Turkish copula

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This article supplements the general articles on the copula and Turkish grammar.

In linguistics, a copula (plural: copulas or copulae) is a word used to link the subject of a sentence with a predicate (a subject complement), such as the word is in the sentence "The sky is blue." The word copula derives from the Latin noun for a "link" or "tie" that connects two different things.

The English infinitive "to be" is rendered in Turkish as olmak, while "existence" is varlık. The latter word is the abstract noun derived from var, which is an adjective meaning "existing" or "present". Both olmak and varlık are used to render Aristotle's τὸ ὂν ᾗ ὄν (tò òn hễi̯ ón) (in the Metaphysics, line 1003a21, beginning of Book IV): Aristotle's Greek is "being as such" or "being qua being" in English; in Turkish, it is varlık olmak bakımından varlık "existence from the point of view of being existence".

The infinitive olmak has the stem ol-, whose root meaning is "become". This verb is regular in its conjugation, as are all Turkish verbs, with the exception of one defective verb, whose stem is i- and which means "be". The missing forms of i- are supplied by ol-: the infinitive olmak is an example, since there is no infinitive *imek. (An infinitive ermek appeared in ancient texts; its stem er- became the current i- [Lewis, VIII,2 in both editions].)

The various functions of the English "am-was-be" are accomplished in Turkish in (at least) six different ways:

  1. From a noun or adjective, a complete sentence is formed by addition of one of the enclitic personal suffixes: -im "I am", -sin "thou art", -iz "we are", -siniz "you are". (These are enclitic and exhibit vowel harmony.) For example, from ada "island" comes Adayım "I am an island"; from mutlu "happy", Mutlusunuz "You are happy." These can be considered as instances of nonverbal person agreement, owing to the different negation compared to verbs. The personal suffixes are, in origin, personal pronouns [Lewis, VIII,3 in both editions].
  2. Two nouns, or a noun and an adjective, can be juxtaposed to make a sentence with a zero copula: Abbas yolcu "Abbas is a traveller." However:
  3. The enclitic suffix -dir can be used for emphasis, or to prevent ambiguity: yolcu Abbas "traveller Abbas" (a person); Yolcudur Abbas "Abbas is a traveller (is characterized by travelling)."
  4. From the stem i-, the past, inferential, and conditional (hypothetical) bases idi, imiş, and ise are formed; hence Mutlu imişiz or Mutluymuşuz "Apparently, we were happy."
  5. Other tenses and moods are supplied by ol-: Mutlu ol "Be happy"; Mutlu olacaksın "Thou wilt be happy."
  6. Where English says "there is", Turkish says var: Gölde bir ada var "Lake-in an island present", that is, "There's an island in the lake."

Thus, the role of a copula can be played by two different verbs, an adjective, a suffix, juxtaposition, and affixation. The six constructions collectively show three ways of negation:

  1. Negation of constructions without a full verb is by the negative copula değil: Gökay yolcu değildir "Gökay is not a traveller"; Mutlu değilmişiz "Apparently, we were not happy."
  2. Regular verbs are negated with the suffix -m/ma/me after the verb stem: Mutlu olmayacaksın "Thou wilt not be happy."
  3. The negation of var is yok: Gölde hiçbir ada yok "There's no island in the lake."

Because Turkish has no verb for "have", var or olmak is used in expressions of possession: çekiç "hammer", çekicim "my hammer"; Çekicim var "I have a hammer"; Çekicim olsaydı "If I had a hammer".


  • Aristoteles, Metafizik, translated by Ahmet Arslan, Sosyal Yayınlar, İstanbul, 1996.
  • G. L. Lewis, Turkish Grammar, Oxford University Press, 1967; second edition, 2000.