Word Stress in Turkish
Updated: Jul 28, 2022
1.1. Regular Stressing
1. Turkish Dynamic Stress
Linguists distinguish between two types of word stresses: dynamic stress (made by a stronger sound energy) and tonal stress (made by a higher vocal tone). The former is common among the Indo-European and Turkic languages, including English and Turkish. The latter is typical of Southeast-Asian, African, and Pacific languages.
In the languages with dynamic stress, speakers pronounce certain syllables (and words) with more respiratory energy or muscular force than other syllables (or words) in the same utterance. These syllables (or words) are deemed stressed or accented.
In other words, speakers who stress syllables using the dynamic stress, pronounce them louder (and at times, also longer) and with a higher pitch. Tonal speakers, on the other hand, convey different levels of syllable prominence (e.g., six in Vietnamese) using tonal pitch, which may sound like singing to non-speakers.
While pitch-stress speakers use tonal pitch to express emotions and other pragmatic information, such as emphasis or contrast, tonal-pitch speakers apply tones to different syllables within the same word.
1.1. Regular Stressing
Turkish words tend to have one stressed syllable. In most words, a stress falls on the last syllable of the word, but there are some words (e.g., geographical place names, recently adopted words of foreign origin, proper names, kinship words, wh-questions, some adverbs, and a few other categories of words) in which a stress comes earlier in the word.
◀ In most Turkish words, stress falls on the last syllable of the word:
masa table Salı Tuesday
vücut body oku read
güzel beautiful dinle listen
With the exception of most loanwords, some place names, personal names, wh-question words, and some adverbs, most words in Turkish have word-final stress.
1.2. Irregular & Lexical Stresses
There are, of course, exceptions, but in many cases they are justifiable.
Turkish word-stress is lexical, meaning that the position of the word-stress is not fixed but able to move to produce lexical, semantic, and pragmatic variety.
In Turkish, lexical stress often functions to:
Signal the non-Turkish origin of a word (loanwords)
Help disambiguate the meanings of homographic (spelled in the same way) words and suffixes
Indicate a word class (proper name vs. common name, adverbs vs. other parts of speech)
Signal an emphatic aspect of an utterance (interjections, vocatives)
Some Turkish words have irregular stressing, i.e., a non-final stress, often on their first or second syllables:
evet yes karınca ant
hayır no çanta bag
şapka hat tabanca gun, pistol
▼ Non-final stress often signals that a word has been borrowed from another language, meaning, it’s a loanword:
lokanta canteen jandarma gendarme
gazete newspaper sandalye chair
radyo radio banyo bath, bathtub
lamba lamp firma firm, company
▼ Many proper names, such as geographical place names and people’s names, are often based on common names and, therefore, have a non-final stress to distinguish them from the corresponding common words:
bebek baby Bebek a district in Istanbul
mısır corn, maize Mısır Egypt
ordu army Ordu a city in Northern Turkey
sirkeci vinegar seller Sirkeci district in Istanbul
bakacak will see Bakacak a city in Turkey
çekmecek drawer Çekmece a district in Istanbul
tokat slap Tokat a city in Turkey
▼ Proper names can also be foreign and, therefore, they have irregular stress when adopted for Turkish:
Paris Paris Afrika Africa
İngiltere England Londra London
⚡ Interestingly, the name of the country Turkey also has an irregular stress, most probably because of the Arabic influence:
▼ Many other geographical place names in Turkey also have their first syllable stressed:
Bursa Bursa Marmara Marmara
İzmir Izmir Samsun Samsun
Muğla Muğla Ankara Ankara
▼ The Turkish and foreign geographical place names that end with -ya have penultimate stress:
Antalya Antalya Malatya Malatya
Antakya Antioch İtalya Italy
Sakarya Sakarya Almanya Germany
▼ The exceptions are the names of the countries formed with the stressed Persian suffix -istan:
Yunanistan Greece Özbekistan Uzbekistan
Bulgaristan Bulgaria Kazakistan Kazakhstan
Some function or non-content words also have irregular stress, often falling on the first syllable:
▼ The first syllable is stressed in the interrogative pronouns or wh-questions:
kim who kaç how many, what time
ne what ne kadar how much
hangi which nasıl how
nere where niye why
hani where neden why
ne zaman when niçin why
▼ The place adverbs formed with the suffix -ra retain their first syllable stress even after inflection or additional suffixation:
neresi where şurası over there
burası here orada over there
nereden from where oraya there
▼ Other adverbs and conjunctive adverbs also often have the first syllable stressed:
şimd now hemen hemen almost
artık already yine again
yani that is bugün today
hemen immediately daima always
▼ Except this one:
▼ The first syllable is stressed in some postpositions:
sonra after, then
▼ And some conjunctions:
fakat but, however
▼ The first syllable is stressed in some nominal adverbs formed with the rarely used suffix -in:
kışın in winter
yazın in summer
Irregular stress, and specifically the first-syllable stress, can indicate an emphatic nature of an utterance:
▼ In all interjections, a stress falls on the first syllable:
Eyvah! Haydi! Maşallah! Aferin! Vah vah!
Oops! C’mon! Great! Praise be! Well done! Oh dear!
⚡ This is probably why the words Evet and Hayir both have first-syllable stress:
Evet! Yes! Hayır! No!
▼ When a regular word, whether proper or common, is used as a vocative (direct address), the stress may shift up:
Ahmet Ahmet Ahmet! Ahmet!
öğretmen teacher Öğretmenim! Teacher!
garson waiter Garson! Waiter!
hayır goodness, good Hayır! No, nay!
yazma writing Yazma! Don’t write!
çıkma protrusion, outing Çıkma! Don’t come out!
ezme mash Ezme! Don’t crush!
dondurma ice-cream Dondurma! Don’t freeze!
tuzla with salt Tuzla! Salt [it]!
başla by head Başla! Start!
dinle by faith Dinle! Listen!
yüzün of the face (Gen.) Yüzün! Swim!
atın of the horse (Gen.) Atın! Throw!
▼ Most emphatic adjectives with reduplicated prefixes have their stress fall on the prefix or the word's first syllable:
bembeyaz snow-white bomboş bare
simsiyah jet-black yemyeşil lush green
▼ In emphatic adjectives with two-syllable reduplication, the stress falls on the second syllable:
sırılsıklam soaking wet çırılçıplak stark naked
sapasağlam in perfect health yapayalnız all alone
▼ Lexical stress helps disambiguate (remove ambiguity) when it comes to homographic suffixes and clitics:
bende I have ben de me too
damda on the roof dam da the roof, too
taşta on the stone taş ta the stone, too
siste in the mist sis te the mist, too
benim my, mine Benim. I am.
doktorum my doctor Doktorum. I am a doctor.
sekreterim my secretary Sekreterim. I am a secretary.
çıkardı took out çıkardı used to go out
güldür make laugh güldür it’s a rose.
👉 Lexical stress also serves to distinguish between the verb and its nominalized form (verbal):
yazacağım I will write yazacağım that I will write
👉 Whenever stress cannot help disambiguate in speech, the speaker then relies on intonation to convey the intended meaning:
çocuklar Çocuklar. — Çocuklar!
children They are children. “Kids!”
▼ One of the important functions of the lexical stress is to signal the word-class of a word, especially in adjectives vs. adverbs:
ayrı (adjective) ayrıca (adverb)
separate, apart besides
sade (adjective) sadece (adverb)
simple, plain only
yalnız (adjective) yalnız (adverb)
lonesome, sole, alone only, solely, merely
nihayet (noun) nihayet (adverb)
gerçekten (noun +dan) gerçekten (adverb)
from the truth truly
2. Suffixes & Clitics: Minions of Turkish Grammar
In Turkish, suffixes are either derivational (or lexical) or inflectional (or syntactical).
Derivational suffixes are used to create new words (lexicon). They can create nouns, adjectives, or adverbs (nominals) from verbs, verbs from verbs, or verb from nominals. As such, they are mostly stressed on their derivational suffixes to distinguish the derived words from the words they are derived from.
Inflectional suffixes are used to show the roles of constituent words in a sentence and the relations between them, bearing such markers as case, person, tense, number, possession, etc. Having largely a functional purpose, inflectional suffixes are mostly stressable, meaning that they are unstressed but able to receive stress to maintain the final-stress rule.
Turkish suffixation through inflectional suffixes converts words into phrases, even sentences.
In Turkish, words formed through inflectional suffixation (addition of multiple inflectional suffixes) are not just words, they are phrases (and even sentences). Therefore, stresses in words that have inflectional suffixes phrases are not word-stresses but rather phrasal stresses.
2.1. Word-Stress as Phrasal Stress
A phrasal stress combines not only the word root syllables, but also any related suffixes, particles, and clitics attached to the phrase.
The majority of inflectional Turkish suffixes are unstressed but able to be stressable, confirming to the final-stress rule. Most derivational suffixes are stressed to help distinguish between words that have the same root but different suffixes. The remaining suffixes and most clitics are pre-stressing, meaning that they are able to generate stress for the preceding syllables in phrases (or sentences).
As stated above, the general rule for stressing in Turkish is that all regular phrase-words have word-final stress, while all regular suffixes are stressable, meaning that they are able to receive word-final stress when attached to a phrase-word to maintain the word-final stress requirement.
In other words, final stress is maintained even after the addition of suffixes: As stressable suffixes are added to a word-root, the stress moves from the last stressed syllable of the word or phrase-word to the last syllable of the last added suffix:
pencereleri its/his/her/their windows
pencerelerinde in its/his/her/their windows
💥 However, irregular roots whose stress is not final retain their stressed even if they are inflected or modified through suffixation:
bankaları its/his/her/their banks
bankalarında in its/his/her/their banks
2.2. Stressable Suffixes: Most Inflectional Suffixes
▲ Most inflectional Turkish suffixes are stressable, receiving the word-final stress when attached to words:
masalar vücuttan Salıya güzeller
okuduğum okuyan okur güzelleşmek
dinlediler dinleyecek dinleyip güzelleştiler
2.3. Stressed Suffixes: Most Derivational Suffixes & Some Inflectional Suffixes
▲ Most derivational suffixes are stressed:
vücutsuz güzelleş okuma
There are also some inflectional stressed suffixes.
▲ Almost all inflectional suffixes that retain their own stress have more than one syllable, except -casına and -leyin. One stressed suffix—the conditional suffix -sa/-se—is also stressed. In additional, the two- and three-syllable suffixes have their first syllables stressed:
the conditional suffix -sa
the negative aorist form -maz
the adverbial markers -(y)arak, -(y)ınca
the converbial markers -maksız, -maksızın
the personal suffixes of optative and softened imperative forms -sana, -sanıza
the imperfective suffix -(i)yor
the polysyllable markers -(y)iver
Bunu benim için yapSAn! If you did that for me!
I was not in the habit of looking at that.
Sabah kalkINca işe gittim.
After I woke up in the morning, I went to work.
Çocuklar koşARak içeri girdiler.
The children came in running.
2.4. Irregular Suffixes: Pre-Stressing Inflectional & Derivational Suffixes
▲ A number of important inflectional and some derivational suffixes are unstressed & pre-stressing, meaning that, when attached to a word (or a phrase), they stress the preceding syllable of the word (or phrase) they are attached to:
Inflectional pre-stressing suffixes:
the copular markers -(y)di, -(y)miş, -(y)sa
the generalizing modality marker -dir
the converbial marker -(y)ken
the instrumental / commutative case marker -(y)le / ile (with, by, and)
the person markers -(y)im, -sin, -(y)iz, -siniz, -(y)in(iz)
the person marker -lar when it is attached to a subject complement
the negative marker -ma and the related adverbial suffix -madan (except the negative aorist form -maz)
Derivational pre-stressing suffixes:
the derivational suffixes -cik, -ca, -en, -(y)in, -la, -ra, -ki, -casına, -leyin
masaysa vücuttu Salıyla güzeller
okuyacaktır okuma okurum güzelken
dinlemeden dinlemişsin dinleyesiniz (diye) güzelce
2.5. Other Stressing Strategies: Pre-Stressing Clitics
The indispensable little helpers, Turkish pre-stressing clitics have the magical power to generate a stress for the neighboring syllables, without bearing any stress themselves.
Together with an army of Turkish suffixes, they hold together every Turkish sentence—by filling in any potential crack in the narration, by gluing its interior, and smoothing down any bumpy turn or twist, and, importantly, by managing to make special those standing next to them, despite their miniature few-syllable frames.
Most clitics are pre-stressing:
Bu benİM mi?
Is it mine?
Görmedim dedİM ya!
I told you I didn’t see him/her!
OnU da sonra gördüm.
Her, I saw afterwards.
O kadar güzel olUR ki!
It gets so beautiful!
I have already sent it.
Bu benIMse lütfen bana geri getir.
3. Compound Words
▶ Compounds and compound phrases, including verb compounds, use the stress of the first word only:
bugün (today) buzdolabı (refrigerator)
çay bardağı (tea glass) okul kitabı (school textbook)
anlamış ol- (have understood) bitiriyor gözük- (seem [to] be finishing)
yardım et- (help) hasta ol- (become ill)
This guideline applies only to compounds in isolation. When used in a discourse (conversation), the stressing reflects the pragmatic intonational contour.
4. Izafet Compounds
As with single-word compounds, the izafet compounds, whether they are -(s)i compounds or a bare head compounds, use the first word’s stress:
◀ In -(s)i compounds, the stress in the first word accordingly falls on the last syllable, the genitive suffix -in:
okulUN kapısı the school’s door
kapınIN kolu the door’s handle
◀ In bare compounds:
kaDIN çorabı women socks
AT arabası horse-drawn carriage
altIN yüzük golden ring
demİR kapı iron door
zenGİN kadın rich woman
yaşLI adam old man
◀ In izafet chains:
güzEL boyalı ev a beautifully painted house
uzUN boylu adam a tall man
maVİ renkli gömlek a blue-color shirt
Again, these rules, however, only apply to izafet compounds in isolation.
Phrases and sentences follow their own prominence-assigning rules, which mostly have to do with pragmatic considerations.
5. Combinations of Suffixes & Clitics
In regular words/phrases with word-final stress, the general stressing rule removes stress from all but the rightmost of a string of stressable syllables:
kitap ⇒ kitap-lar-ım-da-ki-ler
the ones in my book
👉 This immediately points to the dependency of the Turkish word-stress on the context. For this reason, Turkish stress is lexical (or semantic) as well and pragmatic.
Even exceptional irregular words with non-final stress do not retain their stress when combined with clitics:
lokanta ⇒ lokanta-lar-ım-da-ki-ler
the ones in my restaurant
lokanta ⇒ lokanta-lar-ım-da-ki-ler bile
even the ones in my restaurant
The general rule ensures that the rightmost syllable of regular words is always stressed, as well as the syllable before a pre-stressing suffix, since pre-stressed suffixes are not stressable:
güzel ⇒ güzel-ler-den-sin
you are one of the beautiful ones
🚩 Note that this rule also prevents any syllables that follow a pre-stressing suffix from receiving stress:
başla ⇒ başla-ma-dan
without having started
💥 But it does not prevent the pre-stressing clitics that follow a pre-stressing or stressed suffix from receiving stress:
yür-ü-yor ⇒ Yürü-yor bile.
He is walking. He is even walking.
yürü-ye-m-iyor ⇒ Yürü-ye-m-iyor da.
He cannot walk. But he cannot walk.
yürü-ye-m-iyor ⇒ Yürü-ye-m-iyor ki!
He cannot walk. But he cannot walk!
yürü-ye-m-iyor ⇒ Yürü-ye-m-iyor ya!
He cannot walk. Remember he cannot walk!
👉 Even though outside of phrases or sentences, Turkish words have certain syllable-stresses, once they are used in phrases or sentences, their lexical word-stresses will change depending on the context.
👉 The inflectional lexical word-stress in any content Turkish word is thus fully dependent on the word’s role and position in a sentence. When used in a sentence, Turkish words rely on related inflectional suffixes and clitics to situate them properly in relation to other words and, in most cases, to carry the associated information load of prominence or its lack within the sentence.
In regular phrases or sentences, only the most prominent words’ stressable syllables will be heard because phrasal stress overrides lexical stress, and sentential stress, in turn, overrides phrasal stress.
For the conditions determining phrase stress and sentence stress, read my other posts.