir kitap

In adjective phrases, the modifying postpositional phrase or adverb precedes the adjective it modifies:

kraliçe kadar güzel (kız) çok güzel (kitap)

In adverb phrases, the modifying postpositional phrase or adverb precedes the adverb it modifies:

kraliçe kadar güzel (yaptı) çok güzel (okudu)

In verb phrases, the complementing object or complement (object) clause, or modifying adverb, noun phrase (functioning as an adverbial), or adverbial (converbial) clause precedes the verb it completes or modifies:

kitabı okudum okuduğunu biliyorum yavaş okudum okulda okudum beklerken tanıştık

As you can see in the phrases/clauses above, all the constituents in bold are placed to the left of their heads. This underlines another prominent characteristic of Turkish expressions:

Turkish expressions expand, or branch, with added dependent details, to the left of their heads. This makes the Turkish language the solidly head-final, verb-last, and left-branching language.

In English, however, despite (or maybe thanks to) the strictness of the English word order, things are much more relaxed: details can be added in any direction.


1.2. Phrase Branching in English

English phrases can expand, or branch, with added information, to the left as well as the right of their heads.

For example, English complements always come after their heads, which makes English a head-initial language with complements, or a right-branching language. English modifiers and qualifiers, however, may come before or after their heads, and, while the specifying articles, quantifiers, and demonstratives come before their heads, the specifying possessives or constructions conveying possessiveness can go either way—before (Gary's wife) or after their heads (the wife of Gary). This makes English a head-medial language with modifiers, qualifiers, and specifiers, or a mid-branching language.

For example, in the verb phrase describes individuals, the object individuals follows the head verb describes. The added modifier in the phrase can go either way: to the left or to the right of the head individuals:

(describes) (the) present individuals OR (describes) (the) individuals present

Moreover, we can add a specifier (determiner) phrase on either side of the head:

(the) group's individuals OR (the) individuals of (the) group

English adverbs can go either way as well:

just called OR called immediately


1.3. Phrase Branching in Turkish and English

To recap, at the level of phrasing, Turkish is an almost fully left-branching (head-final) language, while English can create both right-branching (head-initial) and left-branching (head-final) structures, although right-branching is more common than left-branching. Because the same heads in English can have both left- and right-branching dependents, English is sometimes categorized as a head-medial language.

To sum up, the table below shows the branching at the level of phrasing for English and Turkish:




Head Directionality



Verb Position



Phrase Branching


Right-Branching (more common)

Left-Branching (less common)

Table 1. Phrase Branching in Turkish and English

Painting "Salomé" by Henri Regnault, depicting a young woman in a gypsy outfit
Salomé by Henri Regnault

2. Sentence Branching in Languages

When it comes to clauses, things are somewhat similar but also different.

Phrases are normally continuous (uninterrupted), ordered in accordance with the language-specific head directionality. Just as in case of phrase branching, heads are crucial to establishing the direction of branching in a sentence, which is a way of adding modifying details to the core constituents. Thus, any new dependent elements added to the left of their heads are characterized as left-branching. Likewise, any new dependent elements placed to the right of their heads are right-branching.

While phrases can only be either left- or right-branching, sentences can be left-, right-, and mid-branching.

What is different from phrasing is the fact that, while a phrase, by definition, cannot be interrupted, the flow of a clause can be disrupted from within. In other words, phrases that comprise a sentence can be interrupted by other phrases. Such sentences are referred to as mid-branching.


2.1. English Sentences Branch Anywhere: to the Left, to the Right, and in the Middle

In English, a sentence can expand, or branch out, in any direction: namely, to the left, to the right, and in the middle.

For example:

I watched him warily.

base (core) clause

Left branching would involve adding an introductory phrase or clause, before the subject of the base sentence. For example, nonfinite clauses, such -ing or -ed participial clauses, are often added to the left of the core of the sentence:

1. [Sensing a possible rival], [I watched him warily].

left branch base clause

A closing subordinate phrase or clause added after the core of the sentence, often as an afterthought, would be a right branch:

2. [I watched him warily], [as I wondered who he was].

base clause right branch

A mid-branching phrase or clause is usually an aside comment that interrupts the base clause, breaking the connection between the core elements—the subject and the predicate. Therefore, it’s better to keep it short (e.g., as a reduced adverbial or relative clause) to make sure the reader is not destructed:

3. I, [ever cautious], watched him warily.

mid branch

Many sentences in English combine various branches:

4. [Sensing a possible rival], [I, [ever cautious], watched him warily], [as I wondered who he was].

left branch a mid branch within a mid branch right branch

Clause-building is recursive, and branches can further expand with details inserted within them. By branching the clauses, we thus create embedded clauses (subordinate clauses within other subordinate clauses):

5. [Sensing a possible and threatening rival], [I, [ever cautious but controlled], watched him warily],

[[wondering, albeit in vain, who he was].


2.1.1. Punctuation and Branching in English

Roughly speaking, a clausal position corresponds to its branching direction:

  • Introductory clauses are left-branching

  • Interrupting clauses are mid-branching

  • Closing clauses are right-branching

For example:

1. When you're ready, we’ll go to my parents’ place.

introductory clause is left-branching

2. We’ll go to my parents’ place when you’re ready.

closing clause is right-branching

3. We’ll go, when you’re ready, to my parents’ place.

interrupting clause is mid-branching

Note how punctuation signals the directionality within the sentences.

The second, canonical sentence has no punctuation interrupting the flow of the sentence, because, in English, a subordinate clause is placed after the main clause.

In the first sentence, the introductory clause is marked with the introductory comma, placed right before the subject of the main clause, which highlights the function of such comma—to discontinue the flow of narration and guide us towards the core of the sentence. As such, an introductory comma is discontinuous in its function.

The third sentence has an interrupting clause, which is isolated from the flow of the main sentence with the enclosing commas. Such enclosing commas thus highlight the structure of the main sentence by setting off an extraneous or intrusive construction and helping us maintain the continuity of thought. As such, enclosing punctuation marks are essentially continuous, or bridging, in their function.


2.1.2. Sentential Interruption in English

More about the interruption of an English sentence ...

Normally, the core of an English sentence should not be interrupted by any element that does not fit in syntactically, whether it is a word or a punctuation mark. Such normal, or canonical, sentences have unmarked word order, meaning that no constituents have any special prominence, rendering the sentence neutral. However, the normal word order may be altered to meet particular requirements of information flow or weight distribution, or to convey a special effect of emphasis.

For example, a canonical English sentence may be interrupted if we need to add a comment or a background detail. A sentence is deemed interrupted if the connection between the subject and the verb or the verb and the object/complement is interrupted by an insertion of a parenthetical, or otherwise syntactically extraneous, construction (e.g., an aside comment, an embedded clause, an interjection, an appositive construction, etc.).

The enclosing punctuation marks help readers bridge the gap between the structurally related parts of the sentence that come before and after the interruption.

The most common interruptions occur between the subject and the verb (with the interrupting constructions marked in bold and the interrupted constituents being underlined):

The rest, as they say, is history.

His style, if somewhat simple, is pleasant to read.

Our longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, reigned from 1837 to 1901.

Her lecture on AI, he was eager to report, went very well.

Another common interruption occurs between the verb and the complement (e.g., subject complement, that-clause, to-infinitive):

It was, uh, my fault.

But we were not, in fact, ready to go.

We knew who was responsible. We refused, consequently, to take any action.

I feel—and the anxiety is still vivid to me—that I might easily have failed before I began.

V. S. Naipaul, Literary Occasions

The rarer instance of interruption involves the auxiliary verb and the main verb:

I should, perhaps, add that we have no investments in that country.

I do, I’m afraid, rather act on impulse.

Interruption can also occur in subordinating structures:

When (like me) you live by yourself, it is more difficult to survive.

Stop by if, when you arrive, I am still here.

As interrupted sentences add elements midstream, delaying the grammatical conclusion of the sentence, they are described as mid-branching. Because interrupting constructions cause discontinuity, they must be enclosed with a pair of correlative punctuation marks to restore continuity.

Thanks to the rigidity of the English word order and the fact that details can be added after the verb, the clause-making mechanism in English is more productive and flexible, comparing to Turkish. The ways to expand sentences include mere juxtaposition (placing constituents next to each other) as well as coordination or subordination, using respective coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, yet, so, nor, for) or subordinating conjunctions (when, because, that, which, as, since, if, etc.), respectively.


2.2. Turkish Sentences Branch to the Left

Just as Turkish phrases, Turkish sentences, too, branch out to the left, which aligns with the verb-final structure of the Turkish language.

As a verb-final language, Turkish prohibits expanding beyond the core verb. Any element placed after the Turkish verb loses its prominence and automatically becomes de-emphasized. Therefore, Turkish clause-building prohibits right-branching, being mostly limited to left-branching.

As a verb-final language, Turkish has to turn any non-core verbs into nouns by nominalizing them as verbals, marking them with a noun case, and using them as subjects, complements, modifiers, or adverbials. Verbals and adverbials are the primary source of expanding complex Turkish sentences. Because Turkish sentences often lack explicit subjects, adding new elements at the beginning may not disrupt the sentence but may certainly burden it.

Turkish sentences often have multiple embedded clauses, at times, excessively so. Unable to freely move to the right, a Turkish writer may be drawn to go in circles, in repetitive, duplicating, and reduplicating constructions, and not always knowing how or when to end. It is very easy to get lost in a Turkish sentence, be it a fiction or a nonfiction one:

Seni şimşeksiz havalarda bir sandala atıp öğle uykusuna yatmış bir evin beyaz kireç badanalı sahil kasabasında sandalımızı bahçelerin, hamakların, uyumuş insanların, sahile eğilmiş çamların gölgesi vura vura, sandal denizin dibinden bir karış yukarıda, sahile sürünürcesine kıyıdan götürmek, suda küçük balıkların kaçıştığını, çakıltaşlarının şekillerini kaybedip bulduğunu; yeşil, sarı, kumral, hatta beyaz yosunların oynaştıklarını göstererek dolaştırmak ve o anda çıkan küçük bir hava ile kokun burnuma değdiği zaman sevinmek ve sana o zaman aşktan güzelleşen ve iyileşen dertsiz, hastalıksız yüzümü göstermek, seni ne kadar sevdiğimi yalnız gözlerimle anlatmak, yalnız yüzümün ortasına düşmüş ince bir saadet çizgisi ile her şeyi ifade etmek isterdim.

If I could, I would put you in a boat, on a clear day, in the whitewashed seaside town of a napping house, and would take you out in that boat, with the shadows from the gardens, and the hammocks, and the pine trees, and the people sleeping cast over our boat, with our boat an inch above the bottom of the sea, as if we were crawling towards the beach. I would row you about, showing you how the tiny fish escape in the water, how the pebbles on the bottom lose and regain their shapes, and how the green, yellow, reddish-brown, and even white algae play around. I would rejoice if your scent reached my nose with a momentary breeze. I would show you my face, healthy and untroubled, at that moment growing radiant and convalescing in love, and tell you only with my eyes how much I love you. I would like to express everything simply with a fine line of happiness running across my face.

Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Sevgiliye Mektup

Turkish sentences may, at times, resemble Russian nesting dolls with clauses embedded within clauses embedded within clauses:

Söz konusu duyuruda, verilen 29 Ağustos–1 Eylül 2022 tarihlerinde gerçekleştirilen PRAC toplantı ajandasında (Ek-1), ithal ruhsatına sahip olduğumuz Regorafenib etkin maddesini içeren “Stivarga 40 mg Film Kaplı Tablet” isimli ürünümüz ile ilişkili olarak trombotik mikroanjiyopati (TMA) sinyaline yönelik inceleme başlatıldığı bilgisi yer almaktadır.

Söz konusu duyuruda, verilen 29 Ağustos–1 Eylül 2022 tarihlerinde gerçekleştirilen PRAC toplantı ajandasında (Ek-1), ithal ruhsatına sahip olduğumuz Regorafenib etkin maddesini içeren “Stivarga 40 mg Film Kaplı Tablet” isimli ürünümüz ile ilişkili olarak trombotik mikroanjiyopati (TMA) sinyaline yönelik inceleme başlatıldığı bilgisi yer almaktadır.

According to the said announcement, as stated in the provided agenda of the PRAC meeting held between 29 August and 1 September 2022 (Annex 1), we have initiated a thrombotic microangiopathy (TMA) signal review in relation to our product Stivarga 40 mg film-coated tablets with the active substance Regorafenib, for which we have been granted a permit to import.


2.2.1. Recursiveness and Embeddedness in Languages

Strictly speaking, clauses can be continuously added to each other. Linguists call this property of languages recursiveness. In both English and Turkish, they can be stacked recursively in long chains or sequences.

A clause placed inside another clause is called embedded, and embedded clauses must be, by definition, subordinate (sub-ordinate). An embedded clause may be embedded within the main clause or another subordinate clause, in which case the embedding clause is referred to as a superordinate (super-ordinate) clause, or a matrix clause, rather than a main clause.

🎭 Excessive embedding may be distracting, however. If we disrupt the core of the sentence, the reader has to hold more information in memory to be able to understand the entire sentence later. Writers should be careful when adding details so that not to clutter the writing.

There is a common misconception that a longer sentence looks more credible. We all have experienced the itch to pack up a lean-looking sentence with a detail or two, just to make it longer. A detail added for its own sake, however, is doomed to be extraneous.


2.2.2. Sentential Interruption in Turkish, or a Gap Within a Turkish Sentence

With the verb-final word order (Subject–Object–Verb), a Turkish canonical sentence pivots around the verb. What’s important to understand about the subject and object, however, is that they are not connected to each other directly; they are connected through the verb.

Only through the verb can a connection be made between the subject and the object, which makes the verb the essential link, the thread that ties the subject and the object of the action:


[Subject] Object ⟵VERB


Turkish verb is the absolute pivot of any Turkish clause, so much so that a single verb, with an implicit subject or no subject at all, may be sufficient to form a sentence in Turkish. (This is radically different from English, in which every sentence must have an explicit subject.)

In a Turkish sentence with an overt grammatical subject or logical subject, this creates a syntactical and semantical gap between the subject and the object. Every Turkish sentence with an overt subject thus has a gap in its core. Because of this gap, if compared with English sentences, in which the connecting verb (the head) is positioned between the subject and the object (the dependents), Turkish sentences are not linear.

In the head-medial English, the canonical sentence is linear and perfectly symmetrical: the head verb is positioned in the middle between the subject and the object, both of which depend on the verb. This way, the boundary between the subject and the object, which may be easily confused in English as two nouns (or noun phrases), is marked with the verb:

Canonical Sentence in English:

Subject ⟵ VERB ⟶ Object

The kids ate the ice-cream.

↑_who? 🠃🠃_what?

The core of the English sentence is, therefore, uninterrupted, and nothing should disrupt this core. There are no gaps within the core of the canonical English sentence.

In the head-final Turkish, however, the structure of the canonical sentence is non-linear and non-symmetrical. More importantly, it has a gap at its heart (shown with an ellipsis points [...] below):

Canonical Sentence in Turkish:

[Subject] Object ⟵VERB


Çocuklar dondurmayı yedi.

↑ ↑__neyi?_🠃


This gap signals discontinuity, or interruption, at the very center of the sentence. This subject-marking gap, often marked with a pause in speech and a comma in writing, can be used for potential revision, or expansion, of the sentence.

In the left-branching Turkish, any new details can, therefore, be added at the beginning of the sentence as well as immediately after the subject. So, comparing to English, interruption occurs more naturally in Turkish. In a way, because the connection between the subject and the verb tends to be always interrupted by the object, we can say that any Turkish sentence with an explicit subject is naturally interrupted.


2.2.3. More About the Turkish Gap ...

In Turkish, even simple sentences start with strings (as the subject and the object) of noun phrases, nominal adverbials, or nominalized verbals (which themselves may be modified by nouns, nominalized verbals) and end with the verb that connects the subject and the object.

Although Turkish has developed an effective case-marking system (that signals the relations between the elements in the sentence through inflection suffixes of nouns) to keep such strings of nouns apart, the boundaries between noun phrases, including their modifiers, are often not immediately clear, not least because markings for some cases are the same.

Such boundaries are, therefore, often marked with a gap (discontinuity between the adjacent constituents) or the so-called comma intonation, signaled with the falling intonation and pausing in speech and shown with a comma.

The major instance of such a gap in Turkish sentences is the one that follows the topic/subject in a sentence. Turkish topic constituents are typically separated from the rest of the sentence by a short pause (unless the adjacent constituent is the verb), marked by a comma in writing.

In Turkish sentences with overt subjects, topics and subjects coincide. The grammatical subject is in the nominative case, having no case markings. For example:

Karşıdan gelen, karım olacak.

Coming from across will be my wife.

(lit. The one coming from across will be my wife.)