Sentence Structure Part 1

The Hungarian way of constructing sentences is extremely flexible, but there are some rules to follow. The parts of sentence can be moved around freely. The parts of speech have a certain order:

  • the indefinite and definite articles always precede the word they refer to:
    a ház, az emelet, egy kirándulás, a kék ég, egy szép nyár…
  • adjectives as attributes (including past participle and present participle) always precede the noun:
    szép lány, ismert ember, rohanó élet
  • adverbs of manner precede the verb:
    magyarul beszél, okosan dönt, gyorsan fut

Other than the rules above, topic-prominent aspect prevails. What you think more important can be placed at the beginning of the sentence. Usually, the new information always precedes the verb unless you want to emphasis the action.

This phenomenon is more interesing with long sentences because short sentences like (The lawyer is a tall man – Az ügyvéd magas ember) leave you with two solutions. Either you put the subject first or you move it at the end:

1.Az ügyvéd  2.magas ember. <> 2.Magas ember  1.az ügyvéd.

I.

3 UNITS

Our basic sentence has 3 UNITS. For simplicity’s sake let’s use Simple Present Tense in English.

1.A fű-The grass 2.nő-grows 3.a réten-on the meadow

How many variations can such a sentence have?

1.A fű 2.nő 3.a réten
1.A fű 3.a réten 2.nő
2.Nő 1.a fű 3.a réten
2.Nő 3.a réten 1.a fű
3.A réten 1.a fű 2.nő
3.A réten 2.nő 1.a fű

We have 6 possibilities depending on which part of the sentence we think is more important. If it’s a yes or no question, it has the same possibilities because questions without a question word just get a question mark and you rise your intonation.

123
132
213
231
312
321

1 SET OF NUMBERS x 6 VARIATIONS = 6 POSSIBILITIES

What happens if we add an adjective to the noun (a fű), an adverb of manner to the verb (nő) and an adjective to the adverb of place (a réten)? Nothing really. As the adjectives and adverbs of manner belong strictly to the word they refer to, they must be considered a single unit.

1.A zöld fű 2. gyorsan nő 3.a napsütötte réten
The green grass grows fast on the sun-lit meadow.

We still have 6 possibilities because the number of units haven’t changed, only they are specified with some attributes.

II.

4 UNITS

Let’s add another unit to our sentence, an adverb of time: tavasszal – at spring. Now we have 4 UNITS. It is easy to see that we always have 3 units to move around compared to which we set as first.

1234
1243
1324
1342
1423
1432

2134
2143
2314
2341
2431
2413

3124
3142
3214
3241
3412
3421

4123
4132
4213
4231
4312
4321

4 SETS OF NUMBERS x 6 VARIATIONS = 24 POSSIBILITIES

1.A fű 2.nő 3.a réten 4.tavasszal
1.A fű 2.nő 4.tavasszal 3.a réten
1.A fű 3.a réten 2.nő 4.tavasszal
1.A fű 3.a réten 4.tavasszal 2.nő
1.A fű 4.tavasszal 2.nő 3.a réten
1.A fű 4.tavasszal 3.a réten 2.nő

2.Nő 1.a fű 3.a réten 4.tavasszal
2.Nő 1.a fű 4.tavasszal 3.a réten
2.Nő 3.a réten 1.a fű 4.tavasszal
2.Nő 3.a réten 4.tavasszal 1.a fű
2.Nő 4.tavasszal 3.a réten 1.a fű
2.Nő 4.tavasszal 1.a fű 3.a réten

3.A réten 1.a fű 2.nő 4.tavasszal
3.A réten 1.a fű 4.tavasszal 2.nő
3.A réten 2.nő 1.a fű 4.tavasszal
3.A réten 2.nő 4.tavasszal 1.a fű
3.A réten 4.tavasszal 1.a fű 2.nő
3.A réten 4.tavasszal 2.nő 1.a fű

4.Tavasszal 1.a fű 2.nő 3.a réten
4.Tavasszal 1.a fű 3.a réten 2.nő
4.Tavasszal 2.nő 1.a fű 3.a réten
4.Tavasszal 2.nő 3.a réten 1.a fű
4.Tavasszal 3.a réten 1.a fű 2.nő
4.Tavasszal 3.a réten 2.nő 1.a fű

III.

5 UNITS

1.A fű 2.nő 3.a réten 4.tavasszal 5.nagy örömünkre
The grass grows on the meadow at spring to our great pleasure.

12345
12354
12543
12534
12435
12453
13245
13254
13425
13452
13524
13542
14235
14253
14325
14352
14523
14532
15234
15243
15324
15342
15423
15432
21345
21354
21435
21453
21534
21543
23145
23154
23415
23451
23514
23541
24135
24153
24315
24351
24513
24531
25134
25143
25314
25341
25413
25431
31245
31254
31425
31452
31524
31542
32145
32154
32415
32451
32514
32541
34125
34152
34215
34251
34512
34521
35124
35142
35214
35241
35412
35421
41235
41253
41325
41352
41523
41532
42135
42153
42315
42351
42513
42531
43125
43152
43215
43251
43512
43521
45123
45132
45213
45231
45312
45321
51234
51243
51324
51342
51423
51432
52134
52143
52314
52341
52413
52431
53124
53142
53214
53241
53412
53421
54123
54132
54213
54231
54312
54321

5 SETS OF NUMBERS x 24 VARIATIONS = 120 POSSIBILITIES

1.A fű 2.nő 3.a réten 4.tavasszal 5.nagy örömünkre
1.A fű 2.nő 3.a réten 5.nagy örömünkre 4.tavasszal
1.A fű 2.nő 5.nagy örömünkre 4.tavasszal 3.a réten
…it would take way too much time to list all. The numbers above tell everything.

SUMMARY:

1 SET OF NUMBERS (2UNITS) x 2 VARIATIONS = 2 POSSIBILITIES

1 SET OF NUMBERS (3 UNITS) x 6 VARIATIONS = 6 POSSIBILITIES

4 SETS OF NUMBERS (4 UNITS) x 6 VARIATIONS = 24 POSSIBILITIES

5 SETS OF NUMBERS (5 UNITS) x 6 VARIATIONS = 120 POSSIBILITIES

I’ll continue with more examples.

Roots H-, H-V, Har; H-R

Root H-, H-V, HaR

When it comes to weather and temperature you can think of some words as a group. It is the root H-. I keep writing the consonants in capitals.

Hi is an abstract root for Hideg – cold
is an abstract root for HűVös – cool
means snow > HaVas is snowy
means heat > HeVes fierce (man), heated (debate)
Ha is an abstract root for HaRmat – dew

A hó hő hatására elolvad. – Heat causes snow to melt.
Hűvös az idő, de nem hideg. – It’s a cool weather, but it’s not cold.

A heves vita közepette nem vették észre a virágról lehulló harmatot.
While having a heated debate, they didn’t notice the dew falling from the flower.

Root H-R for decaying

HeRvad – to wither;
A virágok
elhervadnak. – Flowers wither.

KoRhad – to rot, to decay;
A kidőlt fa
elkorhad. – The fallen tree rots away.

SoRvad – to waste away, to recede;
A fogad
elsorvad, ha nem húzzák ki. – Your teeth will recede if it is not removed.

The Hungarian Alphabet – Rovásírás

Not so long ago Hungarian people had their own alphabet just like the Chinese and the Japanese. Nowadays we refer to it as runic alphabet, but given the fact that in our modern days we use the Latin writing system, it is more appropriate to simply call it Hungarian alphabet.

Our ancestors originally carved these letters into wood sticks, then on their houses, buildings and probably books. I say ‘probably books’ because a lot of them were burnt after the Christians had arrived.

The Hungarian writing was exercised by both priests and ordinary people. Among others, we’ve found needle cases and other mundane objects decorated with these letters, which proves that the average people could write and read.

When the farmer carved these letters into the wood sticks, he was holding the stick with his left hand, so he started to write with his right hand. When he turned the stick, he continued to write from left to right, but fundamentally it is an alphabet written from right to left.

There was no need to use compound letters like we do today: sz, ny, ly, cs, etc. We have to do that because we have 40 letters in our alphabet and when our ancestors were forced to use the Latin writing, they had to figure out how to write a sound they had a character for in the Hungarian alphabet. Hence older family names like Weöres, Batthyhányi, Széchenyi…We pronounce them as Vörös, Battyányi, Szécsenyi. And that’s how we would have written any word back in the day because there is a character for every sound without letter combinations.

The rules of writing for the Hungarian alphabet are:

  1. Generally speaking, start writing from right to left.
  2. The omission of vowels was common especially the e-é vowels because originally these vowels were used to say the alphabet: eb, ec, ecs, ed, ef, eg, egy…(today we say bé, cé, csé, dé, ef, gé, gyé…). As the consonants express the meaning of the word, it is no problem omitting the vowels.
  3. You can omit the vowels when it does not hinder you from understanding the word, but always write it when back-vowels and front-vowels change in the same word and you always write it at the end of the word.
  4. The sounds w, x, y, q are transcribed with v, ksz, i, kv. Not part of the alphabet.
  5. The sounds dz, dzs are also not part of it, so they are written as in the Latin writing: d+z, d+zs
  6. The indication of long vowels is a recent development. Our ancestors didn’t make a distinction in writing, only in speech.

Here’s the alphabet from right to left:

m ly l k j í i h gy g f é e d cs c b á a

m L l k j í i h G g f é e d C c b á a

zs z v ű ü ú u ty t sz s r p ő ö ó o ny n

Z z v ű ü ú u T t S s r p ő ö ó o N n

Variations for o-ó, ö-ő and ü-ű can be found as we go back further in time. Check the Internet if you like for sites like that. Let’s see some texts. Keep in mind that the Hungarian alphabet goes from right to left.

Text with each character written out:

aNál moráh kanna sé NoSSa Ge reSGe tlov, tlov men loh, tlov reSGe

Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy asszony és annak három lánya.
Once upon a time there was a woman and she had three daughters.

Same text with vowel omission where possible:

aNál moráh knna s NoSSa G rSG tlv, tlv mn lh, tlv rSG

Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy asszony és annak három lánya.
Once upon a time there was a woman and she had three daughters.

The interesting thing about this alphabet is that you can use ligatures, that is you can combine these characters. It is your hand writing, if you will. The computer does not write ligatures, so I wrote it myself. Note that there are vowel omissions and ligatures in it.

wp_20170114_001

Note that there are two versions of K = k and K. Linguist believe that it’s due to vowel harmony. The first is believed to be EK or KE like meredek kederem (steap), the second one is AK or KA like akna anK (mine). Some linguists say that the second ”deep-vowel” K was only used for expressing the plural form, but there is no evidence to that. It is simpler to use the first k k. Look at this:

Linguists saying there is Ek and AK would write KAKUKKOK (cuckoos) like this:

kokkukaK

Linguists saying that K is only for plural would write it like this:

Kokkukak

Root M-G and More

The Hungarian roots can be used like this:

-keeping the consonants and shading with vowels: magyar = megyer
-mutating the consonants: KöR (circle) > GuRul (to roll)
-using the inversion of the root: MaG (seed) <> GaM (no meaning in itself today)

The first solution can have the same meaning or it can shade the original meaning. In case of magyar-megyer it is the same meaning. Our ancestors used megyer just as magyar.

The second solution implies that consonants can be turned into other consonants. For example the M at the end of a word often changes into NG, ND, N to shade the meaning of that word. Or in case of kör-gurul the words express the same kind of thing, that is a circular motion and K often mutates into G.

I’d like to talk about the third solution in details because the inversion of the root can have the same meaning, it can shade the meaning or it can express the opposite of the base root. Look at this example: CsaVar – FaCSar. What happened in csavar? The root Cs_V was reversed and the V mutated into F, which is also very common. As a result, the two verbs have the opposite meaning. Csavar means to twist, facsar means to wring. The first implies – fundamentally – a motion inwards, the second a motion outwards.

Another example can be megy (to go) – jön (to come). Would you tell about these verbs that they are inversions? This is how it goes: MeGY <> GYeM > GYeN > GYüN > JöN.

So what is it about MaG<> GaM? They imply the same thing: something spherical that has a seed in it or it has the shape of a seed. The vowels and the consonants can change to shade the meaning. The root GaM has no meaning today, but its derivatives do. I’ll keep writing the consonants carrying the meaning in capital letters, so that you see the root better.

MaG – seed

Derivatives of MaG are:

MáK – poppy-seed
MaKK – acorn
MaGYar – Hungarian
MaGyal – holly
MaGzat – embryo
MáGlya – bonfire
MaGas – tall
and possibly NaGY – big
MeGGY – sour cherry
MeGYe – county (Originally means earth, ground. Ancient villages were circular, probably that’s the reason for this word)

The inversion of MaG is GaM. Take a look at the words that originated from it:

GuMó = GüMő – tuber
GoMB – button
GoMBa – mushroom
GoMBóc = GöMBőc – dumpling or something ball-shaped
GöMB – orb
GoMBolyag – skein, hank
GoMolyog – to wreathe
GöMBölyű – round, spherical
GuBó – cocoon
GőG – haughtiness (originally means something empty, spherical, inflatable)
GöNGYöleg – bundle, bale
GYöNGY – pearl
GYüMölcs – fruit

Other examples from our Kun ancestors. The Kuns liked to change the Hungarian consonants like this: G, GY > D, ND, NG, NT, MD, K; D > T.

áGas > áKas = today’s word is eke = plough

We had a word like KiJó. Nowadays we say KíGYó (snake). The inversion of KíGY is GYíK. GYíK means lizard. Animals belonging to the same kind of species, so to say. With consonant mutation GYíK became CSíK (streak, stripe). Obviously lizards and snakes look like a streak from the distance.

Other examples would never really ”show themselves” if we wouldn’t know their origins. Such roots are: ék, kő, üt, tű. Kő (stone) is the inversion of éK (wedge). It is obvious that a stone, especially a sharp one resembles a wedge. With a wedge you can hit things, and so some consonant and vowel mutations will allow us to create the verb üT (hit). The inversion of üt is Tű (needle). And a needle still looks like a small wedge. Out of the root éK, our eKe (plough) was born.

Another phenomenon is when the consonant H modifies the original root. Such root is aL (below, beneath). If you put an h at the beginning of the word, it becomes HaL (fish). Where do fish live? Under the ocean.

A HaL aLul van. – The fish is beneath.

The poetic way of thinking of our ancestors allowed them to identify fish with death:

HaL (fish-noun) – megHaL (to die-verb) – HaLLgat (to listen, to be silent)

What does a person do who died? If someone dies at sea, you say: That man perished at sea = Az az ember tengerbe HALT. And what does a dead person do? He’s silent like a fish, that is HaLLgat. This is how these words developed: aL (beneath) > HaL (fish-to die) > HaLott (dead) > HaLLgat (to be silent, to listen). Also, if someone’s listening to you while you’re speaking, they’re silent.

So much for now. I’ll try to write more.

Bye! 🙂

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.

Problems with Verbal Prefixes (or Coverbs)

GOOD ADVICE IN ADVANCE: knowing when to choose a verbal prefix and which to choose requires a knowledge of the shades of meanings Hungarian verbs can have.

1. In the present tense verbal prefixes (coverbs) can add shades to the verb. These shades can be direction and perfectivity in the future.

NOTE! The general rule is that Hungarian verbs without verbal prefixes have a continous aspect in any tense and mode.

– DIRECTION:

Megyek a pincébe. <> Lemegyek a pincébe.
I’m going to the cellar. <> I’m going down to the cellar.

Sétálunk a parkban. <> Kisétálunk a parkba.
We’re walking in the park. <> We’re walking out to the park.

Ugrál az ágyon. <> Felugrál az ágyra.
He’s jumping on the bed. <> He keeps jumping up to the bed.

– PERFECTIVITY IN THE FUTURE:

a)

Megyek a boltba. <> Elmegyek a boltba.
I’m going to the shop. <> I’m going to the shop./I’ll go to the shop.

Megyek a boltba expresses a continous aspect. I’m going to the shop right now as I’m talking. Elmegyek a boltba refers to the direction el-away because the shop is farther away from where I am now and to the perfectivity in the future because I expressed the wish of going to the shop. That’s where I will be sometime in the future. It can also express a promise (I’ll go).

Elmegyek a boltba > és mikor befejeztem az odamenetelt, vagyis megérkeztem, ott leszek.
I’m going to the shop > and when I stopped going to that place, that is I have arrived, I will be there.

You see there is no equivalent of the verbal prefix el in the English sentence because it simply expresses completion and in this case it does not have the meaning equivalent to away.

As you can see, if verbal prefixes indicating a direction are attached to verbs expressing motion, the indication of direction is implied even though the point is perfecitivity.

b)

Nézem a műsort. <> Megnézem a műsort.
I’m watching the show. <> I’ll watch the show.

Nézem a műsort expresses a continous aspect. I’m watching the show right now as I’m talking. Megnézem a műsort cannot refer to any direction as watching something has no direction. That’s why meg- is used and not el-. It definitely refers to the future because as you can see the English sentence changed, too. Hungarian uses present tense with the aspect of completion expressed by meg-, which is expressed in English by Simple Future Tense (I’ll watch).

2. What happens to this phenomenon in the past tense?

Well, it is clearer because the Hungarian past tense can only refer to the past tense (in contrast with the present tense with the sense of future actions). That is proved by the English sentences, too.

a)

Mentem a boltba. <> Elmentem a boltba.
I was going to the shop. <> I went to the shop.

Mentem a boltba expresses a continous aspect. I was going to the shop right at the moment as Iwas talking. Elmentem a boltba refers to the direction el-away because the shop was farther away from where I was then and to the perfectivity in the past because I stated the fact that I went to the shop. That’s where I was in the past. An action that happened once: I went to the shop and I was there. End of story.

b)

Néztem a műsort. <> Megnéztem a műsort.
I was watching the show. <> I watched the show.

Néztem a műsort expresses a continous aspect. I was watching the show right at the moment as I was talking. Megnéztem a műsort cannot refer to any direction as watching something has no direction. That’s why meg- is used and not el-. It definitely refers to the past because as you can see the English sentence changed, too. Hungarian uses past tense with the aspect of completion expressed by meg-, which is expressed in English by Simple Past Tense (I watched).

3. Generally speaking, any verbal prefix can be used to express completion if a certain direction is implied.

a)

Jövök a kirándulásról. <> Visszajövök a kirándulásról.
I’m coming from the excursion. <> I’m coming back/I’ll come back from the excursion.
Jöttem a kirándulásról. <> Visszajöttem a kirándulásról.
I was coming from the excursion. <> I came back from the excursion.

Mutatjuk a grafikont. <> mutatunk a grafikonra.
We’re showing the diagram. <> We’re pointing at the diagram.
Mutattuk a grafikont. <> mutattunk a grafikonra.
We were showing the diagram. <> We pointed at the diagram.

True enough, Rámutattunk a grafikonra can also mean We were pointing at the diagram as Hungarian does not have specifically a different time for continuous past tense. In this case it is the context that matters.

Rámutattunk a grafikonra és mindenki odanézett.
We pointed at the diagram and all looked at it.

Rámutattunk a grafikonra, miközben mindenki odanézett.
We were pointing at the diagram while all were looking at it.

And that’s where there can be a little bit more confusion because rámutattunk indicates a direction and completion at the same time. The form megmutat exist just as well, with no sense of direction. Let’s see the difference:

Mutattuk a grafikont. – We were showing the diagram.
Megmutattuk a grafikont. – We showed the diagram.
Rámutattunk a grafikonra. – We pointed at the diagram.

Not only a different verbal prefix, but a different meaning, too. That different meaning can be seen in English as it uses a different verb for it (point and not show). Plus, the English preposition at expresses the Hungarian rá- requiring the postposition -ra meaning onto. Literally: We pointed at onto the diagram.

b) Verbs that don’t express motion take meg-, el-. Despite the fact that el- means away, it has a neutral meaning of completion just like meg-. It is also a question of memorizing such verbs.

Verbs with no aspect of motion:

Megláttam a lányt az utcán. – I noticed the girl in the street.
Megérezte, hogy baj lesz. – He had a feeling that there would be trouble.
Megköszönték a vendéglátást. – They said thank you for the hospitality.

Elkezdett hadarni. – She started jabbering.
Elmondtuk, hogyan történt. – We told how it had happened.
Elvégeztem a feladatot. – I finished/completed the task.

c) There are verbs with no aspect of motion that can have both meg- and el- for expressing completion with apparently no change in the meaning.

Elmondtuk, hogyan történt. – We told how it has happened.
Megmondtuk, mit tegyél. – We told you what to do.

Elkezdtem írni. – I started writing.
Megkezdtem az írást. – I started writing.
>In this case both sentences mean the same, but take a different part of speech (first verb, second noun). The first sentence is used in 99% of the cases.

Sometimes it is a matter of choosing like above, other times it is about an idiomatic expression.

Megmondtuk az igazat. – We told the truth. (a while ago)

4. What if we separate the verbal prefix from the verb and make it follow the verb?

Let’s see an example:

Megyek a padlásra. – I’m going to the attic.
Felmegyek a padlásra. – I’m going up to the attic./I’ll go up to the attic.
Megyek fel a padlásra. – I’m going up the the attic.

So what’s the difference between Megyek a padlásra and Megyek fel a padlásra? The fundamental rule of continuity is definitely there. Verbs with no verbal prefixes have a continuous aspect. So why then Megyek fel is continuous? Because it is more the emphatic sense the speaker wants to express then a grammatical rule.

An example for present tense whe the action is more important:

-Mit csináltok? –Sétálunk ki a piacra.
-What are you doing? -We’re walking (out) to the market
-Azt hittem, kocsival mentek. -Nem. Mondom, hogy sétálunk ki a piacra.
-I thought you’d go by car. -No. I’m telling you we’re walking to the market.

Sometimes Hungarian uses present tense to tell a story that happened in the past.You can use this when you think the action is really important. Watch this:

“Úgy döntöttem, hogy szombaton rendet teszek a padláson. Végül is semmi dolgom nem volt. A pincét is ki kellett volna takarítani, de ahhoz két hétvége sem lenne elég. Na mindegy. Megyek fel a padlásra, amikor zajt hallok fentről. Kinyitom a padlásajtót. Hát nem egy rusnya macska rohangál fent!”

Here’s the translation:

“I decided to tidy the attic up on Saturday. After all, I had nothing to do. The cellar should’ve been done, too, but even two weekends wouldn’t be enough for that. Whatever. I’m going up to the attic when I hear some noise. I open the attic door. And, of course, it is an ugly cat running around up there!”

The speaker wanted to put emphasis on the action as he/she was going up to the attic. Some more examples:

Indulok ki a garázsból, amikor elém áll a szomszéd és…
I’m about to leave the garage when the neighbour stands in front of me and…

Mondom neki, hogy hallgasson, de ő csak kiabál vissza nekem.
I keep telling him to be quiet, but all he’s doing is shouting back to me.

Egy csomó autó várt a zöld lámpára, a pasas meg csak fordul be a kereszteződésbe.
There were lots of cars waiting for the green light, but the guy just keeps turning in the junction.

5. Change in the meaning.

Verbs with no aspect of motion can still be given a direction. The meaning may change or not. It is a matter of memorization.

A fiú virágot ad a lánynak.
The boy gives a flower to the girl.

A fiú odaadja a virágot a lánynak.
The boy gives the flower to the girl.
>It means the same, but oda- emphasizes the direction (to the girl).

A lány visszaadja a virágot.
The girl gives the flower back.

A fiú feladja.
The boy gives up.

Verbs with an aspect of motion can be given a direction, too. The meaning may change or not. It is a matter of memorization.

A fiú fut a lányhoz.
The boy is running to the girl.

A fiú odafut a lányhoz.
The boy is running up to the girl.

A lány elfut a fiútól és befut a házba.
The girl is running away from the boy and is running in the house.

A lány összefut egy másik fiúval a házban.
The girl runs into another boy in the house.

A lány visszafut, ahol még várja az első fiú.
The girl is running back where the first boy is still waiting for her.

A lány átfut a hídon, de a másik oldalon is mindenhol fiúkat lát.
The girl is running over the bridge, but all she can see on the other side is boys.

A lány már össze-vissza/oda-vissza fut az üldözői elől.
The girl is now running around/back and forth from her pursuers.

6. Everyday conversation.

– Hoznál tejfölt? (-Would you bring some sour cream?)
– Igen, hoznék. (-Yes, I would.)
– Akkor menj el a boltba. (-Then go to the shop.)

A fiú felöltözött és kilépett az ajtón, amikor visszakiabált:
(The boy put on his clothes and stepped outside when he shouted back:)

– Mentem! (-I’m gone.)

You don’t see elmentem. Because both members of this conversation knew the context. Obviously, the boy didn’t want to talk about the continuity while he was going somewhere.

Of course, the correct way of saying is Elmentem! It is just a quick note for you to be aware of this, too.

After all, everyday language doesn’t abide by the grammar book. Just think of writing on a piece of paper GONE SHOPPING. It has quite the same feeling.