There’s Another Present Tense?

This is the last week of my second Turkish class. After the exam on Friday morning, I will have spent eight weeks studying Turkish. As much as I’ve learned, I still feel stupid in Turkish.

Us newbies all have a common problem. We are able to ask a question that a Turk can understand. Too often we can’t understand the answer.

Signs I see for advertising or short capsule-length stories on the TV screens in the metro stations often contain words I don’t know. I look at the sentences and think “Okay, that is doing something to that, and that belongs to that, and that guy said something…” And that’s about it.

Just when you think you’re getting a handle on things, you get something like this.


There’s the Present Tense and then there’s this other “Simple” Present Tense. Except it’s used when things aren’t so simple; when it’s something you do habitually or something you might do or something you think you might do or hope might happen. Yes, hedging is built right into the structure of the Turkish language.


Instead of putting a word like “might” or “possibly” or “often” somewhere in a sentence with the regular present tense, you use a word like that and then use this simple tense where you use the root of the verb, add an “ir” or “ar” or whatever follows the rules of vowel harmony, and then add an ending that indicates first person, second person, etc.

There are many times when I believe that my brain will never be able to properly organize and comprehend all these various verb endings, let alone all the suffixes added to indicate possession, being, before and after something, in something, going to something, going away from something, going via something, possibly, maybe, did, was doing, should do…

And then yesterday the “can” tense was added to our pile “Yeterlik Eylemi.” There’s no word in Turkish for “can” as in “Can you help me?” or “Can I look at this?” It requires adding a “bilir” to the verb stem and then adding another ending to indicate first person, second person, etc., and, of course, some vowel harmony.

It’s a very useful tense, one I realize I’ve often heard spoken on the street or in stores. In fact, last night, at my daughter’s guitar lesson, I heard it used when a young woman came into the store and pointed at a row of instruments and asked “bir alabilir miyim?” and I understood it immediately as “Can I play one?” She proceeded to take down the bağlama and play expertly. Even playing a bit of “Misirlou” from Pulp Fiction.

I spent last night dreaming of conjugating numerous verbs using the “can” tense doing both “can” and “cannot” forms…Just a few more days…


8 thoughts on “There’s Another Present Tense?

  1. Do Turks have more nuanced brains? I wonder how they think of English

    • I don’t know. Maybe. But their current politics aren’t very nuanced. Erdogan is more authoritarian with each passing day. Firing/reassigning police officers for the crime of investigating corruption and attempting to gain complete control over the judiciary isn’t the most nuanced approach to governing.

  2. I knew French perfectly … I mean straight A’s, Placement Test of 5 … and then I went to live in France, and I knew next to nothing. Most of what I know, and I’m considered fluent, I learned from living in France, only watching French television and only speaking French with friends. Soap operas were particularly helpful.

    I’m not sure I could tackle Turkish … though I rather wish one of those hunky Turks would tackle me !

    • There is always a difference between the “taught” language and the language as it is spoken by people. And I do need to watch more Turkish television.

      • You know, sometimes I still surprise my friends with my slangy, ordinary Parisian French … my secret? Morning television and HOURS of soap operas. Literally. Someone complimented my accent once and said, yes, I speak like William Leymergie (the Matt Lauer of French TV) … which I do !

  3. You are making progress! These are the times when it would be advantageous to be a child. They are masters at language acquisitions.

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