• Galina Blankenship

The TDK’s Punctuation Guidelines… Don’t Always Make Sense

Updated: Jul 11

Grammar is like walking. You have to think about it when you start, but if you have to go on thinking about it, you fall over. It should come as second nature. Alice Thomas Ellis, The Spectator (1989)

Painting titled "The Carpet Merchant" (1887) by Jean Léon Gérôme
The Carpet Merchant (1887) by Jean Léon Gérôme

Turkish punctuation is a de facto project in progress.

With numerous Arabic, Persian, French, and recently English lexical borrowings, Turkish has also appropriated certain grammatical forms, syntactic constructions, and punctuation conventions.

With the Latinization of the Ottoman Turkish alphabet in the late 1920s, the respective writing conventions were also adopted. Unlike the vowel-starved Arabic script, the Latin alphabet was largely viewed as a better fit for the Turkish language, which has eight vowels.

[More about the Turkish language reforms in The Turkish Language Reform and Its Discontents.]

However, adopting the European-style punctuation that came along with the Latin alphabet for a non-European language has had its challenges. To this day, disparities in the use of punctuation among Turkish writers and students remain common, prompting debates among national scholars and calls from teachers and educators for a comprehensive and coherent punctuation policy.

As shown by numerous surveys and studies, Turkish students struggle by far the most with the use of punctuation marks (especially, semicolon, colon, and comma) and compound words.

The Turkish authority on the national literary language and punctuation conventions, the Turkish Language Academy (Türk Dil Kurumu, TDK), periodically revises its guidelines—for linguistic as well as political reasons, e.g., to minimize the effects of certain foreign languages on Turkish.

Notwithstanding the revisions, the guidelines on punctuation remain inconsistent and largely incomplete.

Here are some issues with the current 🆃🅳🅺 2013 Guidelines.


Quotes without Quotes

🆃🅳🅺 Virgül… tırnak içinde olmayan alıntı cümlelerinden sonra konur (Comma should be placed after a quotation (direct speech) that is not enclosed in quotation marks):

Aç karnına sigara içmekle hiç de iyi etmiyorsun, dedi.

You are not exactly helping yourself when you smoke on an empty stomach,” she said.

Necati Cumalı

There is no explanation as to why some quotations or direct speech clauses have no quotation marks and whether it is up to a student to use such quotation marks or not.

❓ On another hand, if the sentence specifies the person making the statement, how should the sentence be punctuated then? Since there are no quotation marks, the only way to signal the upcoming quotation is through a comma, as in the following sentence:

Hasan, size güveniyorum, dedi ve gitti.

Hasan said, “I trust you,” and left.

In another example provided by the TDK, with direct speech clause enclosed in the quotations marks, there is no comma before (and after) the quotated part:

Edebiyat öğretmeni “Şiirler içinde ‘Han Duvarları’ gibisi var mı?” dedi ve Faruk Nafiz’in bu güzel şiirini okumaya başladı.

The literature teacher asked, “Is there any other poem like 'Han Walls'?” and began reading this beautiful poem of Faruk Nafiz.


Setting Off the Subject with Comma

🆃🅳🅺 Virgül… uzun cümlelerde yüklemden uzak düşmüş olan özneyi belirtmek için konur (In long sentences, use a comma to indicate the subject if it is placed far from the predicate).

Example provided:

Saniye Hanımefendi, merdivenlerde oğlunun ayak seslerini duyar duymaz, hasretlisini karşılamaya atılan bir genç kadın gibi koltuğundan fırlamış ve ona kapıyı kendi eliyle açmaya gelmişti.

As soon as she heard her son’s footsteps on the stairs, Ms. Saniye jumped out of her seat, like a young girl rushing to see her beloved, and herself came down to open the door for him.

❓ How long is “a long sentence” and how “far” should a subject be from the predicate?

In another, much shorter sentence provided further, the subject is also separated by comma:

Türk dili, Türk milletinin kalbidir, zihnidir.

The Turkish language is the heart and mind of the Turkish nation.


Separating Consecutive Adverbial Clauses

🆃🅳🅺 Virgül… metin içinde art arda gelen zarf-fiil eki almış kelimelerden sonra konur (Use comma to separate two or more consecutive adverbial clauses in a sentence).

Consecutive adverbial clauses form a series of adjacent parallel elements, which, according to another TDK guideline, should be separated by comma.

The example provided has two adverbial clauses separated by a comma:

Ancak yemekte bir karara varıp, arkadaşına dikkatli dikkatli bakarak konuştu.

Having made his decision only at dinner, he spoke as he stared at his friend intently.

(lit., Having made his decision only at dinner, staring at his friend intently, he spoke.)


Yet this guideline is immediately followed by the seemingly conflicting warning that states:

🆃🅳🅺 Metin içinde zarf-fiil eki almış kelimelerden sonra virgül konmaz (Do not separate adverbial clauses in a sentence).

Although poorly worded, my guess is that this guideline refers to sentences with a single adverbial clause (instead of a series of adverbial clauses).

Nonetheless, the example provided for this guideline has two adverbial clauses (!):

Şimdiye dek, ben kendimi bildim bileli kimse Değirmenoluk köyünden kaçıp da başka köyde çobanlık, yanaşmalık etmedi.

Until now, as long as I can remember, no one has [ever] escaped from Değirmenoluk to work as a shepherd in another village.

(lit. Until now, as long as I can remember, by escaping from Değirmenoluk, no one has [ever] worked as a shepherd in another village.)

There is no explanation as to why no comma is used in this case. In the previous example, the clauses shared the subject. Here, the subjects are different (ben and kimse). Could that be the reason?

❓ Are clauses with different subjects serial?

❓ Incidentally, why is there a comma after the introductory adverbial phrase şimdiye dek? None of the TDK guidelines addresses this question.


Additionally, the sentence provided earlier has an adverbial clause followed by a postpositional comparison adverbial clause (hasretlisini karşılamaya atılan bir genç kadın gibi), separated by a comma:

Saniye Hanımefendi, merdivenlerde oğlunun ayak seslerini duyar duymaz, hasretlisini karşılamaya atılan bir genç kadın gibi koltuğundan fırlamış ve ona kapıyı kendi eliyle açmaya gelmişti.

As soon as she heard her son’s footsteps on the stairs, Ms. Saniye jumped out of her seat, like a young girl rushing to see her beloved, and herself came down to open the door for him.

❓ Does an adverbial clause constitute a series with a postpositional clause?

❓ What exactly makes clauses or any other parts of speech serial?

❓ In fact, what parts of speech can or cannot constitute adjacent parallel elements in a series?


Correlative Pair of Elements

🆃🅳🅺 Tekrarlı bağlaçlardan önce ve sonra virgül konmaz (No commas should precede or follow a correlative conjunction).

Turkish literature has numerous examples that contradict this guideline:

Ceren ne onun, ne dünyanın, hiçbir şeyin farkında değilcesine yürüyordu.

Ceren walked as if unaware of anything—neither him nor the world around her.

Y. Kemal, Bin Boğalar Efsanesi

❓ A pair of correlative conjunctions connects a pair of correlative, parallel elements. In Turkish, these conjunctions form a special intonation contour of a double focus-stress that emphasizes the correlative pair of elements. Double stressing is usually accompanied by the so-called comma intonation (a change in the voice pitch and a pause), which tends to be shown in writing with a comma.


Ellipsis Combined with Other Punctuation Marks

🆃🅳🅺 Ünlem ve soru işaretinden sonra üç nokta yerine iki nokta konulması yeterlidir (An ellipse with an exclamation point or a question mark should retain only two dots instead of three).

❓ Yet, the poorly worded warning linked to this rule seems to oddly state the opposite:

🆃🅳🅺 Üç nokta yerine iki veya daha çok nokta kullanılmaz (Ellipse cannot be replaced by two or more dots).


Enclosing Salutations on Both Sides

🆃🅳🅺 Hitap için kullanılan kelimelerden sonra konur (Place a comma after words or expressions used in direct address).

❗ This statement is true only for a salutation placed in the beginning of the sentence. However, a vocative placed in the end or in the middle of the sentence should be preceded by a comma or enclosed in two commas, respectively.

As it happens, the examples provided by the TDK for the other guidelines illustrate the deficiency of this guideline:

Ne zaman tükenecek bu yollar, arabacı?

When will these roads run out, coachman?

Faruk Nafiz Çamlıbel

— Sen misin, Ali usta?

“Is that you, Master Ali?”


Furthermore, another example provided in the Guidelines conspicuously lacks the required comma:

Ne oluyor beyefendi? Allah rızası için bana da anlatın…

What’s going on, sir? For God’s sake, tell me, too...

R. Nuri Güntekin

Parentheses with Other Punctuation Marks

🆃🅳🅺 Yay ayraç, alıntıların aktarıldığı eseri, yazarı veya künye bilgilerini göstermek için kullanılır (To cite a quote, enclose in parentheses the publication’s name, author, and other copywriting information).

The examples provided by the TDK are conflicting in the formatting of the citing information:

Cihanın tarihi, vatanı uğrunda senin kadar uğraşan, kanını döken bir millet daha gösteremez. Senin kadar kimse kendi vatanına sahip olmaya hak kazanmamıştır. Bu vatan ya senindir ya kimsenin. (Ahmet Hikmet Müftüoğlu)

There is no other nation in the world that has toiled or bled for their homeland as much as you. No one else deserves it more than you. This homeland should be either yours or no one’s. (Ahmet Hikmet Müftüoğlu)

Bir isim kökü, gerektiğinde çeşitli eklerle fiil kökü durumuna getirilebilir (Zülfikar 1991: 45).

If needed, you can turn a noun into a verb by adding a suffix to the noun's stem.

❓ While the first sentence has a period before the parentheses, the second sentence's period is placed after the parentheses. Unfortunately, there is no explanation provided.


Some Literary Examples Conflicting with the TDK’s Guidelines

Separating Conditional Clauses

🆃🅳🅺 Şart ekinden sonra virgül konmaz (Do not use comma to separate a conditional clause):

Bu adam öldürülecek olursa, sizler onunla çekişmedesiniz, hemen sizin üstünüze atarlar, sonra da kıyamet kopar.

If someone decides to kill this person and you happen to be in a state of enmity with each other, you'll be immediately blamed for [his death], and it’ll be pain in your neck.

Y. Kemal, İnce Memed-4

Bütün mesele, kumpanyanın ismine kaldıysa, iş tamam demektir.

If the whole problem is reduced to the name of the company, it is done then.

S. Faik, Bütün Eserleri

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.

F. Bol, "Devlet ve Adalet", Milliyet Newspaper

ABD’nin adaleti (!) buysa, elbette ki Allah’ın da bir adaleti vardır ve bu, er ya da geç mutlaka gerçekleşecektir.

If this is the US justice (!), there is certainly divine justice, and that will sooner or later definitely take place.

Canım ne var bunda, adam uçak kullanmasını biliyorsa, doktor olmasının ne sakıncası var, diyenler mutlaka çıkacaktır.

There will certainly be people who say, “Oh dear, so what? If the man knows how to fly an airplane, what is wrong with his being a physician?”

A. Güçlü, "Liyakat mı Itaat mı?", Milliyet Newspaper


Separating Adverbial Clauses

🆃🅳🅺 Metin içinde zarf-fiil eki almış kelimelerden sonra virgül konmaz (Do not use comma to separate an adverbial clause in a sentence):

Her zamanki şakacı, alaycı havasını takınarak, kendisinden sonra, yani ölümünden sonra onları okumamı istediğini söyleyiverdi.

Taking on his usual joking and mocking manner, unexpectedly he told me that he wanted me to read them after he was gone. By this, he meant after he dies.

O. Pamuk, Babamın Bavulu

Varılan uzlaşma sonucu Atina itirazını çekince, NATO’nun en büyük iki hava komutanlığından biri Türkiye’ye geçti.

Following the agreement after Athens had withdrawn its objections, one of the two largest air commanderships of NATO passed to Turkey.

from Amerika’nın Sesi


Separating correlative conjunctions like ya… ya, hem… hem, ne… ne, etc.

🆃🅳🅺 Tekrarlı bağlaçlardan önce ve sonra virgül konmaz (Do not place commas before or after any coordinating conjunctions):

Ben zaten onu öylesine severdim ki onu ya göklerin, ya denizin koynunda doğmuş sanırdım.

As a matter of fact, I loved him so much that I thought he was born either in heaven or in the depths of the sea.

H. Balıkçısı, Bütün Eserleri: 1

Pek merak edilecek yerler değil. Bilhassa sokak hem pistir, hem gürültülüdür.

(These are) places that are hardly worth paying attention to, especially the streets that are dirty and noisy.

H. Edip-Adıvar, Sinekli Bakkal

Ne kimselere muhtacım, ne kimseye buyuran.

I have no need for anyone, no command of anyone.

E. Şafak, Aşk

Anlatacağımız olayın geçtiği gün, o akşam saatinde, anne de, baba da daha işlerinden dönmemişlerdi.

On the day of the event that we are going to tell you about, and at that evening hour, neither the mother nor the father had yet returned from work.

A. Nesin, Anıtı Dikilen Sinek


Some Issues Not Covered by the TDK

Serial List vs. Appositive List

In English, it is important not to confuse a serial list of parallel elements with an appositive list that contains a serial list of parallel elements.

An appositive structure typically consists of a principal noun (noun phrase) that is closely followed by another noun(s), which explains, describes, or renames that principal noun. The principal noun may sometimes be followed by a list of serial, parallel nouns, and such a structure can be easily mistaken for a single series. In such cases, the principal noun acts as a summative modifier for the corresponding appositive list.

In the sentence below, the principal noun hiçbir şey is not equal or parallel to the preceding serial elements ne onun, ne dünyanın. Instead, it summarizes the list of these elements:

Ceren [ne onun, ne dünyanın], hiçbir şeyin farkında değilcesine yürüyordu.

Ceren walked as if unaware of anything—[neither him nor the world around her].

Y. Kemal, Bin Boğalar Efsanesi

In English, the principal word anything is distinguished from the list with a dash. In other cases, it may be marked with a colon.

Turkish, however, does not distinguish an appositive list structure. Instead, the serial elements and the summative modifier are listing together as belonging to the same series.

❓ Why are the elements ne onun, ne dünyanın, and hiçbir şeyin marked as a series?


Yet in another example, the summative principal word is not marked at all:

While the serial elements (aile ile giriş çıkış saatleri, içki, eve arkadaş hangi saatlerde getirebilir, mutfağı nasıl kullanabilir) are appropriately separated, the related summative modifier (tüm bunları), for some reason, is not even included in the series:

[Aile ile giriş çıkış saatleri, içki, eve arkadaş hangi saatlerde getirebilir, mutfağı nasıl kullanabilir] tüm bunları kontrata dökeceğiz.

Things such as [family visit hours, drinking, hours during which they can bring friends, and the use of the kitchen] will all be included in the contract.

[lit. [...]—all these things such as will all be included in the contract. ]


Last Element in a Series

As in English, serial parallel elements in Turkish are separated by commas. Moreover, the last element in the series may or may not be connected with a coordinating conjunction (ve, ya da), which replaces the comma. Moreover, no comma should follow the very last element of the series.

❓ In the second sentence below, the two adverbial clauses of manner are successive and parallel; yet there is a comma after the second clause in the series:

Eskiden camın ne olduğunu bilmiyordum. Ama [başımı vura vura], [kanatlarımı çarpa çarpa], camın ne olduğunu ben de öğrendim.

Before, I didn't know what glass was. However, by banging my head and flapping my wings, I have learned what glass is.

A. Nesin, Anıtı Dikilen Sinek