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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Verbal Noun – Condition – Határozói igenév


This is a typical Hungarian form of expressing a condition. It can be translated with past participle, or the -ing ending. It expresses a mood, condition of some sort. Formation:

High-vowel: van/vannak + 3PS indefinite conjugation + -ve
Deep-vowel: van/vannak + 3PS indefinite conjugation + -va
Negation only with NINCS/NINCSENEK in present tense!!!

Meg vagyok fázva.
I have a cold.

A bolt nyitva/zárva van.
The shop is open/closed.

A dolog még nincs elintézve.
The matter hasn’t been settled yet.

Nevetve szaladt a barátaihoz.
He was running up to his friends laughing.

Sírva mondta el, mi történt vele.
She told what happened to her crying.

Be careful! English would say ’The shop is closed”, that is it uses past participle.

Don’t use Hungarian past participle in such sentences!

Unfortunately, the media are full of this crap. They use past participle instead of the proper Hungarian condition form (adverbial noun) due to the influence of foreign languages. The most common mistakes:

1. A bűnössége még nem bizonyított.
His guilt is not proved yet.

2. …melynek ténye még nem igazolt.
…the fact of which is not verified yet.

3. Az ügy még nem elintézett.
The matter is not settled yet.

As you see, there’s no problem with the English sentences. The problem is the Hungarian sentences using past participle like English. Why is it a huge problem? Because it sounds unnatural. Typical sentences for those who think they’re really smart and they prove not to be by saying nonsense like that. We understand what they’re getting at, but the actual meaning of the Hungarian sentences above is:

1. His guilt hasn’t proved anything yet.
2. …the fact of which hasn’t verified anything yet.
3. (I would say it can’t be even translated, complete nonsense)

The proper Hungarian sentences should be as follows:

1. A bűnössége még nincs bizonyítva.
2. …melynek ténye még nincs igazolva.
3. Az ügy még nincs elintézve.

Or you can use 3rd PP form as ”passive sentence”.

1. A bűnösségét még nem bizonyították.
2. …melynek tényét még nem igazolták.
3. Az ügyet még nem intézték el.

These sentences can be said in the wrong way because we don’t really feel them as a condition, so the media make their mistakes. But take a look at these sentences:

1. A bolt nyitva van. – The shop is open.
2. A bolt nyitott. – The ship is opened.

Nobody would make the mistake saying the second one: A bolt nyitott.

1. A bolt nyitva van. > it means that it is time to go shopping, you can enter the building because the doors are open. = CONDITION

2. A bolt nyitott. > it means maybe the shop has a roof that can be opened. = The shop is opened = QUALITY, CHARATERISTIC, FEATURE of the shop

Verbal Nouns – Future Participle – Beálló melléknévi igenév


The origins of this method reaches back to the old times of the Hungarian language. Originally, it was used to express future tense, but during the centuries it had lost its true function. Nowadays people use it when something is yet to be done. It has an adjectival or subjective function. English equivalent: to be + past participle. Formation:

High-vowel: 3PS indefinite conjugation present tense+ -endő
Deep-vowel: 3PS indefinite conjugation present tense+ -andó


elolvas + -andó = elolvasandó
tesz + -endő = teendő (IRREGULAR!)
kidob + -andó = kidobandó
lesz + -endő = leendő (IRREGULAR!)

az elolvasandó könyv – the book to be read
Mi a teendő? – What is to be done?
Az árú egy év után kidobandó. – The goods are to be thrown away after a year.
leendő férjem gazdag. – My future husband is rich.


lesz – leendő > future, to-be
tesz – teendő > (things) to be done
vesz – veendő > (things) to be bought
jön – jövendő > coming, (things) to come

Verbal Nouns – Past Participle – Múlt idejű melléknévi igenév


Hungarian past participle is formed like this:

sétált – walked
látott – seen
evett – eaten


High-vowel: 3PS indefinite conjugation + -t, -tt
Deep-vowel: 3PS indefinite conjugation + -t, -tt
+ plural suffix -k if needed + accusative suffix -t if needed
If you need a link vowel: -ett, -ött, -ott


számozott házak – numbered houses
az étteremben megevett étel – the food eaten in the restaurant
az űrbe fellőtt rakéta – the rocket launched in space
múlt idő – past tense (literally: passed tense)


A meghívottak jól szórakoztak.
The invited were having a great time.

A látottak alapján nem lesz ünneplés.
From what I saw there will be no celebration.

A hallottakból ítélve kedveli Japánt.
Judging from what I heard he likes Japan.


A diákok által látogatott iskola…
The school attended by the students…
Az iskola, amit a diákok látogatnak
The school the students are attending

Az eladó által eladott áruk…
The goods sold by the shop assistant…
Az áruk, amiket az eladó eladott
The goods the shop-assistant have sold

Verbal Nouns – Present Participle – Jelen idejű melléknévi igenév


Hungarian present participle is formed like this:

éneklő – singing
járó – going
evő – eating


High-vowel: 3PS indefinite conjugation +
Deep-vowel: 3PS indefinite conjugation +


helytálló meglátás – appropriate observation
kiabáló gyerek – shouting child
szenvedő szerkezet – passive voice
bejövő hívás – incoming call

Sometimes it is not possible to translate a present participle verb with -ing: helytálló – appropriate.


A futó nagyon gyors. – The runner is very fast.
A bemondó mindig késik. – The announcer is always late.
A vevő szüntelenül panaszkodik. – The customer keeps complaining.


kutyát ábrázoló kép
a photo illustrating a dog
A kép, ami a kutyát ábrázolja
The photo that illustrates the dog…

az iskolát látogató diákok
the students attending the school
A diákok, akik az iskolát látogatják
The students who are attending the school…

a környéken lakó emberek
the people living in the neighbourhood
Az emberek, akik a környéken laknak
The people who live in the neighbourhood…

a versenyben résztvevő játékosok
the contestants joining the race
A játékosok, akik a versenyben részt vesznek
The contestants who join the race…

NOTE! You can make a present participle verb accusative, dative, plural and so on if needed.

Látom a vevőt.
I see the customer.

A tanulónak ötöst adok.
I give the student an A.

A látogatókkal beszélgetünk.
We’re talking to the visitors.

A lakók tele vannak gonddal.
The tenants have a lot of problems.

A résztvevőkben nem csalódtam.
I wasn’t disappointed in the contestants.

Verbal Noun – Infinitive – Főnévi igenév


You already know how to form the infinitive of a Hungarian verb: menni, látni, fogni. Sometimes you need a link vowel, especially with verbs in two consonants: mondani, gyűjteni

Now we’ll deal with possibilities allowing us to use infinitive:


Impersonal verbs and expressions are to be followed by the infinitive of the main verb. Impersonal verbs are: kell, kellene, szabad, lehet. Impersonal expressions are:

könnyű – easy
nehéz – difficult
ideje, hogy – it’s time to
épp ideje, hogy – it’s high time to
jó / rossz, hogy – it’s good / wrong to
jobb / rosszabb, hogy – it’s better / worse to
tilos – it’s forbidden to
szégyen – it’s a shame
helyes – it’s right to
helytelen – it’s wrong to

Könnyű nyelveket tanulni. – It’s easy to learn languages.
Nehéz nyelveket tanulni. – It’s difficult to learn languages.
Ideje aludni. – It’s time to sleep.
Épp ideje elmenni. – It’s high time to leave.
magyarnak lenni. – It’s good to be Hungarian.
Jobb gazdagnak lenni. – It’s better to be rich.
Tilos az állatokat etetni. – It’s forbidden to feed the animals.
Szégyen ilyen ruhában kimenni. – It’s a shame to go out in these clothes.
Helyes elítélni a bűnözőket. – It’s right to condemn criminals.
Helytelen elítélni az ártatlanokat. – It’s wrong to condemn the innocent.


Futni egészséges. – To run is healthy.
Reggelizni nagyon fontos. – To have breakfast is very important.


Megpróbálom elkerülni, hogy találkozzak vele.
I’ll try to avoid meeting him.
Elmegyünk focizni. – We’re going play football.
Jöttök teniszezni? – Will you come play tennis?

Word Order – Verbal Prefix


You already know this:

1. The verbal prefix precedes the verb and is written together with it in normal / general statements.

Felkelek. – I get up.
Megesszük a levest. – We eat up the soup.
Kitakarítják a szobát. – They tidy up the room.

2. The verbal prefix follows the verb and is written separately from it in imperative mood, negation.

Keljek fel? – Shall I get up?
Nem kelek fel? – I won’t get up.

Együk meg a levest! – Let’s eat up the soup.
Nem esszük meg a levest. – We won’t eat up the soup.

Takarítsák ki a szobát! – They’d better tidy up the room.
Nem takarítják ki a szobát! – They won’t tidy up the room.

3. The verbal prefix is written separately from the verb if a third word is inserted between them.

Fel akarok kelni. – I want to get up.
Meg kell ennünk a levest. – We must eat up the soup.
Ki tudják takarítani a szobát. – They can tidy up the room.

What you don’t know (yet) is that certain expressions require the verbal prefix to behave like in imperative mood and negation. These are expressions with contrasted / excluding / negative meaning. Examples:

alig, aligha, kevésbé, nem annyira, kevesen, nem sokan, nehezen, ritkán, csak, csupán, mindössze, kizárólag

Alig néztél bele a könyvbe. – You hardly looked into the book.
Nem annyira eszem meg a spenótot. – I don’t really like spinach.
Kevésmondja meg az életkorát. – Few women tell their age.
Nehezen írok le ilyesmit. – It’s difficult for me to write down such things.
Csak ketten jöttek el. – There were only two people.