Negation – Nem…Van or Nincs?


Take a look at these sentences and you’ll see what I mean, but first a small summary:

nem…van/vannak = is/are not
>expressing existence

nincs/nincsenek = there is/are no, there isn’t/aren’t any
>expressing something, someone is not to be found somewhere

Az autó a garázsban van. – The car is in the garage.
Az autók a garázsban vannak. – The cars are in the garage.
A labda a strandon van. – The ball is on the beach.
A labdák a strandon vannak. – The balls are on the beach.

Az autó nincs a garázsban. – There’s no car in the garage.
Az autók nincsenek a garázsban. – There are no cars in the garage.
A labda nincs a strandon. – There’s no ball on the beach.
A labdák nincsenek a strandon. – There are no balls on the beach.

Az autó nem a garázsban van. – The car is not in the garage.
Az autók nem a garázsban vannak. – The cars are not in the garage.
A labda nem a strandon van. – The ball is not on the beach.
A labdák nem a strandon vannak. – The balls are not on the beach.

See what I mean? And the positive sentences are no problem. A positive existence or whereabouts is simply expressed with van, vannak which, however, can be translated in English as: is, are / there is, there are.

van = is, there is
vannak = are, there are
nincs = there is no, there isn’t any
nincsenek = there are no, there aren’t any
nem…van = is not
nem…vannak = are not

This is a problem only in present tense. In any other tense and mood you use the same forms for both existence and wherebouts.

volt, voltak = was, were / there was, there were
nem volt, nem voltak = wasn’t, weren’t / there was no, there were no

lesz, lesznek = will be / there will be
nem lesz, nem lesznek = won’t be / there won’t be

volna, volnának = would be / there would be
lenne, lennének
nem volna, nem volnának = wouldn’t be / there wouldn’t be
nem lenne, nem lennének

legyen, legyenek = (let) be / (let) there be / (there) should be / had better be
ne legyen, ne legyenek = don’t be / (there) shouldn’t be / had better not be

A few examples for the sentences above in other tenses and moods:

Az autó a garázsban lesz.
The car will be in the garage.
Az autó nem lesz a garázsban.
The car won’t be in the garage.

A labda a strandon legyen.
The ball had better be on the beach.
A labda ne legyen a strandon.
The ball had better not be on the beach.

Negation and Affirmation – Tagadás és igenlés


English offers more possibilities depending on what you want your future wife to do: buzz off or stay with you!

-Honey, did you buy a ring for me?
No, I didn’t. / Yes, I did.

-Honey, are you aware of my mom coming tonight?
No, I’m not. / Yes, I am.

-Honey, have you picked up my mom yet?
-No, I haven’t. / Yes, I have.

I won’t write an example for all tenses. I guess you’ve got my point. Let’s just summarize the English yes/no answers, all right? Here’s a summary table:

am / are / is > am not / aren’t / isn’t
do / does / did > don’t / doesn’t / didn’t
have / has / had > haven’t / hasn’t / hadn’t
will / would > won’t / wouldn’t
can / could > can’t / couldn’t
may / might > may not / might not
should > shouldn’t
shall > shan’t

Hungarian yes and no is much simpler. You answer: yes or no :). As opposed to English, it is not impolite to answer yes or no. But if you want, you can add the verb (rarely used) or the verbal prefix (if there’s one), but only with yes answers!

yes = igen
no = nem

So the sentences about your wife in Hungarian:

-Drágám, vettél gyűrűt nekem?
-Nem, (nem vettem). / Igen, (vettem).

-Drágám, tudod, hogy anyám ma este jön?
-Nem, (nem tudom). / Igen, (tudom).

-Drágám, elhoztad anyámat?
-Nem, (nem hoztam el). / Igen, el.

About saying yes, it’s enough to know that much. About saying no, we have yet to learn a thing or two.


Unlike English, Hungarian makes a wide use of double negation! But first let’s see the use of nem!

It can deny a whole sentence:
Nem tudom, miért tette. – I see not why he did that.

It can deny a specific segment in a sentence:
Nem a fiú csókolta meg a lányt, hanem a lány a fiút.
Not the boy kissed the girl, but the girl kissed the boy.


The above-mentioned negations are single negations. Double negation is when two words are used to express some kind of negation. Double negation in English would be:

I don’t have no money.

But this Hungarian method is grammatically correct and must be used with ’nothing’ = semmi. Think of the last English sentence with don’t…anything and there will be no problem.

Semmit nem tudok.
I know nothing.
I don’t know anything.

It’s all the same which solution you use. Again, topic-prominent aspect. You think ’semmit’ is more important? Then begin the sentence with it. It’s not that important? Don’t begin the sentence with it. Now let’s see more examples. Watch where nem is in the sentence and what it denies:

Nem vagyunk orvosok. – We aren’t doctors.
>Being a doctor is not our profession.

Nem orvosok vagyunk. – We are not doctors.
>We’re not doctors but lawyers, actors, politicians…

Nem látok a sötétben. – I can’t see in the dark.
Nem a sötétben látok. – It’s not in the dark where I can see.
(I can see in the light.)

Nem a fiú megcsókolta a lányt.
Not the boy kissed the girl.

Nem a lányt csókolta meg a fiú.
The boy didn’t kiss the girl (but someone else).
It’s not the girl (whom) the boy kissed.

Nem csókolta meg a lányt a fiú.
The boy didn’t kiss the girl (or anybody).

Nem ismerek senkit a teremben.
Senkit nem ismerek a teremben.
I don’t know anybody in the room.

Next time we’ll take a look at: NINCS