Saying “Should”, “Must”, or “Have to” in Turkish: Meli / Mali, Gerek / Lazım, and Zorunda

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One of the things I found confusing in Turkish was how to say “should” or “must”.

In English, as in many languages, these are separate words.

But in Turkish (and some other distantly related languages, including Korean), saying “should” or “must” is a grammatical construction.

There are actually three ways of saying should, must, or need to in Turkish, all depending on the intensity of what you’re trying to express, everything from “I should” to “I really have to”. Let’s dive in below.

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“Should”, “Must”, “Need To” or “Have To” in Turkish: Overview

In summary, there are three main ways of expressing necessity in Turkish.

The first way is to you use a particle: meli” or “mali“. It follows 2-way vowel harmony (see the guide to Turkish vowel harmony here). These express “should” in a general sense.

A second, stronger way of saying you need to do something, is to use “gerek” or “lazım“. This is stronger, and like you “need” to do something.

The final, strongest way to say you “must” or “have to” do something in Turkish is to use an infinitive with “zorunda“. This is more “I have to”.

There’s subtlety of course in the strength of each one. In other languages too, the strength of saying the equivalents of “need to” or “have to” varies. Context will usually be the best guide! But it’s important to be able to understand all the forms, at least.

Meli / Mali: “Should” in Turkish

The first way is the particle, “meli or mali“.

This really conveys “should” in a casual, conversational way. To negate it, put “me” or “ma” in front, following vowel harmony.

To express the necessity or obligation using “mali” or “meli”, you attach these suffixes to the verb stem, followed by the appropriate personal suffix. The choice between “mali” and “meli” depends on the vowel harmony rules of Turkish language.

Below are some examples of “mali / meli“, along with some examples of the negative form.

I should sleep more.Ben daha fazla uyumamaliyım.
You should drink water.Sen su içmelisin.
We should go soon.Biz yakında gitmeliyiz.
We should eat first.Biz önce yemek yemeliyiz.
You shouldn’t spend too much money.Sen çok fazla para harcamamalısın.
I shouldn’t say anything.Ben bir şey dememeliyim.
You shouldn’t work too hard.Sen çok fazla çalışmamalısın.
I shouldn’t have eaten so much.Ben bu kadar çok yememeliydim.
Examples of meli / mali in Turkish.

Gerek / Lazım: “Need to” / “Must” in Turkish

You can say “gerek” or “lazım” to express a need in Turkish. This is a stronger form than “mali / meli”.

When using “gerek” or “lazım” to express necessity, the verb that follows these words needs to be in the infinitive form, which is created by adding the suffix “-mek/-mak” to the verb root, depending on the vowel harmony rules.

The verb is then followed by a personal possessive suffix that agrees with the subject of the sentence.

For instance, “I need to read” would be translated as “Okumam lazım” or “Okumam gerek“, where “okuma” is the infinitive form of the verb “to read” and “m” is the personal possessive suffix for “I”.

Similarly, “You need to go” would be “Gitmen lazım” or “Gitmen gerek“, where “n” is the personal possessive suffix for “you”. It’s important to note that “gerek” is often used with the dative case “e”, as in “gereke“, to mean “it is necessary to”.

This structure allows for a clear and grammatically correct way to express necessity or obligation in Turkish.

I really need to work harder.Gerçekten daha sıkı çalışmam gerek.
I need to save money.Para biriktirmem lazım.
I need to rest for a few minutes.Birkaç dakika dinlenmem gerek.
We need to clean the house.Evi temizlememiz gerek.
They need to arrive early.Onların erken gelmeleri lazım.
She needs to study for the exam.Sınav için çalışması lazım.
You need to apologize.Özür dilemen lazım.
I need to buy some groceries.Biraz bakkal alışverişi yapmam gerek.
Examples of gerek and lazım in Turkish

You can also express that there is no need, negating “gerek”, with “gerek yok”. You can do the same with “lazım”.

There’s no need to worry.Endişelenmeye gerek yok.
There’s no need to rush.Acele etmeye gerek yok.
There’s no need to clean.Temizlemeye gerek yok.
There’s no need to cook.Yemek yapmaya gerek yok.
There’s no need to apologize.Özür dilemeye gerek yok.
There’s no need to wake up early.Erken kalkmaya gerek yok.
Examples of “gerek yok”

Zorunda: “Must” / “Have to” in Turkish

Finally, “zorunda” is a simple way of saying “I have to” in Turkish. It’s a little stronger than “gerek” again; it almost implies consequences of not doing something.

To construct a sentence with “zorunda”, you use the infinitive. You start with the subject followed by the verb stem, and then add the necessity suffix “-mek/-mak” (depending on vowel harmony) to the verb. This is followed by “zorunda” and then the appropriate personal suffix that corresponds to the subject.

For instance, “I have to go” would be translated as “Gitmek zorundayım”, where “gitmek” is the infinitive form of the verb “to go”, “zorunda” indicates a strong necessity, and “yım” is the personal suffix for “I”.

I have to finish this task today.Bu görevi bugün bitirmekte zorundayım.
You have to respect the rules.Kurallara saygı göstermekte zorundasın.
He has to submit the report.Raporu sunmak zorunda.
We have to help each other.Birbirimize yardımcı olmak zorundayız.
They have to arrive on time.Zamanında varmak zorundalar.
She has to study hard for the exam.Sınav için sıkı çalışmak zorunda.
You (plural/formal) have to be patient.Sabırlı olmak zorundasınız.
Zorunda examples in Turkish

To create a negative sentence, you add the negative suffix “değil” after “zorunda”, followed by the personal suffix, such as in “Gitmek zorunda değilim” which means “I don’t have to go”.

Below are some examples of using “zorunda” in the negative.

I don’t have to go to the office today.Bugün ofise gitmekte zorunda değilim.
You don’t have to clean the room.Odayı temizlemekte zorunda değilsin.
He doesn’t have to apologize.Özür dilemekte zorunda değil.
We don’t have to attend the meeting.Toplantıya katılmakte zorunda değiliz.
They don’t have to finish the project today.Projeyi bugün bitirmekte zorunda değiller.
She doesn’t have to cook dinner.Akşam yemeği yapmakta zorunda değil.
You (plural/formal) don’t have to wait.Beklemekte zorunda değilsiniz.
Examples of using “zorunda” in Turkish in the negative

Wrap up

I hope the above was useful. If you want more examples, let me know.

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