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Expressing need with personal infinitive verbs in Hungarian


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In this lesson we will express need or necessity. This will come in two flavours: personal and infinitive, i.e. "I need to..." and "it is necessary to..." respectively. The choice between these two flavours is quite easy, but different from in English. For example, where we might say "you need to..." to mean "one must...", in Hungarian they would use an infinitive construction.

The word for expressing need is kell. You just need to place the auxiliary in front of the infinitive. Here are some examples:

  • kell menni it is necessary to go; i.e. one must go
  • kell jönni it is necessary to come; i.e. one must come

It is then trivial to place this strucuture into the past tense, by simply using kellett.

  • kellett menni it was necessary to go
  • kellett jönni it was necessary to come

Congratulations, you now know how to express impersonal necessity in Hungarian. Pretty easy, no? Now let's look at the personal forms.

Personal forms of expressing need

We continue to use the word kell but now when we have personal forms we change the verb to a personal version. These personal version look very much like endings for possession. We simply apply the ending to the root of the verb. We can of course still used the passed-tense form of the auxilliary, kellett, to express a past need.

  • kell mennem I need to go
  • kellett menned you needed to go
  • kell jönöm I need to come
  • kell jönöd you need to come
  • kellett menie he needed to go

To add more emphasis or clarity to show who needs to do something, we use the dative case for the subject.

  • nekem kell mennem I need to go
  • neked kell jönöd you need to come
  • Áginak kell mennie Ági needs to go

The personal endings - the "personal infinitives"

We can use the following endings to make the personal forms. These are known as the "personal infinitives", and they have several uses. Let us first list the endings.


Person Endings Example Example Example
back front
short long
nekem -nom -nem -nöm adnom mennem jönnöm
neked -nod -ned -nöd adnod mennem jönnöm
neki -nia -nie adnia mennie jönnie
nekünk -nunk -nünk adnunk mennünk jönnünk
nektek -notok -netek -nötök adnotok mennetek jönnötök
nekik -niuk -niük adniuk menniük jönniük

As you may have seen in the above examples, the characteristic letter for expressing need is -n-, which is applied to the root of the verb. Sometimes there is a link vowel when the root of the verb ends in a "long ending":

  • kell mondanod you need to say
  • kell segítenem I need to help

However, we have a short cut, a cheat sheet. You'll note that the personal endings of the personal forms are all applied to something very similar to the infinitive of the verb, minus the -i. In fact, that's a hard rule: to make the base of the personal form, simply remove the -i from the infinitive.

  • mondani .... mond-an-od to say... you need to say
  • segíteni... segít-en-em to help... I need to help

Other auxilliaries besides 'kell'

We have seen how to express that a person needs to do something. We use kell to show that someone needs to do something. But this is not the only auxilliary we can use. There are several, and they are listed below.

  • kell need to ... as we have seen above
  • lehet is possible to
  • sikerül manage to, succede in
  • szabad free to
  • tilos forbidden to
  • fáj hurts to

Some examples

  • lehet jönnöd it is possible for you to come
  • sikerült mennie he managed to go
  • szabad kérnem? am I free to ask? i.e. may I ask?
  • tilos dohányozni it forbidden to smoke, ie. smoking is not allowed
  • fáj mosolyognom it hurts for me to smile

One can also use adjectives as quasi-auxilliaries, such as in the following.

  • jó tudnunk it is good for us to know, i.e. that's good to know!
  • nehéz jönniük it is difficult for them to come
  • azt konnyű megtennie that is easy for him to do

Coverbs or verbal prefixes

I will not go into detail here about the splitting and rearranging of the verbal prefixes, as that is contained in its own page. Suffice to show here that when there is a verbal prefix this may or may not detatch from the root fo the verb.

  • el kell menni it is necessary to go away
  • ki kell menned you need to go out

kell for nouns

This lesson is in the verbs section, so this final topic will be very brief. One will often see our friend "kell" used with a noun to show that one has need of something.

  • kell jegy one has need of a ticket
  • nekem kell jegy I have need of a ticket
  • nekik kell jegy they have need of a ticket
  • nekik kellenek jegy they have need of tickets

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