Get 31% OFF With The Pretty Big Deal Sale. Ends Soon!
Get 31% OFF With The Pretty Big Deal Sale. Ends Soon!
HungarianPod101.com Blog
Learn Hungarian with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

An Overview of Hungarian Grammar

Thumbnail

We’re so glad that you’re browsing this page because it means that you’re considering learning Hungarian—or have already started! 

Now, we must say that although it is a beautiful language, Hungarian is also a bit challenging at times. That’s why it is so important for you to become familiar with the Hungarian grammar basics from the beginning. 

This page is the perfect place to acquaint yourself with the ins and outs of Hungarian. From the word order to verb conjugation, and everything in-between, we’ll provide you with all the information you need to get a head start in your language learning journey. 

But do remember that we’ll only be covering the basics of Hungarian grammar here. If you wish to study any of these topics further, HungarianPod101.com has tons of resources and lessons, some of which we’ve linked to throughout this lesson. In addition, you can find insightful articles on our blog page

Are you ready to explore the world of Hungarian grammar with us? Let’s begin.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hungarian Table of Contents
  1. General Rules
  2. Word Order
  3. Verb Conjugation
  4. Grammar Cases
  5. Bonus: Extra Hungarian Grammar Rules for the Road
  6. How HungarianPod101.com Can Help You Master Hungarian

1. General Rules

First things first, we’ll quickly go over the most basic Hungarian grammar rules. Once you have a good understanding of these, you should have a much easier time learning the more complex concepts! To make things simpler for you, we’ll be using English as a benchmark and drawing comparisons between the two languages. 

Once you feel comfortable with these rules, you can see our more-detailed explanations further down this page.

Ready? 

Gender

Let’s start with some good news: Just like English, Hungarian does not have grammatical gender. Phew! 

Sentence Structure

Normally, English sentences are constructed using the Subject-Verb-Object pattern, making it an SVO language. Well, this is not the case in Hungarian. 

Although there are instances where Hungarian uses the SVO word order too, Hungarian sentence structures are flexible and pragmatic. This means that words are ordered based on which word you want to give the most emphasis, and which the least. This gives speakers the freedom to better express themselves and make their points clear.

For this reason, super-long sentences can be structured any number of ways. You don’t have to worry much about making mistakes regarding the word order, because pretty much anything you say will be grammatically correct. The only thing that matters when forming sentences is that you put the right word—the one you want to emphasize—at the beginning.

Tenses and Conjugation

In English, there are twelve major verb tenses. That’s quite a lot, huh? 

Well, you won’t have to struggle with Hungarian that much, as it only has three verb tenses: past, present, and future. Pretty straightforward, right? 

Also, once you learn the conjugation of regular verbs (and that of a few irregular verbs), forming correct sentences will be easy as pie.

Cases

Both English and Hungarian use cases. This means that, depending on what role a pronoun plays in a sentence (subject or object), there are slight changes to the word.

Take this sentence for example: 

  • “He loves him.”

This sentence has two masculine pronouns, but “he” (the subject) is in the nominative case and “him” (the object) is in the accusative case. 

In English, the case system is fairly simple. But in Hungarian grammar, cases are a bit more challenging and require the memorization of quite a few suffixes.

Papers, a Pencil and a Blue ABC

2. Word Order 

As we mentioned earlier, Hungarian normally uses the SVO word order in sentences, but there’s not a set word order that one must follow. The speaker decides how they want to structure their sentences. But for this reason, they also have to remember that their word placement will impact the overall meaning of the sentence in terms of emphasis.

In Hungarian grammar, word order is based on the following rules:

1. Priority of Word

The most important words—the ones you want to emphasize—go at the beginning of the sentence. In speech, you might also emphasize them vocally by putting stress on them.

For example, each of the following variations means, “The girl sews in the house.” But each one places emphasis on a different part of the sentence.

  • A lány a házban varr. – The girl is sewing in the house and nowhere else.
  • A házban a lány varr. – It is the girl that is sewing in the house, and not just anybody.
  • A lány varr a házban. – The girl is sewing in the house, and not doing something else; that’s why she’s in the house.

2. Priority of Negation

Words of negation are always at the beginning of a Hungarian sentence.

For example:

  • Nem fogod elhinni. / “You are not going to believe it.”
  • Ne mondd el! / “Do not tell it.”

3. Focus of the Sentence

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

Let’s take a look at a couple of the sentences from above and see how this applies to them.

  • A lány a házban varr. / “The girl sews in the house.” 

Házban means “in the house,” and it’s the focus of this sentence, indicating that she sews in the house and nowhere else. Following the “focus word” is varr, the Hungarian verb for “(she) sews.”

  • Ne mondd el! / “Do not tell it.”

The focus here is on the negating word ne, which is the most important part of the sentence. Following it is the verb mondd.

Got It?

As you can see, the Hungarian sentence structure is rather flexible. To make sure you have a good grasp of this concept, let’s look at a final example.

  • Szeretem őt. / “I love her.”

Here, the speaker wants to let us know that he loves the girl in question, which is why the Hungarian word szeretem (“I love”) is at the beginning.

But what if we switched the word order?

  • Őt szeretem. / “It is her I love.” OR “She is the one I love.” 

This structure indicates that the speaker loves her (őt) specifically, and is not fond of anybody else. Here, the girl who is being loved is important, not the fact that the speaker loves her.

    → Do you need more information and examples on this topic? Then head over to our Hungarian Word Order blog post!
An Incomplete English Sentence Is on a Blackboard, a Band Is Shown Holding Chalk

3. Verb Conjugation

Now that you know about the Hungarian word order, let’s fill in another piece of the puzzle: verb conjugation.

Conjugation refers to the way that a verb changes according to factors such as voice, mood, tense, number, and person.

In Hungarian grammar, verbs can be:

    ❖ In first, second, or third person

    ❖ Singular or plural

    ❖ Undetermined or determined 

    Realis mood, conditional mood, or imperative mood

    ❖ Present tense, past tense, or future tense

Because Hungarian is an agglutinative language, conjugation is done by attaching suffixes to the end of verbs. These suffixes indicate if the verb is in first, second, or third person. For this reason, Hungarians don’t use personal pronouns unless they want to emphasize the subject.

  • (Ők) Főznek. / “They’re cooking.” 

The suffixes also give away whether we’re talking about one person or multiple people (in other words, whether the subject is singular or plural).

  • Várok. / “I’m waiting.” 
  • Vezetünk. / “We drive.” 

Below, you can see all of the possible verb endings regarding person and number. Here, the definite conjugation endings are in bold, whereas the indefinite conjugation suffixes are in italics.

Definite Conjugation EndingsIndefinite Conjugation Endings
I (Én)-m-k
You (Te)-d-sz, -l 
He / She / It (Ő / Az)-ja, -i
We (Mi)-juk, -jük-unk, -ünk
You (Ti)-játok, -itek-tok, -tek, -tök
They (Ők)-ják, -ik-nak, -nek

Let’s look at the topic of definite versus indefinite conjugation in more depth.

Indefinite Conjugation

When to use indefinite conjugation:

  • If there is no article
    • Babát várnak. / “They are expecting a baby.”
  • In the case of undetermined pronouns
    • Bármit mondasz, nem érdekel. / “Anything you say I do not care about.”
  • In the case of an unknown noun that is in plural form
    • Gyümölcsöket veszek. / “I’m buying fruits.”

Definite Conjugation

When to use definite conjugation:

  • When using demonstrative pronouns
    • Meghívtam a srácot. / “I invited the guy.”
  • When using actual names (known people)
    • Megtréfáltuk Samet. / “We tricked Sam.”

-Ik Verbs

It’s crucial that you learn this aspect of Hungarian grammar properly, so that you’ll know whether to use a definite or indefinite Hungarian verb conjugation ending. This is important because a person might appear uneducated if they neglect to use the -m ending for the first person singular present form of -ik verbs.

  • Alszom. (Alszok.) / “I’m sleeping.”

Hungarian “-ik verbs” are the spoken forms of a word, also known as the citation forms for when a verb stands alone. For example, -ik verbs are what you would find in Hungarian dictionaries. They’re called -ik verbs because their last syllable is -ik.

  • Eszik. / “She is eating.”

It Is a Drawing of the English Pronouns with Colorful Bits

4. Grammar Cases

Another crucial part of Hungarian grammar is the cases, of which there are five types:

1. Nominative

2. Attributive / Possessive

3. Genitive

4. Dative

5. Accusative

Please note that the first three are also called “subjective cases” because they can stand as subjectives as well.

Hungarian nouns have eighteen cases, which are formed by adding suffixes to the stem. The nominative case, for example, has no suffix. The accusative case, on the contrary, is marked with the suffix -t. For example:

Nominativea könyv 
“the book” 
Accusative(Értékelem) az könyvet.
“(I appreciate) the book.” 

Most of the cases are a combination of the source-location-target and surface-inside-proximity ternary distinctions (three times three cases). There is also a separate case ending, -ból/-ből, which means “from inside of.” For example, “from the school” would be iskolából.

Let’s take a moment to focus specifically on the attributive (possessive) case, as this trips up many new Hungarian learners.

Attributive Case

The attributive case has two suffixes, which are -nak (for flat-sounding words), and -nek (for sharp-sounding words). This case can also be called the “possessive case” as it expresses possession of something. This case stands in an adjectival relation to the thing that is being possessed, and therefore also serves as an attribute of the thing being possessed. Here’s an example:

  • Péternek a könyve / “Peter’s book” OR “the book of Peter” 

(Péter is a flat-sounding word.)

Here, Peter is the possessor, and the book is the thing he possesses. Peter is also an attribute of the book (the book is defined as being owned by him).

  • Anyának a könyve / “Mom’s book” OR “the book of Mom”

(Anya is a sharp-sounding word.)

Also, possession in Hungarian grammar is expressed by a possessive suffix on the possessed object (just like above). This is opposite to how this is expressed in English, where the possessor takes the suffix. Take a look:

  • “Peter’s book” becomes Péter könyve, meaning “Peter book-his.”

Another difference between Hungarian and English is that Hungarian does not have a verb meaning “to have.” Rather, Hungarians express possession by using the attributive case with the verb van (“to be”). For example:

  • Anyának van egy könyve. / “Mom has a book.” 
    • Literal meaning: “There is a book of mom.”

Do you need a little more help with the attributive case and showing possession? Don’t worry! HungarianPod101.com has you covered with the following lessons:

A Guy in a Blue T-shirt Smiling Is Looking Up and Pointing Up to Lightbulbs

5. Bonus: Extra Hungarian Grammar Rules for the Road

In this last section, we’re going to introduce you to a few more practical Hungarian grammar rules. They might seem expendable at first glance, but they’re just as important as the topics we covered in the previous sections.

Gradation

One of the matters we’d like to talk about is gradation in Hungarian. 

Unlike English, Hungarian does not express gradation through stand-alone words. Instead, the language expresses it with prefixes and suffixes. More specifically, with the prefix leg- (“the most” or “-est” in English) and with the suffix -bb (“more” or “-er” in English). 

Here are some examples to give you a better idea of what we mean:

  • Te vagy a leggyönyörűbb. / “You are the most beautiful.”
  • Ő a legokosabb. / “She is the smartest.”
  • Légy pontosabb! / “Be more specific.” 
  • Ez szélesebb. / “It is wider.”

Particles

The next thing you should know about Hungarian grammar is that it has particles. Actually, it’s very rare that a Hungarian verb does not have a particle attached to it. Anytime there’s a Hungarian verb, it will almost certainly have a particle.

This is important to know because, sometimes, Hungarians answer questions with the particle alone, omitting the verb. 

Take a look at what we mean by this:

  • Elment a boltba? / “Did he go to the store?” 
    • El. / “He did.” 
  • Megvársz, ugye? / “Wait up, will you?” 
    • Meg. / “I will.” 

Politeness

Now, this might be the most important (or should we say legfontosabb?) rule. Hungarians greatly appreciate a little politeness. 

In Hungarian grammar, you can form sentences in one of two ways depending on the politeness level you wish to convey. In this sense, Hungarian is more like French (where ‘tutoyer’ and ‘vouvoyer’ exist) than like English. 

In Hungarian, you can hit a friendly note with a friend, family member, or acquaintance. But you should opt to use Ön and a more polite tone with people you don’t know. Also, if the other person is older than you or deserving of your respect (like a teacher, for example), you should be more polite.

Now, as you know, Hungarian grammar tends to drop pronouns since the verb conjugation reflects the pronoun already. When using Ön, you should use the third person singular form of verbs. 

Let’s see a few examples of informal vs. formal Hungarian:

Friendly / InformalPolite / Formal
“How are you?”Hogy vagy?Hogy van?
“Do you know what time it is?”Tudod, mennyi az idő?Tudja, mennyi az idő?
“You don’t have to wait.”Neked nem kell várnod.Önnek nem kell várnia.

A Guy in a Checkered-shirt Smiling into the Camera with Peers behind Him also Smiling

6. How HungarianPod101.com Can Help You Master Hungarian

In summary, we covered a variety of practical Hungarian grammar concepts that you should learn as a beginner. From word order to conjugation and special rules, you should now have a much better understanding of basic grammar points. 

And now that you’re somewhat familiar with the most common Hungarian grammar rules, you can dive deeper. 

All you have to do is join the HungarianPod101 family.

If we’ve inspired you to continue in your Hungarian studies, create your free lifetime account today and start speaking real Hungarian from your first lesson. You’ll find tons of vocabulary lists, blog posts, video and audio lessons, and much more when you sign up. And don’t forget that should you encounter any troubles during your language studies, we’re always here to help!

With us, language learning has never been easier.

Before you go, let us know in the comments which Hungarian grammar concepts you find easiest and the most difficult. We look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hungarian