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Splitting coverbs from verb root

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In the main page about Hungarian verbal prefixes, we saw that little adverb-like helpers can attach themselves to the front of a verb stem to modify its meaning or its aspect. They do not alays attach to the front of the verb. In this lessson we will see when they split from the root and where they go.


A coverb's default position is attached to the front of the verb stem. This is the case in neutral sentences where nothing in particular needs to be emphasised. When we need to change the emphasis of a sentence, we rearrange the word order (we change the syntax), and the coverb, usually being the least important part of the sentence, gets kicked around. Let's look at some different scenarios.

Verb stem emphasis

When the verb's stem is emphasised, the coverb splits and follows the stem. While the writer is free to make this split for effect at his leisure, but it is not a choice when using the imperative. Then it is a rule: in the imperative, the coverb must split and follow the stem.

  • lép ki Ági a kertbe Ági steps out into the garden (e.g. she doesn't run)
  • szállok fel a répülőgépre I board the plane (e.g. I don't paint the plane)
  • vezetek vissza Londonba I'm driving back to London (e.g. I'm not walking)

Imperative and subjunctive

Although the imperative and subjunctive.aspx moods have identical conjugation, their use is different. Coverbs behave differently with this mood.

The imperative

Since the command usually gives emphasis to the verb, not its helper, the coverb splits and follows the verb. For example:

  • lépj ki a kertbe! step out into the garden!
  • szállj fel a répülőgépre board the plane!
  • menj vissza Londonba! go back to London!!

Exceptions to this: if the command is threataning or very demanding, the prefix stays attached at the front.

  • megvárj! Wait for me!
The subjunctive

The subjunctive as a subordinate clause usually gives the focus to the main clause. This allows the coverb to usually stay attached. For example:

  • miért kell, hogy elmenj? why should you go? why do you have to go?

Also see the "nem/ne" page for an example of what to do when using nehogy lest.

Emphasis not on the verb

Naturally, if the a word other than the verb needs to be emphasised, this comes at the start of the sentence (see the page on syntax). This means that the sentence's verb is no longer the most important part, and the coverb must get the boot to reflect this.

To stress any other word, the coverb splits and follows the verb and the word you wish to stress comes at the start of the phrase, before the verb.

  • Ági lép ki a kertbe Ági steps out into the garden (e.g. not someone else)
  • A répülőgépre szállok fel I board the plane (e.g. not the train)
  • Londonba vezetek vissza I'm driving back to London (e.g. not to Atlanta)
  • Én vezetek vissza Londonba I am driving back to London (e.g. not Ági)


When the sentence is negated, the 'nem' takes priority, and the coverb must bow to this by splitting and following. However we must still follow the general rules of stress, and ensure the stressed word is followed by the verb as usual.

  • nem lép ki a kertbe Ági Ági does not step out into the garden
  • nem Ági lép ki a kertbe it is not Ági who steps out into the garden (e.g. it is I)
  • nem a kertbe lép ki Ági it is not into the garden that Ági steps (e.g. it's onto the patio)
  • nem a répülőgépre szállok fel I do not board the plane (e.g. rather, the train)
  • nem szállok fel a répülőgépre I do not board the plane (neutral negative)
  • nem megyek vissza Londonba I'm not going back to London
  • nem Londonba megyek vissza I'm not going back to London (e.g. rather, Atlanta)
  • ne menj vissza Londonba! ne menj el! Don't go back to London! Don't go away!


When a sentece is a question, using an interrogative word, the question word comes first and the coverb splits and follows the stem. Question words include ki, mi, hol, etc; all their flexional forms (ki: kit, kinek, kire, kiból; mi: mikor, miért); all their directional forms (hol: hová, honnan), etc.

  • kik mentek be? who (pl) went out?
  • melyik répülőgépre száll fel which plane does she board?
  • mit írsz le? what do you write down?
  • hová mész el? where are you going? Whither do you go?
  • ne menj vissza Londonba! Ne menj el! Don't go back to London! Don't go away!

Emphasising the coverb

To emphasise the coverb, it splits from the stem but remains in front of the verb.

  • vissza megyek Londonba I'm going back to London
  • ide jött he came here (e.g. not there)
  • félre állt she stood to the side (e.g. not in the middle)

Auxilliary verbs

When an auxillary verb is in the sentence, the coverb splits from the stem and sits in front of the auxilliary. N.B. if there is also a question word, the coverb stays attached!

  • ki fogok lépni a kertbe I will step out into the garden
  • fel lehet szállni répülőgépre it is possible to board the plane

Similar sentences with question word and with/without auxilliary verb:

  • mikor fogsz hazamenni? when will you go home? Note how the coverb stays attached.
  • mikor mész haza? when do you go home? The rule about question words forces this to detatch.

Answering questions with coverbs

When a neutral question is asked, one that has a coverb and has a yes/no answer, it is answered in the affirmative by simply repeating the coverb.

  • Kiszálltam a vonatból? Ki. Did you alight from the train? Yes.
  • Bevettem a gyógyszert? Be. Did you buy the medicine? Yes.
  • Felírta a számát? Fel. Did you tot up his bill? Yes.
  • Megitta a sörömet? Meg. Did he drink my beer? Yes.

Other handy uses of coverb splitting

Here are two other uses of splitting coverbs.

1. To show that a verb is done in one way, and then in another, opposite way, you can take two opposite coverbs and apply both. For example, to show a to/fro motion, an in/out movement, etc. The two coverbs are both detatched from the verb, preceed it, and are hyphenated.

  • fel-alá járkál walking up and down.
  • oda-vissza utazik travelling there and back. Note, an "oda-vissza" ticket is a return ticket.
  • ide-oda járkál pacing up and down, here and there

2. To show that an action stops and starts frequently, or repeats frequently after pauses, one can double-up the coverb. The pair are hyphenated but the second remains attached to the verb.

  • meg-megáll: Az öreg néni lassan ment és közben meg-megállt. the old lady went slowly and during this she stopped and started
  • össze-összevesznek they quarrel, make up, quarrel again, etc.

You may see this feature of grammar in books but it's not colloquial.

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