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Hungarian Grammar

Before you dive into learning Hungarian grammar, it’s often a good idea to review the basics of English grammar first. Normally, our sentences are constructed like this—subject-verb-object. That is why English is considered an SVO language. Hungarian is not structured in that manner but by pragmatics. This means that words are ordered based by how much emphasis the speaker would like to give each. This results in longer sentences that can be structured in a variety of ways.

English and Hungarian grammar both have cases. For instance, depending on how a pronoun will be used in a sentence (as a subject or object), there will be slight changes in the word even in English. For example, the sentence “He loves him” has two masculine pronouns, but “he” is in the nominative, and “him” is in the accusative case. In English, the case system is fairly simple, but in Hungarian it is more complicated and requires memorization of many suffixes. Here is an example using the word ház (house) and its various suffixes.

• házat (for use as an object)
• házban (meaning “in the house”)
• házon (meaning “on the house”)
• háznál (meaning “at the house”)
• házból ( meaning “from inside the house”)
• háztól (meaning “from near the house”)

Once you’ve learned the ending for the cases, there is another aspect of Hungarian grammar that results in even more complex word formation. Before you can understand that aspect, you need to know a bit about Hungarian vowels in general. As with all languages, Hungarian vowels can be classified by how the human mouth pronounces them. For example, to say the “a” in pat is a different process that the “i” in pit. In Hungarian, the vowels in a suffix must share a certain characteristic (frontness or backness) with the vowels in the root word.

Let’s use the words ház and üveg (bottle). Earlier, you saw that adding the suffix -ban to ház resulted in the meaning of “in the house.” If you wanted to communicate “in the bottle,” you would need to change the vowel in -ban to match the vowels in üveg (which are front), resulting in üvegben. This seems very difficult at first, but the process is not as complex as it seems. You must simply memorize the front and back vowels and the front and back forms of each suffix. Then you can form words with the proper suffixes instinctively. Of course, there are many facets to Hungarian grammar, such as the two tenses and verb conjugation to convey politeness, but this is a great start for any learner!