Lesson 16

16.1 “CAN” AND “CAN’T”

To express “can” or “can’t,” Turks also use a suffix that is attached to the verb stem. However, you have to be very careful here, as there is a difference between the uses of “can” and “can’t” in Turkish: either you can or can’t do something in general (a skill, a proficiency), or you can or can’t do something at the moment (tied to a situation).

16.1.1 “Can” do something in general

-(y)ebiliyor or -(y)abiliyor (simple vowel harmony)

The y in parentheses is only inserted if there is a vowel ending. The suffix is of course followed by a personal pronoun suffix, as always: incidentally, the suffix doesn’t change to “(y)abılıyor,” despite the preceding vowel being an a.


yapabiliyorum = I can
yapabiliyorsun = you can
yapabiliyor = he / she / it can
yapabiliyoruz = we can
yapabiliyorsunuz = you [plural] / you [formal] can
yapabiliyorlar = they can

You might have noticed that the suffix is somewhat similar to the verb bilmek in the third person singular(biliyor = he knows). The suffix can be roughly translated as “to know how to do something.” In general, bilmek is translated as “to know, to be able to.”

Another example:

gidebiliyorum = I can go
gidebiliyorsun = you can go
gidebiliyor = he / she / it can go
gidebiliyoruz = we can go
gidebiliyorsunuz = you [plural] / you [formal] can go
gidebiliyorlar = they can go

The verb stem of gitmek is git-, but as you know, the t is softened to d for this verb.

As already mentioned, this version of “can” relates to a general proficiency or skill:

Türkçe konuşabiliyorum. = I can speak Turkish.

16.1.2 “Can’t” do something in general

The suffix is now modified somewhat, as -bil- is removed and an m is inserted: 

-(y)emiyor or –(y)amıyor

yapamıyorum = I can’t
yapamıyorsun = you can’t
yapamıyor = he / she / it can’t
yapamıyoruz = we can’t
yapamıyorsunuz = you [plural] / you [formal] can’t
yapamıyorlar = they can’t

16.1.3 “Can” do something related to a situation

If you “can” do something because you’d like to or nothing is stopping you right now, then you use:

-(y)ebilir or -(y)abilir (simple vowel harmony)


yapabilirim = I can
yapabilirsin = you can
yapabilir = he / she / it can
yapabiliriz = we can
yapabilirsiniz = you [plural] / you [formal] can
yapabilirler = they can

16.1.4 “Can’t” do something related to a situation

The negation suffix now looks different, specifically:

-(y)eme(z) or -(y)ama(z) (simply vowel harmony)

As always, the y is used when there is a vowel ending, and the z at the end disappears in the first person singular and plural (as with the negation of ir present). The corresponding personal pronoun suffix is added as always:

yapamam = I can’t
yapamazsın = you can’t
yapamaz = he / she / it can’t
yapamayız = we can’t
yapamazsınız = you [plural] / you [formal] can’t
yapamazlar = they can’t

The nuance is important in this case: yapamam = “I can’t” means that I can’t do something because I don’t want to or I’m hindered in some way related to the situation.

gidemem = I can’t go
gidemezsin = you can’t go
gidemez = he / she / it can’t go
gidemeyiz = we can’t go
gidemezsiniz = you [plural] / you [formal] can’t go
gidemezler = they can’t go

Meaning: I don’t want to / can’t go somewhere right now.


Similar to English, the “can / can’t” form can also be used to express “may” or “may not” in Turkish. It’s actually the only option for expressing “may” in Turkish because there isn’t an explicit verb for this anyway. In this case, the “situational can” is used:


Sana bir şey sorabilir miyim? = May (can) I ask you something?
Girebilirsin. = You may (can) enter.
Bakabiliriz. = We may (can) watch.

Vocabulary for Lesson 16:
bilmek = to know, to be able to; bisiklet = bike; kalem = pen; ikram etmek = to offer; sormak = to ask; tamir etmek = to repair; yüzmek = to swim