Saying Can or Cannot in Turkish: A Simple Guide

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Welcome to this simple guide on expressing ability or the lack of it in Turkish. If you’ve ever wondered how to say “can” or “cannot” in Turkish, you’re in the right place.

Saying “can” or “cannot” in Turkish is a little complicated as it relies on particles, not separate words. If you’re familiar another Turkic language, or Korean or Turkish, you might have seen this kind of structure. But for most language learners, it’s a little hard to get used to.

Plus, the negative form (“cannot” or “may not”) is a little different again.

So, let’s go over a quick explanation plus some examples.

blog post cover for can or cannot in turkish bazaar with many people talking
Turkish bazaar with many people talking

Can or Cannot in Turkish: An Overview

In Turkish, expressing the ability or inability to perform an action is achieved through verb suffixes. These suffixes are attached to the verb stem to convey the idea of “can” or “cannot”.

The primary suffixes for “can” are “-abil” and “-ebil”. The choice between these two forms depends on the rules of vowel harmony in Turkish, a fundamental aspect of the language.

  • If the last vowel of the verb stem is one of the following: a, ı, o, or u, then “-abil” is used.
  • If the last vowel of the verb stem is one of the following: e, i, ö, or ü, then “-ebil” is used.

See here for a more comprehensive guide to Turkish vowel harmony.

For instance, the verb “yap” (to do) ends in “a”, so it takes the “-abil” form, becoming “yapabilirim” (I can do). On the other hand, the verb “gör” (to see) ends in “ö”, so it takes the “-ebil” form, becoming “görebilirim” (I can see).

The inability to do something, or “cannot”, is expressed by adding “-ama” or “-eme” to the verb stem, again following the rules of vowel harmony. E.g. “I cannot see” becomes “Göremem”.

Here’s a summary table of the rules:

Last Vowel of Verb StemSuffix for “Can”Suffix for “Cannot”
a, ı, o, u-abil-ama
e, i, ö, ü-ebil-eme
“Can” or “Cannot” in Turkish rules overview

In addition, bear in mind the following two things:

  1. The “can” or “cannot” stems are often expressed in the present tense. For example, to say “I can’t eat”, you might be talking about not being able to eat right now, “yiyemiyorum”, or not being able to eat an item at all, generally (e.g. due to an allergy), “yiyemem”.
  2. When speaking in the negative, remember that a “z” sneaks in to the general aorist tense.

With this foundation, you’ll find it easier to understand and use these forms in various contexts. Let’s delve deeper into examples and applications in the sections below.

Can in Turkish

To say “can” in Turkish in the simple present tense, you use “-abil” or “-ebil”, along with the person first endings.

Here’s a table showcasing how to use “can” with some common verbs:

I can do it.
I can eat.
You can see it over there.
Orada görebilirsin.
We can go now.
Artık gidebiliriz.
I can wait a few minutes.
Birkaç dakika bekleyebilirim.!
Saying “Can” in Turkish — Examples

Cannot in Turkish

Now, let’s look at how to express “cannot” with the same verbs.

To say “I cannot”, you use “-ama” or “-eme”.

I cannot do it.
I can’t eat.

(More commonly expressed in present continuous)
I can’t see it!
I can’t go right now.
Şu anda gidemem.
I can’t wait any more!
Daha fazla bekleyemem!
Saying “I cannot” in Turkish”

Question Form in Turkish with “Can”

When asking questions like “May I?” or “Could you?”, Turkish uses the same “-abil” suffix but with a different verb conjugation, for the Turkish question form.

Here’s a table of examples to help you out:

May I do it again?
Tekrar yapabilir miyim?
Could I try one please?
Bir tane deneyebilir miyim lütfen?
May I eat this?
Bunu yiyebilir miyim?
Could you see it?
Bunu görebiliyor musun?
Could you go tomorrow?
Yarın gidebilir misin?
Could you check?
Kontrol edebilir misin?
Saying “Could you?” or “May I?” in Turkish

Negative Question Form

For questions like “you can’t?”, the structure is slightly different.

Here’s how you can form these questions:

You can’t do this??
Bunu yapamaz mısın?
Can’t you eat bread?
Ekmek yiyemez misin?
You can’t see?
Göremez misin?
You can’t go? Why not?
Gidemez misin? Neden?
Can’t you try it?
Deneyemez misin?
Expressing the “Negative question can / cannot” in Turkish

Wrap Up / Conclusion

And there you have it! A straightforward guide to expressing “can” and “cannot” in Turkish.

I wish it were a little simpler, but hopefully the above should get you started.

The next step would be to add some past tense or future tense conjugations to the verbs, but that’ll be for another day.

With these tables and explanations, you’re well on your way to figuring out this aspect of the Turkish language.

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