Turkish Pronunciation Guide

Turkish is a phonetic language: every letter has only one sound, and every word is pronounced exactly as it is spelled. No silent letters. No two-letters-together-make-a-different-sound. Turkish students don’t have spelling bees, because every word is spelled just like it is spoken.

The Three Iron Rules

1. Every letter is pronounced!

2. Each letter has only one sound!

3. Never combine letters as a different sound. See Rules 1 and 2, above.

Pronunciation Guide

Most letters in Turkish have pronunciations familiar to English-speakers, with a few notable exceptions.

A, a short ‘a’ as in ‘art’ or ‘star’

E, e ‘eh’ in ‘send’ or ‘tell’

İ, i [dotted i] ‘ee’ as in ‘see’

I, ı [undotted i] ‘uh’ or the vowel sound in ‘fuss’ and ‘plus’

O, o same as in English ‘phone’

Ö, ö same as in German, or like British ur in ‘fur’

U, u ‘oo’, as in ‘moo’ or ‘blue’

Ü, ü same as in German, or French u in ‘tu’

C, c like English `j‘ as in `jet’ or ‘Jimmy’

Ç, ç [c-cedilla] ‘ch’ as in ‘church’ or ‘chatter’

G, g always hard as in ‘go’, never soft as in ‘gentle’

Ğ, ğ – not pronounced; ignore it! (The only exception to Iron Rule 1.)  It lengthens the preceding vowel slightly.

H, h never silent, always unvoiced, as in `half’ and ‘high’; remember: NO silent ‘h’s in Turkish!

J, j like French `j’, English `zh’, or the ‘z’ in ‘azure’

S, s always unvoiced as the s‘s in ‘stress’, not ‘zzz’ as in ‘tease’

Ş, ş – [s-cedilla] ‘sh’ as in ‘show’ and ‘should’

V, v a soft ‘v’ sound, half-way to ‘w’

W, w found only in foreign words; same as Turkish ‘v’

X, x found only in foreign words; pronounced as in English; Turkish words use ‘ks’ instead, as in taksi

The Places Where You’ll Mess Up

We English-speakers are so used to the weirdness of English—’silent’ letters, ‘understood’ sounds, digraphs such as ‘ch’, ‘sh’, and ‘th’, and even ‘silent digraphs’ such as ‘gh’ (as in ‘through’)—that we make the mistake of pronouncing our English two-letter combinations in Turkish, where they don’t exist.

For example, the name Mithat is pronounced meet-HOT, not like the English word `methought’. That ‘th’ in the middle is NOT a digraph!

Likewise, the Turkish word meshut is pronounced mess-HOOT, not ‘meh-SHOOT’.

Also odd is the Turkish ‘c’, which is pronounced just like English ‘j‘. Cem in Turkish is pronounced just like English gem (as in gemstone). Can in Turkish is pronounced just like English John.

The odd soft-g (ğ) is not pronounced at all, though it lengthens the preceding vowel slightly. So tura is pronounced ‘toora,’ but tuğra is ‘tooora’. (Though tura and tuğra sound almost the same, they are words for very different things: the first is a drumstick, the second is the sultan’s monogram!)

Don’t worry, though. You’ll probably be fine if you simply ignore the soft-g. Act as though it weren’t there. Whatever you do, DON’T pronounce it as though it were a ‘real’ ‘g’. Doğru! (doh-ROO, Right!)

Also note that ‘h‘ is pronounced as a voiceless glottal fricative (like the first sound in ‘have’ or ‘heart’, the sound a Cockney drops). You’ll have to get used to pronouncing it whenever you see it, whether it’s at the beginning of a word, in the middle, or at the end. Always pronounce an ‘h’!

In English, medial and terminal ‘h’ (ie, an ‘h’ in the middle or at the end of a word) are rarely pronounced; they’re usually ‘silent’. But in Turkish ‘h’ is ALWAYS pronounced. Your Turkish friend Ahmet‘s name is pronounced ahhh-MEHT not ‘aa-met’; the word rehber, ‘guide’, is not ‘re-ber’ but ‘rehhh-BEHR’. The word for prayer beads, tespih, is pronounced ‘tess-PEEHHH.’