Boats leaving the Golden Horn, as seen from Karaköy, Istanbul (Source: Daniel Pontillo)
Lesson 14 | -ir Aorist Tense

Unit 1 revolved around some of the basic verb tenses of Turkish, and Unit 2 will deal with other common verb tenses that are more difficult for English speakers to grasp. We will start with what is commonly referred to as the aorist tense, a tense that has no easy equivalent in English.

We have already seen many verbs in the aorist tense in these lessons, and so you probably already recognize it. Usually, it takes a variation of the -ir ending as in "kalır (from kalmak)", "unutur (from unutmak)", "gelir (from gelmek)" and so forth. For verbs with a single-syllable root, this ending is usually either -er or -ar in the aorist. These include "çalar (from çalmak)", "döner (from dönmek)", "gider (from gitmek)" and many others. However, there are a number of verbs that take the -ir ending instead that should be memorized.  Finally, verb stems that end in a vowel simple receive an -r suffix, such as "anlar (from anlamak)" and "ağlar (from ağlamak)".

Here are some examples of aorist conjugation:

bilmek (to know)bilirimbilirsinbilirbilirizbilirsinizbilirler
konuşmak (to speak)konuşurumkonuşursunkonuşurkonuşuruzkonuşursunuzkonuşurlar
gelmek (to come)gelirimgelirsingelirgelirizgelirsinizgelirler
olmak (to be)olurumolursunoluroluruzolursunuzolurlar
Ends in VowelBenSenOBizSizOnlar
söylemek (to say)söylerimsöylersinsöylersöylerizsöylersinizsöylerler
anlamak (to understand)anlarımanlarsınanlaranlarızanlarsınızanlarlar
oynamak (to play)oynarımoynarsınoynaroynarızoynarsınızoynarlar
dinlemek (to listen)dinlerimdinlersindinlerdinlerizdinlersinizdinlerler
kazımak (to scratch)kazırımkazırsınkazırkazırızkazırsınızkazırlar
gitmek (to go)giderimgidersingidergiderizgidersinizgiderler
yapmak (to do/make)yaparımyaparımyaparyaparızyaparsınızyaparlar
bitmek (to end/finish)biterimbitersinbiterbiterizbitersinizbiterler
sevmek (to like/love)severimseversinseverseverizseversinizseverler

That is the easy part, but the hard part is deciphering the tense's various meanings. Before explaining these meanings, I'll introduce this lesson's song, "Karaköy" by Ezginin Günlüğü. This band has been active with different groups of members since the 1980s and rose to popularity during the latter half of the 1990s. The song, "Karaköy", from their 2002 album entitled Her Şey Yolunda, is typical of their reflective or sometimes poetic lyrics. It delves into the issues of nostalgia, regret, bitterness, and memory embedded in the lived geography of Istanbul. In particular, the song (written by Nadir Göktürk) describes the feeling of reminiscing upon a failed romance while sitting in Karaköy and watching the boats that shuffle passengers back and forth across the Bosphorus between places such as Kadıköy. This scene, in addition to being one that virtually everyone who has been in love in Istanbul has experienced, provides an ideal window onto the meaning of the aorist tense.

It is in fact debatable whether or not the -ir ending in question is really an aorist at all. The reason why the word is used is because its meaning is "unmarked" as in aorist tenses of other languages such as Greek. More plainly, what the tense refers to is an action the temporality of which is ambiguous. Sometimes it is the present, sometimes the future, sometimes it carries the connotations of "would". Therefore, we cannot understand it in isolation but rather in terms of points of distinction between other forms of the present and future tenses.

In this song, the first line is "Karaköy'de vapurlar, biri gider, biri gelir" meaning "In Karaköy, one boat goes, another comes." If we take the verb "gider" meaning "goes", we can compare it with the verb "gidiyor" meaning "goes/is going" to show that while "gidiyor" refers to one specific time, "gider" is more broad or repeated. In other words, he is not saying "one boat is leaving and another is coming" but rather he is describing the continuous arrival and departure of boat traffic. This use of the aorist to refer to general or habitual actions is one of its most common.

However, in the very next line we have another usage. He says, "cebimde eski bir hikaye, açsam kirlenir" or "there is an old story in my pocket, if I open (it), it will get dirty". Leaving aside the exact meaning, we can see how here the aorist has the meaning of future or the sense of "would". This is the common meaning when used with the conditional ending -se (discussed in the next lesson). We infer here that "kirlenir" does not mean "it gets dirty (repeatedly)" but rather "it would get dirty". This is different than a verb with the -ecek ending in that while "kirlenecek" means "it will get dirty (certainly)", "kirlenir" implies that it would get dirty under some certain conditions.

In the song lyrics below, I have placed each iteration of the aorist ending in bold so you can see the different shades of meaning. If you can recognize these verbs and the distinctions from the closest possible alternatives, you'll be on your way to understanding this tense, although using it well will take some practice. I will note only that while this may be a vague tense that is hard for English speakers to grasp, it is a very common verbal tense that can be used in the widest variety of situations, and so you will be seeing a lot of it.


biri - one of them, one
azı - a few of them
çoğu - most of them

kirlenmek - to get dirty
kapı çalmak - to knock on the door
(-e) uymak - to be appropriate
çarpı çekmek - to cross out
kazımak - to scrape, scrape off, inscribe, scratch
olsun - may it be, let it be
satmak - to sell

vapur - boat
cep - pocket
cebimde - in my pocket
hikaye - story
kapı - door
kör - blind, here dead end
duvar - wall
kurşun - bullet
hazır - ready
gözgöze - eye to eye
yüzyüze - face to face
fotoğraf - photograph
şarap - wine
cam - glass
umut - hope
koca - huge

Karaköy’de vapurlar, biri gider, biri gelir
The boats in Karaköy, one leaves, another comes
Cebimde eski bir hikaye, açsam kirlenir
In my pocket is an old story, if I open it, it will get dirty

Bütün kapıları çaldım, kimi kör, kimi duvar
I knocked on all the doors, some dead-ends, some just walls
Cebimde sevgilerim var, biri de size uyar
My loves are in my pocket, one would be right for you

Üstüme çarpı çekmiş, kütükten ismimi kazır
She crossed me out, scratching me from the ledger
Cebimde bir-kaç kurşun var, hepsinin yeri hazır
There are a few bullets in my pocket, the place of every one is ready

Ahh! Gözgöze, yüzyüze, dizdize, bizbize dünya
Ah, eye to eye, face to face, knee to knee, us to us world
Cancana, camcama, kimkime, dumduma dünya
Soul to soul, all-glass, crowded mixed up world

Karaköy’de vapurlar, biri gider, biri gelir
The boats in Karaköy, one leaves, another comes
Cebimde kırık bir fotoğraf, baksam dillenir
In my pocket is a beat up photograph, if I look, it will begin to speak

Şarabımız camdan cama bir boşalsın bir dolsun
May our wine glasses empty and fill one after another
Cebimde umutlarım var, biri de sizin olsun
I have hopes in my pocket, you can have one of them

Hey gidi koca İstanbul, satıyorum yok mu alan
Oh you huge Istanbul, I'm selling, is there no buyer?
Yaşadığın aşkların da, azı şarkı, çoğu yalan
The loves you have experienced, a few are songs and most are lies

Ahh! Gözgöze, yüzyüze, dizdize, bizbize dünya
Cancana, camcama, kimkime, dumduma dünya

Lesson 15: Not After This will also focus on the aorist and introduce the all important conditional construction. Make sure to review the vocabulary below before moving ahead.

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