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A Beginner’s Guide to Hungarian Word Order

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If you’ve read our previous articles, you probably know everything about the very core of Hungarian: basic nouns, adverbs, and verbs. Moreover, you’re probably familiar with the spelling and pronunciation of words. If you somehow missed the articles covering these topics, head over to HungarianPod101.com as soon as possible.

Today, we’re going to introduce you to another crucial topic: Hungarian word order. It’s pretty clear why you need to learn about sentence structure in Hungarian (or any language, really). In some languages—Hungarian among them—the meaning of your sentence changes based on the order of the words. That’s why you need to know the Hungarian language word order and be very careful when forming sentences. 

In this article, you’ll get to know the most common word order in Hungarian, if there is such a thing at all, and you’ll also become familiarized with exceptions so that you’ll be prepared for anything. You’ll know where to put each word or phrase, even if there are five prepositional phrases in a single sentence!

Remember, if you don’t understand something at first, there’s no shame in reading the section—or even the whole article—again. If you still don’t seem to be caught up with the material and have a question about Hungarian word order, you’re not a lost case! Just reach out to us at HungarianPod101.com. Ready? Let’s jump into it. Or should I say: Ugorjunk is bele!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hungarian Table of Contents
  1. Overview of Word Order in Hungarian
  2. Basic Word Order with Subject, Verb, and Object
  3. Word Order with Modifiers
  4. How to Change Sentences into Yes-or-No Questions
  5. Translation Exercises
  6. Conclusion: HungarianPod101.com Helps You Reach Your Full Potential

1. Overview of Word Order in Hungarian

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In Hungarian, basic word order in sentences usually follows the S-V-O pattern. However, there’s no set word order. The Hungarian sentence structure is based on the following three rules:

1 – Priority of the Word

The important words, the ones you want to emphasize, are at the beginning of a sentence. In speech, these words might be stressed as well.

For example:

A madarak a kalitkában ülnek. — The birds are sitting in the cage (and nowhere else).

A kalitkában madarak ülnek. — There are birds sitting in the cage (in general).

A madarak ülnek a kalitkában.— The birds are sitting (and not doing anything else, like standing) in the cage.

2 – Priority of Negation

Negating words are always at the beginning of a Hungarian sentence.

For example:

Nem fogom elmondani neked. (“I am not going to tell it to you.”)

Ne dobd el! (“Do not throw it away.”)

3 – Focus of the Sentence

The focus of the sentence is usually the word before the verb.

Let’s take a look at a few of the sentences from earlier in this context.

A madarak a kalitkában ülnek. — The birds are sitting in the cage and nowhere else.

Ne dobd el! — The focus here is the negating word, which is the most important word in this sentence.

Since there are no set rules for Hungarian word order, the Hungarian sentence structure is quite flexible.

There aren’t many distinguishable features between Hungarian and English in terms of sentence structure. As we said before, English uses the S-V-O order, too, and sometimes it puts the emphasized word at the beginning of a sentence as well.

For example:

“I told her the story.” AND “To her I told the story.” 

The latter means that the person told the story to “her” specifically. Here, the person the story was told to is more important than the fact that the story was told at all.

Elmeséltem neki a történetet. Elmeséltem is “I told,” neki is “her” (or “him”), and a történetet is “the story.”

AND

Neki elmeséltem a történetet. You can see that in this case, neki which is “her” (or “him”) is at the beginning of the sentence.

We’re going to delve into this more in the following section.

Two White Birds Sitting on a Branch

2. Basic Word Order with Subject, Verb, and Object

In the section above, we mentioned that in Hungarian grammar, word order generally follows the S-V-O pattern.

Now, we’re going to go even deeper. First, we’ll discuss what each part of the S-V-O pattern means, and then put what we learned in this section into practice. Sounds good? Let’s jump into it then.

1 – What are the Subject, Object, and Verb?

A- Subject

The subject is one of the major parts of speech used to build a sentence. Subjects are especially of high importance in negative, interrogative, and declarative sentences. A subject is the “doer,” also known as the agent of the action that’s described in a given sentence. Thus, they’re usually noun phrases (such as a noun or a pronoun).

Examples:

  • “the father” = az apa
  • “she” = ő
  • “the Hungarian language” = a magyar nyelv

In Hungarian, the subject is often left out of the sentence and is implied by the verb’s suffix:

  • She wears skirts.”  

(Ő) szoknyákat hord.

As you can see, “she” is ő, and both are subjects. But in the Hungarian sentence, ő can be left out.

  • You speak a lot.” [more people] 

(Ti) sokat beszéltek.

  • We love cars.” 

(Mi) szeretjük az autókat.

B- Object

The object is the part of a sentence that’s being acted upon by the subject. In other words, an object is a noun or a noun phrase, just like a subject, that’s affected by the action of a verb.

  • “She wears skirts.”

Szoknyákat hord.

Skirts are being worn by her.

  • “We love cars.”

Szeretjük az autókat.

Cars are being loved by us.

  • “They eat bacon.”

Szalonnát esznek.

The bacon is being eaten by them.

C- Verb

The verb is the core of any sentence. It expresses an act, occurrence, or mode of being that’s inflected for tense, voice, mood, aspect, and agreement with the subject. It generally has a full-descriptive meaning.

  • “She wears skirts.”

Szoknyákat hord.

Skirts are being worn by her.

  • “We love cars.”

Szeretjük az autókat.

Cars are being loved by us.

Szalonnát esznek.

The bacon is being eaten by them.

2 – The Basic Word Order 

S-V-O = Subject-Verb-Object

But this Hungarian word order can change depending on the focus of the sentence (i.e. what we want to emphasize).

Examples:

  • “Mom helps me.” 

Anya segít nekem. (S-V-O)

  • “Mom me helps.” 

Anya nekem segít. (S-O-V)

The latter one could mean that Mom helps me, but she doesn’t help others.

Example Sentences

  • “I like her.”

Kedvelem őt.

Exceptions example: 

When the object is emphasized, it can appear at the beginning of a sentence.

  • Her I like.” OR “I like her.” (And nobody else.)

Őt kedvelem

We hope that with the explanations and example sentences, you can better understand the Hungarian word order rules.

Now, try translating: “I understand Hungarian word order now.”

Students Sitting on the Grass in Front of a School and Studying

3 – Word Order with Prepositional Phrases

  • “When you came here.”

 Amikor idejöttél.

“When” is amikor, “here” is ide (it functions as a verbal prefix in this Hungarian sentence), and “you came” is jöttél. You’ll notice that “you” is not included in the sentence because, as mentioned above, the pronoun is indicated by the suffixes in jöttél.

  • “When did you come here?” 

Mikor jöttél ide?

In this case, “when” is mikor. The a got dropped from the front because the sentence is a question this time. You may also have noticed that the verbal prefix becomes a “suffix” in Hungarian questions; it separates from the word and is placed after it.

It’s also worth noting that in Hungarian, there’s no specific word order for questions. Questions are simply indicated by question marks, or in speech, by intonation. Your intonation rises at the end of a sentence if it’s a question.

  • “It is where you put it.”

Ott van, ahova tetted.

  • “Where did you travel last summer?”

Hova utaztál tavaly nyáron?

“Where” is hova (in a declarative sentence, it would be hol), “did you travel” is utaztál, and “last summer” is tavaly nyáron.

  • “And that is how you should do it.” 

És ez az, ahogyan csinálnod kellene.

  • “You offended him in what way?” 

Hogyan sértetted meg?

The prepositions mentioned above (where, when, how, etc.) usually go after the subject and before the verb. However, they normally get placed at the front if they’re part of a question.

What’s the order when there’s more than one prepositional phrase (e.g. Time + Place + Manner)? Let’s see some examples to help you understand.

  • “I study Hungarian every day at home with HungarianPod101.”

Minden nap tanulok otthon magyarul a HungarianPod101-nal.

The order of the phrases depends on where the emphasis is.

  • “I study Hungarian every day at home with HungarianPod101.”

A HungarianPod101-nal minden nap tanulok otthon magyarul.

  • “I study Hungarian every day at home with HungarianPod101.” 

Otthon minden nap tanulok magyarul a HungarianPod101-nal.

  • “I study Hungarian every day at home with HungarianPod101.” 

Minden nap magyarul tanulok otthon a HungarianPod101-nal.

Bottom line: Multiple phrases work like simple words when it comes to Hungarian word order. What we mean by this is that the more important the prepositional phrase, the closer it will be to the beginning of the sentence. It all comes down to importance.

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3. Word Order with Modifiers

First of all, it’s best if we clarify what a modifier is. A modifier is a word or a phrase that’s used with another word or phrase to limit or add to its meaning.

For example (modifiers are in bold):

  • priority mail = elsőbbségi levél
  • safety barrier = biztonsági korlát
  • doctor on duty = ügyeletes orvos

Modifiers are often adjectives, adverbs, and relative clauses (the coffee that I ordered).

1 – Adjectives

A- Absolute Adjectives

Attributive: The adjective comes before the noun/pronoun.

  • “The green apples are in the box.” (A zöld almák a dobozban vannak.)
  • “The disturbing images are off the screen.” (A felkavaró képek lekerültek a képernyőről.)
  • “The Hungarian dancers are very talented.” (A magyar táncosok nagyon tehetségesek.)

Predicative: The adjective comes after the noun/pronoun.

  • “Ravens are black.” (A hollók feketék.)
  • “Her sibling is smart and kind.” (A testvére okos és kedves.)
  • “This pie is very tasty.” (Ez a pite nagyon ízletes.)

B- Comparative Adjectives (comparing at least two nouns/pronouns)

  • “Peter is younger than Julie.” (Péter fiatalabb mint Júlia.)
  • “My ruler is shorter than yours.” (Az én vonalzóm rövidebb mint a tiéd.)
  • Rabbits are cuter than dogs.” (A nyulak aranyosabbak mint a kutyák.)

2 – Adverbs 

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. 

  • “She dances gracefully.” (Kecsesen táncol.)
  • “He swims quickly.” (Gyorsan úszik.)
  • “The dwarves went home singing.” (A törpék énekelve mentek haza.)
  • “The teacher replied, smiling.” (A tanár mosolyogva válaszolt.)

3 – Relative Clauses 

As indicated by its name, even in Hungarian, these are clauses and not simple words or short phrases.

  • “I drank the coffee that I ordered.” (Megittam a kávét, amit rendeltem.)
  • “I read the book (that) you lent me.” (Elolvastam a könyvet, amit kölcsönadtál.)

But what if there are more modifiers? Well, let’s see some examples, because we’re all about putting knowledge into practice.

  • “I happily drank the coffee that I ordered.” (Boldogan ittam meg a kávét, amit rendeltem.)

Here, you can see that “happily” (boldogan) modifies “drank.” For this reason, in Hungarian, boldogan comes before ittam because ittam is what it modifies. Likewise, “that I ordered” can only come after kávét because “coffee” is being modified.

  • “Peter’s shoes are newer than Julie’s black scarf.” (Péter cipője újabb mint Júlia fekete sálja.)

Can you follow the same line of thought here? Try to explain why the order looks like this in Hungarian.

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4. How to Change Sentences into Yes-or-No Questions

Do you want to know how to change a sentence into a question, perhaps by changing the word order and/or adding particles in Hungarian? We’ve got your back! It’s very easy, because, as mentioned in the earlier sections, questions are mostly indicated by either a question mark (in writing) or intonation (in speech).

  • “You study every day.” (Minden nap tanulsz.)
  • “Do you study every day?” (Minden nap tanulsz?)

In speech, you would raise your intonation at tanulsz.

  • “You drank a lot.” (Sokat ittál.)
  • “Did you drink a lot?” (Sokat ittál?)
  • “You told her you love her.” (Megmondtad neki, hogy szereted.)
  • “Did you tell her you love her?” (Megmondtad neki, hogy szereted?)
  • “Did you tell her you love her?” (Neki mondtad meg, hogy szereted?)
  • “She was here a second ago.” (Egy perce még itt volt.)
  • “Was she here a second ago?” (Egy perce még itt volt?)
  • “Was she here a second ago?” (Itt volt még egy perce?)

Does word order change in your language, too, based on emphasis?

5. Translation Exercises

In this section, we would like to show you how to build up long sentences in Hungarian, step-by-step. 

Try translating the following English sentences into Hungarian:

Step 1. A simple S-V-O sentence in English

“You drank tea.”

Step 2. Adding prepositional phrases

“You drank tea five minutes ago.”

“Five minutes ago” is öt perccel ezelőtt or öt perce.

Step 3. Adding modifiers to the sentence

“You drank cold tea five minutes ago.”

Step 4. Transforming the sentence into a yes-or-no question

“Did you drink cold tea five minutes ago?”

Answers:

  • “You drank tea.” (Teát ittál.)
  • “You drank tea five minutes ago.” (Öt perce ittál teát.)
  • “You drank cold tea five minutes ago.” (Öt perce ittál hideg teát.)
  • “Did you drink cold tea five minutes ago?” (Hideg teát ittál öt perce?)

Don’t forget that the word order is flexible, depending on what you want to emphasize.

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6. Conclusion: HungarianPod101.com Helps You Reach Your Full Potential

Now that you’re through with this article… What do you think of the Hungarian sentence patterns? Are they easy? Was the article understandable? 

Don’t forget that practice makes perfect. In the last section, we showed you an example of a possible exercise you could do to test your knowledge, but there are many more you could try out. Just join the HungarianPod101 family, and we’ll be there to help you with everything!

So, let’s see what you’ve learned today about the structure and word order of a Hungarian sentence. First, we explained what the most common word order in Hungarian is: S-V-O, just like in English. Easy peasy.

Then, we checked out examples of multiple kinds of prepositional phrases and where they go in a sentence. Also, we examined where they usually are if there are multiple phrases in the sentence.

Next, we revealed to you what modifiers are and where their usual place is in a typical Hungarian sentence. Later, you learned how easy it is to make a question in Hungarian with just intonation and a single question mark. Don’t forget, Hungarian does not use the same method as English (i.e. it does not use auxiliary verbs to form questions).

Last but not least, we brought you some translation examples to put what you’ve learned into practice because application is the best way to remember something. 

We hope you enjoyed this little lesson with us. If you would like to read more articles, go to our blog. But if you would like to learn more actively, subscribe and become a part of our family. You’ll get access to videos, podcasts, flashcards, and much more.

P.S. Do not forget to practice!

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