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

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Syntax, word order and forming sentences

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Word order in Hungarian is flexible, but that does not mean that care must not be taken. Since Hungarian is an inflected language, in which the case endings give the words' role within the sentence (c.f. English where it's their position that dictates their role), we are able to use their position to give emphasis.

Comapre these two English sentences which mean totally different things, despite the words used being identical:

  • Daniel sees Ági
  • Ági sees Daniel

In Hungarian the first sentence can be written in more than one way. We can identify that these three below correspond to the first above example, and not to the second, but the choice of words (not their position):

  • Daniel látja Ágit
  • Ágit Daniel látja
  • Látja Daniel Ágit

Although these mean the same thing, the emphasis is different. It's crucial to note the following point.


The word with emphasis usually goes at the start of the sentence and before the finite verb.

It's so important that I'll say it again:

To emphasise a word, place it at the start of the sentence and before the finite verb. Finite means conjugated in this context, i.e. not an infinitive verb.

It is being before the verb that is most important for emphasis, being at the start of the sentence is secondary in importance.


Let's look at the meanings of the above sentence.

  • Daniel látja Ágit

Since "Daniel" is before the finite verb, the sentence means: Daniel sees Ági - it's not someone else who is lucky enough to see her.

  • Ágit látja Daniel

Since "Ági-t" is before the finite verb, the sentence means: It is Ági that Daniel sees - it's not another person that Daniel sees.

  • Látja Daniel Ágit

Here the finite verb is at the start of the sentence, and so the verb itself is emphasised. The sentence means: Daniel sees Ági - he doesn't hear her, he sees her. It can also mean, Daniel does see Ági.

  • Dániel a kertben látja Ágit

Here, "a kertben" is before the finite verb, the sentence stresses this part. It means: It is in the garden that Daniel sees Ágit - it isn't in the house.

Question words

Negatives and question words always have emphasis, and in a neutral question sentence the the question word comes first:

  • kit lát Ági?
  • whom does Ági see?

It's only when you need to emphasise something else, such as the subject, do you re-order the words:

  • Ági kit lát?
  • whom does Ági see?


In a negative sentence, the negative word comes first and preceeds the word it negates:

  • Nem látom Ágit
  • I don't see Ági
  • Nem Ágit látom
  • It's not Ági that I see

Splitting coverbs

You definitely also need to look at the section of emphasis when splitting coverbs.


Omitting or keeping pronouns is very important. See the page here: omitting or keeping Hungarian pronouns.

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