• Galina Blankenship

Turkish Punctuation (Türkçede Noktalama İşaretleri): Comparing Turkish and English Punctuation Rules

Updated: Jan 11

⌘Proofreader's Cheatsheet:

with examples from newspapers, scientific articles, literature, poetry…

Lewis Thomas's Quote: "Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath."
Lewis Thomas (1913–1993), American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, policy advisor

Disparities in the use of punctuation among Turkish writers and educators are not uncommon. Notwithstanding the Ottoman vestiges embellishing national literary pieces, the modern Turkish reflects all the usual disruptors: digital and mobile technology, internet culture and prevailing Americanization.

Even though Turkish punctuation resembles English punctuation in many ways, there are some important differences. One peculiar Turkish use is a comma following and marking off the subject, positioned at or near the beginning of a sentence.

As Turkish sentences generally break up the subject and the verb/predicate by placing the latter in the very end of the sentence, the subject-tied comma serves as a useful, and often critical, visual and cognitive guide that signals the reader to take a pause. The pause helps to memorize the subject before “embarking” on a long journey towards the subject's other half—its verb/predicate.

As in English, a colon may be followed by a capital letter when introducing an independent clause (and not just for indirect speech without quotes):

Karışık bir duygu var içimde: Bu yıl bana hem pek kısa hem de pek uzun geliyor. (N. Ataç)

I have a mixed feeling inside me: I am finding this year both very short and very long.

In Turkish, a comma is often used where, in English, we would expect a semicolon: i.e., in complex sentences to set off independent clauses. And vice-versa—a Turkish semicolon may appear where, in English, one would use a comma or no punctuation at all: e.g., after the subject of the sentence.

Fittingly called “tırnak işareti” (fingernail marks), the quotation marks in Turkish are the same curly/smart quotation marks [“ ”] that are used in English. However, some Turkish printers may still prefer double angle quotes (« »), or chevrons/guillemets (due to the significant impact of the French language).

Moreover, not all Turkish writers are in the habit of using quotation marks to indicate direct speech, and you may still encounter the occasional Ottoman relic practice of using brackets [[]] for quotations or emphatic expressions (uttered with emphasis and stress to indicate importance).

Some writers use dashes along with quotation marks or dashes alone to mark a change of speaker in a dialogue:

— Öyleyse sorumlu kim? diye bağırdım.

Gözleri gözlerimde,

— Sorumlu düzen, bütün suç düzenin … dedi. (A. Nesin)

“In that case, who is responsible?” I cried.

His eyes on mine, he said,

“The one responsible is the system; all the fault lies with the system.”

On the other hand, in this example, the Turkish novelist Yakup Kadri tags a dialogue only with an opening quotation mark without a matching closing quotation mark:

Ben gittikçe öfkelenmeye başlıyorum:

“Nasıl arabacılık bu! diyorum; ne yol bilirsin, ne de …

“Yol nerede efendi? yol yok ki bileyim; diyor.

Biçarenin hakkı var. Evet yol yok ki … (Yakup Kadri)

I am gradually beginning to get annoyed.

“What sort of driving is this!” I say; “you neither know the road, nor …”

“Where is the road, Sir? There is no road for me to know,” says he.

The poor fellow is right. Yes, there is no road.

As the above examples demonstrate, Turkish has a peculiar affinity for ellipses or suspension points [] (üç nokta işareti), often employed to suggest the unspoken or, literally, a pause, especially after a final ki.

Not unusual is the omission of the question mark [?] in rhetorical questions, or the use of the exclamation point [!] instead, as a way to make an ironic remark. Generally speaking, however, the exclamation mark is not used in Turkish as often as in English.

Although, as English, Turkish distinguishes between three different types of dashes (hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes)—at least in typography—hyphens and en-dashes are virtually the same thing.

Some other peculiar differences between the languages include the use of period after ordinal numbers (VIII. Henry, 1. madde) and the use of comma to separate decimal numbers (5,34; 10,1).

The special punctuation marks used in Turkish include a ditto mark (denden işareti) [] and a circumflex accent (düzeltme (şapka) işareti) [^].

I have extensively covered the common uses of punctuation in the Turkish language, in comparison with the English language, for the following punctuation marks (an ongoing project):

Period [.]

Comma [,], Comma & Subject, and Comma (continued)

Semicolon [;]

Colon [:]

Hyphens [-], En-Dashes [–], and Em-Dashes [—]

Question Mark [?], Exclamation Mark [!], and Ellipsis […]

Slash [/] and Backslash [\]

Double Quotation Marks [“ ”] and Single Quotation Marks [‘ ’]

Apostrophe [’]

Parentheses [( )] and Brackets [[ ]]

Circumflex Accent [^]

Ditto Mark [“] and Other Punctuation Marks,


Analysis of Sentences

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