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…).

Definite and Indefinite Articles

Definite and Indefinite Articles

Before jumping into ‘How to make nouns plural?’, we should talk about the articles. But first things first. Let’s see the solutions to the exercises in last blog entry.

ablakon, repülőtől, bankban, egyetemen, állomáson

ablak contains deep vowel, so it takes the suffix -ban
– repülő is high vowel, so it takes -től
– bank is deep vowel, it takes -ban
egyetem is unequivocally a high-vowel word, so it takes -en
állomás is definitely a deep-vowel word, so it takes -on

Were you answers good? I hope so . If not, practice, practice, practice. And now the articles!

Hungarian articles can be definite and indefinite like in English. There are two definite articles: a, az (the). There’s only one indefinite article: egy (a, an).

The definite article a is used with words beginning with a consonant: a tábla (the board), a férfi (the man).
The definite article az is used with words beginning with a vowel: az állat (the animal), az erdő (the forest).

The indefinite article egy is used both with words beginning with a vowel or consonant: egy tábla (a board), egy férfi (a man), egy állat (an animal), egy erdő (a forest). The thing about the indefinite article is that it is a weak/not stressed form of the number egy (one). If you say ‘egy tábla’, the stress is on tábla. If you talk about ONE board and no more than that, the stress is on egy.

EGY as INDEFINITE ARTICLE: EGY TÁBLA (verbal emphasis on tábla)
EGY as NUMERAL: EGY TÁBLA (verbal emphasis on egy)

Exercises: choose the proper form. The English examples will help you.

a / az ? ablak – the window

a / az ? konyha – the kitchen

egy / a ? ajtó – a door

az / egy ? kalap – a hat

a / egy / az ? élet – a life, the life

After learning how to put nouns in the plural, I’ll write an entry about the use of Hungarian articles which many times differs from English. And most importantly, all you have to deal with is A, AZ, EGY. Hungarian articles are NOT PUT IN ANY CASE OR NUMBER, much like in English.