Mix-up between varmak; to arrive
and var; there exists
In written Turkish, you are justified in doing a double take upon seeing the word vardı -- and any other such verb tense constructions that may be based on the verb varmak; to arrive or
var; he/she/it exists.
For, by itself like that, vardı can mean either he arrived (the past tense of varmak) or there existed ["there was"] -- the latter meaning of vardı arising from a concatenation of the word var plus the word idi. So you have to rely on the context of a written sentence to tell the difference between meanings.
Thus, the meaning of vardı is clear only when seen in the context of the following example sentences...
Saat dokuzda vardı; He arrived at nine o'clock.
Masada bir kitap vardı; There was (There existed) a book on the table.
A similar ambiguity arises with all the Turkish nouns. For example, consider the noun adam; man and the two possible meanings which arise when the suffix -im is applied --
1) adamım; my man
2) adamım; I am a man.
Not until the word is securely wrapped in a sentence does the meaning become clear...
Adamımı severim; I love my man.
Halden anlıyan bir adamım; I am a man of the world.
Still another example of this sort of ambiguity arises with all the Turkish verbs...For example, take the verbal derivative yuzme. You can't say for sure what it means until you see how the word is used in a sentence...
Kirli suda yuzme; Don't swim in dirty water.
Yuzme havuzu icine düştü; She fell into the swimming pool.
In speech, you get a further clue (in addition to the sentence context) to help you differentiate between ambiguous meanings -- but you'll need to listen very carefully.
Take the example with vardı above. When you listen and you hear the accent on the first syllable var, then the word means there is. And when you hear the accent on the second syllable dı then the word means he arrived.
Don't underestimate this ambiguity...Var is a very important Turkish word in it's own right that literally means there exists, but which also has connotations of there is, I have, you have, he/she/it has, we have, they have, I own, you own, etc. And, along with yok and şey is one of the most used words in the Turkish language.
So it'll pay you to avoid mistaking it for something else when you see or hear it.