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  • Galina Blankenship

Comparing English and Turkish Sentence Classifications

Updated: May 8


English and Turkish rely on the syntax and grammar of sentences, clauses, and phrases to create narratives. Just as a phrase, a clause is a group of related words. However, unlike a phrase, a clause has both a subject and a verb.

Painting of a young girl collecting flowers by Turkish painter Osman Hamdi Bey
Leylak Toplayan Kız (A Girl Gathering Lilacs) by Osman Hamdi Bey


Subject & Predicate


Whether it is a Turkish or an English clause, its core is the combination of one subject (S) and one predicate (P).


The subject answers the questions who or what and names the “do-er” or “be-er” of the sentence. The subject is typically a noun or a noun phrase, including all subject modifiers: e.g., adjectives or numerals.


The predicate is, essentially, everything in the clause that is not the subject.

A predicate consists of the verb (action) and all the words that modify that verb, including:

• Prepositions

• Direct and indirect objects

• Object modifiers and complements

• Adverbials


For example:


İsveçli zengin, bu anlaşmayı, bilgiç şefkati, fedakâr dostluğu yavaş yavaş derisinde duymağa başlamıştı.
Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Huzur

The rich Swede was gradually sensing in his flesh this understanding, her wise compassion, and her generous companionship.

The predicate is made up of at least ONE finite verb, the action of which is performed by the subject. (In a sentence, the verb that agrees with the subject, i.e., expresses the subject's action, is called finite.)


The difference between finite verb and non-finite verb is important for understanding the logic behind the classification of sentences.


 

Subject & Predicate in English


English sentences MUST have subjects, even if subjects are not overtly expressed within sentences.


For an English sentence having a subject is essential so much so that a dummy subject (it or there) or an indefinite pronoun (one) must sometimes be introduced:


It is raining.
There is a house over there.
One has to be careful when handling poisons.

Subjects are usually implied in imperative sentences:


[You] Listen!
[You] Come over please.

Subjects may be ellipted in an informal context:


[I’ll] See you soon.

However expressed, the subject is one of the two primary constituents of the English sentence.


 

Subject & Predicate in turkish


Just like an English sentence, a simple Turkish sentence consists of two constituents, the verb and the subject, and, as in English, a Turkish clause is defined by expressing a complete thought:


Savaş sona erdi.
The war is over.

Hava güzel.
The weather is fine.

However, unlike English verbs, Turkish verbs agree with the subject in person and number. In other words, a Turkish sentence often “hides” its subject in the verb’s suffix markings (even though, it may still remain ambiguous and depending on the context):


Ödevimi bitirdim.
I have completed my homework.

Kitaplarını satmışlar.
They sold their books.

As such, typologically, Turkish is a null-subject and pro-drop (pronoun-dropping) language. Turkish subjects do not have to be explicitly expressed or, in some cases, even stated.


For example, a Turkish impersonal passive sentence, whose verb is intransitive and in passive voice, doesn’t have a grammatical subject:


Girilmez.
Do not enter.

Although one of the two important constituents of a sentence, Turkish subject is often omitted or implied. What’s more, some Turkish sentences do not have any grammatical subjects.



So...
While English sentence must have both subject and verb to make sense, for the Turkish sentence to be meaningful, it is sufficient to have just the verb, without an explicit subject.


Let's Compare!

ENGLISH

TURKISH

 

Finite Verbs vs. Nonfinite Verbs (Verbals)


Structurally, whether it is English or Turkish, all clauses are either finite or nonfinite, which means they either have finite or nonfinite verbs, respectively.


A finite verb agrees with the (nominative) subject of a simple declarative sentence, i.e., in the subject’s gender, person, number, tense, aspect, mood, and voice markings. Finite verbs are able to make an assertion:


Yazar kitaplar yazar / yazdı.
The author writes / wrote books.

A nonfinite verb is marked with a non-nominative and non-tensed marking (in English) or a subordinating suffix (in Turkish), and they cannot make an assertion:


yazar kitap yazarken
the author writing a book…

yazar hakkında yazılan bu kitap
written about the author, this book…

Nonfinite verbs are products of the so-called nominalization or relativization process. Such process creates from verb stems verbal nouns, adjectivals, and adverbials.

In English, verbals act as reduced verbalized forms. As such, they cannot form independent sentences. As a subordination strategy, the use of verbals is less common than the use of subordinating conjunctions. Dependent sentences formed using verbals are called reduced (subordinate) clauses.


In Turkish, the use of verbals is the principal subordination device, and, just as in English, verbal sentences are always subordinate.



While a finite verb can occur in both independent and dependent clauses (more in English than in Turkish), a nonfinite verb can occur ONLY in a dependent clause.


Nonfinite verbals are especially important in Turkish as the major device for linking clauses to form complex sentences. Although Turkish allows for using finite verbs in dependent clauses (such as ki-clauses, diye-clauses, etc.), nonfinite dependent clauses are much more numerous and, in general, more widely used in literary Turkish.

 

Independent vs. Dependent Clauses


In both English and Turkish, the two basic types of clauses are independent and dependent clauses, with the former expressing a complete thought and, thus, being able to stand alone as a sentence.


A dependent clause, however, is an incomplete sentence, relying on the information from a related independent (main) clause to complete a thought.


When independent and dependent clauses are combined in a sentence, they are referred to as main and subordinate clauses, respectively. A subordinate clause can have its own dependent clause, in which case it would be called a matrix clause and its dependent clause is called an embedded clause.


 

English Clause vs. Turkish Clause


In English, by definition, having a subject and a finite verb is sufficient for a clause to make sense. As such, it can stand alone as an independent clause:


S + P = INDEPENDENT CLAUSE


In Turkish, however, subjects are often dropped. As a pro-drop (pronoun-dropping) and null-subject language with a highly inflected verbal morphology, Turkish furnishes its finite verbs with the subject’s person and number.


[S] + P = INDEPENDENT CLAUSE



While English clause requires both Subject and Predicate to make sense, Turkish clause needs only Predicate: for example, Gittim (I left) is a single word-sentence. Moreover, Turkish allows also for impersonal sentences: for example, Sıcaktı (It was hot).

 

Although the classification of sentences is still an unsettled matter in the Turkish syntax school, as opposed to the more well-established English school, the most common Turkish model I have encountered has one independent clause with one subject and one finite verb defined as a simple or basit sentence.


Two independent clauses joined together form one compound sentence or sıralı cümle. If one independent clause and one dependent clause are joined together, they form one complex or birleşik sentence. If two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause are joined together, they form one compound-complex or karmaşık birleşik (sıralı birleşik) sentence.


The complex (birleşik) group is further divided into several subgroups, depending on the type of the dependent clause used (specifically whether the verb is finite or nonfinite).


The compound (sıralı) group is also divided into its own subgroups, depending on whether independent clauses are lexically or morphologically or just semantically related and whether the linking between the clauses is syndetic (using both conjunction and punctuation) or just asyndetic (using punctuation only).


 

Classification of English Sentences:

Four Common Types



English sentences are divided into 4 groups:


I. SIMPLE Sentence = INDEPENDENT

II. COMPOUND Sentence = INDEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT

III. COMPLEX Sentence = INDEPENDENT + DEPENDENT

IV. COMPOUND-COMPLEX Sentence = INDEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT + DEPENDENT


 

In more detail:


I. SIMPLE Sentence = SUBJECT + PREDICATE = INDEPENDENT


In English, a sentence can be SIMPLE despite having internal compound constructions such as compound subjects, predicates, objects of prepositions, or others.


For example, all these sentences are considered SIMPLE in English:


COMPOUND PREDICATE (or shared subject):

The hotel boasts a gourmet restaurant, offers a range of sports facilities, and provides other convenience amenities.

I enjoy tennis, don’t like soccer, and can play basketball if needed.


COMPOUND AUXILIARY VERBS (shared subject + verb + object):

You can, must, and will tell us.


COMPOUND SUBJECTS (or shared predicate):

You, your sister, and I can sit together at my desk.


COMPOUND adverbials (shared subject + verb):

The company may have branches in London, New York, and Moscow.


COMPOUND OBJECT COMPLEMENTS (shared subject + verb):

I argued for implementation of the report, in favor of the new changes, and against any further discussion.


COMPOUND COMPLEMENT CLAUSES (shared subject + verb + object):

The reason probably lies in the facts that the Intelligence Service is rather despised, that the individual members change rapidly and are therefore inexperienced, and that they feel bound to put their own special interests first.



​In Turkish, however, the main difference would be sentences with COMPOUND PREDICATE or COMPOUND AUXILIARY VERBS (as Turkish does not have them, they would be part of main verbs):


Otel, bir gurme restoranına sahiptir, çeşitli spor tesisleri sunmaktadır ve diğer kolaylıklar sağlamaktadır.

Three predicates share the same subject Complex Sentence


Tenisten hoşlanırım, futboldan hoşlanmam ve gerekirse basketbol oynayabilirim.

Three predicates share the same subject Complex Sentence


Bize söyleyebilirsin, söylemek zorundasın ve söyleyeceksin.

Three clauses with the same subject Complex Sentence

There are three types of SIMPLE sentences:


• NOMINAL SENTENCE: The elves were good workers.

• ADJECTIVAL SENTENCE: The elves were unhappy with Santa.

• VERBAL SENTENCE: The elves complained about Santa.

ENGLISH NOUN CLAUSES: SIMPLE OR COMPLEX?

​By definition, a simple sentence is an independent clause (with NO dependent clauses), which has ONE subject and ONE predicate.

By definition, a complex sentence consists of an independent clause and at least one dependent (subordinate) clause, together having TWO subjects and TWO predicates.

​A dependent clause may be:

1. Noun (nominal) clause

2. Adjective (relative) clause

3. Adverb (adverbial) clause

Let’s add a noun clause to an independent clause.

Here are 3 examples of sentences with noun clause (in bold):

1. that students enjoy grammar proves my point noun clause is a subject

2. I believe that students enjoy grammar ⇒ noun clause is an object

3. My point is that students enjoy grammar ⇒ noun clause is a subjec tcomplement

Example 1 has a main clause and a subordinate (noun) clause, so it should be a COMPLEX sentence. However, it has only ONE subject and ONE predicate, which should make it a SIMPLE sentence. So, which one is it? How to categorize a clause whose subject is structured as a dependent clause?

The answer is: NO IDEA. Language textbooks are split. Some define any sentence that has a dependent clause as COMPLEX, regardless of the latter’s role in the structure of the sentence's core. Others insist that a COMPLEX sentence must have a main and a dependent clauses. All seem to agree that subject clauses are special.

 

II. COMPOUND Sentence = INDEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT


The elves were unhappy with Santa, and the reindeer were considering a class-action lawsuit.
 

III. COMPLEX Sentence = INDEPENDENT + DEPENDENT,


where a DEPENDENT clause may be:

  • NOMINAL (COMPLEMENT) Sentence:

That the elves were unhappy with Santa was no secret.

  • ADJECTIVE (RELATIVE) Sentence:

The elves, who were unhappy with Santa, complained to the reindeer.

  • ADVERB (ADVERBIAL) Sentence:

The elves were unhappy with Santa because they had to work during the Christmas season.
 

IV. COMPOUND-COMPLEX Sentence = INDEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT + DEPENDENT


The elves were unhappy with Santa, and the reindeer were considering a class-action lawsuit because Rudolph got preferential treatment.
 

To summarize:




 

Classification of Turkish Sentences:

Four Groups of Sentences



Turkish sentences can be divided into 4 groups as well:


I. SIMPLE (basit) Group = INDEPENDENT

II. COMPLEX (birleşik)* Group = DEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT

III. COMPOUND (sıralı)** Group = INDEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT

IV. COMPOUND-COMPLEX (sıralı birleşik / karmaşık birleşik) Group = DEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT


 

I. SIMPLE (basit) Group = PREDICATE = INDEPENDENT, which may be one of the four types:

  • NOMINAL SENTENCE:

Sokağın sonundaki ayakkabı tamircisi, bu kasabadaki en eski ve köklü zanaatkârlardan birisidir.
The cobbler at the end of the street is one of the oldest and most established artisans in this town.
  • ADJECTIVAL SENTENCE:

Muhtaç olduğun kudret, damarlarındaki asil kanda mevcuttur.
The strength you need is in the noble blood of your veins.
  • VERBAL SENTENCE:

Her tarafı ıssız bir karanlık sarmıştı.
There was a desolate darkness all around.
  • EXISTENTIAL SENTENCE:

Değil yazmaya, okumaya bile iktidarı yoktur.
Not only can he not write, he cannot even read.

 

II. COMPLEX (birleşik) Group* = DEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT, which has three subgroups:


A. NONFINITE (girişik birleşik), where the DEPENDENT clause is NONFINITE and may be:

  • NOUN (COMPLEMENT) clause with an Action Nominal (isim-fiil):

Çoğumuz, ailelerimizin gelişimimiz üzerindeki etkisinin farkındayız.
Most of us realize the impact that our families have on our development.
  • ADJECTIVE (RELATIVE) clause with a Participle (sıfat-fiil):

Hamas lideri Halit Meşal, kaçırılan İsrail askerinin, Filistinli tutuklularla değiş-tokuş edilmesini istedi.
The leader of Hamas Halit Meshal requested that the kidnapped Israeli soldier be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners.
  • ADVERB (ADVERBIAL) clause with a Converb (zarf-fiil):

Oda kapısını aralık bırakıp kitapla beraber döşeğine girdi.
She left the room door ajar and went to her bed with the book.
  • CONDITIONAL (şartlı birleşik) clause:

Eğer rüzgâr olmasaydı, yangın asla bu kadar hızlı yayılmazdı.
If it hadn’t been for the wind, the fire would never have spread so fast.
 

B. FINITE (iç içe birleşik), where the DEPENDENT clause is FINITE and may be either:

  • SUBSTANTIVAL clause (with a noun clause or an adjectival clause embedded within a longer sentence, including a quotation or direct speech clause):

Niçin geldiniz sorusu, hepimizi sarstı.
His question about why we came shocked us all.
A uniquely Turkish construction.

Sen, yaşam güzeldir dersin.
You say [that] life is beautiful.
  • SMALL clause: used with the verbs de-, san-, bil-, zannet-, gör-, düşün-, farzet-:

Biz, seni gittin sandık.
We thought you had left.
Another uniquely Turkish construction.
  • Diye-clause:

Kimse gelmeyecek diye ödüm kopuyordu.
I was worried that no one would show up.
  • Ki-clause:

O neşe bir sırça kadehti ki, kırılmıştı.
That joy was a glass goblet that was broken.
  • PARENTHETICAL (ara sözlü) clause:

Sakın kimse -ve en başta sevgili Artvinliler olmak üzere- beni yanlış anlamasınlar.
I wouldn't want anyone—and especially our beloved Artvins—misunderstand me.
  • ADVERBIAL clause with interrogative mu:

Kar yağdı , Erzurum için asıl belediye reisi ve belediye teşkilatı kıştır.
Once it snows, it is winter for Erzurum as the main mayor and municipal organization.
A. H. Tanpınar

 

III. COMPOUND (sıralı) Group** = INDEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT, which may be:


A. ASYNDETIC COMPOUND (sıralı) sentence:


Kapıdan çıkıyordu, oncağıza gözlerim takıla kaldı.
He went out the door, and my eyes were fixed on him.

(i) CORRELATED ASYNDETIC COMPOUND (bağımlı sıralı) sentence with lexically or morphologically shared elements:


Her şeyi evvelâ kendi nefsinde muhakeme eder; her hükmü, her kararı vermezden evvel bir kere kendi vicdanından geçirirdi.
He judges everything on his own first; before any judgment, any decision, he would listen to the voice of his conscience.
Ömer Seyfettin, Kaşağı
The clauses share the subject (O).

(ii) NONCORRELATED ASYNDETIC COMPOUND (bağımsız sıralı) sentence with semantically related clauses:

Bir itiliş, haydi ölümün ucundayız; her şey bitti.
One lunge and we’re at the pole of death, everything’s over.

B. SYNDETIC COMPOUND (bağlı) sentence, whose clauses are coordinated:


Üzüldüğü belliydi; fakat hastalığın ne olduğunu sormadı.
It was obvious that he was upset; but he did not ask what the disease was.

 

III. COMPOUND-COMPLEX (sıralı birleşik / karmaşık birleşik) Group = DEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT + INDEPENDENT


Bu güç, şayet kendinden değilse, o devlet güdümlüdür; yani başka güçlü bir devletin vesayetindedir.
If this power is not intrinsic, that state is dirigible, i.e., it is under the guardianship of another powerful state.


 

* For some puzzling reason, in Turkish literature, the term birleşik sentence is often translated into English as a compound sentence. It’s wrong, of course. CliffNotes, The Writing Lab & The OWL, or an excellent wiki article are a great source for verification.


** Just as with the term birleşik sentence, the term sıralı sentence is frequently mistranslated as a complex sentence. It should, of course, be a compound sentence.


 

To summarize:


 

Compound Predicate


Not all English grammarians agree that sentences with COMPOUND predicate should be labeled SIMPLE. This is largely a traditional view.


For example, this sentence would traditionally be categorized as SIMPLE:


She arrived early and stayed late.

In Turkish, however, this is a sentence with two predicates and, therefore, it is NOT SIMPLE; it is, in fact, a bağlı sentence:


Erken geldi ve geç kaldı.

Transformational grammarians in English would agree with the Turkish classification and classify it a COMPOUND sentence, with an ELIDED (implied) subject in the second clause:

She arrived early and [she] stayed late.
She arrived early, and then stayed late.

Sentences with compound predicate and an elided subject are often “incorrectly” punctuated, with a comma separating the coordinate verbs. Such construction may be used by a writer to emphasize the passing of time, especially if the action in the second half of the predicate takes place considerably later than the action in the first half:


She evicted him from his apartment, and fell head over heels for him.

The second part of such constructions has a sense of an afterthought, an unexpected resolution, or a surprising turn of events. It is an effective stylistic device in fiction and creative non-fiction thanks to its ability to create an emphatic contrast or drama or gravity:


Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wealth

And this is where English and Turkish would significantly differ: According to the Turkish classification, the sentence below would be interpreted as having at least eight independent clauses and one dependent clause, while the English model would consider it as a basic complex sentence, with one main and one dependent clauses:


He is born, goes to school, marries, has children, quarrels with his fellows, suffers the same defeats which afflict his contemporaries, and dies.
Robert Payne, The Christian Centuries