Turkish Consonant Harmony Explained Simply

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As I explained in my article on Turkish vowel harmony, I don’t like diving into complicated grammar concepts early in language learning.

But Turkish consonant harmony is an exception. If you look through example sentences trying to piece together how Turkish works, knowing how Turkish consonant harmony is much more of an aid than a hindrance. And it’s fairly simple, to boot.

Turkish consonant harmony cover art

What Turkish Consonant Harmony Looks Like

If you first start to look at simple Turkish sentences, you might notice some patterns that make you think “What’s going on here?”

For example, I quickly learned the expression “My name is…” is Benim adım…. In this sentence, name is ad, and the possessive suffix ım (which follows vowel harmony — it can be im, ım, um, or üm) is stuck onto it. This seems clear, at first blush.

Then I learned that “drink” is içecek. But together with “my” possessive suffix, im, “my drink” becomes içeceğim. The “k” became a “ğ”. This is different, and I didn’t know why.

Similarly, the Turkish suffix for an “expert” or “maker” of something is , ci, cu, . So for example:

  • Coffee maker / Barista: Kahve + ci = kahveci
  • Ice cream maker: Dondurma + = dondurmacı

But at the end of some other words, it transmutes.

  • Florist: Çiçek + = çiçekçi
  • Peanut person/vendor: fıstık + cı = fıstıkçı

What’s going on here? Consonant harmony.

The general principle of consonant harmony is, like with vowel harmony, an intention to make things easier to pronounce.

And speaking of a peanut vendor, that word happens to contain a handy mnemonic.

When Does Consonant Harmony Apply?

Consonant harmony is all about softening consonants.

It applies to hard consonants: f, s, t, k, ç, ş, h, or p, when they’re at the end of words and when suffixes get added. These words can be nouns, adjectives, or verbs.

Turkish is an “agglutinative” language. This means that nouns, verbs, and adjectives get suffixes added to them that extend their meaning. It’s different to languages where words change (e.g. through conjugation of a verb or different plural forms).

Say these words out loud and notice how the last consonant is hard. These are consonants that Turkish “softens” through consonant harmony.

Words affected by Turkish consonant harmony

Now you might think “That’s a lot of endings”. But I have good news for you: There are far more words ending in “k” than any other of the hard consonants.

In fact, doing a bit of research on a Turkish vocabulary website (kelimeler.net), it seems that nearly 3/4 of Turkish words ending in a hard consonant end in “k”!

Words ending in “t” or “ş” are not uncommon (around 11 and 7% respectively), but it really trails off after that. Many of the words ending in h are of Arabic literary origin (including the example above, ruh, “soul”).

How to Apply Consonant Harmony

There are two situations in which consonant harmony in Turkish arises.

The last letter of the word isThe suffix starts withThen:
Any hard consonant: f, s, t, k, ç, ş, h, or p“c” or “d”Change the suffix’s starting letter to “t” or “ç”
One of these four hard consonants: p, ç, t, kAny vowelChange the noun‘s last letter to a softer form (e.g. k to ğ)
– p becomes b
– ç → c
– t → d
– k → ğ
Core rules of Turkish consonant harmony

Again, there is a disproportionate number of Turkish words that end in “k”. But there’s more good news, too.

For the first rule, there are relatively few suffixes to deal with in beginner / intermediate Turkish.

Ending descriptionSuffix
Verbs: Simple past tense-di, -dı, -dü, -du → -ti, -tı, -tü, -tu
Location (“at”, “on”)-de, -da → -te, -ta
Adverb / Language-ce, -ca → -çe, -ça
Profession (person who does things)-ci, -cı, -cü, -cu → -çi, -çı, -çü, -çu
Common uses of suffixes in Turkish consonant harmony.

There are some more complex ones as you progress through intermediate level Turkish, like the “predicative”. It’s not that it’s uncommon; it’s just that it’s more complex than simple present and past tenses. But by the time you come to study the predicative, you’ll have the hang of consonant harmony.

Examples of applying consonant harmony are below.

EnglishNounLast consonantSuffixTurkish
Florist (Flower seller)Çiçek (“flower”)kciÇiçekçi
At the parkPark
My drinkİçecek
Your footAyak (“foot”)kınAyağın
In the bookKitap (“book”)pdaKitapta
Next to the treeAğaç (“Tree”)çın yanındaAğacın yanında
SlowlyYavaş (“Slow”)şcaYavaşça
TurkishTürk (“Turk”)kceTürkçe
Examples of consonant harmony

The Nut Vendor: FıSTıKÇı ŞaHaP

As mentioned above, by far the most common example of Turkish consonant harmony is the transmutation of “k” to “ğ”.

But the full list of consonants that get softened through consonant harmony are contained in one phrase: FıSTıKÇı ŞaHaP, which is literally “Şahap the nut seller”. (Şahap is a name.)

Turkish nut seller for Turkish Consonant Harmony article
Turkish nut seller

You can use this if you wish, of course, particularly if you’re taking a test.

But in reality, I find that it makes more sense to develop a natural intuition for words that get modified with consonant harmony.

Consonant Harmony in Day to Day Life

Now you know the rules, so it’s easy to spot Turkish consonant harmony in day to day life and know what’s going on.

The advantage of knowing Turkish consonant harmony is that when you see it, you’ll understand it.

In reality, you can “fudge” your way through Turkish without knowing it. If you say “çi” instead of “ci” or vice versa, people will only notice if they’re really paying attention, or if they’re expecting more of you as an intermediate speaker.

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