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[Grammar] One size doesn't fit all: Use of plurals and singulars in Turkish and English

In Turkish, if you have a general direct object, there is no need to put any case or suffix on the object itself. A general direct object is one that uses “a/an” or the plural without “the.” If you want to be extra specific, you can add the numeral bir to makes sure that the meaning “a/an” is given.

In general, we love using singular objects :D And just to add, everything is countable in Turkish, water, oil, sugar, bread, air, anything you can imagine have a plural form too.

For example:

  • The men eat an apple: Adamlar (bir) elma yer.
  • The men eat the apples: Adamlar elmaları yer.
  • The men eat the apple: Adamlar elmayı yer.
  • The men eat apples: Adamlar elma yer. Adamlar elmalar yer is simply wrong in Turkish.
  • The men eat apple: This sentence is wrong in English, you cannot use a singular countable object without an article (or other determiners)
  • The men eat five apples: Adamlar beş elma yer. Adamlar beş elmalar yer is simply wrong in Turkish.
  • The men eat a lot of apples: Adamlar çok elma yer. Adamlar çok elmalar yer is simply wrong in Turkish.
March 25, 2015



I think this needs to be stickied. This seems to address like 20% of the questions on sentences right now.


What does it mean when you sticky something?


when a discussion is "sticky" it is always shown on top


done! :) I hope people will read it


You hope? Of course they will!


the same post is sticky in the Eng for Turkish for months, and this is still what is asked most of the time or what we get as reports most of the time

  • 1622

I've read it and it explains a lot thanks :)


5 years later, your explanation saved me from not understanding why "Erkekler elmalari yer" not accepted by Dou for "The men eat apples". Now I understand. Tesekkürler Canim! (I'm sorry I don't have Turkish letters)


How do you explicitly distinguish the case where the object is indefinite plural?

The men eat apples. I don't know how many or which ones, but definitely more than one (and it is critical to get it across).


In practice we dont usually care about expressing the number or the count of the object. In this case most probable sentence that a native would use can be "Elma yer" or "Elma yerler" or "Elma yiyorlar". In each of the 3 "elma" is in singular form but the apples in the action can be only one or a number of apples it is like saying "I eat apple or apples". Second sentence means "They eat apple(s)" 1 or many. And in the last sentence which can be translated as "They are eating apple(s)" may be they shared just one apple or there are many apples only thing we are sure of there are a group of people eating (one or many) apple(s)


Birçok elma yerler. Bir kaç tane elma yerler. Birden fazla elma yerler. Bir elmadan fazla yerler. (It's a weird sentence. Natives should correct me on this because I'm pulling them out of my left ear.)


All of them are right, the last one is not weird, it implies a difficult situation such as you have 3 guests and only 3 apples and you think that they will ask for more apples. Give them oranges instead.


The first two have a stronger implication as to the number of apples, don't they? The last two sound like they could do the trick (if confirmed).

Or maybe it's just a silly thought to express in the first place.


[Native commentary welcome on this.]

Not silly. I get that you're trying to see if sometimes you can use unmarked accusative with a plural as a direct object, and I actually am a little reluctant to insist you can't because, yes, you can sometimes but NOT in ALL CONTEXTS. It's one that you'll have to feel out because it's hard to give fast rules. I even still get moments of insecurity about this topic after ten years.

Here "onlar elmalar yerler" doesn't really work for me, in fact it just LOOKS bad, but I'm not actually sure it's straight up "unsayable." It could be mainly because there's already "onlar" in the sentence. Maybe you could squeak by with "ben elmalar yerim" and have it be meaningful but a little weird.

There are other examples on Duo, one I think was "Yazları elbiseler giyerim" (I wear dresses in the summer). Now part of the reason for that is if you said "Yazları elbise giyerim" it could be interpreted as clothing instead of dresses, and you're wanting to put emphasis on it being more than one dress, and it sort of makes more semantic sense to focus on wearing a variety of dresses as opposed to insisting on a plurality of apples in your regular diet.

So I mean, this is probably the most unsatisfying answer of all time, and I'm sorry. The truth is by and large the plural is not used unless it really NEEDS to be used to disambiguate and makes some kind of solid semantic sense, and it dislikes seeing itself in a sentence repeatedly. Otherwise it's hard to say there are any hard and fast rules that can never be broken.


As a native, I can say "onlar elmalar yerler" sounds weird. It's usable, but no native would use it like that. Instead, we usually use it with.. what is it called? It would sound more natural like "onlar bir kaç/birçok elma yer". I don't think "-lar" is necessary either. Everyone would understand what you mean though. But again, it doesn't have to have anything, "onlar elma yer" can mean both "they eat apple" and "they eat apples". Everyone would understand the second, because first doesn't make much sense. I screwed up the explaination once again :T. But you should ask someone else, I'm no expert in Turkish unfortunately :c


It's actually a semantic difference rather than a syntax difference. When we construct such a sentence we don't focus on the fact that we are eating more than one apple because no matter how many apples we are eating in one sitting we are eating only one apple 'at a time' and it's any apple. So we express ourselves like 'I am eating any apple'. It could be only one, or more than one. We simply don't mention it and we ignore it.

Another possible sentence would be Elmalardan yiyorum. it's a common usage indeed but it is used when there is a specific set of apples and you eat some of them. So it would usually translate to 'I am eating apples' as well. It also resembles to the French sentences 'Je mange des pommes.'

So what is wrong with elmalar yiyorum'? You can actually say that but it would be the opposite of elmalardan yiyorum, so it means that you don't have a specific set of apples that you can show. It is either hypothetical or you emphasize the multiplicity or the excess.

So let's pick the example of book to make it easier to understand

Kitapları okuyorum. -> I am reading the books.
Kitaplardan okuyorum. -> I am reading (some of the) books [from the set of books that I can show you]
Kitaplar okuyorum. -> I am reading (a/any number of) books. [there is not a specific set of books, and my point is not what the books are anyway. I am just emphasizing the fact that I am reading something and they are more than one]
Kitap okuyorum. -> I am reading a book or I am reading (some) books. [This is the most inclusive sentence. It would include the second and the third sentences' meanings as well]

So as you see what you mean by I eat apples cannot always be translated as elmalar yiyorum. Sometimes it can but it's much safer to go with the common mindset that I explained above which is also the most inclusive one. On the other hand I feel like they all should still be accepted as correct translations.


Is it wrong to use "yerler" instead of "yer" in these sentences?

[deactivated user]

    I wonder why its wrong to use the plural when you're talking about men eating more than one apple?


    springboarding off of what yalcintarkan said, while I don't know exact distribution in languages, I know that it's not terribly uncommon for plurals to be marked this way. That is, it's not so much number agreement like English (where it has to be "5 apples" as opposed to "5 apple"), so much as if plurality is marked anywhere, then it doesn't need to be marked anywhere else. Using a number like "5" inherently implies plurality so, it seems for Turkish, that is why you specifically wouldn't make "elma" plural, the plurality is already being shown in the number.


    if you are talking about specific apples, then you say "elmaları" (the men are eating the apples) - there is nothing wrong with that.


    In Turkish we never say "5 elmalar" (5 apples) correct form is "5 elma" and this is general for everything with a specific count : 6 men = 6 adam (not adamlar), 3 birds = 3 kuş (not kuşlar) etc.


    Wow, you guys even count differently! 6 men become 5 adam.


    Mine was typo but this photo of a price chart (by İstanbul municipality !!!) is real : For the source image : Click here

    PS. "SİVİL" -- civilian "İNDİRİMLİ" -- discounted


    Is that because a Turk is worth 1.2 Englishmen?


    Thanks arnoldus, my "5 adam" does not make 1.2 each anymore :)


    you should add an explanation as to why and when we use singular nouns with plural-meaning adjectives. people can generalize the idea and think that they can't use plural nouns with any adjective. (for example: iyi insanlar)

    everything is not countable in turkish. sometimes we simplify the names of compound nouns. for example instead of 'a bottle of water' we only say 'a water'. while nouns can't be even plural with plural-meaning adjectives the fact that 'everything is countable' really doesn't make sense.


    you're not counting something like "the man eats 5 apples" as 'apples' having a plural-meaning adjective, are you?

    Also, from a theoretical standpoint, even when you simplify a partitive construction like "5 bottles of water" to simply "5 waters", you are still essentially making water into a count noun, by shoving water through whatever the opposite of the universal grinder is. Now, that's English. If I understand correctly, you could do the same thing in Turkish, it would just be the literal equivalent of "5 water", which still denotes a plural count noun, even though plurality is not shown on the noun itself.


    wait, what do you mean by "exactly"? you said that not all nouns are countable in Turkish, and I was basically telling you that I think you're not entirely correct.


    You are right! :)


    I tought they were trying to express that every noun (even the uncountable ones) can be used in plural form for example "Sular hala soğuk" (water {in general water everywhere sea usually or water in the pipe} is still cold) or "havalar da hala ısınmadı" (weather is still not warm too) "Hava" means "air" literally but it is also used for "weather" in singular or plural form.


    yes but i think this should be explained as you did otherwise it tells us nothing for proper using.


    So how can I translate (the man eats apples) without adding any suffix for plural


    thank you so much for these explanation. I am French and sometimes, I don't understand everything in english ! Your examples are very helpfull !! Thank's a lot !!


    The difficulties come from the fact we always refer to our native language (mine is french) to learn türkish language. It's why we can be affected, destabilised. We should put ourself in the shoes of a türkisk child, loosing our one language markers. I feel since the begining that türkish is an intuitive language. I should, i would liketo go in Turkey to verify. Stay strong! In french there is no place for intuition.....all is very well defined.


    This is the nitpickiest of nitpicks, perhaps, but 'The men eat apple' isn't necessarily wrong. English is pretty tolerant of treating nouns, particularly foods, as uncountable. 'The mean eat apple' would mean that the men are eating something composed at least partially out of apple(s). Just like you might say that a cake has apple in it, rather than specifying that it incorporates (say) 1.5 apples.


    I agree with cunningjames to some extent, but I find that such an example is used in a more encompassing way to refer to something in general. I'll give you an example.

    "Do the men eat melon?"

    "Yes, the men eat melon."

    You could add an "s" to melon, but it adds a bit of specificity to it that isn't really necessary.

    Or, more similar to the example cunningjames provided, let's say you hosted a party and decided to serve crab. Knowing that some are allergic to shellfish, you want to make sure your guests can eat it, so you would ask

    "Can you eat crab?"

    You wouldn't ask, "Can you eat crabs?" Again, you're asking whether or not crab can be eaten in general and adding an "s" here would not sound like a native speaker.

    Another example that would be perfectly natural to a native English speaker would be:

    "Dog bites man." / "Dogs bite man."

    These examples, however, are a bit journalism/headline style. It would certainly be odd to say "The dog bites man," or "The dogs bite man." "The dog bites the/a man" would sound much more natural.

    This post probably won't do much for English speakers learning Turkish, but for any of you doing the reverse course, hope this adds to your base of knowledge on the English language.


    even if that's the case, it is not the translation of "adamlar elma yer" so it is not an acceptable translation :


    I've seen the construction number + tane + noun a few times. Could anyone explain why this is?


    tane is commonly used after numbers, but it is not obligatory. that's it.


    Ok, thanks for the quick response!


    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!


    Simply, there is no need to repeat '...lar ...lar' in one sentence, I think. Like how it is optional in third person plural 'Onlar adam(lar)'.


    It is totally optional if you have "onlar." :) You have to have the plural suffix in the sentence somewhere to get the plural meaning. If you do not have "onlar," it would be required.


    Understandable :)


    Thanks! This helped a lot :)


    This is also used in the Arabic language, so many things in this language's grammar match with Arabic's grammar, Turkish is a very fun language I think :)


    I am an arabian, and I cant see this, in arabian we say الرجال اكلو التفاح و نقول الرجال اكلو 5 تفاحات


    So how come "The girl has skirts" is translated "Kizin etekleri var"?


    Don't know if I really understand your question ... I will try an answer:

    Literally you may translate:

    Kızın / etekleri / var.
    The girl's / her skirts / there are.


    Oh yes, thank you very much i forgot that this is a genitive case


    You're welcome! :-)


    Thank u! Really helpful and the thread hosts one of the most enlightening discussions


    perfect explanation :-)


    Thanks, this has clarified the use of plural and singular objects.


    thank god i understand it !


    Very good explanations .


    good explanation


    let's see if i got this, just pass by too many forum to get here. Just great! Obrigado.


    Thanks so much for this!!! :)


    This is extremely helpful, thank you!


    Can I ask Is there's no neeed in cases then why I still need ti add Accusative case in ur examples?

    [deactivated user]

      So what is RIGHT?That would be helpful!

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