Vowel Harmony in Turkish Language

For those who want to learn vowel harmony by listening, you can listen to this podcast:

On this page, we are going to investigate vowel harmony and vowel harmony phonology in Turkish. First, let’s explain what is vowel harmony?

It is the syntonization of vowels in the morphemic construction.

Turkish language follows vowel harmony. Vowel harmony is a common feature of agglutinative languages with some exceptions like the Guarani Language. This phenomenon occurs mainly because of the natural tendency towards a muscular economy and creating harmonious sounds while speaking.

The Turkish language’s system of vowel harmony consists of two different types: major vowel harmony and minor vowel harmony.

Before continuing, we recommend that you review your knowledge about vowels and vowel types in the‘vowels in turkish language’ page.

Vowel harmony phonological rules:

vowel harmony chart

vowel types: back, front, unrounded, rounded

Rule 1 – A-type Vowel Harmony

The vowel in the stem and the subsequent vowels must agree with each other.

Rule 1 applies to all back and front

This means that if the final vowel in a word is a back vowel, then the subsequent vowel is also a back vowel. In other words, if one of the syllable has one of a,ı,o,u, the preceding vowel has to be ‘a’, if the last syllable has one of front vowels ö,i,ü,e, the suffix has to have e.

Ev
House, home

Evler
Houses

Şişe
bottle

Since it ends with –e, it must have the suffix –ler.

Şişeler
bottles

Kapı
Door

Kapılar
Doors

Evde
At house

Kapıda
(waiting) at the door

I don’t know if you already know what I am going to say now, but I have to explain assuming that you don’t have any pre-knowledge. Please make the pronunciations of the Turkish vowels and realize which shape your mouth taking. Back vowels (a,ı,o,u) indeed are pronounced in the back of your mouth and the front vowels, front. As we said earlier, languages tend to make muscular economy; moving the back and front of your mouth to say one word is harder! If you say a back vowel, go on with a back vowel. This is that simple!

Please DO NOT memorize this first harmony rules. Instead, you can make out by your own from the shape of your mouth! So, if you have time, please take a pen and pencil and try to write down the vowel chart by the shape of your mouth without peeking. (Try not to do it in public, hehe.)

Rule 2 – i-type Vowel Harmony

This second rule may need some memorizing.

If the last syllable has e or i, the subsequent vowel has to be i

Sevgi
Love, liking

Sevgisiz
lit. Without love, loveless, stony-hearted

Güzel mi?
Is beautiful?

Kalem
pencil

Kalemsiz
without pencil

Kalemsiz sınava gelmiş
S/he came to exam without pencil

If the last syllable has ö or ü, the subsequent vowel has to be ü

Göl
Lake

Gölsüz
Without a lake

Gölsüz şehir
City without a lake

Görgü
Good manner

Görgüsüz
Uncouth, impolite

If the last syllable has a or ı, the subsequent vowel has to be ı

Kapı
Door

Kapısız
Without a door

Saygı
Esteem, respect

Saygısız
Disrespectful

If the last syllable has o or u, the subsequent vowel has to be u

Yorum
Comment

Yorumsuz
No comment

Zor
Hard

Zor mu?
Is hard?

Shortly,

If final vowel is –e or –i  => i / siz

If final vowel is –ö or –ü  => ü / süz

If final vowel is –a or –ı  => ı / sız

If final vowel is –o or –u  => u / suz

When a suffix is added to any word, you need to remember these rules to decide which form to use.

The rules above might not apply for some specific situations (but for the vast majority, yes they apply). Let’s take a more in-depth look for some cases.

Vowel harmony – examples:

İş
work

İş + siz . Since the last and the only vowel of the word (iş) is “i”, the following vowel would be “i”.

Binada
In the building

Binadan
From the building

Apartmanda
In the apartment

Uçakla
By plane

Terbiyesiz
Impudent

Hayvanlar
Animals

Sebzeler
Vegatables

As you continue to improve your Turkish, you will encounter more suffixes following the same rules and, of course, some exceptions. Do NOT get discouraged if you can’t form a word correctly at the beginning. But as you hear more word, you’ll get used to the phonology and form the words without even thinking.