There are countless examples in Turkish of third person aorist forms in -A/Ir or -mAz (negative form) which are employed as nouns:

gelir (income), gider (spending), yazar (writter)

or adjective

su geçilmez (impermeable), katlanılır (bearable)

Historically speaking, is the Turkish so-called aorist some kind of participle that eventually came to bear pronominal markers, or did the third person come to be used as a noun or an adjective ? Incidentially, are there other examples, in other languages, of verbal forms that can be used either as finite or nonfinite verbs ?

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    Regarding your second question, yes, there are many parallels around the world. Ethiopic Semitic languages (at least Amharic, and I assume also Ge’ez, Tigrinya and others) make very frequent use of inflected verb forms, and even entire clauses, as nominals, for example: wäṭṭa gäbba ‘jagged’ (‘it went out, it went in’), damṭäw ‘steamroller’ (‘crush it/him!’), man alläbbəňň bay ‘despot’ (‘who is above me?’), yəmut bäqqa ‘death penalty’ (‘let him die, it is final’), wärräršəňň ‘epidemic’ (‘you fem. invaded me’), etc. Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 14:46
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - But that sounds like idiomatic usage, not like a regular feature. English also has such stuff, e.g. forget-me-not is a kind of flower and I-owe-you is a debt document.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 20:59
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    @YellowSky It is a regular feature that nouns can be formed in that way. The formations range from quite predictable to fairly strange (there’s one whose literal meaning is something like ‘I’m not prepared, they come to me’, but which is actually a kind of griddle to toast bread on or something), but the systematic ability to use finite verb phrases as noun phrases is standard enough to be included in grammars under nominal derivation (unlike forget-me-not in English). Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 21:05
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - ‘Derivation’ is the key word. English has it regularly, too: “they dance” vs. “I like their dance”. Or “you fly” vs. “a green fly”. This question isn't about derivation, not about morphology, it's about verbal grammar and usage.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 21:20
  • @YellowSky That doesn’t seem like a relevant parallel to me. Using a finite verb phrase as a noun phrase is derivation – it’s just zero-derivation. The fact that the English base form of many verbs is identical to a corresponding noun doesn’t mean that finite verb phrases can be used nominally. They can in Amharic, which is what I took the (second) question to be about. If taken narrowly (can any finite forms also be non-finite), the answer is too trivially yes to be interesting – every English verb has identical imperative and infinitive forms. Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 21:27

1 Answer 1


That's an extremely interesting question. The nature of the Turkic verb (not only Turkish) and, more generally, the nature of the Turkic predicativity poses really many conceptual questions. Since the Turkish nouns as well as qualitative adjectives can also be predicates that are marked for person and tense, the question is where to draw the line between them on one side and the verbs on the other.

A similar situation is found in other languages of what is called the Altaic macrofamily — in the Tungusic languages (like Manchu), and to a lesser degree in Japanese. Both Manchu and Japanese have no category of person, so only tense is marked on their verbs

In Japanese, the verb in the nonpast tense can also be used as an attribute, in a manner adjectives are used:

男は書く。Otoko wa kaku. — man NOM write/s — “A man writes.”
書く男 kaku otoko — write/s man — “writing man / man who writes”

In Manchu, the verb system is organized in such a way that one can easily get an impression that there is only one true verb, “to be”, which accidentally is bi in Manchu. This bi is the only verb in the whole language that has the indicative mood form, it is in the present tense. There are numerous classes of participles which have tenses and can serve as predicates, but still they are nominals, they all can be used as attributes, too. Bi is added to the nominals to make them finite. The thing is, Manchu allows both finite and non-finite sentences, the latter ones being sentences without mood expressed, that is, showing the situation as objective, while by adding finiteness which is inseparable from the indicative mood, one adds a touch of one's own subjective evaluation of the situation as real.

All of such examples of languages where finite verbs can be attributes (Japanese) or where one can choose between saying things finitely or non-finitely (Manchu), or where nouns can be finite (Turkish) demonstrate very different faces of finiteness. The three languages are Altaic and irrespective of whether they are really genetically kindred (let us call it Sprachbund), they have very much in common, especially in grammar. But such a variation in the idea of the finite verb as we can see it in the 3 languages suggests it is an innovation in each of them as related to what there might have been in the times when they were still in contact. My personal point of view is that the participles eventually acquired finite meaning in those languages, but it can well be the other way round that finites degraded into participles and then later again became finite with the rise of the category of person as in Turkish. Anyhow, all those processes happened millennia ago and are pretty hard to be traced back.

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    Note that in Japanese, the formal identity of the conclusive and attributive forms is the result of a merger that took place around 1600. Before that, they were distinguished (at least in some verb classes). For 書く they would have been the same, but if you use, say, 死ぬ ‘die’ instead, you’d have 男は死ぬ otoko-wa sinu ‘the man dies’ vs 死ぬる男 sinuru otoko ‘the dying man’. Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 14:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - Good to know, thank you. But I wonder, was 死ぬる sinuru exclusively used as an attribute? Could it be used as a predicate in a way? With a copula?
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 15:07
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    Not as a general predicate as such, no – it was pretty much inherently subordinate in some way. It was used to form headless noun phrases (so subordinate to a zero head), and also occasionally (in Old Japanese, at least) as a pseudo-predicate in certain exclamatory or interrogative clauses, though usually with some sort of focus particle. There’s some debate about what the actual function in this last use really was – it has been argued that it was nominalised and subordinate to the particles that are usually present. Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 15:19

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