Useful Turkish Phrases to Know Before You Travel

One of the many ways of experiencing local culture and perspective is to know a country’s language. If you want to check out some off the beaten track places where there are fewer foreigners, then knowing the local language and its basic greetings will help.

Knowing a language of a country you’re travelling to, not only enhances your travel experience but also makes it quite memorable! This is especially true if you’re keen on shopping locally. And, it will also be appreciated by locals undoubtedly as Turks are quite friendly. 

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Take a look at the following phrases and maybe keep them handy when you get to Istanbul and want to get friendly when you’re around the local markets and even the Grand Bazaar

Modern Turkish

Modern Turkish or Istanbul Turkish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with a large diaspora. It has the highest number of speakers from among the other 30 Turkic languages. Part of an extremely old language family spread over a vast geographical area in Eurasia puts modern Turkish into the Proto-Turkic family of languages. Furthermore, Turkish is an agglutinative language, which is a language formed with the addition of different words to form new words and their meanings. More importantly, it’s a fun language to learn with many funny idioms and humour! 

Modern Turkish as spoken by more than 80 million speakers around the world utilizes Latin alphabets. Instead of the Arabic script, which was used until 1928, the modernized language helped to improve literacy rates in the newly formed Republic of Turkey (1923). For more Istanbul history, check out our article on the Brief history of Istanbul.

Now that you know a little bit about the local language, here are a few introductory phrases that will help make your travel to the country more enjoyable! 

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Local Greetings

Merhaba

The first greeting you’ll encounter while travelling in the country and translates as ‘hello’. It’s super easy, especially if you have any experience with Arabic, given hello in Arabic is ‘Marhaban’!

Günaydın

Used in the early morning and translates as ‘Good morning’! An easy way to make any anxious encounter less awkward, especially when you’re craving a Simit  as a quick breakfast or snack from the street vendors! For more tips on what street food to eat and where, check out the article on the Top street food to try in Istanbul. If you’re into breakfast or brunch, then take a look at the variety of food that you can find in the world-famous Turkish breakfast and where you can grab it on the European side of Istanbul in our article on the Top 7 places for Turkish Breakfast!

Hoşgeldin/Hoşbulduk

The word “hoşgeldin” translates as ‘Welcome’. And the proper local response is to say “hoşbulduk” which means ‘Happy to be here”  or more literally, I’m glad to be here and/or I feel welcomed and nice. The ‘ş‘ is pronounced as ‘sh‘ so it’s hosh-gel-din, the ‘g’ sound is the same as in ‘gal’. You can usually hear it in shops and local boutiques such as in the Grand Bazaar when a customer service representative approaches you and welcomes you into the store. 

İyi Günler

You can approach anyone with this phrase which is means ‘good day’ in English and start your conversation or ask them a question. It’s considered polite to start your conversation with either a Merhaba or İyi günler before jumping into an actual conversation. 

Nasılsınız? / İyiyim, teşekkürler

This question can be heard rolling off the tongue of people after Merhaba, just like in English and means How are you? It’s a formal way of inquiry, like so many other languages where you’re expected to be formal with people you don’t know and/or with authority figures (teachers, the elderly, etc.)

The less formal greeting is Nasılsın? which can be used with the young or with people you have interacted a few times, such as the hotel concierge, for instance. And the standard reply is ‘İyiyim, teşekkürler’. It’s pronounced Ee-yim, Teshek-kur-ler i.e. ‘I’m good, thanks’ when translated in English. Pretty easy, right?!

İyi Akşamlar/İyi Geceler

Two very versatile and multi-purpose greetings used both for saying hello and good bye in the evenings and nighttime. Translates as ‘good evening’ and ‘good night’ respectively, both can be used when leaving an establishment or for starting a conversation. For tourists, we recommend saying the first one when leaving restaurants and to bid farewell at nights with İyi geceler.

Güle Güle

This is a concise formal farewell and is a simple goodbye – güle güle (guwley-guwley)! You can hear shopkeepers say this after you’ve shopped there!

Affedersiniz

It’s a word that can be used to excuse yourself if you’re in a crowded place or in public transportation. It’s a polite gesture that translates as ‘pardon me’ or ‘excuse me’ and you can then get off or pass through or to get someone’s attention. 

Yes/No/Please/Thank You/Sorry/Unfortunately

Evet/Hayır/Lütfen/Teşekkür Ederim/Pardon/Maalesef

Pronunciations: ey-vet/haa-yir/lut-feyn/the-shek-kur eh-derim/paar-don/maa-le-sef

These five phrases and words are essential in your Turkish vocabulary and for all kinds of situations. They are used in the same fashion depending on the situation, with different tones and for different situations. Very handy to have on hand! 

While Shopping

Having a few handy phrases on hand to make shopping more comfortable is a good idea, especially because Istanbul can be considered a shopping mecca! You never know what you’ll find in roaming the streets of old Istanbul in the Fatih district, an old edition book in the Sahaflar bookshops (second-hand books) or in the dizzlying streets of the Grand Bazaar or the Egyptian Spice market.

We recommend the below phrases for advanced speakers of the language and if you’re not sure of the price, then be cautious to not get ripped off. It’s always better to ask or get a translator or use an online one to get the correct prices. If you’re not sure, then either walk away or confirm before buying. This also applies if you’re at a restaurant. Rule of thumb: confirm prices before consuming or buying products. 

Ne Kadar?

If you want to know the price of a certain item while shopping at the local market, you should ask ‘Ne kadar’? i.e. ‘How much’? But to understand the response, you need to know the number.

Çok Pahalı

If you think the price is too high, you can let them know that you’re not fooled by their tactics to sell something at an ludicrous price. It’s pronounced ‘chok paha-li’ and it’s quite easy to memorize! 

Indirim var mı?

Pronounced as ‘in-di-rim var ma‘, this phrase means ‘is there a sale?’. It’s a good policy to ask this question if you think the price is too high so you can get a better bargain on whatever it is you want to buy. 

Numbers

As Turkish is an agglutinative language, creating numbers is done in the same way. For example: 25 = Yirmi beş (20 and 5); 125 = Yuz yirmi beş (100 and 20 and 5).

Zero – sıfır

One – bir (bir)

Two – iki (ekee)

Three – üç (ooch)

Four – dört (dorth)

Five – beş (beysh)

Six – altı (al-tuh)

Seven – yedi

Eight – sekiz

Nine – dökuz

Ten – on (own)

Twenty  – yirmi

Thirty – otuz

Forty – kırk (Kuhrk)

Fifty – elli

Sixty – altmış (alt-mish)

Seventy – yetmış (yeth-mish)

Eighty – seksen

Ninety – döksan 

Hundred – yüz (yooz)

While at a Restaurant

Afiyet Olsun

‘Afiyet olsun’ (aa-fee-yeth ol-soon) is a phrase that you’ll hear all the time in food establishments! Once food is brought to your table by the server or waiter at a cafe or restaurant, the server usually says this phrase. 

The phrase can substitute for ‘bon appetite’ but actually means ‘may it be good for you’! Turkish speakers may translate it as ‘enjoy your meal’ as well! 

Menü Lütfen

This simple phrase is pretty easy to memorize and means ‘Can I have the menu please?’ If you don’t see prices on the menu, it’s better to go to another establishment to avoid a hefty bill and ruin your experience. 

Hesap Lütfen

To ask for the bill at a sit-down restaurant or cafe, you need to simple say ‘hey-sap lut-fen’  and if you want to pay with credit card you can even ask for the ‘pos makina’ or the credit card machine. 

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While in Transit (Taxi/Dolmuş/etc.)

Travelling in one of the biggest cities in the world can be daunting especially if you’re keen on doing it cheaply with public transportation.

… gitmek istiyorum

When you get in a taxi or shared taxi (called a dolmuş) you can ask the driver to take you to your destination. First you can mention the name of the place and then the sentence ‘gitmek istiyorum‘. A few examples:

Taksim gitmek istiyorum. (I want to go to Taksim). In other words, take me to Taksim. 

Havalimani gitmek istiyorum (I want to go to the airport) and then you could be asked if it’s domestic or international flights (iç ve dış hatlar, respectively). If it’s domestic, it’s ‘iç’ (like ‘itch’), if not, it’s ‘dış’.

… nerede?

This word/question phrase means ‘where?’ and can be used in a variety of situation. If you’re not sure where a place is, you can ask a question with ‘….. nerede?’ (ner-de). For example: Taksim nerede? (Where is Taksim?)

Inecek var or Müsait bi yerde

If you want to get off at a certain place, for example while you’re in a shared taxi (dolmuş) you can ask to get off by stating ‘inecek var’ (in-e-jek vaar). This can be translated as requesting to get off i.e. There is someone wanting to get off (you). 

Another statement that you’ll hear more commonly is ‘Musait bi yerde’ (moo-sa-eet b yerde). This means that you’re requesting the driver to stop at a convenient place so you can get off or the next available place where you can get off and be on your way.

Geldik

In Turkish, you can be extremely direct when talking to people and it can seem impolite to others outside the country if translated. However, in Turkey it can be a good thing as you can be direct and get what you want. For example, the word ‘geldik’ (gel-dikh) indicates to the taxi driver that you are at your destination i.e. you’ve arrived!

Directions

Right/Left/Straight
Sağ/Sol/Düz 

Pronunciations: saa/sol/dooz

Learn these simple words if you know where you’re going and/or are using a map and can ask the taxi driver to go a certain route. Beware that some taxi drivers can take the longer route so you end up paying more, unfortunately. That’s why it’s always good to know some Turkish and or indicate you’re following a certain route on your phone or map. 

Some More Useful Phrases

Tuvalet Nerede?
Where is the bathroom?

Find a toilet or washroom can seem daunting but almost all commercial areas have good facilities and are marked by ‘WC’. You can even ask a restaurant or cafe if you can use the bathroom by asking ‘tuvalet nerede?’ (too-va-let ner-de?) and of course, it’ll be polite if you actually bought something from them. If it is urgent, you can even throw in ‘Acil’ (aa-jil) meaning ‘urgent’!

Bakar mısınız? 
Excuse me?

You can use this phrase (pronounced: ba-car me-seh-nez) to grab the waiter’s attention is a restaurant. While it looks like a daunting phrase, it’s indicate others that you know some Turkish! 

Hopefully
inşallah

An extremely common expression in Turkey used as an interjection if you don’t know the answer to some questions. It has its roots in Islam and means ‘God willing’ and is pronounced as ‘in-sha-Allah‘. Unlike other Middle Eastern countries where it can be used a short prayer, in Turkish it’s used as a way to dodge a question from a nosy neighbour or friend who is inquiring too much or asking too many questions! 

Now that you know and have armed yourself with a good amount of Turkish, enjoying Istanbul as a local can be more enjoyable! Pay attention to all the notes given above and take advantage of the amazing shopping and hospitality Turkey offers. Good luck!