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Coverbs/Verbal prefixes in Hungarian: meg-, el-, etc.


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Coverbs or verbal prefixes are small prefixes that either add meaning to a Hungarian verb or change its aspect. Sometimes the coverb can significantly change the meaning of a verb into something more idiosyncratic.

Adding information to a verb

In English we use small words (that are adverbs) to convey additional meaning to a verb:

  • go out
  • jump up
  • step in
  • go away
  • walk across

In Hungarian these little words can act like part of the verb.

  • kimegy go out
  • felugrik jump up
  • belép step in
  • elmegy go away
  • átsétál stroll across

In each of these cases you will NOT find the coverb in dictionary form of the word. The stem will be in the dictionary.
When you do find the coverb and the stem together in the dictionary, it is an example of changing the meaning of a verb. See below regarding changing the meaning of a verb.

A list of coverbs

Here is a list of covebs and their literal meanings. See below regarding these coverbs do not necessarily behave literally; rather, idiosyncratically.

  • meg (perfection/completion) This is a special case, see perfection.
  • el away This is also a special case, see completion.
  • ki out This is also a special case, see completion.
  • be in
  • fel, föl up
  • le down
  • át across
  • vissza back
  • végig to the end
  • ide (to) here
  • oda (to) there
  • onto

For a complete list of coverbs, see below.

Putting nouns into cases when using coverbs

Note that we often do not just use a coverb on its own. We often combine the use of the coverb with an indirect object being placed into a special noun case. This is especially true of the coverbs of movement.

  • megy go
  • lemegy go down
  • lemegy a pincébe he is going down into the cellar
  • ugrik jump
  • felugrik jump up
  • felugrik az asztalra he jumps up onto the table
  • megy go
  • bemegy go in
  • bemegy a boltba he is going into the shop (Literally: he goes-in into the shop)
  • megy go
  • elmegy go away
  • elmegy Londonba he is going away (in)to London (e.g. for a holiday)
  • szórakozik entertain, go for entertainments
  • kiszórakoz go out for entertainments
  • kiszórakozza magát egy bárban / kiszórakozni megy egy barba he is going out for entertainments (in)to a bar.

Changing the meaning of a verb

Sometimes a coverb can significantly change the meaning of a verb, turing it into something different. An example in English might be shut, meaning "to close" of course. When we use it with "up", we get shut up, meaning "be quiet! stop talking!". This is quite different from the original meaning without the coverb.

Here are some examples in Hungarian.

  • elmond tell (from mond=say)
  • elmos obliterate, wash away (from mos=wash)
  • kiad discharge, emit (from ad=give)
  • elad sell (from ad=give. N.B! It's not give-away!)

meg showing aspect

You might remember the words "perfect" and "imperfect" from your French classes at school, and you may, like I was, be a little unsure. These names describe the aspect, not the tense, of a verb.

A verb's aspect refers to its state, or to whether the action is done-and-dusted or ongoing (see Wikipedia), which is basically the difference between I am running and I run. Note that both these sentences are in the present tense, only their aspect differs.

Also contrast: I was running and I ran. Note how it's easier to grasp the difference of these two aspect when we're in the past tense. "I ran" implies that I was running, and then I stopped. On the other hand, "I was running" implies that perhaps I was running and I still am, or that I was in the middle of running when something occurred.

In Hungarian this is achieved with the special coverb meg. The translation is inexact, but this is probably the closest you'll get.

meg as perfect aspect

The coverb meg- means that the action is perfect.

  • megállt he stood
  • megolvasott he counted (archaic)
  • megcsinált he made
  • megállok I stand
  • megolvasok I count (archaic)
  • megcsinálok I make

Imperfect aspect without meg

The raw verb, without meg, means that the action is imperfect. I am ...-ing. He was ...-ing.

  • állt he was standing
  • olvasott he was counting
  • csinált he was making
  • állok I am standing
  • olvasok I am counting
  • csinálok I am making

el-, ki- expressing completion

There is a special use of coverbs. It is not quite as severe as meg's aspectual change, but it does express the completion of a task.

  • olvas read
  • olvasta a könyvet he was reading the book
  • kiolvasta a könyvet he read the book (all the way to the end of the book, he finished the book)

  • ment he was going
  • elment he went

Splitting of coverbs

The splitting of coverbs from their main verb is so important and difficult that I have given it its own page. Please see here for information about splitting a verbal prefix (coverb) from its root verb.

Complete list of all coverbal previfxes

Here is a full list, including those that do not have such a concrete a spatial meaning as those listed above. Where no English translation is given, it means that there is no direct translation.

  • abba into it
  • agyon to death
  • alá (to) under
  • át across
  • be in(to)
  • bele into
  • benn in
  • egybe into one
  • el away [, completion]
  • ellen against
  • elő forward, first, forth
  • előre (to) forward
  • fel, föl up
  • félbe into half
  • félre aside
  • felül, fölül up
  • fenn, fönn up
  • hátra (to the) back
  • haza (to) home
  • helyre to (put) right
  • hozzá towards, to
  • ide (to) here
  • keresztül across, through
  • ketté into two
  • ki out [, completion]
  • körül around
  • közbe in (between)
  • közre in (between)
  • külön apart
  • le down
  • meg [perfective]
  • mellé next to, not to the right place
  • neki into
  • oda (to) there
  • össze together
  • onto
  • rajta on
  • széjjel apart
  • szembe opposite, in the face of
  • szerte in all directions
  • tele full
  • tova away
  • tovább continuing (on), further
  • tönkre to ruin
  • túl over, past, beyond
  • újjá anew
  • újra again
  • utána after
  • végbe to the end
  • végig thoughout
  • vissza back

Thanks to Marton Gergely for assistance with these


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