How to use a Hungarian dictionary
This page will tell you how to use an English-Hungarian dictionary.
It's not as easy as it sounds, so do take a moment to read this page. There are some important differences
from, say, an English-French dictionary.
Noun case helpers for verbs and adverbs
Whenever a verb can take a "helper" object, the dictionary will
often give information about which noun case the helper object must be placed into.
For example, in English we might say
to trust somebody
whereas in Hungarian they say
to trust in somebody
For another example, in English we might say
to think about/of something
whereas in Hungarian they say
to think "onto" something
In full sentences these would be:
- bízok Ágiban
I trust Ági
do you think about Daniel?
do you think about that?
These cases are expressed in the dictionary in a 4-step process:
- abbreviating valami
to vmi and
taking one of the characteristic endings (in these examples, one of -ban/ben
and -ra/re respectively) (which to choose? see here)
combing the above two into such acronyms as
Placing this abbreviation somewhere behine the main verb, often in square brackets.
Here are some examples:
- bízni [vkiben] trust somebody
- szomjazik [vmire] thirst, crave something
- riaszt [vkit] frighten somebody
- gondol [vmire] think about something
- megmenekül [vmitől] flee from something figurative
- szemben [vmivel] opposite, facing something (adverb)
Sometimes we see two helpers or helpers that are not noun cases (rather adverbs):
tulajdonít [vmit vkinek] attribute/assign something to somebody
- megmenekül [vhonnan] flee from somewhere (adverb helper)
Which ending to choose?
Note that when the dictionary writes
[vkiben], they have obviously chosen one of the two
endings from the inessive
case. They chose ben. Why did they do so?
The dictionary will usually choose whichever ending is used to make prepositional pronouns.
Since prepositional pronouns like
etc are formed using the front-vowel version, so do the
dictionaries use this version too for -ban/ban helpers.
Of course we still apply
the dictionary might say
we still say
bízik Ágiban because Ági is a back-vowel word.
Direct objects for transitive verbs
Verbs that (may or must) take a direct object, i.e. transitive verbs,
must have their direct object placed into the accusative case.
Often the dictionary will not bother to write [vmit]
because it's obvious that a transitive verb must have its object in the accusative case.
The only time you will see [vmit]
is when the usage differs between English and Hungarian.
Third-person verbs and -ik verbs
All verbs will be given in their third person singular form (he/she).
All -ik verbs will be given with their -ik ending still intact. Some dictionaries
will use a bar to separate the stem from the -ik:
Fleeting and low vowel
Some words will contain fleeting or low vowels.
These words may be indicated as such in the dictionary.
[Rounds/Sólyom] mark them with flags,
Whitney spells out the full examples.
Rounds/Sólyom mark ház as:
ház (lv) house
Cases of nouns
Some glossaries, though very few dictionaries, will give three pieces of information for each noun: the third person singular
possessor, the plural, and the accusative. This is simply to take away the guesswork about whether it should be
Whitney marks ház house as:
háza his house
házat house (accusative)
Where there is a significant change, where the stem itself changes,
such as pohár glass (where the last vowel loses length),
this will be spelled-out:
Conjugations of verbs
Some glossaries, though very few dictionaries, will give three pieces of information for each verb:
the infinitive, the passed tense first person singular indefinite,
and the passed tense third person singular indefinite.
This shows use, respectively,
where it should be
whether it's -ott or just -t.
Whitney marks fogyaszt consume as:
fogyaszt - ani - ottam - ott
fogyasztani to consume
fogyasztottam I consumed
fogyasztott he consumed
Where there is a significant change, where the stem itself changes, such as
érez feel (where the last vowel may be dropped), this will be spelled-out:
érez - ni - tem - érzett
TIP: Learn the words with their helpers!
It is crucial that you do not only memorise a word, but its helpers too!
When trying to learn a new word, learn it with its little friends. Do not teach yourself
bízni to trust (infinitive)
bíz|ik vkiben trust somebody.
This is where Before You Know It fails: it teaches the raw infinitives, which are very unhelpful.