Omitting Pronouns in (In)Definite Conjugation

In English you always need to use any pronoun (direct, indirect, demonstrative…) irregardless of whether the verb refers to an indefinite or definite object/person.

I’m writing a letter. I’m writing the letter.

The object is ’letter’ and our verb ’write’ is the same in both sentences. The indefiniteness and definiteness of ’letter’ are expressed with the indefinite and definite articles ’a, the’. Here’s the Hungarian translation:

I’m writing a letter. – Írok egy levelet.
I’m writing the letter. – Írom a levelet.

As you can see, the Hungarian verb ’ír-write’ has two different conjugations. The indefinite conjugation requires the -ok suffix in 1st person singular present tense, whereas the definite conjugation in the same person/number/tense is formed with the -om suffix. The indefinite and definite articles are used accordingly.

So far so good. But what if we get a question like ’Are you writing a/the letter’? How do you answer that question?

Are you writing a letter? – Yes, I’m writing it.
Írsz egy levelet? – Igen, azt írok.

Are you writing the letter? – Yes, I’m writing it.
Írod a levelet? – Igen, azt írom.

The pronoun ’it’ refers back to ’a letter’ and ’the letter’. In the same way, the Hungarian demonstrative pronoun ’az’ turns into an accusative pronoun ’azt’ to refer back to ’egy levelet’ and ’a levelet’.
And that’s when omitting pronouns becomes relevant. In everyday language, we do tend to ”forget” saying certain pronouns when the context is clear and we know for sure what we are talking about. So the above-mentioned answers can be turned into:

Igen, írok. Igen, írom.

It is more common, though, that we leave out pronouns when the verbs are in definite conjugation. Since the definite conjugation already refers to the object, there is no confusion about the context. Let’s see more examples with other pronouns, too. So that you know what I omit, I’ll parenthesize the pronouns. It is also evident from the examples that English has to use those pronouns.

-Látod a lányt? – Igen, látom (őt).
-Can you see the girl? – Yes, I can see her.

-Akarjátok az új ruhákat vagy sem? – Nem, nem akarjuk (azokat).
-Do you want the new clothes or not? – No, we don’t want them.

The problem starts when there seems to be no context like in this question:

-Látod? – Can you see it?

We translate it with ’can you see it’ because ’látod’ is obviously in definite conjugation. The speaker knows exactly what he sees and that’s why he’s asking ’Látod?’.

-Látod? – Can you see it?
-Semmit nem látok. Te mit látsz? – I can’t see anything. What can you see?
-A boltot. – The shop.
-Igen, már látom. – Yes, I can see it now.

The other person answers ’nem látok’ in indefinite conjugation because he cannot see anything. And ’anything/nothing’ is something indefinite. So is ’something’, by the way :). Then he asks ’mit látsz’ in indefinite conjugation because he still cannot see anything. Finally, the speaker clarifies ’boltot’. So the other person answers ’látom’ in definite conjugation. Now he knows exactly what he sees. It does not matter if the answer is affirmative or negative. The same rules apply.

That’s why you give such answers:

-Nem értek semmit. -Az egyenletet így kell megoldani. Már érted? -Igen, értem.
-I don’t understand anything. -The equation has to be solved like this. Do you understand now? -Yes, I understand (it).

This is a good example for native English speakers because as you see the verb ’understand’ does not require ’it’ when you answer. Yet you know exactly what you understand.

-Érted? – Do you understand?
-Értem. – I understand.

Let’s take a look at more examples:

-A bank elveszi a házadat. – Nem hagyom.
-The bank is going to take your house. – I’m not going to let (it happen).

-Tessék a visszajáró! – Köszönöm.
-Here’s your change. – Thank you.

The verb ’köszön’ has two meanings ’to say thank you’ and ’to greet’. If it means ’to say thank you’, it is transitive, so Hungarian people thank something, and not thank for something. On the other hand, if you greet someone, it is transitive in English, but it requires an indirect object in Hungarian. Actually, we say ’greet to someone = köszön valakinek’.

-Köszönöm a visszajárót! – Köszöntem önnek, amikor bejöttem? – Igen, ön mindig köszön nekem.
-Thank you for the change. – Did I greet you when I entered? – Yes, you always greet me.

The difficulty also lies in the different use of verbs in English and Hungarian. A verb that is transitive in English might be intransitive in Hungarian and viceversa. In the above-mentioned sentence you can’t use ’köszön’ in definite conjugation because it is not transitive. It cannot require an object.
Let’s contrast indefinite and definite conjugation with ’ért’.

-Érted? – Mindent értek.
-Do you understand? – I understand everything.

’Minden’ is indefinite or general, so ’értek’ is in indefinite conjugation.

PROBLEMS WITH ACCUSATIVE PRONOUNS

As languages do not consist of rules that always make sense, we have to be prepared to learn odd things. That is the case with accusative pronouns if you conjugate verbs in definite mode. To make this problem tangible, I’ll use the accusative pronouns ’őt’ and ’engem’.

Látom őt. – I can see him.
Látod őt. – You can see him.
Látja őt. – He can see him.
Látjuk őt. – We can see him.
Látjátok őt. – You can see him.
Látják őt. – They can see him.

’Lát’ is in definite conjugation in every number/person. But what if we use ’engem’?

Lát engem. – He can see me.
Lát téged. – He can see you.
Látja őt. – He can see him.
Lát minket. – He can see us.
Lát titeket. – He can see you.
Látja őket. – He can see them.

’Lát’ is used in definite conjugation only when referring to the accusative pronoun in 3rd person singular and 3rd person plural. In any other number/person (engem, téged, minket, titeket) ’lát’ is in indefinite conjugation.

This goes for ’őt, őket, önt, önöket, maga, magát’. That is, for polite forms, too.

If there is an accusative pronoun, one would think it is definite. Well, it’s no use asking why it is that way. It just is. I couldn’t find any explanation why this phenomenon had developed the way it is. Something for you to struggle with :). So let’s ask more questions and give the right answers.

-Érted a szabályt? – Igen, értem (azt).
-Do you understand the rule? – Yes, I understand (it).

-Érted őket? – Igen, értem (őket).
-Do you understand them? – Yes, I understand them.

-Értesz engem? – Igen, értelek (téged).
-Do you understand me? -Yes, I understand you.

-Látjátok őket? – Nem, nem látjuk (őket).
-Can you guys see them? – No, we can’t see them.

-Látnak minket? – Nem, nem látnak (minket). Önt viszont látják.
-Can they see us? – No, they can’t see us. However, they can see you, sir.

The ambiguity of the definite conjugation

The advantage the definite conjugation guarantees us, that is concision and short phraseology, is the disadvantage at the same time.

Here we have a simple dialogue:

-Látod? -Igen, látom.
-Can you see it? -Yes, I can see it.

With no context, it is not possible to tell what we refer to. It is because the definite form ’látom’ can refer to the following:

Látom azt
azokat
őt
őket
magát
magukat
önt
önöket
I can see it
those
him/her
them
you-sing. polite
you-plur. polite
you-sing. polite
you-plur. polite

So who or what exactly do we refer to in the dialogue? The answer is: we don’t know until we give it a context. That is why I translated ’látod’ and ’látom’ with the pronoun ’it’. In Hungarian there is no distinction between genders. That can cause problems when you have to translate sentences without any context.

In excercises for Hungarian students references are given: Látom őt. – I can see ____ (girl). That is how the students know that they have to write the pronoun ’her’.

Now back to our example. We need a context.

-Nézd! Ott van egy csinos lány. Látod? -Igen, látom.
-Look. There’s a pretty girl over there. Can you see her? -Yes, I can see her.

Here I’ll enumerate the possibilities for you with ’lát-see’ in definite conjugation:

Látom azt, azokat
őt, őket
magát, magukat
önt, önöket
magamat
magunkat
I can see it, those
him/her, them
you (polite)
you (polite)
myself
ourselves
Látod azt, azokat
őt, őket
magadat
magatokat
You can see it, those
him/her, them
yourself
yourselves
Látja azt, azokat
őt, őket
magát, magukat
önt, önöket
magát
magukat
He can see
She can see
it, those
him/her, them
you (polite)
you (polite)
him/herself
themselves
Látjuk azt, azokat
őt, őket
magát, magukat
önt, önöket
magunkat
We can see it, those
him/her, them
you (polite)
you (polite)
ourselves
Látjátok azt, azokat
őt, őket
magatokat
You can see it, those
him/her, them
yourselves
Látják azt, azokat
őt, őket
magát, magukat
önt, önöket
magukat
They can see it, those
him/her, them
you (polite)
you (polite)
themselves

As you can see, I wrote ’magát, magukat’ twice where it is possible because these pronouns are different in English. In Hungarian they can be personal pronouns expressing politeness. In this case they are equivalent to ’you, sir/madam…’. They can also be reflexive pronouns meaning …self (himself, themselves…).

MORE EXAMPLES FOR DEFINITE AND INDEFINITE CONJUGATION

USE INDEFINITE CONJUGATION:

-WITH THE INDEFINITE ARTICLE. The article is egy in singular. There is no form for it in plural or it can be expressed with néhány (some). The indefinite article and néhány are not mandatory to use. When we omit them, the noun in accusative case begins the sentence. Also, note that néhány requires the noun to be singular.

Singular

Plural

egy NO ARTICLE or néhány

Let’s see a comparison with indefinite and definite conjugation:

SINGULAR

PLURAL

Akarok egy kanapét.
Kanapét akarok.
I want a sofa.
Akarok néhány kanapét.
Kanapékat akarok.
I want some sofas.
>Akarom a kanapét/a kanapékat.
>I want the sofa/the sofas.
Takarítunk egy szobát.
Szobát takarítunk.
We tidy up a room.
Takarítunk néhány szobát.
Szobákat takarítunk.
We tidy up some rooms.
>Takarítjuk a szobát/ a szobákat.
>We tidy up the room/the rooms.
Vakolnak egy házfalat.
Házfalat vakolnak.
They plaster a house wall.
Vakolnak néhány házfalat.
Házfalakat vakolnak.
They plaster some house walls.
>Vakolják a házfalat/a házfalakat.
>They plaster the house wall(s).
Írtok egy dolgozatot.
Dolgozatot írtok.
You write a test.
Írtok néhány dolgozatot.
Dolgozatokat írtok.
You write some tests.
>Írjátok a dolgozatot/a dolgozatokat.
>You write the test/the tests.

-WITH INDEFINITE PRONOUNS. There is a great number of words we can put in this category. Just a few of them: sok (many, much), kevés (a few, a little), valami (something), valaki (someone), bármi (anything), bárki (anyone), néhány (some), egy-két (one or two), sehány (none), senki (nobody), semmi (nothing), minden (every), mindenki (everyone), az összes (all)

Although this does not belong to our conjugation topic, it is important to know that the indefinite pronouns require the words following them to be in singular form. Watch the difference in English:

kevés ember – a few people
(NOT kevés emberek)
sok kérdés – many questions
(NOT sok kérdések)
néhány ház – some houses
(NOT néhány házak)
akárhány könyv – no matter how many books
(NOT akárhány könyvek)

Minden filmet megnézek, ami bűnüggyel kapcsolatos.
I watch every movie that’s related to crime.

Ha ismersz valakit, aki ért a kocsikhoz, szólj!
If you know anyone who has a grasp for cars, tell me.

Mennyi gyümölcs van ebben a kertben, és mennyit ettünk belőle!
So many fruits in this garden and so many we ate!

Túl sokat dolgozol. Lepihensz egy kicsit?
You’re working too much. Will you get a little rest?

Keveset isztok, emiatt érzitek rosszul magatokat.
You drink little. That’s why you feel bad.

Senkit nem érdekel, mi van velem.
No one cares about what’s with me.

Az összes fényképet eldobta?
-Did he throw all the photos away?
-Igen, az összeset eldobta.
-Yes, he threw all away.
-Csak egyet dobott el.
He only threw one away.

-WITH THE INTERROGATIVE PRONOUNS when asking about the unknown. If you don’t know something, it is unknown to you, so it is not possible to ask such questions with verbs conjugated with definite suffixes.

And the verb in the answer either agrees with the question or not. That is, if the answer contains the indefinite article, indefinite pronouns, interrogative pronouns or simply refers to something unspecific/unknown, then the verb is conjugated with indefinite suffixes.

However, if we answer with something specific, we have to conjugate the verb with the definite suffixes, even though it is conjugated with the indefinite ones in the question.

-Mit tanulsz?
-What are you learning?
-Történelmet tanulok.
I’m learning history.
A magyar igeragozást tanulom.
I’m learning the Hungarian verb conjugation.

-Mit tud felhozni mentségére?
-What can he mention in his defence?
-Nos, sok dolgot tud felhozni.
-Well, he can mention lots of things.
-Nos, a fáradságot tudja felhozni.
-Well, he can mention the tiredness.

-Mit esznek? – What are they eating?
-Almát/Egy almát esznek. – They’re eating an apple.
-Almákat/Néhány almát esznek. – They’re eating some apples.
Azt az almát eszik, amelyiket tegnap hoztad.
They’re eating the apple you brought yesterday.

-Mit kérdezel tőle?
-What are you going to ask him?
Bármit is kérdezhetek.
I ask whatever I want to.
A három vizsgakérdést kérdezem tőle.
I’m going to ask him the three exam questions.
-Kérdezek tőle valamit, amit nem tud.
I’m going to ask him something he doesn’t know.
-Azt kérdezem tőle, kit szeret a legjobban.
I’m going to ask him who he loves the most.

A T T E N T I O N!

Of course, if you ask about something specific, you use definite conjugation in questions, as well.

-Melyiket szereted? A szőke vagy a barna lányt?
-Which one do you love? The blonde or the brunette girl?
A barnát szeretem. A szőkének nincs humora.
-I love the brunette one. The blonde one has no humor.

Sometimes you can ask in two ways:

Indefinite -Mikor főzöl ebédet?
-Nemsokára.
-When will you cook lunch?
-Soon.
Definite -Mikor főzöd meg az ebédet?
-Nemsokára.
-When will you cook the lunch?
-Soon.

USE DEFINITE CONJUGATION:

-WITH THE DEFINITE ARTICLES, DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS, POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS, POSSESSIVE ENDINGS AND PROPER NAMES.

A kék cipőt választom. – I’ll choose the blue shoes.
Az ebédet kihagyjuk. – We’ll skip lunch.
Ezt a lányt szeretem. – I love this girl.

Azokat az állatokat megmentjük.
We’re going to save those animals.

Látom Jánost, de a barátt nem látom.
I can see John, but I can’t see his friend.

Értik az elméletet, de a gyakorlati részét nem ismerik.
They understand the theory, but they don’t know the practice.

Annát nem kedvelem, de Viktóriát annál inkább bírom.
I don’t like Ann, but I dig Victoria all the more.

Az én házamat felépítem, de a tiédet nem építem fel.
I’m going to build my house, but I’m not going to build yours.

Szép kocsid van, de az övéket mindenki megbámulja.
You have a nice car, but everyone is staring at theirs.

The Many Faces of Lenni

THE MANY FACES OF LENNI

You already know that the 3rd person singular and plural form of lenni in present tense is not used in predicative constructions (> copula).

Ő tanár. – He is a teacher.
Ők jó gyerekek. – They are good children.
A fiú magas. – The boy is tall.
Ő Sándor. – He is Alexander.

With the exception of that rule, van/vannak are used in any other situation even in present tense.

EXISTENCE:
Van egy toll az asztalon. – There is a pen on the table.
Tanulók vannak az osztályokban. – There are students in the classrooms.
Hány utas van a vonaton? – How many passengers are there on the train?
124 utas van a vonaton. There are 124 passengers on the train.

WHEREABOUTS:
A kocsi a ház előtt van. – The car is in front of the house.
Nem Londonban vannak, hanem Párizsban. – They are not in London, but in Paris.
Hol vagy? – Where are you?
Az állomáson vagyok. – I’m at the station.
Ki van ott? – Who is there?

IS MADE OF/FROM:
A szék fából van. – The chair is made of wood.
A bor szőlőből van. – Wine is made from grapes.
A szobrok bronzból vannak. – The statues are made of bronze.

STATE OF HEALTH:
Hogy vagy? – How are you?
Jól vagyok. – I’m fine.
Nem vagyok túl jól. – I’m not too well.

POSSESSION: with dative pronouns or -nak, -nek suffixes and possessive endings
Nekem van egy autóm. – I have a car.
Nekik lányaik vannak, nem fiaik. – They have daughters, not sons.
Gábornak még egy esélye van. – Gábor has one chance.
A háznak van teteje, de rozoga. – The house has a roof, but it’s shaky.

WHEATER, TIME, DATE, PERIODS OF THE DAY/WEEK/YEAR:
Meleg van. – It is hot.
Esős idő van. – It is rainy.
Hány óra van? – What time is it?
Fél három van. – It is half past two.
2011. október 25.-e van. – It is 25 October, 2011.
Hétfő van. – It is Monday.
Január van. – It is January.

And various idiomatic expressions:

BENNE VAN = TO BE IN
-Buli lesz a strandon. Te is jössz? –Benne vagyok.
-There’s gonna be a beach party. Are you coming? –I’m in.

AZON VAN, HOGY + IMPERATIVE MOOD = TO DO ONE’S BEST TO
Azon vagyok, hogy megtanuljam a leckét.
I’m doing my best to learn the lesson.
Azon vannak, hogy ne késsenek el.
They’re doing their best not to be late.

ÚGY VOLT, HOGY + PRESENT TENSE = SOMEONE WAS TO DO SOMETHING
Úgy volt, hogy eljövök, de valami közbejött.
I was to come, but something came up.
Úgy volt, hogy együtt megyünk moziba, de Péter még sehol sincs.
We were to go to the movies together, but Peter is not here yet.

Van benne valami. – There’s something in it.
Na mi van? – What’s up?
Hol volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy. – Once upon a time there was a…

I…you, but how?

THE SUFFIXES -LAK, -LEK

This phenomenon needs to be getting used to, indeed. While other languages use accusative pronouns when saying
I love/hate/hear/see/understand you’, Hungarian uses the suffixes -lak, -lek which you should think of as a compound pronoun = I-you. So the examples above sound like this ’Szeretlek/Utállak/Hallak/Látlak/Értelek’.

Nonetheless, the issue can give you a little bit more headache than you’d like to get because -lak, -lek refer to both the 2nd person singular YOU-TÉGED and the 2nd person plural YOU-TITEKET. Usually it’s understandable from the context which of the two the speaker means. Plus, it is optional whether or not you want to say those two pronouns. They are not mandatory to omit. So another possibility for the examples above is:

Szeretlek téged. / Szeretlek titeket.
Utállak téged. / Utállak titeket.
Hallak téged. / Hallak titeket.
Látlak téged. / Látlak titeket.
Értelek téged. / Értelek titeket.

Now the fundamental confusion comes from which form of the verb you attach these suffixes to. Actually, it’s present tense you should worry about. From logical point of view, when one says
’I…you’, that person refers to you as specific target. That’s why you take the 3rd person singular definite conjugation form in all tenses but present tense. Present tense thinks it’s better and wants you to attach -lak, -lek to the 3rd person singular indefinite conjugation form. Why? I can give you one reasonable answer to that: The hell knows. It is the way it is. 🙂

So the 3rd person singular indefinite present tense form is:
Szeret + -lek = Szeretlek
Utál + -lak = Utállak
Hall + -lak = Hallak
Lát + -lak = Látlak
Érte + -lek = Értelek> it ends in two consonants, so it needs a link vowel e. In this case the link vowel is a for deep verbs > Tartalak. I’m holding you.

And all other tenses/moods use 3rd PS definite form:

PAST TENSE
> Szerette + -lek = Szerettelek. I loved you.
Látta + -lak = Láttalak. I saw you.

FUTURE TENSE (simple!)
> Szeretni fog + -lak = Szeretni foglak. I will love you.
Látni fog + -lak = Látni foglak. I will see you.

CONDITIONAL MOOD
>Szeretné + -lek = Szeretnélek. I would love you.
Látná + -lak = Látnálak. I would see you.

IMPERATIVE MOOD (remember how to form verbs in this mood)
> Szeresse + -lek = Szeresselek? Shall I love you?
Lássa + -lak = Lássalak? Shall I see you?

That’s the simplest way I can explain this for you. I hope it helps a bit.

Note that verbs that require accusative case in Hungarian might want a different solution in English and reversed. More examples for safety’s sake:

PRESENT – PAST – CONDITIONAL – IMPERATIVE
Kérlek – Kértelek – Kérnélek – Kérjelek
I ask you…

Féltelek – Féltettelek – Féltenélek – Féltselek
I fear for you…

Csókollak – Csókoltalak – Csókolnálak – Csókoljalak
I kiss you…

Várlak – Vártalak – Várnálak – Várjalak
I wait for you…

Hívlak – Hívtalak – Hívnálak – Hívjalak
I call you…

Érdekellek – Érdekeltelek – Érdekelnélek – Érdekeljelek
You’re interested in me…

Ölellek – Öleltelek – Ölelnélek – Öleljelek
I hug you…

Foglak – Fogtalak – Fognálak – Fogjalak
I take/grab you…

Hozlak – Hoztalak – Hoználak – Hozzalak
Viszlek – Vittelek – Vinnélek – Vigyelek
I bring you (to place/from a place)…

Drop-vowel Verbs

Remember drop-vowel nouns? The vowel in the last closed syllable drops out:

álom > álmok, tükör > tükrök…

Well, drop-vowel verbs are the same, but you have to pay attention when the vowel drops out. Our deep and high verb examples are: töröl (to wipe, to dust), megtorol (to revenge)

INDEFINITE AND DEFINITE CONJUGATION – HIGH:
törlök – törlöm
törölsz – törlöd
töröl – törli
törlünk – töröljük
töröltök – törlitek
törölnek – törlik

INDEFINITE AND DEFINITE CONJUGATION – DEEP:
megtorlok – megtorlom
megtorolsz – megtorlod
megtorol – megtorolja
megtorlunk – megtoroljuk
megtoroltok – megtoroljátok
megtorolnak – megtorolják

Indefinite conjugation for high verbs:
1st PS and 1st PP drop a vowel
Definite conjugation for high verbs:
all drop a vowel except 1st PP

Indefinite conjugation for deep verbs:
1st PS and 1st PP drop a vowel
Definite conjugation for deep verbs:
1st PS and 2nd PS drop a vowel

Drop-vowel verbs are usually used in indefinite conjugation only. It makes sense conjugating only a few in definite.

More example verbs:

forog (to turn), pörög (to spin), őröl (to grind), korog (to rumble), morog (to growl), hörög (to rattle in one’s throat), dörög (to thunder), pödör (to twist)

Modal Verbs / Conjugating The Infinitive

I bring up this topic in this part of the grammar because you (might) need to conjugate the infinitive with certain modal verbs: szabad, kell, kellene, tilos. These verbs and adjectives have an impersonal aspect to them, meaning they don’t refer to anything/anyone specifically, but only in general sense.

That’s why you need to conjugate the infinitive. The infinitive itself refers to things/people generally. By conjugating it, you can specify who/what it should refer to.

NOTE! The conjugation for both definite and indefinite aspect is the same with the infinitive.

Suffixes for deep verbs:
-om
-od
-ia
-unk
-otok
-iuk

Suffixes for high verbs:
-em, -öm
-ed, -öd
-ie
-ünk
-etek, -ötök
-iük

You just remove the i from the infinitive form and add the suffixes above: látni > látnom

DEEP VERB: látni
látnom
látnod
látnia
látnunk
látnotok
látniuk

HIGH VERB: nézni, ülni
néznem, ülnöm
nézned, ülnöd
néznie, ülnie
néznünk, ülnünk
néznetek, ülnötök
nézniük, ülniük

Furthermore, you can add the dative pronouns if you want. When talking about people, things, you (might) need the suffixes -nak, -nek.

Examples:

Meg szabad nézni a filmet.
One is allowed to watch the movie.
(Nekünk) Meg szabad néznünk a filmet.
We are allowed to watch the movie.

Mindig meg kell mondani az igazat.
One always has to tell the truth.
(Neked) Mindig meg kell mondanod az igazat.
You always have to tell the truth.

Aludni kellene, késő van.
One should sleep. It’s late.
(Nekik) Aludniuk kellene, késő van.
They should sleep. It’s late.

Tilos az öltözőbe bemenni.
One must not enter the dressing-room.
(Neki) Tilos az öltözőbe bemennie.
He must not enter the dressing-room.

A kisgyerekeknek tilos ilyen filmet nézniük.
Small children must not watch such movies.

A bicikliknek a járdán kell parkolniuk.
Bycycles have to park on the sidewalk.

Keep learning. Bye now! 🙂