In Hungarian there are 3 words for negation:

  • nem = no, not
  • ne! = don’t!
  • nincs, nincsenek = there is no, there are no (also expressing don’t have)


If we want to negate a sentence in Hungarian, then we have to put the word nem before the verb (if there is an auxiliary verb, then before the auxiliary verb). In the negative sentence the negated verb comes after the subject and before the object (regardless on where the verb stood in the affirmative sentences).

1. subject 2. object 3. verb Júlia levelet ír. Julia writes a letter.
1. subject 2. nem 3. verb 4. object Júlia nem ír levelet. Julia doesn’t write a letter.

If there is an auxiliary verb, then only the negated auxiliary verb goes between the subject and object. The infinitive goes after the object (but before the rest of the sentence if there is)

1. subject 2. object 3. auxiliary 4. infinitive Júlia levelet akar írni. Julia wants to write a letter.
1. subject 2. nem 3. auxiliary 4. object 5. infinitive Júlia nem akar levelet írni. Julia doesn’t want to write a letter.

So let’s see the above sentence completed by time adverb and adverb of place. In case of affirmative sentences, the time adverbs go after the subject and before the object. In negative sentences time adverbs (and any other adverbs which were there in the affirmative sentence) go to the end of the sentence (this is also true for the first example without auxiliary verb).

1. subject 2. time adverb 3. object 4. auxiliary 5. infinitive Júlia délután levelet akar írni a nappaliban. Julia wants to write a letter in the living room afternoon.
1. subject 2. nem 3. auxiliary 4. object 5. infinitive 6. adverbs Júlia nem akar levelet írni a nappaliban délután. Julia doesn’t want to write a letter in the living room afternoon.

If the verb to be negated has a coverb, then in the negative sentence the coverb is separated from the verb and goes after it (instead of before).

1. subject 2. coverb+verb 3. object Júlia megírja a levelet. Julia writes the letter.
1. subject 2. nem 3. verb 4. coverb 5. object Júlia nem írja meg a levelet. Julia doesn’t write the letter.

If we have coverb and auxiliary verb in the sentence as well, then in the negative sentence the nem goes before the auxiliary, and the coverb joins (“back”) to the infinitive.

1. subject 2. coverb 3. auxiliary 4. infinitive 5. object Júlia meg akarja írni a levelet. Julia wants to write a letter.
1. subject 2. nem 3. auxiliary 4. coverb+infinitive 5. object Júlia nem akarja megírni a levelet. Julia doesn’t want to write a letter.

Imperative mood (ne!)

The negation of the imperative is the prohibition. For this we use the word ne, which thus has the meaning “don’t!”. Important that the verb still stays in it’s imperative mood.

1. verb 2. object Írj levelet! Write a letter!
1. ne 2. verb 3. object Ne írj levelet! Don’t write a letter!

The imperative case in singular 1st person is translated to English like “I shall…”

1. verb 2. object Írjak levelet? Shall I write a letter!
1. ne 2. verb 3. object Ne írjak levelet? Shan’t I write a letter!

There is no, there are no, don’t have (nincs, nincsenek)

The words nincs (there is no) and nincsenek (there are no) are the negations of van (there is) and vannak (there are). These words are the predicates of the sentence and stand before the word of which existence is affirmed or negated.

Van Isten There is a God. Vannak Istenek There are gods.
Nincs Isten There isn’t God. Nincsenek istenek. There aren’t gods.

As in Hungarian we don’t have word for “to have”, we express this by the above 4 words and by putting a possessive affix after the word which is the object of the English sentence.

Van autóm. I have a car
Nincs autóm. I don’t have car.
Vannak gyerekeid. You have children.
Nincsenek gyerekeid. You don’t have children.
Péternek van háza. Peter has a house.
Péternek nincs háza. Peter doesn’t have a house.

answer for a yes-no question

In Hungarian after a yes-no question it’s enough to say Igen. or Nem., unlike in English where the correct answer is “Yes, I do.” or “No, I don’t.”.

Szereted a filmeket? Do you like films?
Péternek hívnak? Your name is Peter?
Ismerlek? Do I know you?
Igen. Yes, I do.
Nem. No, I don’t

If a question contains the words van, vannak, nincs, nincsenek, then the answer should also contain these words. (it can be this one word, or can be more words, e.g. “Van autód?” “Van autóm.” = “Do you have a car?” “Yes, I have a car.”)

Van Isten? Is there a God?
Van autód? Do you have car?
Vannak gyerekeid? Do you have children?
Nincs egy tollad? Don’t you have a pen?
Van. Yes, there is. Yes, I have. Yes, we have. etc.
Vannak. Yes, there are.
Nincs. No, there isn’t. No, I don’t have. No, we don’t have. etc.
Nincsenek. No, there aren’t.

If a question looks like “Shall I…?”, “Can I…?”, “May I…?”, then:

Kinyissam az ablakot? Shall I open the window?
Elvehetem ezt a tollat? Can I take this pen?
Csatlakozhatok hozzád? May I join you?
Igen. Yes, you can.
Igen, köszönöm. Yes, thank you.
Ne! Don’t!
Kérlek, ne! Please, don’t!

negating other words than the verb

In Hungarian – unlike in English – we can negate any words from the sentence. If we negate the verb as above, then we get the proper translation of the English negative sentence. However if we negate other words, then the meaning of these kind of sentences is that the speaker affirms every word of the sentence except for the word, that stands after the word nem. It can’t be translated to English absolutely properly. So in this case we have to paraphase it a bit in English. Let’s

negating Hungarian sentence the meaning of the sentence
the whole sentence Júlia nem ír levelet a nappaliban délután. Juila doesn’t write a letter in the living room afternoon
the object Nem levelet ír Júlia a nappaliban délután. Not letter is what Julia writes in the living room.
the subject Nem Júlia ír levelet a nappaliban délután. Julia isn’t the one, who writes letter in the living room, someone else writes there that time.
the time adverb Nem délután ír levelet Júlia a nappaliban. It’s not afternoon when Julia writes letter in the living room, she writes it other time.
Júlia nem délután ír levelet  a nappaliban.
the adverb of place Nem a nappaliban ír levelet Júlia délután. Not the living room is the place where Julia writes the letter, she writes it somewhere else.
Júlia nem a nappaliban ír levelet délután.

Let’s see an other example:

Péter nem ölte meg Józsefet. Peter didn’t kill Joseph.
Nem Péter ölte meg Józsefet. Peter wasn’t the one who killed Joseph.
Péter nem Józsefet ölte meg. Joseph wasn’t the one who was killed by Peter.
Nem Józsefet ölte meg Péter.

The infinitive usually cannot be negated (as in this case the auxiliary verb is negated). The only way to negate the infinitive is if the auxiliary verb is already negated.

Ezt nem tudom nem kritizálni. = I cannot not criticise this.


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