Hungarian is an agglutinative language. It uses various affixes, mainly suffixes, to change a word's meaning and grammatical function. The suffixes are attached according to vowel harmony. The verbs are conjugated according to definiteness, tense, mood, person and number. The nouns can be declined with 18 case suffixes, most of which correspond to English prepositions. Hungarian is a topic-prominent language, which means that word order depends on the topic-comment structure of the sentence (e.g. what aspect is assumed to be known and what is emphasized).
Neutral Hungarian sentences have a subject–verb–object word order, like English. Hungarian is a null subject language, meaning the subject does not have to be explicitly stated. Word order is determined not by syntactic roles, but rather by pragmatic factors. Emphasis is placed on the word or phrase immediately preceding the finite verb.
A sentence usually consists of four parts: topic, focus, verb and the rest. Any of the four parts may be empty. The topic and the rest may contain any number of phrases but the focus may contain at most one phrase.
The tables below contain some Hungarian variations of the English sentence "John took Peter two books yesterday." Besides the verb, the sentence contains four other elements: "John", "Peter", "two books", "yesterday".
|Topics||Focus||Verb||The rest||Special meaning|
|János||tegnap||∅||elvitt||két könyvet Péternek.||Two books were taken by John to Peter yesterday. (It was successfully completed; no special emphasis.)|
|János||tegnap||két könyvet||vitt el||Péternek.||It was two books that John took Peter yesterday. (As far as John and yesterday are concerned, it was exactly two books that he took to Peter.)|
|János||∅||tegnap||vitt el||két könyvet Péternek.||It was yesterday that John took Peter two books. (John took Peter two books sometime, but it was done specifically yesterday.)|
|∅||∅||János||vitt el||tegnap két könyvet Péternek.||It was John who took Peter two books yesterday.|
|∅||∅||Péternek||vitt el||tegnap János két könyvet.||It was Peter to whom John took two books yesterday.|
|János||tegnap||Péternek||vitt el||két könyvet.||John took somebody two books yesterday, but it was specifically Peter to whom he took them, not anybody else.|
|∅||∅||∅||Elvitt||János tegnap két könyvet Péternek.||Two books were taken by John to Peter yesterday. (The action was completed; the books are at Peter's place now.)|
|Két könyvet||tegnap||∅||elvitt||János Péternek.||Two books were indeed taken by John to Peter. (Perhaps something else was taken to him, too. However, the two books may not be the most important thing, e.g. John may have left Peter's documents at home.)|
|∅||∅||Két könyvet||vitt el||János tegnap Péternek.||John (only) took Peter two books, nothing else.|
The topic contains a phrase or phrases which the speaker supposes as known and which is used for introducing a topic that the statement will be about (cf. "as far as X is concerned, ..."). The focus attracts the attention to an element of the event which is either supposed as unknown or it may be a refutation to a possible opposing belief. It excludes the validity of the statement for all other individuals in question ("it was X and nothing else that...").
If a focus is present, the verbal prefix will be put after the verb (vitt el instead of elvitt). If there is no verbal prefix, there may be ambiguity in writing because the phrase preceding the verb may be either a topic or a focus. For example, in the sentence Éva szereti a virágokat ("Eve likes flowers"), Éva may be a topic and the sentence may be neutral, or Éva may be a focus and the sentence may emphasise that it's Eve who likes flowers. Example sentences and their interpretations follow:
|Éva szereti a virágokat.||Eve likes flowers.|
|Szereti Éva a virágokat.||Eve does like flowers (even if someone doubts it).|
|Éva szereti a virágokat.||Eve likes flowers (and not someone else).|
|Éva a virágokat szereti.||Eve likes flowers (and not something else).|
|A virágokat Éva szereti.||It's Eve that likes flowers (and not someone else, although something else may be liked by someone else).|
|A virágokat szereti Éva.||It's flowers that Eve likes (and not something else).|
Hungarian is an agglutinative language. Most grammatical information is given through suffixes. For example: "at the table" = az asztalnál (space relation), "at 5 o'clock" = öt órakor (time relation). There is also one grammatical prefix (leg- for superlatives).
Overview of personal endings: typical sound elementsEdit
In Hungarian, the endings are mostly common for the endings of pronouns with suffixes and postpositions, possessive endings of nouns, and the verb endings. (The accusative of pronouns is also given for comparison, though it is less regular.)
|Pronoun||Case/postposition stem||Noun||Verb||Typical element|
|Nominative||Accusative||+ personal suffix||+ personal suffix||+ possessive suffix||Indefinite present||Definite present|
|"by/at me" etc.||"under me" etc.||"my flat /apartment" etc.||"I see" etc.||"I see it" etc.|
|én||engem||nálam||alattam||lakásom||látok||látom||-m with link vowel -o/(-a)/-e/-ö or -a/-e|
|te||téged||nálad||alattad||lakásod||látsz||látod||-d with link vowel -o/(-a)/-e/-ö or -a/-e|
|mi||minket||nálunk||alattunk||lakásunk||látunk||látjuk||-nk with link vowel -u/-ü|
|az Ön lakása
a Maga lakása
|az Önök lakása
a Maguk lakása
Harmonic vowels in suffixesEdit
Front-back vowel harmony is important in Hungarian morphophonology. Certain suffixes also distinguish between front unrounded vowels and front rounded vowels. See Hungarian phonology or vowel harmony for a more detailed explanation.
Most (if not all) of morphological word endings in Hungarian - for verb conjugations (definite and indefinite), possessive suffixes, and 'case-related' postpositions - can be thought of as 'templates' which in turn are 'filled in' with vowels. While the template itself consists mainly of consonants (and sometimes vowels), the vowels which are used to 'fill in' the template depend on the class of vowels (i.e. front, back, long, short, rounded, unrounded) in the word to which the template is attached. For example, 'bVn' would be the template for the postposition meaning 'in' (with 'V' being the 'fill-in' vowel position) and it can be 'filled in' with either 'a' (for back vowels), thus forming 'ban,' or with 'e' (for front vowels), thus forming 'ben.' On the other hand, 'hVz' would be the template for the postposition meaning 'to' and this can be 'filled in' with 'o' (back), 'e' (front unrounded), or 'ö' (front rounded). Which (and how many) particular vowels a template 'takes' mostly has to be memorized by a learner of Hungarian, although certain patterns can possibly be noted by observing the particular phonological makeup of the consonants in the template. For example, 'vVl' is the template meaning 'with,' but the first consonant ('v') usually assimilates to (i.e. 'becomes') the final consonant of the word to which it is attached (provided the word ends in a consonant).
Note: The stem-final a and e, as well as o and ö in foreign words, are lengthened before suffixes, e.g. alma → almát, mese → mesét, piano → pianót, Malmö → Malmőt. (Short o and ö cannot occur at the end of Hungarian words.) Short i, u, ü retain their length, e.g. ami → amit, kapu → kaput, menü → menüt.
The vowels which form parallel pairs or triads in harmonic suffixes are:
- e is used in 2 of the groups. There are no suffixes which have a/e/ö. o/e (without ö) is very rare, only used for certain 2nd person plural suffixes.
- Where i is used in a suffix, it is usually an invariant suffix. It also occurs once as a front verb suffix (paired with -ja) and in the irregular forms neki and nekik (see Cases with personal suffixes).
The suffixes can be categorised into the following phonological types:
- Initial consonant and no change depending on the stem ending, e.g. -ban/-ben, -hoz/-hez/-höz
- Initial v with complete preservative consonant assimilation, only for -val/-vel and -vá/-vé
- Initial vowel and no change depending on the stem ending, e.g. -ul/-ül, -ás/-és
- Link vowel o/e/ö on stems ending with a consonant, with link vowel a for certain back-vowel noun stems, e.g. -om/(-am)/-em/-öm/-m
- Link vowel a/e on stems ending with a consonant, e.g. -ak/-ek/-k
- Link vowel u/ü on stems ending with a consonant, e.g. -unk/-ünk/-nk
- Link consonant -j on stems ending with a vowel, and on certain stems ending with a consonant, only for -a/-e/-ja/-je and -uk/-ük/-juk/-jük
- Invariant, e.g. -kor, -ig
- -on/-en/-ön/-n does not use the a link vowel for any nouns
- The accusative suffix, -ot/(-at)/-et/-öt/-t, does not use a link vowel for stems ending with certain consonants
Note: The long vowels á/é, ú/ű and ó/ő are not used as link vowels.
Citation form of suffixesEdit
- Where the list of suffixes has only one, it is invariant and is used on all stems, e.g. -ig.
- Where the list of suffixes has 2, the first is the form for back vowel stems and the second is the form for front vowel stems, e.g. -ban/-ben: -ban is used for lakás and -ben is used for szem and fürdő.
- Where the list of suffixes has 3 forms with the vowels o/e/ö, the o form is used for back vowel stems, the e form is used for front unrounded stems and the ö form is used for front rounded stems. For example, -hoz/-hez/-höz: -hoz is used for lakás, -hez is used for szem and -höz is used for fürdő.
- Where the list of suffixes has ones which start with a vowel followed by one or more which start with a consonant, the forms which start with a vowel are used on consonant-final stems and the forms which start with a consonant are used on vowel-final stems. (The initial vowel of the suffix is called a link vowel and the rules for selection within the vowel or consonant group apply as above.) For example, -unk/-ünk/-nk: -unk is used on lakás, -ünk on szem and kör and -nk is used on fürdő.
- Where the list of suffixes has 4 forms for consonant-final stems, with the link vowels o/(a)/e/ö, the a form is used with certain back noun stems. For example, -om/(-am)/-em/-öm/-m: -om is used for lakás, -am is used for ház, -em is used for szem, -öm is used for kör and -m is used for fürdő.
|Ending||Sample word||Suffix variation|
|Constant||Difference by vowel quality||Difference by vowel quality and ending|
- *: Its suffix may agree with any of the preceding variants, e.g. fürdőben but autóban, fürdőhöz but autóhoz and tévéhez.
Personal suffixes can have various uses in Hungarian grammar. There are two sets of them:
- Type I uses the a/e set of vowels as link vowels
- whereas Type II uses the o/e/ö set.
Therefore, their differences are:
- Type I has -a- as link vowel where Type II only uses -o in back-vowel words
- Type I doesn't use -ö- as link vowel with front-vowel words while Type II does.
|Type I (a/e)||Type II (o/e/ö)|
|2nd person (informal)||-ad/-ed/
|2nd person (formal or official)
and 3rd person
- In the example rows below the chart proper, the forms for the 1st person singular are given for the three basic types (back vowel, unrounded front vowel, rounded front vowel).
- Within cells, the first row is for stems ending in a consonant and the second for stems ending in a vowel.
- There is some variance with verbs (mostly in the 3rd person) but their forms still resemble this pattern.
- The házam, mézem, földem group has another special feature as well: they always use a link vowel in the accusative, independently of their endings (e.g. házat but gázt, mézet but gézt).
This difference often disambiguates meanings, e.g. jöttek means "they came" (past) and jöttök means "you [pl.] come" (present).
An extreme example is the longest Hungarian word 'megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért' (means 'due to your repeatedly not being possible to be desecrated'). This word contains mass of inflexions, prefix, suffix, etc. The core of the word is 'szent', meaning "sacred."
Note: the accusative suffix following the stem or following other suffixes shows the same difference, except for the six different forms for the six persons:
|Type I (a/e)||Type II (o/e/ö)|
As well as the noun suffixes, which are often equivalent to English prepositions, Hungarian also has postpositions.
Amalgamation with personal pronounsEdit
If postpositions are used with personal pronouns (cf. "to me"), most of them amalgamate with the suffixes expressing the person. Compare:
with personal suffixes
|az asztal alatt
under the table
For the full list of such postpositions, see postpositions with personal suffixes.
The following postpositions differ from the above in that they are never suffixed with personal endings:
|Spatial postpositions||Time postpositions||Other postpositions|
Certain standard postpositions are derived from a noun + 3rd person singular possessive suffix + case ending, e.g. apám révén "by the help of my father". See their list here.
This internal structure affects how they are used with pronominal forms (see above).
Most postpositions govern the nominative case; the exceptions are listed below. (The genitive case below means that morphologically speaking, they can either take the nominative or the dative suffix, see Other noun endings.)
|ellenére (despite), folyamán (during), jóvoltából (thanks to), kedvéért (for the sake of), következtében (due to), mentén (along), részére (for), révén (by/through/via), számára (for/to), útján (via)|
|superessive||valamin||alul (under/below), át (through/over), belül (inside), felül/fölül (over/above), innen (this way from X), keresztül (across), kezdve (from X on), kívül (outside/except), túl (beyond)|
|sublative||valamire||nézve (with respect to)|
|allative||valamihez||hasonlóan (similarly to), képest (as compared to)|
|adessive||valaminél||fogva1 (owing to)|
|ablative||valamitől||fogva2 (from X on), kezdve (from X on)|
|instrumental-comitative||valamivel||együtt (along with), szemben (opposite)|
Postpositions functioning as prepositionsEdit
Some postpositions may also precede the noun, thus functioning as prepositions: át (over/across), keresztül (through), együtt (together with), szemben (opposite), túl (beyond), e.g. át a folyón or a folyón át ("across the river").
Adjectives and adverbsEdit
The suffix -an/-en/-n is used to form adverbs of manner from adjectives. -l, -lag/-leg and -ul/-ül are also used to derive adverbs from some adjectives.
There is also a suffix, -va/-ve, which is used to derive adverbs from verbs. Its nearest English equivalent is the -ing form functioning as a participle (rather than a noun). Example:
- Úszva jött ide. ("He came here swimming.")
Use of adverbsEdit
In Hungarian adverbs can be used predicatively with van ("is"). Examples: Korán van. ("It's early.") Nyitva van. ("It's open.")
Some degree adverbs are formed from adjectives. The suffixes which are used are ones which are usually used on nouns:
- -on/-en/-ön/-n, e.g. nagyon ("very")
- -vá/-vé, e.g. kissé ("somewhat, to some extent"), eléggé ("quite, fairly")
Comparative and superlativeEdit
Comparative adjectives and adverbs are formed by adding -abb/-ebb/-bb to the adjective stem, e.g. gyors ("quick"), gyorsabb ("quicker"), gyorsan ("quickly"), gyorsabban ("more quickly").
To state the thing which is being compared with (like English "than"), Hungarian uses the noun suffix -nál/-nél or the preposition mint. (Note, mint is the only preposition in Hungarian.) For example gyorsabb a szélnél or gyorsabb, mint a szél ("faster than the wind").
Superlative adjectives and adverbs are formed by adding the prefix leg- to the comparative, e.g. a leggyorsabb ("the quickest"), a leggyorsabban ("the most quickly").
|Example: magas ("tall/high")|
|Degree||Word elements||Complete form||Meaning|
|Exaggerated||legesleg-||-abb||legeslegmagasabb||the very tallest/highest|
- Back-vowel adjectives use a as link vowel (as in magasabb), while front-vowel ones use e (e.g. hidegebb "colder"). The only exception is nagy ("big"), which uses o as link vowel instead of a: nagyobb, legnagyobb, legeslegnagyobb.
- The exaggerated measure is used for stressing the superlative adjective.
- See Hungarian verbs
Many expressions of time use the case endings and postpositions which are also used for position, e.g.:
- -tól/-től - when from
- -ig - until when
- -ra/-re - by (before) a certain time
- között (postposition) - between; among
- előtt (postposition) - before
- után (postposition) - after
- -n belül (postposition with suffix) - within
There are also some which are used only for time, e.g.:
- -kor - at what time, e.g. kilenckor ("at nine"), karácsonykor ("at Christmas")
- -onta/-ente/-önte - every ..., e.g. naponta ("daily")
- múlva (postposition) - in ... time, e.g. 2 hét múlva ("in 2 weeks' time")
There are 2 ways of expressing how long ago something happened:
- 3rd singular possessive suffix with past tense, e.g. 10 éve költözött el. ("He moved away 10 years ago.")
- -val/-vel + ezelőtt with past tense, e.g. 10 évvel ezelőtt költözött el. ("He moved away 10 years ago.")
Telling the timeEdit
"Hány óra (van)? Mennyi (most) az idő?" ( " What time is it? What is the time? ")
- 8.20 - Nyolc óra múlt húsz perccel. "It is twenty (minutes) past eight."
- 8.50 - Tíz perc múlva kilenc óra. "It is ten to nine."
Times can be given by just the numbers, but this is not usual in speech, e.g.:
nyolc óra húsz (literally "eight hour twenty") or nyolc húsz (literally "eight twenty").
In speech the half and quarter hours are expressed by what fraction of the time to the next hour has elapsed.
These can be written using fractions, e.g.:
- 8.00 or 8 - nyolc (literally "eight") or nyolc óra ( literally "eight hours")
- 8.15 or ¼ 9 - negyed kilenc (literally "quarter nine")
- 8.30 or ½ 9 - fél kilenc (literally "half nine")
- 8.45 or ¾ 9 - háromnegyed kilenc (literally "three-quarters nine")
These are abbreviated in movie programmes as n9, f9 and h9 (with the initial letters of the fraction names).
The times in between these are expressed in relation to the next or previous quarter hour, e.g.:
- 8.20 - negyed kilenc múlt öt perccel (literally "past quarter 9 by 5 minutes")...
...or fél kilenc lesz tíz perc múlva (literally "it will be half 9 in 10 minutes' time")
- 8.25 - fél kilenc lesz öt perc múlva (literally "it will be half 9 in 5 minutes' time")
These are different when they refer to a time in the past or future:
- 8.20-kor - negyed kilenc után öt perccel (literally "after quarter 9 by 5 minutes")
- 8.25-kor - fél kilenc előtt öt perccel (literally "before half 9 by 5 minutes")
For a period of time extending up to the present:
- 3rd singular possessive ending with present tense, e.g. 3 éve lakom itt. ("I've been living here for 3 years.")
- 3rd singular possessive ending with negative past tense, e.g. 10 éve nem láttam. ("I haven't seen him for 10 years.")
For a period of time in the past, present or future:
- accusative with dynamic verbs, e.g. 2 órát segítünk. ("We're helping for 2 hours."), 2 órát fogunk segíteni ("We're going to help for 2 hours."), 2 órát segítettünk. ("We helped for 2 hours.")
- -ig with stative verbs, e.g. 5 évig laktam Londonban. ("I lived in London for 5 years."), Egy percig sem maradok itt! ("I won't stay here even for a minute!")
These two structures are often interchangeable.
- The -ra/-re structure also exists, but it's rarely used in this sense since it may be ambiguous with the "by (before)" meaning. For example Három napra ment el. ("He left for three days.") Then again: Három napot/napig volt távol. ("He was away for three days.") – the above suffixes appear.
Verbs are negated with nem, except in the subjunctive when ne is used.
Double or multiple negative is mandatory with negative pronouns (like nobody, nothing, never, nowhere), see the article "Double negative" about Hungarian.
ki? is the basic question word for a person (cf. "who?") and mi? is the basic question word for a thing (cf. "what?"). Where meaningful, these can take the full range of case and noun suffixes, e.g. kit?, miben?, miképp? mi + ért ("for the purpose of") gives the question word miért? ("why?").
milyen? is used to ask for a description. It can be used to ask about a whole noun phrase, e.g. Milyen a tanárod? ("What's your teacher like?") or as a determiner, e.g. Milyen lakást akarsz? ("What kind of flat do you want?"). Although there is no case suffix -lyan/-lyen, this ending also occurs in ilyen ("this kind of"), olyan ("that kind of"), valamilyen ("some kind of") and semmilyen ("no kind of").
The strict three-way distinction in direction which occurs in the positional suffixes also occurs in the question words: hol? ("where?"), hova? /hová? ("where to?") and honnan? ("where from?").
hány? is used to ask questions about numbers (cf. "how many?") and mennyi? about quantities (cf. "how much?"). Where meaningful, these can take the full range of case and noun suffixes, e.g. hánnyal?, hánykor?, mennyibe?, mennyiért? hány? can also take the full range of suffixes used for numbers and quantity expressions, e.g. hányadik?, hányas?
Yes/no questions are expressed by intonation not by any modification to syntax or morphology.
A short positive answer to a yes/no question is often given by repeating the verb particle (or the full verb, if it has no particle) rather than by using the words Igen ("Yes"). Examples:
- Elment? – El. ("Has he left? – He has.", literally "[He] away-went? – Away.")
- Látta a filmet? – Látta. ("Did he see the film? – He did.", literally "[He] saw the film? – [He] saw.").
The negative answer to a yes/no question may include the word Nem ("No") or the negation of the requested part of the sentence or both.
- Nem. (this option may sound rude) / Nem ment el. / Nem, nem ment el. ("No, he hasn't left.", literally "No, not [He] went away.")
Tag questions are made by adding ugye to the beginning or end of a statement. E.g. Elment, ugye? or Ugye elment? ("He has left, hasn't he?"). The latter form more strongly suggests the positive answer.
Subordinate and relative clausesEdit
Subordinate clauses are often used with an antecedent in the main clause, e.g. Kabátot hozott, mert fázott. /Azért hozott kabátot, mert fázott. ("She fetched a coat because she was cold [not for other reason]. / She fetched a coat[not something else] because she was cold.")
Relative clauses usually have an explicit antecedent in the main clause, e.g. Attól félek, nem mehetek el. ("I'm afraid [of the fact that] I can't go.") However, Attól tartok, (hogy) nem mehetek el. is also correct.
- "The Hungarian Language: A Short Descriptive Grammar" by Beáta Megyesi (PDF document)
- Keresztes, László (1999). A practical Hungarian grammar (3rd, rev. ed.). Debrecen: Debreceni Nyári Egyetem. ISBN 963-472-300-4.
- Törkenczy, Miklós (2002). Practical Hungarian grammar: [a compact guide to the basics of Hungarian grammar]. Budapest: Corvina. ISBN 963-13-5131-9.
- Törkenczy, Miklós (1999). Hungarian verbs and essentials of grammar: a practical guide to the mastery of Hungarian (2nd ed.). Budapest: Corvina; Lincolnwood, [Ill.]: Passport Books. ISBN 963-13-4778-8.
- Rounds, Carol (2001). Hungarian: an essential grammar. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22612-0.
- Hungarian Language Learning References (including the short reviews of three of the above books)
- Noun Declension Tables - HUNGARIAN. Budapest: Pons. Klett. ISBN 978-963-9641-04-4
- Verb Conjugation Tables - HUNGARIAN. Budapest: Pons. Klett. ISBN 978-963-9641-03-7
- Gyakorló magyar nyelvtan - A Practical Hungarian Grammar, Akadémiai Kiadó Budapest 2009 ISBN 978-963-05-8703-7