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Classification: Altaic?, Turkic, Southeastern (Uyghur-Karluk) branch, Western group.

The external classification of Turkic is disputed. Many consider it one of the three divisions of the Altaic phylum but for others its relationship with Tungusic and Mongolic is not proven. Uzbek has several features in common with modern Uyghur and it is also close to Kazakh.

Overview. A descendant of Chaghatay, Uzbek is the second most important (numerically and culturally) Turkic language after Turkish. It has, like other members of the family, agglutinative morphology based on suffixes and verb-final syntax, but in contrast with them vowel harmony is weak.

Distribution. Uzbek is spoken by 75 % of the inhabitants of Uzbekistan and by substantial minorities in the other four countries of Central Asia (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) as well as in northern Afghanistan. Some Uzbek speakers reside in the Xinjiang province of China.

Speakers. There are around 24 million first-language speakers of Uzbek distributed among the following countries:
















Status. Uzbek is the official language of Uzbekistan.

Varieties. The standard dialect is that of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Other dialects are those spoken in western Uzbekistan (Oghuz and Kypchak), in the Ferghana valley, in northern Uzbekistan, and in Afghanistan.


Vowels (9): pronunciation of vowels varies considerably in different dialects. The symbols are those of the International Phonetic Alphabet.


Vowel harmony. It is variable among different dialects, but generally weak.

Consonants (24).


Script and Orthography

Until 1927, Uzbek was written with the Arabic script when it was replaced by the Cyrillic script. Finally, in 1993 the Cyrillic script was abandoned and a Latin-based alphabet of 29 letters was adopted:



The orthography uses just six characters for all vowels (a, e, i, o, u, o') failing to distinguish between front and back vowels: [i] versus [ɨ], [æ] versus [a], [y] versus [u], [ø] versus [o].

Therefore, a special transliteration scheme is used here to distinguish among the different vowel sounds: [æ] is transliterated ȧ, [ɒ] is transliterated [å], y is transliterated ü, [ø] is transliterated ö,

[ɨ] is transliterated ï.

An apostrophe is written after a vowel to represent a lengthening of the vowel. An apostrophe is written before a vowel to represent the vowel being pronounced separately from the preceding consonant.

Morphology. Uzbek is an agglutinative language with suffixing morphology.

  1. Nominal. Suffixes are added to nominal stems to indicate number, possession and case (in that order). Adjectives are not distinguishable from nouns, except for some that carry specific suffixes (derivational, diminutives, etc). Intensive adjectives can be produced by duplicating them.

  1. gender: there is no grammatical gender.

  1. number: singular and plural. The plural is marked with the suffix -lȧr. Unmarked forms can have also a generic meaning. Nouns following a numeral are usually left in the singular.

  1. possession: there are six possessive markers, one for each person and number, that are attached to the noun.

  1. suffixes

1s: -(i)m

2s: -(i)ng

3s: -(s)i

1p: -(i)miz

2p: -(i)ngiz

3p: -lȧri


åpam ('my aunt')

åpang ('your aunt')

åpasi ('his/her aunt')

åpamiz ('our aunt')

åpangiz ('your aunt' [pl.])

åpalȧri ('their aunt')

  1. case: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative, ablative, equitative.

  2. The equitative doesn't belong to the common Turkic six-case system. It is used for qualitative comparisons. Case suffixes are attached to the end of the noun phrase.The nominative is unmarked, the other cases are marked:

  1. -ni is the accusative suffix marking the direct object.

  2. -ning is the suffix of the genitive case marking possession.

  3. -G is the dative suffix marking indirect objects and directional complements.

  4. -D is the locative suffix used in location and temporal complements.

  5. -Dn is the ablative suffix used to indicate origin.

  6. The suffixes for the equitative are: -dy and -ch; -dy is used for qualitative comparison and -chfor quantitative comparison.

  1. comparatives and superlatives: superlatives are formed by adding the particle eng before an adjective; comparatives are made by adding the suffix -råq and/or by putting the standard of comparison in the ablative case.

  1. pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative, reflexive, indefinite.

  2. Uzbek has personal pronouns for the 1st and 2nd persons, that are inflected in all cases like nouns; demonstrative pronouns are used for the 3rd person.


  1. Demonstratives constitute a four-place system: this (bu), that in view (shu), that in view more distant (osha), that invisible (u). Oblique forms are bun, shun, oshan and un, to which possessive suffixes may be attached. They are also fully declined.


  1. The plural forms in the nominative are: bulȧr, shulȧr and ulȧr.

  1. Reflexive pronouns: are derived from öz ('self') plus possessive suffixes; for example özim (myself), özi (himself/herself), etc.

  1. The interrogatives are: kim ('who?'), nimȧ ('what?'), qaysi ('which?'), qani ('where?'), qachån ('when?'), qanchȧ ('how many?'). Yes/no questions are expressed by the clitic -mi which generally follows the predicate.

  1. Indefinite, general and negative pronouns are made from interrogatives with ȧllȧ- ('some'), like ȧllȧkim ('somebody') and ȧllȧnimȧ ('whatever'), with hȧr ('every') like hȧr kim ('everybody'), or with hech ('no') like hech kim ('nobody').

  1. Verbal. The verb system is distinguished by the extensive use of different kinds of auxiliary verbs to express manner of action. Verbal negation is achieved by adding the suffix -ma to the stem.

  1. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p, 2p, 3p. They are indicated by pronominal or possessive suffixes.

  1. tense-aspect: simple present, progressive present, momentary present, simple past, imperfective, perfect past, indirective past, aorist, future.

  2. Tense and aspect are inseparable and are indicated by specific suffixes. Tenses are simple or compound, the latter being formed with the copula ('to be') as an auxiliary, which expresses person and number. Personal markers are of two types, one is of pronominal origin and the other of possessive origin; the latter employed only by the simple past and the conditional. The copula is irregular.


  1. The indirective past refers usually to a recent, sometimes new or unexpected, event inferred from some kind of evidence.

  2. The aorist is a kind of probable or indefinite future in contrast with the definite future used mostly in writings.


  1. mood: indicative, optative, imperative, deontic-permissive, conditional.

  2. The optative expresses a wish of the 1st person; it is marked by the suffix (ȧ)y/-(ȧ)yin in the singular and by -(ȧ)ylik in the plural, e.g. endi ketȧylik (‘let’s go now’).

  3. The simple (impolite) imperative is the bare root, e.g. bu yerga kel (‘come here [immediately]. A more polite imperative uses -ing.

  4. -sin is used for the 3rd. person deontic permissive e.g. bilsinlȧr ('let them know').

  5. - is the marker of  the conditional e.g. yåzsȧngiz ('you would write').

  6. -chi used with the conditional gives a strong imperative e.g. yåzsȧngizchi ('write!').

  1. voice: active, middle, passive, cooperative-reciprocal, causative.

  2. The middle voice is marked by the suffix -(i)n, e.g. qashi ('scratch'), qashin ('scratch oneself').

  3. The passive voice is formed with the addition of the suffix -(i)l, e.g. sür ('push'), süril ('be pushed').

  4. The suffix -(i)sh is used for the cooperative-reciprocal, e.g. sȧlåmlȧ ('greet'), sȧlåmlȧsh ('greet one another)'.

  5. The causative is marked by the following suffixes: -Dir, -(i)t, -Giz, -Gȧz, -(i)z, e.g. åqiz ('make flow').


Uzbek has a basic Subject-Object-Verb word order like all Turkic languages which can be changed by placing the topic at the beginning of the sentence. Modifiers precede the head-noun, the order being generally pronoun-quantifier-adjective-noun. A genitive attribute is corresponded by a possessive suffix on the head noun. There is no obligatory number agreement. Nouns with quantifiers are unmarked for plural. Postpositions, corresponding to English prepositions, but placed after the words they interact with, are used. Relative clauses are based on participles.


Uzbek contains many Persian loanwords inherited from Chaghatay as well as Arabic-derived terms acquired via Persian. Russian has also left its imprint.

Basic Vocabulary in the Uzbek alphabet (the special vowel notation used above is not followed here).

one: bir

two: ikki

three: uch

four: to'rt

five: besh

six: olti

seven: yetti

eight: sakkiz

nine: to'qqiz

ten: o'n

hundred: yuz

father: ota, dada

mother: ona

elder brother: aka

younger brother: uka

elder sister: opa

younger sister: singil

son: o'g'il/ul

daughter: qiz

head: bosh

face: yuz

eye: ko'z

nose: burun

ear: quloq

mouth: og'iz

hand: qo'l

foot: oyoq

heart: yurak

tongue: til

Key Literary Works (forthcoming)

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -Özbekische Grammatik. A. von Gabain. Harrassowitz (1945).

  2. -Uzbek Structural Grammar. A. F. Sjoberg. Indiana University Press (1963).

  3. -Basic Course in Uzbek. A. Raun. Indiana University Press (1969).

  4. -Uzbek. An Elementary Textbook. N. Azimova. Georgetown University Press (2010).

  5. -'Uzbek'. H. Boeschoten. In The Turkic Languages. L. Johanson & É. Á. Csató (eds),  357-378. Routledge (1998).

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