23 Turkish Phrases I Wish Someone Had Taught Me

There are a number of phrases that Turks use in daily life that you may not find properly explained in your Intro to Turkish book. They are nice to use when you first arrive and want to trick people into thinking that you know what you’re doing. Plus, Turks will find it endearing. So, in the hopes of helping out fellow yabancılar, I’ve put together a list of 23 phrases that I wish I had known when I first came to Turkey.

First, a word of warning before you start trying these out…if a Turk laughs at you while you’re trying to speak, don’t take it as condescending and don’t let it stop you attempting new phrases. A foreigner speaking Turkish is a rare and fascinating thing for most Turks, so any laughter is probably a combination of affection and disbelief.

Oh my, this definitely deserves an “afiyet olsun” before biting into.

1. Hoş geldin – You will hear this phrase on a daily basis. It literally means “good you came,” but the implications run much deeper than that. You will hear this phrase when you enter a store, restaurant, someone’s home, and sometimes if you go to meet someone out in public (especially if you have traveled to a friend’s neighborhood).

2. Hoş bulduk – This is the natural and appropriate reply when you hear someone say, “Hoş geldin.” It literally means “good we found ourselves here,” but it is really just a polite reply, and you will find it becomes automatic after awhile.

3. Afiyet olsun – Literally translates to “may you have an appetite,” but there is no real equivalent in English (Turks often use the French “bon appétit” when speaking in English). This phrase can be used before, during and after someone has had a meal. You should most definitely say it if you yourself have prepared food for others.

4. Eline sağlık – Literally translates to “health to your hand.” If you happen to be sitting at a Turkish dinner table and the person who prepared the food is present (as long as it isn’t a worker), you should use this phrase to thank the cook. It can also be used for any help someone gives you (repairing a pipe, changing your oil), but that is a little less common. If someone says something really good or smart you can say ağzına sağlık (which translates to “health to your mouth”).

5. Sıhhatler olsun – This means “may you be healthy” and dates back to Ottoman times. Say this phrase if someone has just had a hair cut (although this generally only applies to men) or taken a shower.

6. Maşallah – An import from Arabic that basically translates to: “Wow that’s great!” You can use it when you see something very beautiful (e.g., a house, baby, or woman) and also when you hear good news.

7. Kıyamam – Literally translates to “I won’t hurt you,” but it’s not used in that exact context. You would say kıyamam if you hear terrible news and feel really bad (this expresses a “poor you” sentiment) or when you see something very cute (like a puppy or kitten).

8. Aferin – It basically means “congratulations” or “way to go,” but you shouldn’t use it when speaking to someone older than you (I was scolded by a middle aged man once for doing this). If someone older than you comes to you with good news, the best thing to say is maşallah.

9. İnşallah – Literally translates to “God willing” and can be used as a way to wish someone well after you hear someone’s future plans, or if you are not sure that something is going to happen but hope it will. However, beware it can also be Turkish for “This thing that we are talking about isn’t actually going to happen” or “I am going to be late and blame it on traffic.”

10. Allah korusun – You will see this written on the back of trucks, buses and cars. It literally means “may God protect you” and can be used after talking about something terrible (like an earthquake or illness), with the meaning “God, please don’t let this awful thing happen.”

11. Nazardan korusun – This phrase, which in full is Allah nazardan korusun, means “may God protect you from the evil eye.” Nazar is the evil eye, and some people from the eastern Mediterranean believe that if you have a good thing and someone is jealous of it, you can get nazar and subsequently lose that good thing. You know those blue glass eyes (nazar boncuk) that Turks hang everywhere – in the bazaar, on apartment doors and cribs? They are meant to protect against nazar. Similarly, you can use this phrase in any situation where something good as happened, as a way to ward off nazar.

12. Başın sağolsun – Literally “health to your head,” this phrase is the proper response if someone you know has lost a loved one or friend. You’re essentially saying to the person, “I’m glad you are still alive and I’m sorry for your loss.”

The endless grading of papers is one way to channel a “lanet olsun”.

13. Lanet olsun – Basically the equivalent of “damn it,” you can use this phrase when encountering a very frustrating situation to which there is no solution. However, if you feel like directing this sentiment toward another person, adding a sana (“to you”) to the beginning of the phrase will do the trick.  Although I don’t recommend using sana lanet olsun lightly.

14. Hoşça kal – There are lots of ways to say goodbye in Turkish, and the majority are used interchangeably and almost mechanically. This one means, word for word, “stay well.”

15. Kendine iyi bak – Yet another way to say adieu, this phrase generally translates to “take care of yourself.”

16. Tabii – The equivalent of “of course,” this word is often written as tabi.  You may have heard Sınan Akçıl’s song, “Tabi Tabi” on the radio. In daily speech you will often hear people saying tabi twice in a row or with a ki added on to the end  (tabii ki), especially when agreeing with something someone has said.

17. Kolay gelsin – “May it come to you easily.” If you hear someone is about to start a tough job or see someone working, this is an appropriate phrase to say. It’s also a very polite way to start a conversation with a service employee (for example, over the phone or after waiting in a line). I’ve found that service workers really will treat you nicer if you begin this way. It’s also a kind thing to say when you see someone working very hard in general.

18. Eyvallah – You will hear this phrase a lot from the men with mustaches that sit around drinking çay. It’s a very casual and emphatic way of saying “thank you.” If you are grateful for something and in an informal setting, you can say this while putting your right hand over your heart. In my experience, it gets the point across very well.

19. Oha! – Even though this is a slang term, you will hear everyone use it. It is simply an expression of surprise and shock. Since it’s not polite per se, use at your own discretion. But if you do end up using it, your Turkish friends will probably find it adorable.

20. Cok yaşa – The Turkish version of “God bless you” for after someone sneezes. It means “live a long time,” and common replies are hep beraber (may we live a long time “all together”) or sen de gör (“you also see” a long life).

21. Geçmiş olsun – Used when people are sick or experiencing an unpleasant situation, it means “I hope it passes you quickly.”

22. Maalesef – This phrase can be extremely annoying depending on the circumstance. Especially when you find yourself in a store, bank or restaurant, and this is what you hear. Technically it translates to “unfortunately.” However, I have all too often found it meant “I don’t feel like helping you out.” So if you hear this once, don’t be discouraged and try asking again. It can also be used confirm negative news. “Is it true that Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ got his ‘Only Allah can judge me‘ tattoo removed!?” “Did Ayşe really break up with Kaan?” “Was İbrahim Tatlıses linked to the mafia again!?” — In reply to these questions, maalesef would mean, “Sadly, this is true.” Finally, it can also mean that unfortunately, this didn’t happen, e.g., “Did you get the promotion?” “Maalesef.”

23. Buyrun – Unless you work in a shop in Turkey, you will probably never use this phrase. But you will hear it every time you go to a pazar. I remember a Turkish shopkeeper in Eminönü passionately shouting it over and over at a German couple (who seemed very disturbed) in an attempt to invite them into his store. To the man’s despair, the couple walked away looking very irritated and without purchasing anything. The louder and more enthusiastically a Turk shouts “buyrun” the more welcoming he is trying to be, as odd as it may seem to those of us who are not used to shouting in a friendly situation. Buyrun can also be used when allowing someone to talk or when answering to a superior, although these usages are less common.

As for phrases to stay away from, or at least be careful with, sıkıldım (“I’m bored”) is right at the top of the list. When writing and speaking this word, make sure you’re using the ‘i’ with no dot (‘ı’), as a dotted ‘i’ conveys a completely different and rather vulgar meaning.

My last piece of advice is about how to address others. If you ever encounter someone who is older than you, adding the words abi (“older brother”) for men or abla (“older sister”) for women is a great sign of respect (e.g., “Ayşe abla” or “Ali abi”). If they are very old, you can substitute amca (“uncle”) and teyze (“aunty”) for abi and abla, respectively. In certain instances, calling someone directly by their first name may be considered rude. Additionally, anytime you don’t know someone’s name, like a taksi driver or the guy who works at your neighborhood bakkal, you can always just call them abi – it’s a good catchall phrase.

Tell me, dear yabacılar and Türkler, what are some phrases that I’m missing? Share your most useful Turkish phrases in the comments!

Kerri Schultz is a contributor to Yabangee. 

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110 COMMENTS

  1. Estağfurullah – “Don’t mention it” or “Not at all” (pronounced estafrulah) A polite and modest way to respond to someone praising or thanking you, or when someone makes self-critical remarks.

  2. Uzerime iyilik saglik
    Allah iyiligini versin e mi
    Gozun ciksin (cikmaya)
    Ellerin dert gormesin
    Basimi belaya sokma
    Gozleri dort dondu
    Ne sen sor ne ben soyleyeyim
    Kime niyet kime kismet
    Elimin tersindesin
    Gozum uzerinde
    Ayagini denk al
    Gozunun ustunde kasin var
    Allah yaratti demem
    Zoruma gitti
    Gun ola harman ola
    Kim ole kim kala
    Kaynanan sevecekmis
    Aksam aksam soyletme simdi
    Ben diyeyim bes, sen de…
    Aklim basimdan gitti
    Olup olup dirildim
    Karsimda oyle durup durma
    Iki ayagim bir pabuca girdi
    Sana bir cift lafim var
    Ne sandin (ya)
    Hadi isine
    Hangi birini soyleyeyim…. 🙂

  3. Ha(y)di len, Ha(y)di oradan or ha(y)di canım means “are you kidding me? but less polite and directly refers that you have not believed in the news, the story or the rumors that you have been told. For example “Have you heard? The Minister of Social and Work Security has resigned after the last mining accident? The answer is very obvious, choose one above 🙂
    all these three expressions gradually change the level of politeness but the last one is used especially if you are speaking to a woman.

  4. -“Kimsin lan sen?”
    -“Esas sen kimsin?”
    That conversation is the beginning of an argument or a fight between two or more people, generally men.
    And literally “who are you?” Actually means “who do you think you are?” “How do you feel so confident?” 🙂
    And the fight starts with “gel lan buraya” (come here) 🙂

  5. Hayda – when spoken the last a is always a bit longer (longer the more dire the situation is) This is an exclamation like oha and doesn’t have a direct translation. It is usually used when something annoying happens or when someone learns about something annoying happened. “Sorry but I broke the lamp, again…” “Haydaaa!” (when used like this it means “Not again!”

  6. Alluh_ Alluh…this term is used mostly when u speak the second guy surprised from ur speach 🙂 am i right friends…i love turks…thanks for u hospitality….Izmir karsheyaka 🙂 bornova

  7. (In reference to Orkun Ozturk’s “yenge”): If you are invited to a dinner by a traditional Turkish family, particularly by a male (husband), if you address his wife as “yenge”, it would be appreciated. Indeed it literally means “sister in law” and also reflects patriarchal structure of Turkish society since its usage also refers that you are not interested in to the relevant person as a “female”.

  8. Let me note some phrases which can be used in case of a bargaining with a shopkeeper: “En son ne olur” or “bana olurunu söyle”. They both mean “tell me the final price that you can offer” and implies that if you are not offered a substantial discount you will not be buying the item you are bargaining for. If the shopkeeper insists on a price higher than your expected discounted price, there is also a final phrase to use :”Ayagimiz alissin” which literally means “may our feet be familiar with your shop” and refers that if the shopkeeper offers the price you like, you will be a regular customer of the shop! Well, if you still could not affect shopkeeper enough, the absolute ice-breaker phrase comes now: “Yabanci degiliz ya” which literally means, “Yet, I am not a foreigner (yabangee)”. Since, indeed, you are a “yabangee”, laughter and a better discount may be coming afterwards!

  9. “Hayırdır/Hayrola?” in question form means “What’s going on?” or “What’s up?”. You can use it when someone is telling you something but you feel like they are omitting the details, not letting you get the whole picture, in order not to stir the pot but most probably not to upset you.( imagine parents asking their child this with a wink when they are too silent or when you are talking on the phone with someone and you can’t get any clues because you can’t read their body language, or you see a car that has pulled off and you ask the driver to find out if you can help them in any way). Let’s say you are walking down the street and thugs surround you and start looking you up and down “Hayırdır? Bir şey mi oldu/var? Bir kusurum mu oldu (or var)/Bir kusurumu mu gördün?” in that context it directly translates as “What’s going on? Did something happen? Did you find a fault with me?” you can use this phrase when you want to confront someone but it can also lead you to pick up a fight (and hence if you hear this being uttered, don’t go near those people) if the person you are confronting has ill intentions but in a friendly environment it would show that you want to set things/the record straight/right and resolve a misunderstanding, your tone of voice is the key to that. You can use the latter part, “Bir kusurum mu oldu? Bir kusurumu mu gördün?” If you want the person you are speaking with to explain if they misunderstood the way you’ve treated them, in that context it would mean “Did I wrong you in any way?”.If you add inşallah after it like “hayırdır inşallah/hayrolsun/hayırlar olsun inşallah” you use this phrase especially when someone wants to tell you about the dream they had the other night. “Hayır duası” would be a prayer from someone asking God to redeem you for all the good things you’ve done for that person. “Hayır duası almak” is these kinds of prayers being said for you as a result of your good deeds its like a blessing. “Hayır işlemek” and “sevaba girmek” is to do charity work”. “Hayır” commonly means “no” in Turkish, but it has this synonym which must be coming either from Persian or Arabic it translates directly as “beneficence” and has a deeper religious context or so to say spiritual sentiment but it has become a part of colloquial language. Considering that saying “no” might sometimes be a blessing in disguise I guess :).

  10. “Rast gelmek, rastlamak, rastlaşmak” means “to encounter with someone in somewhere you did not expect”.
    When you use it as “Rastgele” -or often pronounced as “rasgele”-, it literally means “random”. But as an expression, you can and want to say that phrase to fishermen who hangs their fishing rods from bridges or boats. It means “may you catch a lot of fish”, “catch the fish with blessings”. It is told to fishermen very often whether you know them or not. It is commonly replied with “Eyvallah!” 🙂

  11. I would actually advise AGAINST using “Lanet olsun” as it is NEVER used by Turks other than when translating a curse from English onto Turkish television – since curse words are either always bleeped or removed on Turkish TV.

    Using “Lanet olsun” will only make you seem ignorant of that fact and make you seem more OBVIOUSLY a foreigner. Angered Turks never mince their words and will never use Lanet Olsun, but go directly for the kill and use words like “Hassiktir”, “Siktir git” or other vulgar words, thus using Lanet Olsun only seems silly.

    If you still wish to express anger but without cussing you can always say “Allah belanı versin (or verMEsin if you don’t want to piss off more religious people)!” which means, “God damn you.”

  12. A very used phrases are also “Yaşasın!” (when something you really want happens) ”Mesela” (for example) ”Her şey yolunda mı?” (İs everything ok?) ”Merak etme” (don’t worry) and ”Ne demek!” (followed by a thankful expression it means ”don’t give it a second thought”ö ”no need to say thank you bro”). In winter you can hear a lot of people saying ”Inanılmaz bir soğuk var” 🙂 like ”kolay gelsin” there is another more informal way that is ”hayırlı işler!” That’s all for now but there are plenty of expression, yavaş yavaş we will discover them!!

  13. I wouldn’t use “Lanet olsun”. This is actually translated and learnt from American films. “Allah belanı versin” is more common. Thanks for the contribution, by the way.

  14. There is one expression which is used in dual conversations very often as in all cultures. I mean “Ne var, ne yok?”, which is very opaque. You cannot guess its meaning if you don’t know its cultural interpretation. It literally means “What exists? What does not?” or “What is there? What is there not?” It is difficult to translate it, even literally. In Turkish culture, it simply means “How are you?” but in a casual way. BEST REGARDS TO EVERYONE.

  15. Deme be! (You don’t say)
    Hssscktrrr ! Well, goes with anything . Bug off, buzz off, F… Off, or as well as If you are surprised, disappointed, someways happy , hard to believe, annoyed, more and more.

  16. Aynen: it means “exactly” and we use it a lot on conversations when we are listening to the other one and we share his idea / or we approve what he says he did etc. Also used as “aynen oyle” (it’s exactly like that)
    Beyefendi: when “abi” is too informal for the atmosphere (because it generally is, except for the esnaf) and you don’t know the man’s name that you are talking to. Hanimefendi (or “hanfendi”) is the female version instead of “abla”. We as not-so old women don’t like to be called abla.

  17. Iyi gunlerde kullan: Direct translation, use it in good days. When you buy something and start using it recently, the other person wishes you to have good use of your property, and hoping for a good time on your use. These things are generally a piece of clothing, or a new device, etc.

  18. Use lanet olsun only if you are a dubbing artist and you are doing the voice overs for an American action movie and the year is 1996. Avoid it otherwise. All the Turks do, anyways.

  19. We don’t really use “Maşallah” as “wow that’s great” it’s more like, you say it because you think it’s great correct but when you want God bless something you like from evil eye. For example you see a beautiful baby you say maşallah because it could get harm because you like it (not everyone actually believes that it’s more like a habit) We also say nazar değmesin after that which means like “may it be protected evil eyes” nazar=evil eye

  20. Buyur burdan yak! It is not easy to translate or explain it. But it is used when a new problem is added to the existing one. By the way, “afiyet” in “afiyet olsun = bon appétit” literally means health, well-being.

  21. “İndir o elini. İndiir o elini, dedim”
    “Kös dinlemiş, bak, hala konuşuyo!”
    “Lan zırtapoz!”
    “Hay babanın kemiğine…”
    “Kaldırmayın beni ayağa” (Güdümlü terlik eşliğinde, Anadolu annesi)

    Aslında çok var da, buraya yazılmaz. 😉

  22. you will use the term “buyrun” even if you’re not a shopkeeper. ;-). one good example is, when food is being offered, buyrun is used to encourage partaking. also, the host(ess) may usher a viaitor to a certain (usually the most comfortavle) seat, etc. 🙂

  23. Kusura bakma or Kusura bakmayın (the formal way), when you do something wrong unintentionally and you try to apollogize. Literally, it means ”Don’t look at the mistake (flaw)”, but it is mostly like saying I am sorry. Hadi canım I used to hear a lot, now I am using it too 🙂
    Çirkin! çok çirkinsin sen! – connected to the nazar business, they use it a lot for the small children and although it means ugly, it is actually a compliment :)) They say it this way so the child does not get the infamous nazar 🙂
    As a woman, I get so many invitations for fal bakmak (reading the destiny in the coffee) which is quite a show to listen 🙂
    I really enjoyed reading this article, especially the sıkıldım explanation, true story :)) all in all Tebrik ederim 🙂

  24. Cok sukur-thank god
    Allah allah!-expressing surprise or asking like really?
    Allah allah?- a bit like ‘hadi canim!’ that you are suspicious about it.

  25. Hi there. I’ve found this post fascinating. So much that google translate can’t help you with! I was wondering, is there anyone out there that could help me with three lines of English that I have written for someone, that I would like translated to Turkish? Your assistance would be greatly appreciated. Lütfen!

  26. I actually know meaning of “başınız sağolsun” differently.”health to your head” that’s ok but as I know “head” here represents the most important member of a family (head of the family).So it’s like “may the head of your family live”

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