He was born in 1907 in Gümülcine (now Komotini in northern Greece), in the Ottoman Empire. He lived in Istanbul, Çanakkale and Edremit before he entered the school of education in Bal?kesir. Then he was transferred to the school of education in Istanbul, where he graduated in 1926. After being a teacher for one year in Yozgat, he earned a fellowship from the ministry of education and studied in Germany from 1928 to 1930. When he returned to Turkey, he taught German in Ayd?n and Konya high schools.
While he was a teacher in Konya, he was arrested for a poem he wrote criticizing Atatürk's policies and accused of libelling two other journalists. Having served his sentence for several months in Konya and then in the Sinop Fortress Prison, he was released in 1933 in an amnesty granted to mark the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Turkey. He then applied to the Ministry of Education for permission to teach again. After proving his allegiance to Atatürk by writing the poem "Benim A?k?m" (My Love or My Passion), he was assigned to the publications division at the Ministry of Education. Sabahattin Ali married on May 16, 1935 and did his military service in 1936. He was imprisoned again and released in 1944. He also owned and edited a popular weekly newspaper called "Marco Pasha", together with Aziz Nesin..
Upon his release from prison, he suffered financial troubles. His request a passport was refused. It is possible that he was killed at the Bulgarian border by Ali Ertekin (an agent who had been paid to help him pass the border) on 2 April 1948. Another hypothesis is that Ertekin handed him over to the security services, and he was killed during interrogation. It is believed he was killed because of his political opinions.