I’m writing this article about my experiences in livemocha.com, which is a home page for language learners. In this home page we can also help others in learning our native language. After reviewing some works done by learners of Hungarian I realized that there are some typical mistakes that appear lot of cases.
- Nouns after numbers in Hungarian – unlike in most languages – are always kept in singular. The reason is because the number itself expresses the plurar.
ház = house
házak = houses
öt ház = five houses
- Hungarian learners sometimes use personal pronouns too much. In English, German and some other languages personal pronouns have to be used every time. In Hungarian – just like in Spanish and Italian – personal pronouns are usually left from the sentences, because the conjugation of the verbs exactly shows the number and the person. So personal pronouns are used only in special cases, e.g. when we would like to empasize the subject of the sentence
- Missing the Accusative case is also a common mistake. A lot of languages – like English, Italian, Spanish – don’t use Accusative case for nouns. In Hungarian it’s important; e.g. Péter Anitát szereti. (or: Péter szereti Anitát.) = Peter loves Anita.
- Possessions are expressed by possessive affixes – just like in Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Finnish -, which are put after the possessed thing. In most of the Indo-European languages – Slavic languages, German, Latin – possessor is put to Genitive case. In Hungarian we don’t have Genitive -> the possessor is either kept in Nominative case or put to Dative case. The usage of Nominative and Dative:
Nominative: Péter háza szép. = Peter’s house is nice. -> XXX YYYa ZZZ = XXX’s YYY is ZZZ
Dative: Péternek szép háza van. = Peter has a nice house. -> XXXnek ZZZ YYYa van = XXX has a ZZZ YYY
So if the English sentence contains of or ‘s, then the possessor in the Hungarian sentence is in Nominative, when the English sentence contains has or have, then the possessor in the Hungarian sentence is in Dative and the words van and vannak (“there is”, “there are”) are used. Literaly the above sentence: There is a nice house for Peter.
- If you want to express “I have”, “you have” or “we have”, then you don’t have to use the words “nekem”, “neked”, “nekünk”, “nektek”. The reason is similar to point 2; it’s not necessary to say these words, baceause in this case the possessive affixes express who is the possessor. E.g.: Van egy házam. = I have a house. Van egy házad. = You have a house. So you can say the above mentioned words, but you should say them only in those cases when you want to emphasize the possessor.
- In case of negation, the verb has to come right after the word nem (=no), so the verb comes before the subject:
Okosak vagyunk. = We are clever.
Nem vagyunk buták. = We aren’t stupid.
- The general word order in Hungarian: 1. subject 2. object 3. verb. Hungarian language is quite flexible in the sense of word order (the suffices of words have way more importance than the order of words) but there are always one or two “best solutions”, which are the ones that native Hungarian people use during conversations. So it’s not that big mistake if you use the object after the verb just like in English, but it sounds much more perfect, much more natural if you use the above mentioned word order in bold. e.g. Júlia levelet ír. = Julia writes a letter. However we can express small differences by changing the order of the words. So depending on the situation different word orders can be good solutions, but note that these always have some additional meanings.
- If there are also time adverbs and adverbs of place in the sentence, then the general and “neutral” word order is the following: 1. subject 2. time adverb 3. object 4. verb 5. adverb of place. e.g.: Júlia délután levelet ír a nappaliban. = Julia writes a letter in the living room afternoon. By changing this “neutral” order of words, we can get the following sentences that are similar in meanings, but all of them imply something little bit more than the above “neutral” word order sentence, or emphasize some parts of the sentence:
Levelet ír Júlia a nappaliban délután. = Julia writes a letter (and not something else…) in the living room afternoon.
Júlia ír levelet a nappaliban délután. = Julia (and not someone else…) writes a letter in the living room afternoon.
Délután ír levelet Júlia a nappaliban. = Afternoon (and not other time…) Julia writes a letter in the living room. (In this case the English word afternoon can also be brought forward)
A nappaliban ír levelet Júlia délután. / Júlia a nappaliban ír levelet délután. = Julia writes a letter in the living room (and not somewhere else…) afternoon. (both cases the adverb of place was brought earlier in the sentence which emphasizes it, however in the second case it wasn’t brought to the first place)
Délután a nappaliban ír levelet Júlia. = Afternoon Julia writes a letter in the living room (and in the morning or evening she might write the letter somewhere else…).
I think as a beginner language learner the most important for you to memorize the above “neutral” word order for two reasons: 1. Using that one in 99% you’ll create good and undersandable sentences 2. In that case you won’t imply anything that you didn’t want to imply and you won’t include any “hidden” meanings, etc.
- The verb van and vannak can’t be left from those sentences that describe locations. e.g.:
Budapest Magyarországon van. = Budapest is in Hungary.
A gyerekek otthon vannak. = The children are at home.
Péter nincs otthon. = Peter isn’t at home.3 cases when to use and 1 case when not to use van and vannak:
not to use: Péter okos. = Péter is clever. (in this case we mustn’t use van / vannak)
to use #1: Budapest Magyarországon van. = Budapest is in Hungary. (in case of location we must use van / vannak, which stand at the end of the sentence)
to use #2: Van egy autó az utcán. = There is a car on the street. (there is / there are in the English version make it more obvious that it’s about location, so we must use van / vannak, in some sense these words mean there is / there are, in this case van / vannak can stand almost everywhere in the sentence)
to use #3: Van egy autóm. = I have a car. (If we put a possessive affix after the subject, then van / vannak have the meaning: to have, also note that in this case van / vannak stand at the beginning of the sentence)
- This is a very small mistake from a language learner, but worth to mention: If a word ends with an A or E, then when it gets suffixes (either plurar or noun case or possessive affix), then A and E become Á and É. For example: teve = camel -> tevék = camels; tevével = with camel; tevém = my camel
This rule also applies if the A or E at the end of the word is already a suffix and we add an other suffix after the word. For example, let’s put a word – which already has a possessive affix – to different noun cases:
háza = his/her house -> házát (the same in accusative); házában = in his/her house; házához = to his/her house
see Common mistakes made by beginner Hungarian learners II (pronounciation)