A reference guide to Hungarian grammar, designed with English-speakers in mind

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The Hungarian alphabet

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The Hungarian alphabet contains 40 natural letters, including 14 vowels.

There are some letters that are used almost exclusively with adapted words, such as dzsungel (jungle).

There are some letters that are not part of the natual alphabet, but which are made available for certain loan words: It borrows 4 letters from Latin/English, which I have not included in the table.
These letters are Q (ku), W (dupla vé), X (iksz) and Y (ipszilon).

The alphabet with pronunciation sound files

Whom would you like to hear?

Letter Name IPA sound Example/explanation  Vowel?
a /ɒ/ hot, what back
á /aː/ back, pan, baa (sheep) back
/b/ baby, by, absence
/ts/ its, like tsunami
csé /tʃ/ church
/d/ wide, deck.
dzé /dz/ Hudson. Greek letter zita.
dzsé /dʒ/ jam, jungle, bridge, edge, fridge
e /ɛ/ less, cheque, edge, bed front
é /eː/ hair, café, hey, fail front
ef /f/ fish
/g/ go, give
gyé /ɟ/ during, duke, dew, due (English, not American, pronunciantion)
/h/ hi, human
i /i/ thin, thick front/back
í /iː/ bee, leave,  sea front/back
/j/ you, yes (j = ly
/k/ key, kiss
el /l/ leave, list
ely, el ipszilon /j/ hey, ray (ly = j)
em /m/ mind, assume, might,
en /n/ thing, lying (before k,g),
need, bone (anywhere else)
eny /ɲ/ new, canyon, señor
o /o/ all, force, sorcerer, November back
ó /oː/ over, hole, coat. back
ö /ø/ early, burn, curl. Like the 'e' in the French le. front
ő /øː/ Longer, closer version of ö. Like a child saying, "eurgh!" front
/p/ peas, apricot, hope
er /r/ red
es /ʃ/ ship, wash, shave.  NB! 
esz /s/ said, estimate.  NB!
/t/ tell, feast
tyé /c/ stew, stewart, Tuesday
u /u/ bull, good, put back
ú /uː/ do, fool, rule back
ü /y/ look. Imagine saying "ill" with pursed lips. Like the 'u' in the French tu. Higher-pitched than ú. front
ű /yː/ food. Longer, closer version ü.  Say "he" but with pursed lips and you will say hű. front
/v/ every, very
/z/ zoo
zsé /ʒ/ pleasure, leisure, genre, azure, Jaques.

Double- and triple-glyph letters

You may have seen in the list above that some letters are comprised of two or three separate parts (gylphs) that happen to look like Latin letters. These are: cs, dz, dzs, gy, ly, ny, sz, ty, zs. In fact, they are formed with two or three independent key presses on Latin keyboard buttons (unlike Russian Ы which has its own button).

However, they are considered one letter.

When we encounter two such letters consecutivly, we double only the first glyph. For example, busz + -szal = busszal.

The exception to this rule is when we have to wrap the word over two lines. When then write each letter in full:
Megyek busz-
-szal minden nap.

Double letters

When a letter is doubled, each is pronounced. That means that abban is pronounced ab-ban and not ab-an.

When a double-glyph letter is doubled, the first part is held. That means that busszal is pronounced busz-szal and not busz-al.

When a double-glyph letter that would be transliterated as two English letters is doubled, only the first part is doubled. For example, the c in vicc is tranliterated as ts, but when we double it we do not end up with tsts. We end up with tts: vicc sounds like vitts .

Pronunciation of vowels - no diphthongs

Each vowel is pronounced on its own. There are essentially no diphthongs.

In this absolute beauty of a word (meaning "those (plural) of his sons"), we must sound out each letter:

fiaiéi is pronounced fee-ahh-ee-air-ee.

The explanation of the grammar behind this word, known as plural external possession, is found on the linked page.

Special consonants

The following consonants are a little bit special in that they do not usually require a link vowel before applying a -t suffix.

They are: L, R, N, Ny, J.

For examples:

  • lány girl becomes lányt girl (accusative) Note it's not lányot.
  • megáll stand becomes megállt he stood Note it's not megállott.
  • kér ask, request becomes kért he asked Note it's not kérett.

Vowel harmony

The most important concept in the Hungarian alphabet is vowel harmony. It's so important I gave it its own section.

Old-fashioned letters

You will see the following letters in place names and surnames. They are maintained for historical purposes.

  • aa, aá = á
  • cz = c
  • ch, ts = cs
  • oo, oó = ó
  • eo, ew = ö, ő
  • th = t
  • w = v
  • y = i

Transliteration examples

Here are some examples sent to me by a native. They show how English words would be spelled using Hungarian letters, still maintaining the phonetic goal. They are a great help in learning the alphabet.

  • a - {a}wful - aful
  • á - {u}nbelieveable - ánbölívöböl
  • b - {b}elow - biló
  • c - {ts}unami - cünámi
  • cs - {ch}oke - csók
  • d - {d}rug - drág
  • dz - pi{zz}a - pidza
  • dzs - {J}oe - dzsó
  • e - {e}lephant - elifönt
  • é - {a}ngel - éndzsöl
  • f - {f}rog - frog
  • g - {g}oogle - gúgöl
  • gy - {d}uring - gyuring
  • h - {h}ow - háó
  • i - {e}leven - ilevön
  • í - b{ee} - bí
  • j - {y}ellow - jellóu
  • k - {c}ow - káo
  • l - {l}ow - ló
  • ly - {y}ellow - jellóu
  • m - {m}orn - món
  • n - {n}ear - níör
  • ny - {n}ew - nyú
  • o - {a}ll - ol
  • ó - {o}ver - óvör
  • ö - {a}gain - ögen
  • ő - b{ur}n - bőn
  • p - {p}eter - pítör
  • q - Van{cou}ver - Venvör
  • r - {R}obert - Rabört
  • s - {sh}y - sáj
  • sz - {s}ilver - szilvör
  • t - {t}own - táun
  • ty - {t}ube - tyúb
  • u - pull - pull
  • ú - cr{ew} - krú
  • ü - L{u}ke - lük
  • ű - (French) t{u} - tű
  • v - {v}ery - véri
  • z - {z}oo - zú
  • zs - (French) {J}aques - Zsáksz

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