Word Order (1/3)

First, before we explain anything, let’s clear up this misconception.

Hungarian has a free order.

This isn’t strictly true. While words can be rearranged, there are always exceptions.

Neutral Sentences

SVO

The default order for neutral sentences is SubjectVerbObject (SVO). The subject does something (the verb) to the object. In English, personal pronouns or nouns are generally the subject.

In Hungarian neutral sentences, the subject is omitted if it is a personal pronoun. This is because the subject is implicitly stated in the conjugation.

If there is no article, the order becomes SOV.

Note the last one doesn’t have a direct object, but the same logic applies.

If the sentence is describing something or describing something happening, the order becomes Adjective/Verb-Noun.

Emphasis

To place emphasis on a word in English, stress it. This emphasis can change the whole meaning of the sentence. Let’s look at an easy example.

Because English generally has a rigid word order, emphasis only happens through stressing words.

Hungarian is a topic-prominent language. The topic (what the sentence is about) is placed at the beginning of the sentence, and the rest of the sentence talks about this topic.

So because the case system in Hungarian frees up the word order, the focus (what is emphasised) now becomes based upon word order. The topic goes first, and the focus goes before the verb.

Because the focus is a matek vizsgám, this sentence could work as a response to Tegnap milyen vizsgád volt?. The topic of conversation would be when was it with the emphasis on what kind of exam?. With word order, the answer reflects the question.

Barnabás: Mit szoktál reggelizni? - (What do you usually have for breakfast?)

Alex: Csak két szendvicset szoktam. - (Usually just two sandwiches.)

Questions

Something you’ll notice is that the verb almost always follows a question word.

An exception: Milyen napod volt? (Due to the focus of your day).

Negation

There are three ways negation occurs in Hungarian. It is understood that the topic is taken up by nem, but the focus is free to change.

Verb Is Negated

Format: nem + verb

  1. There is a focus.
  1. There is no focus.

Verb Is Not Negated

Format: nem + focus

  1. Focus is negated.

Now because you’ve negated the focus, it sounds incomplete, leading people to belive there’s more information coming. Here are a couple of ways this can be done.

Change of Topic

Recall the listening when we first covered negation. Pay attention to the word order as the topic changes.

[…]

The original topic was asking about the issue, the issue is that there is no video. The next topic asks what is missing, the video is missing.

Adding pronouns

The addition of pronouns places the emphasis on that person, generally done as a followup in conversations.

Alex: Hogy vagy ma? - (How are you today?)

Barnabás: Nagyon jól vagyok, ma volt az utolsó vizsgám. Te hogy vagy? - (I’m very well, I had my last exam today. How are you?)

The same can be done with is (as well) and sem (neither).

Péter: Nem szeretek horgászni, annyira unalmas! - (I don’t like fishing, it’s so boring!)

Barnabás: Én sem, túl sokáig tart. - (Neither do I, it takes too long.)


György: Szeretem a csokitortát. - (I love chocolate cake.)

Alex: Én is! Ez a kedvencem! - (Me too! It’s my favourite!)

Challenge!

Arrange these words into a neutral sentence. Remember the position of the topic.

Holnap reggel beszélek a főnökömmel 10-kor.

Naturally, this can be a difficult idea to grasp, as it differs a lot from English. Here are some videos on youtube that may help you.