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  • Writer's pictureGalina Blankenship

Tautologies, Redundancies, and Other Usage Problems in the Turkish Language (Anlatım Bozuklukları)

Updated: May 7

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
— Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing

“Elegant Variation” in Writing

Wanting to avoid repetition in writing is a powerful motivator.

In his The King's English, Fowler used the term elegant variation to refer to the substitution of “one word for another for the sake of variety.” Just like English, Turkish, too, strives to avoid repeating in a sentence the same words or words derived from the same stem—for purely stylistic purposes.

Redundancy in language is not a grammatical error per se. It works at the level of intuition, and at the level of reason (logic), having been collectively internalized in time by native speakers of a given language. This makes redundancy belong to the realm of usage, i.e., a collective use, as opposed to an individual use. Intuitively, we feel that repetition does not sound good, and logically, we know that it is unnecessary.

Unless it functions to amplify the meaning for a dramatic or emphatic effect, repetition feels monotonous, and monotony feels boring. Style guides recommend that we replace a repeated word with its synonym or omit it altogether, provided its use is redundant.

A painting by Mohamed Elmoslemany, depicting a beautiful woman wearing a scarf
A painting by Mohamed Elmoslemany

The Principles of the Turkish Grammar

Much of what happens in the Turkish language can be explained by these two prescriptive, and somewhat artificial, syntactical principles that govern literary Turkish:

  • The verb-final principle: Regular Turkish sentences have their main verbs placed at the end of the sentence.

  • The head-final principle: Any secondary constituents (dependents) in a Turkish sentence come before the primary constituents (heads) (a.k.a. the principle of preceding modification or qualification).

These principles are rather artificial because a language with such a robust and rich morphology should be more flexible. Yet, this prescriptive hold on the literary Turkish has kept it confused about what a proper Turkish sentence should look like.

The head-finality of the Turkish language forces it to build sentences as branching to the left, meaning that, in most cases, if we want to add any extra information (e.g., by adding modifiers or subordinate clauses), we place them to the left from the sentence’s ᴄᴏʀᴇ elements.

Moreover, the verb-finality of Turkish means that, in a complex sentence (with a subordinate clause), the verb of the subordinate clause needs to be nominalized so that not to violate the Turkish canonical verb-final word order: S-O-V. These nominalized verbs, called verbals, can also function as adjectives or nouns.


It Is All About the Turkish Verb

The peculiarity of the Turkish language makes Turkish verb (in its finite form) the essential link within a sentence, the thread that ties all its elements. If we map the phrase-based structure of a regular Turkish sentence, we will see that most phrases are verbal, with the verb being the head governing its dependent: While having no direct linking with each other, the constituents are held together as one sentence through their relations with the verb.

Turkish Verb vs. English Verb

Just as in Turkish, the English verb connects the subject and the object of the sentence. The difference, however, is that the English verb is dynamic and varied, while the Turkish verb is remote and somewhat unvarying. While the English verb thrusts forward, the Turkish verb pulls towards itself. The Turkish verb's role, it seems, is not just to mark the end of a sentence but also to soften the dramatic drop in the pitch that follows the focal stress that often immediately precedes it.

As the head of the sentence’s ᴄᴏʀᴇ and the final stop in the sentence, the Turkish verb functions as a narrative “tide-breaker,” which both keeps in check the propelling and “tidal” flow of narration and determines its direction—the branching of the sentence, which, in Turkish case, is mostly left-branching and less often mid-branching.

Turkish verbs are remarkably self-sufficient thanks to their rich, highly informative syntaxis: the verb’s obligatory marking for person (and number), as well as tense/aspect/modality and voice often renders the use of a pronominal subject unnecessary. And yet, the most common Turkish verbs are mystifyingly and impossibly bland.

The most common Turkish verbs are meaningless auxiliary verbsetmek, olmak, çıkmak, çakmak—that form idiomatic expressions with nominative nouns (devam etmek, affetmek) or adjectives (deli olmak) attached to them.

Other groups consist of nominals plus suffixes (cevaplamak, kurumak, sevişmek); lexicalized composite verbs (basıp geçmek) and idiomatic compounds linked by -(y)ıp (dalıp gitmek); and collocations that combine a limited number of base verbs with case-marked nouns or adjectives (kaleme almak, kafayı çekmek, imza atmak, ceza görmek, ortaya çıkmak).

Most Turkish verbs either derive meaning from nominals attached to (aptal olmak) or incorporated into them (aptallaşmak). Idiomatic verbal compounds and collocations resemble mini-sentences: one group with a converbial subordinate mini-clause (dalıp gitmek), the other group with a nominative, accusative, or dative nominal (akla gelmek, ciddiye almak, uygun görmek).


Turkish Reduplications, Recursive Enumerations, Excessive Circumstantial Detailing and Modifying

As a verb-final language, Turkish penalizes any sentence elements that are placed after the verb by diminishing their prominence. Deemphasized, the post-verb elements can only be presupposed (i.e., can be inferred from previous sentences). With the verb exhibiting such a gravitational and finalizing force, Turkish writers, wishing to add some extra details or expand the sentence in any other way, may be motivated to prolong getting to the verb (the end of the sentence) for as long as possible. When writing in Turkish, one may feel compelled to further expand the existing phrases with added synonyms or duplicates.

In fact, in addition to copious idiomatic reduplications, Turkish writing abounds with enumerations, recursive enumerations-within-enumerations constructions, extraneous circumstantial details, excessive ornamentation, and repetitive modifying of all kinds. In fact, among the biggest usage issues in literary Turkish are persistent redundancy of expression (i.e., the use of more words in a sentence than are necessary to express the meaning, also called pleonastic constructs), and tautology, i.e., the inelegant repetition of the same thing in different ways.


Acceptable Tautology

There are situations when pleonastic or tautologous expressions may be acceptable: namely, in established idiomatic expressions or in such situations when the use of such expressions lends intensity to whatever is being said—e.g., in a political speech or oratory inasmuch as they help the audience to grasp the meaning of the utterance. Redundancy is particularly common in impromptu public speaking by politicians or media presenters, who may need to maintain continuous output with not quite enough ideas for their rate of speaking.

Numerous time-honored English phrases are redundant. For example:

many d̶i̶f̶f̶e̶r̶e̶n̶t̶ ways u̶s̶u̶a̶l̶ habit

p̶a̶s̶t̶ history p̶a̶s̶t̶ experience

Marketing and advertising, as the industries targeting basic human emotions by using words (and images) as well as the officialese, journalese, corporatese, or legalese registers are often “guilty” of redundancy:

f̶r̶e̶e̶ gift I have one further point to add.

Semantic redundancy is also common, but acceptable, in folkloric songs, storytelling, and poetry, which commonly use reduplications to create rhythmic patterns and to amplify the meaning.

In both English and Turkish, there are pleonastic constructs, whose existence and acceptance can be explained by the history and the structure of these languages. For example, because the following verbs require objects, these repetitive expressions are not frown upon:

to sing a song to live a life

to dance a dance

yemek yemek dışarı çıkmak

yazı yazmak içeri girmek

oyun oynamak

In Turkish, elements are often repeated or reduplicated—mainly as an emphatic stylistic device and to amplify the meaning of the repeated word. Some instances of reduplication have become lexicalized as idiomatic expressions (sağa sola, zaman zaman, sokak sokak, adım adım, eğri büğrü, apaçık, besbelli).


Types of Usage Issues in Turkish

Contemporary Turkish suffers from numerous redundancies and tautologies. I have divided them into several categories:


Redundant Verbal or Converbial Modifiers (Gereksiz Fiilimsilerin Kullanımı)

Generally speaking, nouns are what we name things around us: nouns are the names of things. As such, nouns often encode in their names their own descriptions or the information that modifies them. For example, life is by definition something that is being lived, and the repetitive modifiers in such expressions as a lived experience, a hidden secret, or a mandatory obligation become redundant. Likewise, verbs, as denoters of actions performed, can encode the manner with which an action is performed: to scream loudly, to whisper quietly, etc.

If we want to add another verb or highlight some other action in a Turkish sentence, we have to nominalize such additional verb as a nonfinite modifying verbal. This explains the most common tautology in Turkish: the excessive use of the noun-modifying verbals, subject participles (-an, -mış) and object participles (-dığı, -acak), used as modifiers (adjectives). Another common tautology in Turkish is the use of redundant verb modifiers, such as converbial adverbs or adverbials (-a, -ken, -arak, -dikçe).

Though such modifiers may often add little to the nouns, they are easy to insert into existing sentences, and writers often use them when they feel the need to make sentences longer. If, however, they seem redundant, they should be removed:

yaşanmış deneyimler

Hip hop genellikle bu yaşanmış deneyimler için güçlü bir ses.


Hip hop genellikle bu deneyimler için güçlü bir ses.

Hip-hop is often a potent voice to these experiences.

yapılan işler

Ancak, bugün yapılan işler çoğunlukla zihinsel olarak yapılmakta, fiziksel değil.


Ancak, bugün işler çoğunlukla zihinsel olarak yapılmakta, fiziksel değil.

Yet, most of today's work is mental, not physical.

Excel Makro, tekrarlı yapılan işleri otomatik hale getirmeye yarar.


Excel Makro, tekrarlı işleri otomatik hale getirmeye yarar.

Excel macros can be used to automate repetitive tasks.

yapılan ayarlama

Bir tedavi planında yapılan birkaç ayarlama ve hastalar diğer bazı sağlık sorunlarının çözüldüğünü keşfetmektedir.


Bir tedavi planında birkaç ayarlama ve hastalar diğer bazı sağlık sorunlarının çözüldüğünü keşfetmektedir.

A few adjustments of a treatment plan, and patients discover that some other health issue gets resolved.


Burada kullanılan noktalı virgül yerine virgül konarak iki cümle virgülle bağlansa olmaz mı?


Burada noktalı virgül yerine iki cümle virgülle bağlansa olmaz mı?

Can't these two sentences be connected with a comma rather than with the semicolon?

Faysal Okan Atasoy, Metin Yayınlarında Noktalama Üzerine

verilen vaatler

Verilen vaatlerin hiçbiri yerine getirilmedi.


Vaatlerin hiçbiri yerine getirilmedi.

None of the promises were fulfilled.

yazdığı romanı

Son yazdığı romanına isim bulmakta bir hayli zorlanmış.


Son romanına isim bulmakta bir hayli zorlanmış.

He had a hard time naming his latest novel.

gittikçe artmak

Japonca öğrenmek isteyenlerin sayısı gittikçe artmaktadır.


Japonca öğrenmek isteyenlerin sayısı artmaktadır.

The number of students who want to learn Japanese is increasing.

alçak sesle fısıldamak

Kulağına, eğilerek alçak sesle bir şeyler fısıldadı.


Kulağına, eğilerek bir şeyler fısıldadı.

She leaned in and whispered something in his ear.

ilk tanışmak

Onunla ilk tanışmamızı unutamam.


Onunla tanışmamızı unutamam.

I will never forget the first time we met her.

Note the English translation of the verb tanışmak.


Pleonastic Expressions (Gereksiz Sözcük Kullanımı)

The same notion may also be expressed in the same way or in two ways, one of which is redundant and should be removed. If the same expression cannot be removed, then it should be rephrased using a synonymous expression:

anlamı … demektir

Sosyalistin bir anlamı çağdaş bilinci özümlemiş kişi demektir.


Sosyalist, bir çağdaş bilinci özümlemiş kişi demektir.

A socialist is someone who has assimilated contemporary consciousness.

denen … demektir

Haptetmek denen şey budur ki bir kimsenin ağzına sözünü ot gibi tıkamak demektir.


“Haptetmek”, bir kimsenin ağzına sözünü ot gibi tıkamak demektir.

Haptetmek means to put a word in someone's mouth like weed.

karar alan ... karar verdi

Mart 2018’de yapılacak toplantı öncesi bir karar alan imamlar, Gül’e kazan kaldırmaya karar verdi.


Mart 2018’de yapılacak toplantı öncesi imamlar, Gül’e kazan kaldırmaya karar verdi.

Before the meeting in March 2018, the imams made a decision to pander to Gül.

mecburen … zorunda kalmak

Mecburen karakola gitmek zorunda kaldım.


Karakola gitmek zorunda kaldım.

I had to go to the police station.

… anlaşıldığına göre … anlaşılmaktadır

Eski eserlerden anlaşıldığına göre Ankara’nın Etiler devrinde de önemli bir yeri olduğu anlaşılmaktadır.


Eski eserlerden anlaşıldığına göre Ankara, Etiler devrinde de önemli bir yere sahipti.

As understood from ancient works, Ankara had an important place in the Etiler period.

İlgili kararlardan anlaşıldığına göre Osmanlı yönetiminin yerelde asayişi temin etme konusunda titizlik gösterirken, idarecilerin gayri Müslimlere karşı herhangi bir hak ihlalinde bulunmamaları ve görevlerini kötüye kullanmamaları konusunda da özen gösterdiği anlaşılmaktadır.


İlgili kararlardan anlaşıldığına göre Osmanlı yönetiminin yerelde asayişi temin etme konusunda titizlik gösterirken, idareciler gayri Müslimlere karşı herhangi bir hakkı ihlal etmemeye ve görevlerini kötüye kullanmamaya da özen göstermiştir.

As it is understood from the relevant decisions, while the Ottoman administration was meticulous in ensuring public order, the administrators also took care not to violate any rights against non-Muslims and not to abuse their duties.

Saliha Okur Gümrükçüoğlu, İstanbul kadı sicillerine göre gayr-i Müslimlerin sosyal ve hukuki konumlar

sorumluluğundan … sorumlu olmak

Firma çalıştıracağı tüm personelinin SGK, Bölge Çalışma Teşkilatı ve yetkili kamu ve yerel kuruluşlarla olan ilişkilerinden, hukuki, cezai ve mali her türlü sorumluluğundan sorumlu olacaktır.


Firma çalıştıracağı tüm personelinin SGK, Bölge Çalışma Teşkilatı ve yetkili kamu ve yerel kuruluşlarla olan ilişkilerinden, hukuki, cezai ve mali her türlü yükümlülüğünden sorumlu olacaktır.

The company shall be responsible for any legal, penal, and financial obligations of all its personnel to be employed by the Social Security Institution, the Regional Labor Organization and the relations with the authorized public and local institutions.

yapılan ama kusurlu yapılan

Taşeronca yapılan ama kusurlu yapılan işlerin ortaya çıkması halinde Taşeron kendi gücü ve parasıyla böyle işleri Taraflarca anlaşılan süre içeresinde düzeltecektir.


Taşeronca kusurlu yapılan işlerin ortaya çıkması halinde Taşeron kendi gücü ve parasıyla böyle işleri Taraflarca anlaşılan süre içeresinde düzeltecektir.

In the event that the works performed by the Subcontractor are defective, the Subcontractor shall fix such works at their own expenses within the period agreed by the Parties.

neticelendirdiği baskın neticesinde

Emniyet memurlarının başarı ile neticelendirdikleri baskın neticesinde tabanca imalini bilfiil yapan ve satan kimselerin yakalanması uzun sürmemiştir.


Emniyet memurlarının başarı ile gerçekleştirdiği baskın neticesinde tabanca imalini bilfiil yapan ve satan kimselerin yakalanması uzun sürmemiştir.

As a result of the successful raid by the police officers, it didn't take long for the people who actually produced and sold guns to be caught.


Repetitive Reporting Verbs in News Reporting in Turkish

News reporting, by definition, requires a very dense packaging of referential information.

👉 In Turkish news reporting, sentences tend to be regular (unmarked) and neutral, with the verb-final word order. The common pattern of sentences involves the use of introductory subject-premodifying subject participial clauses -(y)an (sometimes even several such introductory subject participial clauses -(y)an), which allows to package the important background details about the subject of the sentence.

Turkish Pronouns vs. English Pronouns

👉 Subjects are some of the most repeated elements in writing. In English, subjects must be explicitly stated (save for imperatives sentences). So, to avoid repetition, English uses personal pronouns as placeholders substituting the main reference points, such as the main characters’ names, locales, time periods, etc. In fact, in English, personal pronouns used as reference points are indispensable—for the sake of coherence and for stylistic considerations.

👉 In Turkish, things are very different, for replacing the recurring referents (subjects) with pronouns is rather pointless. For example, in the sentence below, the newly introduced Turkish subject/topic has to be repeated (in combination with a demonstrative pronoun) when it is used for the second time: the new topic (bir halkın) is repeated as the old topic (o halkın). In English, however, the subject (citizens) on the second use is replaced with a personal pronoun (their):

Bir halkın, eğer yasa emirlerinin oluşturulması işine tek doğrudan katılımı, bunların oluşturulmasından sorumlu olanları seçmekle kısıtlı ise, o halkın kendi yaşantısını gerçek anlamda denetlemediği söylenmektedir.

Citizens are not really in control of their own lives if their sole direct participation in creating laws is limited to choosing those responsible for their creation.


Packaging of Background Details

As I mentioned before, the introductory premodifying participial clause -(y)an is a great way to package a lot of background information. For example, the following is an opening sentence of an incident reported in media:

[2 hafta önce kaçırılan İsrail askerini kurtarmak için başlatılan] operasyon hala devam ediyor.

The operation [that started two weeks ago to free the kidnapped Israeli soldier] is still going on.

Here, we have two introductory premodifying participial clauses -(y)an. The information provided by the first participial clause -(y)an and the second subject-premodifying participial clause -(y)an is presented to readers as well-known (given or presupposed) topics, even though they provide new information.

By presenting important or new information as something given allows reporters to quickly introduce the topic and the background details as the buzz du jour, which also helps save typographical space.

In literary Turkish language, to avoid repeating or rephrasing the recurring referents (subjects) formulated as personal pronouns, writers can simply omit them. In news reporting, however, the entire text is much shorter and more compact, so the need to drop a pronominal subject almost never arises.

The same pattern is followed in the second example:

[Gazze’ye havadan, karadan ve denizden operasyon düzenleyen] İsrail ordusunun, [bu operasyonu ne kadar sürdüreceği belli değil].

The Israeli military is conducting an operation against Gaza by air, over land and sea, and it is not clear how long they will continue this operation.

In the second sentence, to avoid repeating the same subject (İsrail ordusu), it is placed in the middle of the sentence as the link between two separate clauses. In the English translation, the subject (the Israeli military) is replaced by a corresponding personal pronoun (they) when used the second time.

In the third example, almost the entire sentence is packaged as the introductory participial clause -(y)an, making the subject as long as the sentence itself:

[1.5 milyon Filistinlinin yaşadığı Gazze şeridindeki çatışmaların durması için sürdürülen] diplomatik girişimler sonuçsuz.

Diplomatic attempts to stop the fighting in the Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million Palestinians live, have had no results.

Dense packaging of referential information as an introductory participial clause -(y)an and/or an interrupting converbial clause is a common pattern used in Turkish news reporting.

In other patterns, referential information about the subject (often represented as a proper name) may be packaged with the subject's quotation (formatted as a direct-speech clause) to avoid repeating the subject:

[Aynı saatlerde Kudüs’te bir basın toplantısı düzenleyen] İsrail başbakanı Ehut Olmert ise [“Teröristlere taviz verilmeyecektir ve kendimizi savunmamız en doğal hakkımızdır” açıklaması yaptı].

“Terrorists will not be appeased, and it is our most natural right to defend ourselves,” announced Israeli Prime Minister Ehut Olmert in a press conference held at about the same time in Jerusalem.