Pronunciation of the letters

In Hungarian we pronounce words as they are written, which is an easiness. On the other hand of course the pronunciation of several sounds can make difficulties for those who’s native language doesn’t include a lot of these sounds as Hungarian language use a lot of sounds that other languages lack. So pronuncing Hungarian sounds is easier for Slavic and Turkish people rather than for Latin people.

In case of vowels, the special sounds are denoted with accents, which can be comma, two points or two commas. In case of consonants, extra sounds are denoted by double letters.

Hungarian alphabet English explanation explanation with Russian letters
a no such sound in other languages, close to o and a (pronounced shortly)
á like the u in hut or a in most of the languages (pronounced longer) а
b b б
c tz (or ts), like the ts combination in let’s, or the German z ц
cs ch ч
d d д
dz like the Italian z in pizza дз
dzs j in jungle or Jeep дж
e e, like in get, let or met (pronounced shortly) э
é like the a in take, make or shake (pronounced longer)
f f ф
g g in get, give, go г
gy d in during, due, duty in British English дь
h h like in English (99%), few cases: j like in Spanish, also few cases: silent х
i i in think, pink, ring (pronounced shortly) и
í double e like in geek, seek, peek (pronounced longer)
j y in yell, yard, yankee й
k k к
l l л
ly y (same as j, just like in Spanish where y and ll are pronounced same), in some Western Hungarian accents: l looks ль, but pronounced as й
m m м
n n н
ny n in new in British English нь
o o in hot (pronounced shortly) о
ó o in over (pronounced longer)
ö i in skirt or u in burn, same as the German and Turkish ö (pronounced shortly), the front vowel version of o
ő the long version of the previous one
p p п
(q) exists only in case of loan words
r r р
s sh like in bush, shave, shadow ш
sz s like in sink, save, state (oppositely to Polish where sz represents the sh sound) с
t t т
ty t like in Tudor in British English ть
u u like in put (pronounced shortly) у
ú double o like in pool, cool, moon (pronounced longer)
ü same as the German and Turkish ü (pronounced shortly), the front vowel version of u
ű the long version of the previous one
v v в
(w) exists only in case of loan words
(x) exists only in case of loan words
(y) in Hungarian words exist only in the combinations: gy, ly, ny, ty (which are separate letters) or at the end of noble family names instead of letter i, e.g. Egressy ь
z z з
zs j like in the French words Jacques, Joule, je ж

Grouping the vowels

Vowels can be grouped according to different point of views. The most obvious is the lenght of the pronuntiation (short or long), however the most important grouping in Hungarian language (because of the grammatic) is whether the vowel is front- or back vowel. The following table shows the short-long and the front-back pairs of vowels. (other possible groupings: open- or closed vowel, roundedness)

pronounced vowel type
shortly longer front back
a a
á á
e e
é é
i í i
o ó í
ö ő ö o
u ú ő ó
ü ű ü u
ű ú

By adding a comma as an accent to the vowel, its pronunciation is lenghtened, so we get the long forms of the vowels, however á and é aren’t the long forms of a and e (see table), because these letters not only differ in length, but in pronunciation as well. By adding double points as an accent  to the vowel, means that it becomes a front vowel. So in case a back vowel has a front vowel pair, it’s signed by double points. The long pronounced front vowel versions are denoted by two commas.

Words including only front vowels are called front vowel words and get front vowel suffixes in case of inflection, while words including only back vowels are called back vowel words and get back vowel suffixes and words including vowels from both groups are called mixed words and get also back vowel suffixes. One example: the inessive case is formed by the suffix ~ban or ~ben and means: in ~. So the declension of kertház and Athén (house, garden, Athens) are kertben, házban, Athénban. In practice only the last two vowels account, so words that begin with back vowel but their last two vowels are front vowels, get (or can get also) front vowel suffixes. In case of compound words, the last word counts even if it has only one vowel. In case of loan words, only the last vowel counts.

There is also a rule that one word can only include either back vowels or ö, ő, ü, ű, but not vowels from both group of letters. Which means that mixed words can’t include ö, ő, ü, ű. So e, é, i, í can stand together either with back vowels (->mixed word) or with ö, ő, ü, ű (-> front vowel word) in one word, but the last two groups can’t stand together in one word. Exceptions are the compound words and loanwords. For example: sofőr (chauffeur, from French). Practically(!) we can divide the vowels into 3 groups (gramatically and not phonologically):

vowel type
back front very front
a e ö
á é ő
o i ü
ó í ű

The reason of this grouping isn’t only expedient because “very front” vowels and back vowels can’t stand together in one word, but it has importance in case of suffixes as there are few types of them of which 3 forms exist. 1 back vowel suffix and 2 front vowel suffixes (of which one is the – by me called – “very front” vowel suffix). The rule is that if the last vowel of a word is ö, ő, ü or ű, then the word gets the “very front” vowel suffix. For example let’s see the allative case which is formed by the suffixes: ~hoz, ~hez, ~höz, which mean to ~ or towards ~. The declension of the words ház, kert, Ön (house, garden, [formal] You) are házhoz, kerthez, Önhöz.

Longer pronounced consonants

If a single consonant is pronounced longer then the letter is duplicated. If a double letter is pronounced longer, then only the first letter is duplicated.

short long   short long
b bb ly lly
c cc m mm
cs ccs n nn
d dd ny nny
dz p pp
dzs r rr
f ff s ss
g gg sz ssz
gy ggy t tt
h hh ty tty
j jj v vv
k kk z zz
l ll zs zzs

In case of compund words, the double letters are written twice. For example: jegygyűrű (wedding ring), however in case of suffixes (begining with the same letter as the last letter of the word) it’s written according to the above table. For example: lány (=girl), lánnyal (with girl).

If we add a suffix that begins with a j to a word that ends with any of the letters that are – or can become – soft (d, l, n, t), then the pronounciation of the letter combination is long and soft regardless of the lenght and softness of the letter without j. (letter l becomes a long pronounced y sound) Let’s see for example the letter t:

short hard consonant (e.g. t) + j = long soft consonant
long hard consonant (e.g. tt) + j = long soft consonant
short soft consonant (e.g. ty) + j = long soft consonant
long soft consonant (e.g. tty) + j = long soft consonant

So as we see 5 different letter combination can cause a long soft t (tty, tj, ttj, tyj,ttyj). Out of these only 3 appear frequently. Let’s see these 3 variations for all the 4 letters that can be soft:

long soft consonant inside a word hard consonant at the end of the word + j of suffix short soft consonant inside a word + j of suffix also equals to
ggy dj gyj
lly* lj* lyj* jj, llj*
nny nj nyj
tty tj tyj

 *: ly (so lly, lj, lyj, llj as well) ain’t considered soft consonant because these are pronounced today as the English y

For example: menny (= heaven) but menj! (= go!), which consists of men+j, where j is the suffix of the imperative. These two words are pronounced the very same way but their roots are different. These two words – which differ only in an h in pronunciation – are also good example in imperative: adj!, hagyj! The root of these words are ad (give) and hagy (let).

The bold letters of all the following words have to be pronounced like a long English y:

  • éjjel (= at night)
  • gally (= twig)
  • kelj (= wake)
  • állj (= stop)
  • folyjon (= let it flow)

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