Proto-Turkic/Past tenses and vowel harmony

Welcome to the fourth lesson of Proto-Turkic!

Past tensesEdit

There are two forms of past tense in Proto-Turkic:

1. Past tense seen or clear (*-ti, *-tï, *-di, *-dï, *-tu, *-tü, *-du, *-dü)Edit

The past tense, which we call the seen or clear past tense, is used when an event is encountered in the first degree. Even if it is clear, you cannot use this past tense in the case of history that you are not contemporary with. The certainty that is meant here is that the person is sure of what s/he sees. But this includes other sense organs. If you heard the sound of rain and you are sure that it is rain, you can use this past tense, but if you learned from the television news that it is raining, you cannot use this past tense even if you are sure of it. Another example; If you did not feel the earthquake, you cannot use this past tense. This past tense is actually the first-order witnessing past. The reason why I call it so is that it is also refer to as the past tense seen in Turkish.

  • It rained – Yagmur yag.
  • S/he sit – Olturtu

Contrast in Proto-TurkicEdit

Contrary to modern usages, as in Old Turkic and Volga Bulgar language, the soft consonants are followed by the strong consonant form (-t-); strong consonants and vowels are followed by the soft consonant form (-d-).[1]

  • flew - *učdu
  • walked - *yüridi
  • went - *bar


If something has become an indisputable truth, this supplement can be used even if it is not witnessed. For example, it is not wrong to use the past tense suffix when saying Edison invented the light bulb. But it is not wrong to use the other past tense in the same way either.

2. Past tense heard or unclear (*-miĺ, *-mïĺ)Edit

The past tense heard is a past tense that we use when we witness any event at a second or higher degree. What is meant by hearing is a partially obligatory term since no one was a first-degree witness in the event, but if you learned about an event that you did not witness first-degree by using your sight on television or your hearing on the radio, you would still use this past tense suffix. The term past tense heard is symbolic.

Its usage areas are also quite wide. This past tense is used in non-contemporary historical events. This suffix is used necessarily in literary works such as fairy tales, epics and partially in literary works such as novels and stories. You also often use this past tense suffix when gossiping with your friends. :)

  • s/he knelt down - *čökmiĺ
  • s/he came - *kẹlmiĺ

Past tense of past tense (*-miĺ erti, *-mïĺ erti)Edit

These two past tense suffixes can be combined for the past tense of the past tense. This suffix is defined as *-miĺ erti with *-tur- (to stand) and *er- (to be (auxiliary)) in Proto and serves as the past of the past. The reason why it is not directly combined with the affix *-ti is that the verb cannot take the tense a second time after taking the tense once.

  • First of all, he observed you for me. - İlik sẹni bẹniŋ üčün tẹrkemiĺ erti.

Present tense of the past tense (*-miĺ turur, *-mïĺ turur)Edit

The present tense of the past tense is provided with *-tur- (to stand) and *er- (to be (auxiliary)) just like noun phrases. Because the verb that takes the tense once, again cannot take the tense a second time.

In modern Turkish, while the past tense with *-miĺ is mostly used in colloquial language, *-miĺ turur is used instead of *-miĺ in literature and history. Because values related to the past, such as the birth, achievements and death of someone, are always the same characteristics that do not change.

  • Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died in 1938. - Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1938(bïŋ tokuŕ yǖŕ otuŕ sẹkiŕ)'de ölmiĺ turur.

Past tense of the present tense (*-ür ermiĺ, *-ur ermiĺ, *-r ermiĺ, *-ür erti, *-ur erti, *-r erti)Edit

The past tense of the present tense can be compared with the English used to tense. Usage distinctions are also distinguished by first-order and two- or more-degree testimony.

  • She used to come every day. - Ol bārča kün kẹlür erti.
  • My mother used to go to my father's grave every day. - Anam bārča kün atamnïŋ yẹbegine barur ermiĺ.

Past tenses in noun clausesEdit

Non verbs cannot directly take past tenses. The verb Proto-Turkic *er- (to be (auxiliary)) takes the past tense suffix and with it the meaning of the past tense is provided.

A: It was a house. - Eb erti.

B: No, brother/old man told (me). It was a hut. - Yōk, ĕčey tēdi. Koĺ ermiĺ.

Khalaj - خلج[2] Old Turkic - 𐰚𐰜𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰜𐰲𐰀[3] Volga Bulgar - البلغَاڔِى[4]
Original Tulki téplikke kirmez-erti, bipte [bi buta] sipirge vāmış-artı. 𐰋𐰃𐰠𐰏𐰀: 𐱃𐰆𐰪𐰸𐰸: 𐰋𐰤: 𐰇𐰕𐰢: 𐱃𐰉𐰍𐰲: 𐰃𐰠𐰭𐰀: 𐰶𐰠𐰦𐰢: 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰚: 𐰉𐰆𐰑𐰣: 𐱃𐰉𐰍𐰲𐰴𐰀: 𐰝𐰇𐰼𐰼: 𐰼𐱅𐰃: 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰚: 𐰉𐰆𐰑𐰣: 𐰴𐰣𐰃𐰤: 𐰉𐰆𐰞𐰢𐰘𐰤: 𐱃𐰉𐰍𐰲𐰑𐰀: 𐰑𐰺𐰡𐰃: 𐰴𐰣𐰞𐰦𐰃: 𐰴𐰣𐰃𐰤: 𐰸𐰆𐰑𐰯: 𐱃𐰉𐰍𐰲𐰴𐰀: 𐰖𐰣𐰀: 𐰃𐰲𐰚𐰓𐰃: احٰكم ﷲالعلي ال كبير اليَاڛ اولِ اِسمَاعِيل اَولِ مُحَمَد بلوُي ک رَحمَﺔُ الَلهِ عَلِيهِ رَحمَﺔﹶ وَاسِٕعَه تَارِيخَ حىَات جُور حىَات حال دوالعَد اَيخِ اِشنَ اَجِ حرِمسَن شِونَ بَرسَ وَلتِ
Transcription (the text is already written in latin script) Bilge: Tonyukuk: ben: özüm: Tabgaç: iline: kılındım: Türk: bodun: tabgaçka: körür: erti: Türk: bodun: kanın: bulmayın: tabgaçda: adrıldı: kanlandı: kanın: kodup: tabgaçka: yana: içikdi: Al-ḥukmu li-l-ilāhi-l-'aliyyi-l-kabīri Elyās awli Ismā'il awli Muḥamad belüwi kü raxmatu-l-lāhi 'alayhi rahmatan wāsi'atan tāriḫ-a čiyēti čǖr alṭïšï čāl ḏul-qa'da ayḥï išne eči. Čerimsen šïwna barsa velti.
English translation The fox would not enter the hole, s/he had tied a broom to her/his tail. I'm Bilge Tonyukuk. I was made (born) in the Chinese state. Turk tribes were dependent on China. Before the Turk tribes could find a khan, they left China, found a khan, (but) left the khan and returned to China again. The judgment belongs to God the Most High, the Great Elyās' son Ismā'il's son Muḥamad's (sepulchral) monument is this. The mercy of God, be upon him with mercy abundant. According to history, it was seven hundred sixth year in the ḏul-qa'da month. He died having gone to the Čerimsen water.

Personal inflection in past tense seenEdit

In the Proto-Turkic language, the personal inflections only exists in certain tenses, including the past tense seen. It is an inflection for person and numbers, so instead of using **bẹ erti for synthetic tenses, Proto-Turkic has (bẹ) ertim "I was" (pronouns were optional!). We will explain these endings in Lesson 8: Verbals.

Personal inflection in past tense
Singular Plural
First Person *ertim *ertimiŕ
Second Person *ertiŋ *ertiŋiŕ
Third Person *erti (unclear)

It differs in the first person plural in most modern Turkic languages such as Oghuz, Kipchak, Karluk branches. It uses the component *-k instead (*ertik).

Kazakh - Қазақша Old Turkic - 𐰚𐰜𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰜𐰲𐰀[5] Chuvash - Чӑвашла[6][7]
Original Біз бүгін қатты шаршадық. 𐰲𐰃𐰢: 𐰴𐰍𐰣: 𐰋𐰃𐰼𐰠𐰀: 𐰃𐰠𐰏𐰼𐰇: 𐰖𐱁𐰞: 𐰇𐰏𐰕: 𐱁𐰦𐰆𐰭: 𐰖𐰕𐰃𐰴𐰀: 𐱅𐰏𐰃: 𐰾𐰇𐰠𐰓𐰢𐰕: Юлашкинчен вара шутсӑр нумай кӗлӗ тунӑ тата вӑй хунӑ хыҫҫӑн чылайтанпа кӗтнӗ кун ҫитрӗ — эпир христианла шыва кӗме пултартӑмӑр. (Колоссӑ 1:9, 10 вуласа пар.)
Transcription Biz bügin qatty şarşadyq. eçim: kagan: birle: ilgerü: yaşıl: ögüz: şantuŋ: yazıka: tegi: süledimiz: Yulaşkinçen vara şutsӑr numay kӗlӗ tunӑ tata vӑy xunӑ xıççӑn çılaytanpa kӗtnӗ kun çitrӗ — epir xristianla şıva kӗme pultartӑmӑr. (Kolossӑ 1:9, 10 vulasa par.)
English translation We are very tired today. We drove the soldiers east to the Green Ögüz Shantung plain with my uncle Kagan. Finally, after prayerfully asking Jehovah for help and striving to make changes, that memorable day came and we were baptized (read Colossians 1:9, 10).

Vowel HarmonyEdit

Vowel harmony is an important feature in Proto-Turkic. Most Turkic languages, except Uzbek, preserved the feature. That is, words with final back vowels are always suffixed with back vowel variants, never front variants, and vice versa. Unlike Korean, Finnish, Hungarian, and Mongolian, there is no neutral vowels in Proto-Turkic. It specifically means that:

  • Words with the last vowel in a, , ï, o, and u always take suffixes with back vowel variant.
  • Words with the last vowel in e, , i, ö, and ü always take suffixes with front vowel variant.
  • If the suffix has rounded variants, words with the last vowel in o and u always take back unrounded variant, while ö and ü always take back unrounded variant.

Many suffixes has two variants, back or front variants. The Proto-Turkic suffixes are usually has final low vowels (-A-) or (both rounded and unrounded) high vowels (-X-), but also sometimes rounded high vowels alone (-U-), as in the case of the suffix *-ur, and sometimes unrounded high vowel vowels alone (-I-).

Vowel table (long vowels are not included)
Front vowels Back vowels
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Last vowels e, , i ö, ü a, , ï o, u
Twofold suffixes Low vowel (-A-) -e- -a-
High vowel (-U-) -ü- -u-
(-I-) -i- -ï-
Fourfold suffixes (-X-) -i- -ü- -ï- -u-
Sample noun inflection
Nominative Accusative[8] Locative
Always: Never: Always: Never:
"noun" "the noun" (definite object) "at, in, the noun"
*adak "foot" *adak **adakni *adakda **adakde
*eb "house" *ebni **ebnï *ebte **ebta
*kȫl "lake" *kȫlni **kȫlnu, **kȫlnü *kȫlte **kȫlta
*yōl "road" *yōl **yōlnü, **yōlnu *yōlta **yōlte
Sample verb inflection
Imperative Present tense Past tense
"verb!" "verbing" "verbed"
*ạl "take!" *ạlur *ạl
*kẹl "come!" *kẹlür *kẹlti
*bōl "be!" *bōlur *bōltu
*öl "die!" *ölür *öl

In the next lessons, you will see -A-, -I-, -U- and -X- for the suffixes' names instead.

Further discussion for the accusative case can be found at Lesson six: Genitive, accusative and dative cases.

Next lesson:  Vocabulary


  2. SEKİZ HALAÇÇA ATASÖZÜ ACHT CHALADSCH SPRICHWÖRTER* EIGHT KHALAJ PROVERBS Doefer’s original article was published in the book ‘Prof. Dr. Muharrem Ergin’e Armağan” (1992).
  4. A Volga Bulgarıan Inscription From 1307 A. Róna-tas