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The may/permission suffix in Hungarian: -hat/het

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In this Hungarian lesson we will see how to give someone permission to perform a verb, or the possibility that the verb might be performed. We will see how to combine verb endings to express "could".

To express the potential or permissions form of a verb, i.e. might, may, we add –hat/het to the stem.

  • ír he writes
  • írhat he may write
  • segít he helps
  • segíthet he may help
  • ül he sits
  • ülhet he may sit

You can think of this "may" as meaning that he is allowed to write, or that he might write .

Application of other endings

As you can see from the below we can think of words with –hat/het- endings as independent verbs. It’s important to note that the resulting word can take any endings and coverbs as it would do without the –hat/het-. Vowel harmony applies to the new stem. See below.

  • hív call
  • hívhat may call
  • hívhatok I may call
  • felhívhatlak ma este I may call you up tonight (i.e. on the telephone)
  • felhívhatsz engem you may call me.
  • engem hívhatsz fel you may call me.
  • megnéz watch
  • megnézheted a filmet, már elmúltál 18 éves you may (you have permission to) watch the film as you are alreay over (passed) 18.

Expressing "could"

This is a very important concept. We combine the potential with the conditional to create "could". This is used just like in English, such as expressing potential uncertainty or making very polite requests.

You can think of its derivation – i.e. verb + potential + conditional as meaning "possibly would". I possibly would do it = I could do it.

verb + potential + conditional = could

  • ad give
  • adhat may give
  • adnál you would give
  • adhatnál (you) could give
  • adhatnál nekem egy kicsit segítséget? could you give me a little help?
  • megkér ask
  • megkérhet may ask
  • megkérlek I ask you
  • megkér + het + né + lek ask + potential + conditional + [I-you] combination
  • megkérhetnélek egy szívességre? could I ask you a favour?
  • segít (to) help
  • segíthet may help
  • segíthetnének they could help
  • segíthetnének nekem, ha itt lennének they could help me if they were here.

Take care when applying "could" suffixes to tud able to, can in such sentences as tudok énekelni I am able to sing, I can sing.
This will change the meaning not to "I could sing" (which we express using énekelhetnék I could sing) but "I could be able to sing".

  • tudok énekelni I am able to sing, I can sing
  • tudnék énekelni I would able to sing
  • tudhatok énekelni I may be able to sing
  • tudhatnék énekelni I could able to sing
  • énekelhetnék I could sing

Not that sometimes the simple present is used in Hungarian where we in English would use the above constructions. For example, látok is often used in lieu of tudok látni when the meaning is "I can see".
Thanks to Viktor Götz for this gotcha.

Forming of new stems

Note that we can think of the combination of the stem and the potential ending to be an entirely new verb, the endings of which would be applied independently of the original stem.
For example: olvas to read
Since this is an –s stem, we would normally have to apply a special version of the indefinite present conjugation for the second person singlular. i.e. olvasol rather than olvassz.

When we add –hat- to this, we have a new verb olvashat may read. This new verb does not end in –s and so the second person singular indefuinite follows the regular congugation and not the special –s version: olvashatsz you may read. Note, it's not olvashatol.

Similarly, since this ending is a 2-form version, all front-vowel words take the –het version, and form a new short-front version of the verb. We then apply short-front ends of other conjugations, even if the stem started life as a long-front.

See how in the below, ül would give us ülök but ülhet gives us ülhetek.

For example:

  • ül sit long-front word
  • ülök I sit
  • ülhet may sit
  • ülhetek I may sit Note: not ülhetök.

Irregular verbs and lehet

The [big seven] irregular verbs (and a few friends) change their original stem slightly when they are placed into this case. You must simply learn them:

  • lesz / lenni become, will be
    • lehet
  • van / lenni is
    • lehet may be
  • vesz / venni take, buy
    • vehet may take/buy
  • visz / vinni take, carry
    • vihet may take/carry
  • hisz / hinni believe
    • hihet may believe
  • eszik / enni eat
    • ehet may eat
  • iszik / inni drink
    • ihat may drink
  • megy / menni go
    • mehet may go
  • jön / jönni come
    • jöhet may come

Lehet – may be, might be, possibly

Other than being irregular, this is not a special verb. However, it is used almost like an auxilliary verb to mean "possibly", or like a full verb to mean "be possible".

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