|Lessons: 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — Vocab|
Welcome to your first Hungarian lesson! Please post any questions on the discussion page. First we're going to learn how to read Hungarian (and all of its funny characters!) and then we're going to practice reading words. Finally, we will introduce a very important concept in the Hungarian language: vowel harmony.
By the end of this lesson you will learn that Budapest is really pronounced as "Budhaphesht" (rough approximation).
Sounds part 1 
The following letters and combinations of letters are considered to be a single sound each by the speakers of the Hungarian language. Compound letters aren't hard to pronounce after you have learnt the pronounciation of single letters, since most of them (with the exception of "ly") sound like the two (or three) sounds pronounced quickly after each other.
Vowels with the acute accent are "long", and are generally held 1.5 to 2 times as long as their unaccented counterparts.
Consonants can be made long by doubling them: étterem (restaurant), szálloda (hotel). Consonants that consist of multiple letters ("gy", "ly", etc.) double their first letter ("ggy", "lly", etc.). Don't exaggerate the long sounds. As a reference think of English phrases like "long gun" or "clown nose" where the common letter simulates a long consonant.
The letters and sounds of Hungarian 
You may want a printed copy of this chart. Always be mindful of the difference between sz and s. It is very simple to accidentally revert to English and learn words with the wrong pronunciation.
|Writing||Listen||IPA||Rough pronunciation guide||Writing||Listen||IPA||Rough pronunciation guide|
|a||listen (help·info)||[ɒ]||Like the "a" in "aw" or for american/ canadian speakers " uh"||á||listen (help·info)||[aː]||a, as in "father," but long|
|b||[bé] listen (help·info)||[b]||Same as English||c||[cé] listen (help·info)||[ts̪]||ts, as in "cats"|
|cs||[csé] listen (help·info)||[ʧ]||ch, as in "check"||d||[dé] listen (help·info)||[d̪]||Same as English|
|dz||[dzé] listen (help·info)||[dz̪]||dzs||[dzsé] listen (help·info)||[ʤ]||"j" as in "jungle".|
|e||listen (help·info)||[ɛ]||Like the "e" in "terrible" or e in well||é||listen (help·info)||[eː]||Like the "a" in "cake," but longer.|
|f||[ef] listen (help·info)||[f]||Same as English||g||[gé] listen (help·info)||[g]||Like the "g" in "gold."|
|gy||[gyé] listen (help·info)||[ɟ]||dy||h||[há] listen (help·info)||[h]||Same as English.|
|i||listen (help·info)||[i]||ee, as in "bee"||í||listen (help·info)||[iː]||Like "i," but longer.|
|j||[jé] listen (help·info)||[j]||y sound, as in "yes"||k||[ká] listen (help·info)||[k]||Same as English, always hard|
|l||[el] listen (help·info)||[l̪]||Same as English||ly||[ely] listen (help·info)||[j]||Same as "j"|
|m||[em] listen (help·info)||[m]||Same as English||n||[en] listen (help·info)||[n̪]||Same as English|
|ny||[eny] listen (help·info)||[ɲ]||Like the Spanish ñ, Italian gn in "lasagna," or as in the English word "onion"||o||listen (help·info)||[o]||Same as the "o" in "row," but pure and without the "w" sound|
|ó||listen (help·info)||[oː]||Like "o," but longer.||ö||listen (help·info)||[ø]||borrowed from German, pronounced just like the ö in "Österreich";|
|ő||listen (help·info)||[øː]||Same as ö, but longer.||p||[pé] listen (help·info)||[p]||Same as English|
|q||[ku] listen (help·info)||Only used in foreign words||r||[er] listen (help·info)||[r̪]||Rolled more than English, not as aggressively as the Spanish rr though|
|s||[es] listen (help·info)||[ʃ]||sh, like in "shook"||sz||[esz] listen (help·info)||[s̪]||s, like in "sound"|
|t||[té] listen (help·info)||[t̪]||Same as English||ty||[tyé] listen (help·info)||[c]||like tune or american ch but palatilized ( say t with toungue pointing up also)|
|u||listen (help·info)||[u]||Like the English "oo" sound, but shorter and pure or " oo " in good||ú||listen (help·info)||[uː]||Same as the letter "u" but longer|
|ü||listen (help·info)||[y]||Also borrowed from German found in words like "Übermensch"; again, far more recurrent in Hungarian||ű||listen (help·info)||[yː]||Same as the letter "ü" but longer|
|v||[vé] listen (help·info)||[v]||Same as English||w||[dupla vé] listen (help·info)||Only used in foreign words. Pronounced like "v."|
|x||[iksz] listen (help·info)||Only used in foreign words. Pronounced as an English "ks". If they pronounce it "gz" then they write "gz" instead of "x". Alone it's not pronounced like English "eks" but like English "iks"||y||[ipszilon] listen (help·info)||Only used with other letters to make letters, such as "ly," "gy." In old family names it is pronounced like "i".|
|z||[zé] listen (help·info)||[z̪]||Same as English.||zs||[zsé] listen (help·info)||[ʒ]||Pronounced as in "genre" or the French "j" (as in "Jacques")|
The letter y is called ipszilon.
The letter ly is called elipszilon.
The letter w is called duplavé or vevé.
All the other letters are called as they are pronounced.
Note the differences:
só listen (help·info) = salt but szó listen (help·info) = word
fogas listen (help·info) = rack but fogás listen (help·info) = course, dish
That is why it is so important not to confuse letters with English counterparts, or with other letters.
Alphabetical order 
For alphabetic ordering, the consonant digraphs (2-letter consonants) and the vowels with umlauts are considered to be separate letters:
- cukor before csak
- ott before öccse
- utca before üdítő
However, the long and short vowels are treated together:
- új before ujj
- éhes before ehhez
- ebéd before édes
If nothing else differs between the words, the short vowel is before the long vowel:
- öt before őt
Grammar /functions 
Addressing someone 
Before you begin learning some words, it is good to know that Hungarian—unlike English, but like German or Spanish—tends to have two different forms of address, which basically means that they can use two words for the same person, i.e. you can say "te" but you can also say "ön" or "maga," the latter two being more polite. Most of the time children address adults with the latter form (they used to do it with their parents too, but not anymore), and also two adults address each other with that form, if they don't know each other. So the other form ("te") is used when talking to people you know well, and usually siblings too, etc. It's called "tegezés," and the other form "magázás." "Magázás" can also express honour and adoration to someone. (There are other forms of polite address as well such as "ön" and "kend," the later used mostly by country folk and rapidly becoming obsolete.)
Also, if you get to know somebody, whoever is older can offer to use "tegeződés," and instead of addressing each other with "ön" or "maga." you can use "te." But make sure that it is acceptable to the other party before this happens as "letegezés" (addressing him with "te") could be taken as offensive.
Polite forms are very important in Hungarian and addressing someone with the inappropriate level of politeness can cause complications. This includes addressing someone who is a close friend with a polite form such as "maga" instead of the familiar form. Doing this usually signifies displeasure.
Greeting and saying goodbye 
Now that we have some idea how to read Hungarian, let's practice by learning basic words!
The entire phrase literally means "I wish you a good morning," and it is more polite to say "kívánok" than leave it out, which is akin to slang. For example, one would not leave out "kívánok" when addressing an old lady. This applies to all other greetings using "kívánok."
Note that Hungarians do not say "Good afternoon," but simply Good day, as above: Jó napot (kívánok)
In addition, there are separate greetings depending on the person.
Csókolom ( listen (help·info)), which literally means "I kiss (it)" (Hungarians used to kiss ladies' hands when they met, and this "Csókolom" is a shorter form of "Kezét/kezit csókolom" = "I kiss your hand"), is used by children to adults (traditionally to their parents, but nowadays most parents do not mind if their children use "te" for them), and by men to women. This is the greeting to use when speaking to a 80-year-old grandmother. Sometimes it is unclear whether or not to use this greeting, or awkward, and so "Jó napot kívánok" can be used instead. Csókolom, like most Hungarian greetings, means both "hello" and "goodbye."
Viszontlátásra listen (help·info) is used as a formal farewell, and literally means "for seeing again," the same as the German "Auf Wiedersehen." This is the only word that exclusively means "goodbye." Say this when leaving a shop, airplane, etc. It can be shortened to viszlát or viszlátásra, but these are considered slang, more informal, and should not be used with older people, though they may be used with younger people. (Though for some people viszlát is too formal. )
Szia is a frequently used greeting that means both "hi" and "bye," depending on the context. It is informal, so do not use it when speaking to an elderly person (unless part of your family) or someone you do not know. Similarly, the word helló is often used by younger people. Though, like "szia," it is sometimes used to mean both "hello" and "goodbye," the most common use of the two words are (confusingly) szia for hello, and helló for goodbye.
Szervusz and Szevasz are other informal, slightly old-fashioned greetings to express "hello" and "goodbye."
Sziasztok, Szervusztok and Szevasztok are the plural forms of these greetings, which can be used, if we meet two or more people.
Hungarian close friends and relatives greet each other by kiss on each cheek provided that at least one of them is a woman. Hungarian males greet each other with a handshake, which should be done like this: you stay one step distant from each other, elbows slightly bent and you give a firm, but not too strong handgrab. You do not actually shake it, just grab. The grab does not take longer the one or two seconds.
Tip: It is very impolite not to accept one's hand, but there is a way to avoid it, if you do not feel like shaking hands (e.g. it is a hot summer day and one's palm may be sweaty): You keep two or more meters distance. If the partner still wants to shake hands you can say sentences like: Elnézést, most mostam kezet! (I am sorry, I have just washed my hands - meaning that they are probably wet.), or Elnézést, kicsit piszkos a kezem, épp autót szereltem. (I am sorry, my hands are dirty for I have just repaired my car.) Be prepared, that the answer still sounds: Nem baj. (Never mind that.) And soon you find yourself shaking hands.
Just a remark in connection with this is that Hungarians shake hands more often than people from Northern Europe, especially Englishmen. You shake hands with a Hungarian friend, partner or relative when you meet, when you depart and when you meet again, on the same day.
The distance during an interaction is also a bit closer than is normal in north Europe. Communication distance with friends is one and a half or two steps, with business partners a maximum of two meters.
If you come for an informal visit to Hungary, be prepared for backslaps, handshakes, hugs, and other kinds of physical contact from your friends.
Köszönöm, which means "thank you", will always come in handy. The equivalent of "thank you very much" is köszönöm szépen, which is literally "I thank nicely". This word can be used with any age, but its shortened versions, köszi, and köszi szépen, are informal and should not be used with older people.
The response is szívesen, which literally means "gladly" and is the equivalent of "you're welcome". "You're very welcome" is nagyon szívesen.
Excusing, apologising 
Elnézést kérek, Elnézését kérem or simply Elnézést (all of these means "I beg your pardon","Sorry."), Bocsásson meg ("Excuse me!"), Bocsánat ("Pardon" or "Excuse me!") or Ne haragudj! (literally "Don't be cross with me", but used as the equivalent of "Sorry!") are the formal forms of apologising, usually naming the reason of the apology afterwards e.g. "Elnézést kérek, de most el kell mennem." ("I beg your pardon but now I have to leave."). The informal form of apologising is bocs, bocsi or bocsesz, appparently derived from "bocsánat".
The response is Semmi gond/probléma, Nem gond/probléma (both "No problem"), Nem számít ("Doesn't matter) or Nyugodtan ("As you please").
Tessék - a multi-purpose word 
The word Tessék is frequently used. Depending on the context, it can take different meanings. It is often used when handing something to someone else, offering a seat, or placing food on another's plate, for example. In this usage, it translates as "Here you go." It can also mean "For you," and also "Go ahead," and when answering the phone, it means "Yes?" or "Pardon?" (asking back). It is also used informally as "excuse me, can you repeat that" if formed as a question.
Sounds part 2 
Vowel harmony 
Vowel harmony is a critical concept in Hungarian. Words are sorted into two categories: back vowel and front vowel, corresponding to the area of the mouth responsible for creating each sound. (In hungarian front vowels are called "magas hangrendű magánhangzók", and back vowels "mély hangrendű magánhangzók" which literally means high-pitched and low-pitched vowels. This reflects the fact that those vowels are higher or lower in (average) frequency.)
|Back Vowels||a, á, o, ó, u, ú|
|Front Vowels||e, é, i, í, ö, ő, ü, ű|
A helpful tip for memorizing vowel harmony is that all the back vowels are used in the word "auto" (minus the accented long vowels, of course).
Why is it so important to remember this?
It is needed for declension and conjugation (like gender in other languages). Examples: in Hungarian the preposition "from" is expressed by a pair of suffixes: -ból and -ből. The vowels of a word determine which one we use: if a word has only front vowels (front word), the ending will have the same vowel quality. If the word has only back vowels (back word), we use the back vowel ending. But what do we do if there are both kind of vowels in the word (mixed word)? Then we usually use the back vowel ending, although there are some exceptions.
Another categorization of vowels are based on the shape of the mouth when pronounced.
|Round mouth (ajakkerekítéses)||a,o,ó,u,ú,ö,ő,ü,ű|
|Slit mouth (ajakréses)||i,í,e,é,á|
It is needed in case of three fold suffixes like -hoz/-hez/-höz.
|to the house||a házhoz|
|to the child||a gyerekhez|
|to you||Önhöz (singular, formal, polite form)|
You have to use in case of backvowel "-hoz" and "-hez/-höz" in case of frontvowel. Between "-hez" and "-höz" you decide based on the mouthshape. (Notice that you didn't have to remember that "á" is slit mouth-shape vowel, because mouthshape is only matters in case of front vowels.)
Unlike in English, in Hungarian the stress is always on the first syllable of a word.
Vowels are syllable makers even if they stand alone: ká-vé, te-a, fi-ú-nak.
Hyphenation: Hungarian tends to prefer open syllables, which means that consonants following vowels should be connected with the next syllable as far as possible, e.g. szá-mí-tó-gép (computer), ke-re-tek (frames), etc. At the same time, you have to keep in mind that two consonants cannot follow each other except if they are digraphs (cs, dz, dzs, gy, ly, ny, ty). If two consonants follow each other, you have to separate after the first consonant, e.g.: ház-ban (in the house), szék-nek (of the chair/for the chair), etc. Long digraphs (lly, tty, nny, etc.) should be separated by doubling them, so that they appear in both of the syllables, e.g.: asszonynak >> asz-szony-nak (for the woman/of the woman).
Subject pronouns 
Unlike English, Hungarian has a formal "you" and informal "you". The informal you (te) is used for friends, people your age or younger, and children. The formal you (ön, maga) is used for people older than you and people you do not know.
The subject personal pronouns in Hungarian are:
|te||you (singular, informal)||ti||you (plural, informal)|
|maga||you (singular, formal)||maguk||you (plural, formal)|
|ön||you (singular, official)||önök||you (plural, official)|
The two formal forms, ön and maga, originate from the custom that was in practice until around 1945, namely that family members called each other maga (even wife and husband or children, except these latter were little children) and strangers should have been addressed with ön. Only close friends of the same sex and social class, lovers and children between themselves addressed each other with te. Nowadays this custom is not in practice anymore, and it is quite a general phenomenon to address even strangers with te form, except you want to show respect (e.g. with older people). In this case ön is preferred, for some people consider maga as impolite, which it is not, but until you get to know the Hungarian culture a bit closer, it is "safer" to use ön.
Names are written (and said) in the reverse order as in English. The surname (vezetéknév) comes first and then the givenname (keresztnév). Hungarian names are reversed when used in an English context. English names aren't reversed when used in Hungarian context. A lot of Hungarian names have English equivalent. (These names came mostly from western influence in the middle ages.)
Widespread Hungarian surnames: Kovács (Smith), Szabó, Szűcs, Varga, Takács. Names that don't have English equivalents: Levente, Piroska.
|Official form||nickname||English equivalent|
|Official form||nickname||English equivalent|
|Piroska||Piri||(literally: Little Red Riding Hood; or rather little red)|
|Virág||Flora (literally: flower)|
|Flóra||Flora (literally: flower)|
Few examples: Kovács László, Szabó István, Takács Anna
Word order 
In Hungarian there's no fixed word order like in English or German. Words can be arranged in almost every possible order, but the emphasis (so the intention of the sentence) will differ. (The emphasis is usually at the beginning of a sentence, but it's not always trivial for non-native speakers to decide where the emphasis is. For native speakers, different word orders have different meanings.) Adjectives and nouns, and other compound expressions, of course, cannot be separated.
Felálltam a székre. = I stood up on the chair.
A székre én álltam fel. - ( There's strong emphasis on "én" and there's a weak one on "A székre". Usually "én" and other personal pronouns are omitted. We only put it, if it's important to emphasize. )
A székre álltam fel.
Felálltam én a székre.
As a rule of thumb, we can say that usually the emphasis is on the beginning of the sentence.
In a long sentence the verb or the subject almost never occurs at the end of the sentence. It's therefore hard to translate synchronously from a language such as German to Hungarian, because in German the verb follows the subordinate clauses.
|Lessons: 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — Vocab|