Expressing “to have” and “there is”

Hungarian language – just like Russian, Arabic and Hebrew – lacks the verb to have, so we need other ways to express it. For this reason, we use the verbs van, vannak, which are considered to be the Present tense, Realis Mood, S/3 and P/3 form of lenni (=to be), however these verbs aren’t used for expressing he is/she is/they are, as in those cases the verb has to be left from the sentence, so that the lack of the verb in a sentence indicates that the predicate is nothing else than  the Present tense, Realis Mood, S/3 and P/3 of lenni (see: conjugation). So the verbs van, vannak are used only for expressing to have and there is/there are. So let’s see the meaning of these words and their negations:

  • van: there is
  • vannak: there are
  • nincs (or nincsen): there is no
  • nincsenek: there are no

For example:

  • Van Isten. = There is a God.
  • Vannak okos gyerekek. = There are smart children.
  • Nincs kegyelem. = There is no mercy.

If we want to express to have or not to have, then we have to use these 4 words. And then we take the noun, which would be the object of to have in the English sentence. Then we have to add the Possessive affixes to this noun. Also important to put the owner into Dative (last 2 examples). For example:

  • Van autóm. = I have a car.
  • Nincsenek gyerekeim. = I don’t have children.
  • Van házad? = Do you have house?
  • Vannak testvéreid? = Do you have siblings?
  • Eszternek van autója. = Esther has a car.
  • A gyerekeknek nincsenek autóik. = Children don’t have cars.

So as you see, these sentences are put together from these 2 parts:

  • there is / there are / there is no / there are no
  • my car / my children / your house / your siblings / etc.

These things might be easier to explain to Spanish speakers (although they have the verb to have), because:

Hungarian Spanish English
Van egy autó. Hay un carro. There is a car
Van egy autó az utcán. Hay un carro en la calle. There is a car on the street
Van egy autóm. Tengo un carro. I have a car.
Vannak autói. Tiene carros. He/she has cars.
Nincsenek autóid. No tienes carros. You don’t have cars.

As you see when there are no Possessive affixes added to the noun in Hungarian, Spanish people use the verb hay, while when there are Possessive affixes added to the noun in Hungarian, Spanish people use the verb tener.

Transforming all these to different tenses and moods

In case of sentences different than Realis mood, Present tense, we use the proper S/3 and P/3 forms of the verb lenni (= to be) In case of negation, the word nem (= no) is added to the form of the Affirmative sentence besides the Realis mood, Present tense (except for Imperative), as the verbs van and vannak have negation forms only in this mood-tense combination. Imperative has its own negation word (ne) just as in any other Imperative sentences.

Mood Tense Singular Plurar Singular negation Plurar negation
Realis Present van vannak nincs nincsenek
Past volt voltak nem volt nem voltak
Future lesz lesznek nem lesz nem lesznek
Conditional Present
(2 possibilites)
lenne lennének nem lenne nem lennének
volna volnának nem volna nem volnának
Past lett volna lettek volna nem lett volna nem lettek volna
Imperative Present legyen legyenek ne legyen ne legyenek

This means that from the 2nd row, verbs can be used both in to be meaning and can be used for expressing to have or there is. These two meanings can’t be confused as the affixes tell us, which is the proper meaning. For example:

  • Eszter ügyes volt. = Esther was adroit.
  • Eszternek volt autója. = Esther had a car.
  • Ne legyetek ügyetlenek. = Don’t be maladroits.
  • Ne legyenek rossz jegyeitek! = Don’t have bad marks!

Translation and mistranslation of the verbs: van, vannak

Important that the English translation of the 3rd Hungarian sentence in the table isn’t: There is my car. (so that I’ve crossed it out) If we want to say that There is my car., we should say: Ott van az autóm., of which ott means there, and also important to put the definite article a/az (=the) before the noun. If the noun lacks the Possessive affix, then – as you saw the first 3 examples in this article – the sentence has the there is meaning for sure. But let’s see the diference between the following two sentences:

  • Van egy autó. = Hay un carro. = There is a car. (in the sense that I want to express that the car I’m speaking about exists, for example: There is a car that can speed up to 300 km/h)
  • Ott van egy autó. = Allí hay un carro = There is a car. (in the sense that for example I’m pointing at a car on the street, for example: Look, there is a car parking in my spot) In this case the we can leave the word van, so this sentence more likely sounds: Ott egy autó. So you can see that these 4 verbs are more likely used for expressing to have or expressing the existence of something, rather than expressing there is in the English meaning.
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