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Major Vowel Harmony

Vowel harmony is one of the most fundamental and important aspects of Turkish grammar. Turkish words generally obey two vowel harmony rules, called the major vowel harmony and the minor vowel harmony. More important than the words obeying these rules, there are ways these rules change the vowels in the suffixes added to words. A good understanding of these rules is necessary to be able to use suffixes, hence to be able to make correct and meaningful sentences.

 

1. Major Vowel Harmony

The 8 vowels in the Turkish alphabet are separated into two groups called hard vowels and soft vowels. There are 4 hard vowels and 4 soft vowels.

Hard vowels: a, ı, o, u
Soft vowels: e, i, ö, ü

 

Words of Turkish origin generally (not always) have all hard or all soft vowels. This is just a generalization that you won´t use for constructing Turkish words and sentences. Words that have hard and soft vowels together are said to violate the major vowel harmony. A word that violates the major vowel harmony probably has been adopted from another language or has been changed in the lifetime of the Turkish language.

 

Each of the hard vowels are the hard counterparts of one soft vowel (and vice versa). Following this rule, vowels can be paired with their counterparts as follows:

Hard Soft
a e
ı i
o ö
u ü

 

 

A Turkish word is either a hard word or a soft word depending on its last vowel.

 

ev[home] is a soft word since its last and only vowel, e, is a soft vowel.

okul[school] is a hard word since its last vowel, u, is a hard vowel.

kahve[coffee] is a soft word since its last vowel, e, is a soft vowel.

 

 

Now, try to guess if the following words are hard or soft. The correct answers are below the table.

Word Hard or Soft
meslek[job] ?
araba[car]          ?         
güzel[beautiful]          ?         
yemek[food]          ?         
gülümse[smile]          ?         
çabuk[quick]          ?         
gül[rose]          ?         
göl[lake]          ?         
gidelim[let´s go]          ?         
telefon[telephone]          ?         

 

(Correct answers: soft, hard, soft, soft, soft, hard, soft, soft, soft, hard)

 

 

Major vowel harmony states that:

  • Any suffix appended to a hard word must have hard vowels
  • Any suffix appended to a soft word must have soft vowels

 

As an example to this rule let´s consider the suffix -de. When added to a noun, this suffix gives the meaning of "at/in the location expressed by that noun". When added to a soft word like ev[home], this suffix is -de. However, when added to a hard word like okul[school], the soft vowels in this suffix are replaced by their hard counterparts and the suffix becomes -da. Hence:

 

at home --> evde

at school --> okulda

in the car --> arabada

at the lake --> gölde


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