Hungarian language

magyar "magyar nyelv"
Pronunciation [ˈmɒɟɒr]
Native to Hungary and areas of Austria, Croatia, Poland, Romania, northern Serbia, southern Slovakia, Slovenia, western Ukraine.
Ethnicity Hungarians
Native speakers
13 million (2002–2012)[1]
Latin (Hungarian alphabet)
Hungarian Braille
Old Hungarian script
Official status
Official language in
Serbia (in Vojvodina)
European Union
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Language codes
ISO 639-1 hu
ISO 639-2 hun
ISO 639-3 Either:
hun  Modern Hungarian
ohu  Old Hungarian
Linguist list
ohu Old Hungarian
Glottolog hung1274[2]
Linguasphere 41-BAA-a

Regions of Central Europe where those whose mother tongue is Hungarian represent a majority (dark blue) and a minority (light blue). Based on recent censuses and on the CIA World Factbook 2014[3]

Hungarian is the official language of Hungary and one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. Outside Hungary it is also spoken by communities of Hungarian people in neighbouring countries (especially in Romania, Slovakia, and Serbia) and by Hungarian diaspora communities worldwide. Like Finnish and Estonian, it belongs to the Uralic language family, its closest relatives being Mansi and Khanty. It is one of the several European languages not part of the Indo-European languages.

The Hungarian name for the language is magyar [ˈmɒɟɒr] or magyar nyelv ( listen ). The word "Magyar" is also used as an English word to refer to Hungarian people as an ethnic group or its language.


Hungarian is a member of the Uralic language family. Linguistic connections between Hungarian and other Uralic languages were noticed in the 1670s, and the family itself (then called Finno-Ugric) was established in 1717, but the classification of Hungarian as a Uralic/Finno-Ugric rather than Turkic language continued to be a matter of impassioned political controversy throughout the 18th and into the 19th centuries. Hungarian has traditionally been assigned to a Ugric branch within Uralic/Finno-Ugric, along with the Mansi and Khanty languages of western Siberia (Khanty–Mansia region), but it is no longer clear that it is a valid group. When the Samoyed languages were determined to be part of the family, it was thought at first that Finnic and Ugric (Finno-Ugric) were closer to each other than to the Samoyed branch of the family, but that now is frequently questioned.[4][5]

The name of Hungary could be a result of regular sound changes of Ungrian/Ugrian, and the fact that the Eastern Slavs referred to Hungarians as Ǫgry/Ǫgrove (sg. Ǫgrinŭ) seemed to confirm that.[6] Current literature favors the hypothesis that it comes from the name of the Turkic tribe Onogur (which means "ten arrows" or "ten tribes").[7][8][9]

There are numerous regular sound correspondences between Hungarian and the other Ugric languages. For example, Hungarian /aː/ corresponds to Khanty /o/ in certain positions, and Hungarian /h/ corresponds to Khanty /x/, while Hungarian final /z/ corresponds to Khanty final /t/. For example, Hungarian ház [haːz] "house" vs. Khanty xot [xot] "house", and Hungarian száz [saːz] "hundred" vs. Khanty sot [sot] "hundred". The distance between the Ugric and Finnic languages is greater, but the correspondences are also regular.

Early classification

During the later half of the 19th century, a competing hypothesis proposed a Turkic affinity of Hungarian. Following an academic debate known as Az ugor-török háború ("the Ugric-Turkic battle"), the Finno-Ugric hypothesis was concluded the sounder of the two, foremost based on work by the German linguist Josef Budenz.[10]



It is thought that Hungarian separated from its Ugric relatives in the first half of the 1st millennium b.c.e., in western Siberia, east of the southern Urals.[11] The Hungarians gradually changed their lifestyle from settled hunters to nomadic pastoralists (cattle, sheep), probably as a result of early contacts with Iranian nomads (Scythians, Sarmatians). In Hungarian, Iranian loans date back to the time immediately following the breakup of Ugric and probably span well over a millennium.[12] Among these include tehén ‘cow’ (cf. Avestan dhaénu), tíz ‘ten’ (cf. Avestan dasa), tej ‘milk’ (cf. Persian dáje ‘wet nurse’), and nád ‘reed’ (from late Middle Iranian; cf. Middle Persian nāy).

A small number of anthropologists disputed this theory, such as Hungarian historian and archaeologist Gyula László who claimed that geological data from pollen analysis seems to contradict placing the ancient homeland of the Hungarians near the Urals.[13] However, increasing archaeological evidence from present-day southern Bashkortostan found in the previous decades confirms the existence of Hungarian settlements between the Volga River and Ural Mountains.[14]

The Onogurs (and Bulgars) later had a great influence on the language, especially between the 5th-9th centuries. This layer of Turkic loans is large and varied (e.g. szó ‘word’, from Turkic, daru ‘crane’, from the related Permic languages), and includes words borrowed from Oghur Turkic, e.g. borjú ‘calf’ (cf. Chuvash păru, părăv vs. Turkish buzağı),[15] dél ‘noon; south’ (cf. Chuvash tĕl vs. Turkish dial. düš).[16] Many words related to agriculture,[17] to state administration or even to family relations have such backgrounds. Hungarian syntax and grammar were not influenced in a similarly dramatic way during these 300 years.

A page from the first book written completely in Hungarian from 1533

After the arrival of the Hungarians into the Carpathian Basin the language came into contact with different speech communities (mainly Slavic, Turkic, German and Romanian). Turkic loans from this period come mainly from the Pechenegs and Cumanians who settled in Hungary during the 12th-13th centuries; e.g., kobozcobza’ (cf. Turkish kopuz ‘lute’), komondor ‘mop dog’ (< *kumandur < Cuman). Hungarian borrowed many words from especially the neighbouring Slavic languages (e.g., tégla ‘brick’, mák ‘poppy’, and karácsony[18] ‘Christmas’). In exchange, these languages also borrowed words from Hungarian, e.g. Serbo-Croatian ašov from Hung ásó ‘spade’. Approximately 1.6% of the Romanian lexicon is of Hungarian origin.[19][20]

Old Hungarian

The first written accounts of Hungarian, mostly personal and place names, are dated back to the 10th century. Hungarians also had their own writing system, the Old Hungarian script, but no significant texts remain from that time, as the usual medium of writing, wooden sticks, is perishable.

The Kingdom of Hungary was founded in 1000, by Stephen I of Hungary. The country was a western-styled Christian (Roman Catholic) state, and Latin held an important position, as was usual in the Middle Ages. The Latin script was adopted to write the Hungarian language and Latin influenced the language. The earliest remaining fragments of the language are found in the establishing charter of the abbey of Tihany from 1055, mixed into Latin text. The first extant text fully written in Hungarian is the Funeral Sermon and Prayer, written in the 1190s. The orthography of these early texts was considerably different from the one used today, but when hearing a reconstructed spoken version, contemporary Hungarians can still understand a large part of it, though both vocabulary and grammar has changed to some extent since then. More extensive Hungarian literature arose after 1300. The earliest known example of Hungarian religious poetry is the 14th-century Lamentations of Mary. The first Bible translation is the Hussite Bible from the 1430s.

The standard language lost its diphthongs, and several postpositions transformed into suffixes, such as reá "onto" (the phrase utu rea "onto the way" found in the 1055 text would later become útra). There were also changes in the system of vowel harmony. At one time, Hungarian used six verb tenses; today, only two are commonly used (present and past; future is formed with an auxiliary verb and is usually not counted as a separate tense).

Modern Hungarian

The Bible in Hungarian.

The first printed Hungarian book was published in Kraków in 1533, by Benedek Komjáti. The work's title is Az Szent Pál levelei magyar nyelven (In original spelling: Az zenth Paal leueley magyar nyeluen), i.e. The letters of Saint Paul in the Hungarian language. In the 17th century, the language was already very similar to its present-day form, although two of the past tenses were still used. German, Italian and French loans also appeared in the language by these years. Further Turkish words were borrowed during the Ottoman rule of part of Hungary between 1541 and 1699.

In the 18th century a group of writers, most notably Ferenc Kazinczy, began the process of language renewal (Hungarian: nyelvújítás). Some words were shortened (győzedelem > győzelem, 'triumph' or 'victory'); a number of dialectal words spread nationally (e.g. cselleng 'dawdle'); extinct words were reintroduced (dísz 'décor'); a wide range of expressions were coined using the various derivative suffixes; and some other, less frequently used methods of expanding the language were utilized. This movement produced more than ten thousand words, most of which are used actively today.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw further standardization of the language, and differences between the mutually comprehensible dialects gradually lessened. In 1920, by signing the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary lost 71% of its territory, and along with these, 33% of the ethnic Hungarian population. Today, the language is official in Hungary, and regionally also in Romania, in Slovakia, in Serbia, in Austria and in Slovenia.

Geographic distribution

Areas of Transylvania where Hungarian has co-official status (in the localities of those areas, at least 20% of the population is Hungarian).
Hungary 9,896,333 (2011)[21]
(mainly Transylvania)
1,268,444 (2011)[22]
Slovakia[note 1]458 467 (2011)[23]
(mainly Vojvodina)
293,299 (2002)[24]
(mainly Zakarpattia)
149,400 (2001)[25]
United States117,973 (2000)[26]
Canada75,555 (2001)[27]
(mainly Burgenland)
(mainly Prekmurje)
Total 12–13 million
Source: National censuses, Ethnologue

Hungarian has about 13 million[29][30][31] native speakers, of whom more than 9.8 million live in Hungary. According to the 2011 Hungarian census 9,896,333 people (99.6% of the total population) speak Hungarian, of whom 9,827,875 people (98.9%) speak it as a first language, while 68,458 people (0.7%) speak it as a second language.[21] About 2.2 million speakers live in areas that were part of the Kingdom of Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon (1920). Of these, the largest group lives in Transylvania, the western half of present-day Romania, where there are approximately 1.25 million Hungarians. There are large Hungarian communities also in Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine, and Hungarians can also be found in Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia, as well as about a million additional people scattered in other parts of the world. For example, there are more than one hundred thousand Hungarian speakers in the Hungarian American community and 1.5 million with Hungarian ancestry[32] in the United States.

Official status

Official usage of Hungarian language in Vojvodina, Serbia

Hungarian is the official language of Hungary, and thus an official language of the European Union. Hungarian is also one of the official languages of Vojvodina and an official language of three municipalities in Slovenia: Hodoš, Dobrovnik and Lendava, along with Slovene. Hungarian is officially recognized as a minority or regional language in Austria, Croatia, Romania, Zakarpattia in Ukraine, and Slovakia. In Romania it is a recognized minority language used at local level in communes, towns and municipalities with an ethnic Hungarian population of over 20%.


Main article: Hungarian dialects

The dialects of Hungarian identified by Ethnologue are: Alföld, West Danube, Danube-Tisza, King's Pass Hungarian, Northeast Hungarian, Northwest Hungarian, Székely and West Hungarian. These dialects are, for the most part, mutually intelligible. The Hungarian Csángó dialect, which is mentioned but not listed separately by Ethnologue, is spoken primarily in Bacău County in eastern Romania. The Csángó Hungarian group has been largely isolated from other Hungarian people, and they therefore preserved features that closely resemble earlier forms of Hungarian.

Phonetics and phonology

Hungarian vowels
Main article: Hungarian phonology

Hungarian has 14 vowel phonemes and 25 consonant phonemes. The vowel phonemes can be grouped as pairs of short and long vowels, e.g. o and ó. Most of these pairs have a similar pronunciation, only varying significantly in their duration. However, the pairs a/á and e/é differ both in closedness and length.

Consonant phonemes of Hungarian[33]
  Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive p  b t  d k  ɡ
Affricate t͡s  d͡z t͡ʃ  d͡ʒ c͡ç  ɟ͡ʝ
Fricative f  v s  z ʃ  ʒ h   
Trill ɲ
Approximant j
Lateral l

Consonant length is also distinctive in Hungarian. Most of the consonant phonemes can occur as geminates.

The sound voiced palatal plosive /ɟ/, written gy, sounds similar to 'd' in British English 'duty' (in fact, more similar to the Macedonian phoneme 'ѓ' as in 'ѓакон'). It occurs in the name of the country, "Magyarország" (Hungary), pronounced /ˈmɒɟɒrorsaːɡ/.

Single /r/s are tapped (e.g. akkora 'of that size'), double /r/s are trilled (e.g. akkorra 'by that time'), similar to the Spanish pero and perro.


Primary stress is always on the first syllable of a word, as in the related Finnish languages and in the neighbouring languages Slovak and Czech. There is secondary stress on other syllables in compounds, e.g. viszontlátásra ("goodbye") pronounced /ˈvisontˌlaːtaːʃrɒ/. Elongated vowels in non-initial syllables may seem to be stressed to the ear of an English speaker, since length and stress correlate in English.


Main article: Hungarian grammar

Hungarian is an agglutinative language. It uses various affixes, mainly suffixes, but also some prefixes and a circumfix to change a word's meaning and grammatical function.

Vowel harmony

Hungarian uses vowel harmony when attaching suffixes to words. This means that most suffixes have two or three different forms and the choice between them depends on the vowels of the head word. There are some minor and unpredictable exceptions to this rule.


Nouns have a large number of cases (up to 18, depending on definition), but in general, they are formed regularly with suffixes. The nominative case is unmarked (az alma ‘the apple'), and for example, the accusative is marked with the suffix –t (az almát ‘[I eat] the apple'). Half of the 18 cases express a combination of the source-location-target and surface-inside-proximity ternary distinctions (three times three cases), e.g. there is a separate case ending –ból/–ből meaning a combination of source and insideness, i.e. 'from inside of'.

Possession is expressed using a possessive suffix on the possessed object and not on the possessor (Peter's apple becomes Péter almája, literally 'Peter apple-his'). Noun plurals are formed using the suffix –k (az almák ‘the apples’)—however, following a numeral, the singular is used (e.g. két alma ‘two apples’, literally ‘two apple’; not *két almák).

Unlike English, Hungarian has no prepositions; instead, it uses case suffixes and postpositions.

There are two types of articles in Hungarian, definite and indefinite, roughly corresponding to the English equivalents.


Adjectives precede nouns (a piros alma ‘the red apple’). They have three degrees: positive (piros ‘red’), comparative (pirosabb ‘redder’), and superlative ( a legpirosabb ‘the reddest’). If the noun takes the plural or a case, the adjective, used attributively, does not agree with it: a piros almák ‘the red apples’. However, when the adjective is used in a predicative sense, it must agree with the noun: az almák pirosak ‘the apples are red’. Adjectives in themselves can behave as nouns (e.g. take case suffixes): Melyik almát kéred? – A pirosat. 'Which apple would you like? – The red one.'


See also: Hungarian verbs

Verbs are conjugated according to two tenses (past and present), to three moods (indicative, conditional and imperative-subjunctive), to two numbers (singular or plural), to three persons (first, second and third) and to whether the object (if any) is definite. This latter feature is the most characteristic: the definite conjugation is used with a transitive verb whose (direct) object is definite (Péter eszi az almát. "Peter eats the apple.") and the indefinite conjugation either for a verb with an indefinite direct object (Péter eszik egy almát. "Peter eats an apple.") or for a verb without an object. (Péter eszik. "Peter eats.") Since conjugation expresses the person and number, personal pronouns are usually omitted, unless they are emphasized.

The Present tense is unmarked, while the past is formed using the suffix –t or –tt: lát 'sees'; látott 'saw', past. Future may be expressed either with the present tense (usually with a word defining the time of the event, such as holnap 'tomorrow'), or using the auxiliary verb fog (similar to the English ‘will’) together with the verb’s infinitive.

The indicative mood and the conditional mood are used both in the present and the past tenses. Conditional past is expressed using the conjugated past form and the auxiliary word volna (látott volna 'would have seen'). The imperative mood is used only with the present tense.

Verbs have verbal prefixes, also known as coverbs. Most of them define direction of movement (as lemegy "goes down", felmegy "goes up"). Some verbal prefixes give an aspect to the verb, such as the prefix meg-, which generally marks telicity.

Word order

The neutral word order is subject–verb–object (SVO). However, Hungarian is a topic-prominent language, which means that word order does not only depend on syntax, but also on the topic-comment structure of the sentence (e.g. what aspect is assumed to be known and what is emphasized).

A Hungarian sentence generally has the following order: topic, comment (or focus), verb, other parts.

Putting something into the topic means that the proposition is only stated for that particular thing or aspect, and implies that the proposition is not true for some others. For example, in the sentence "Az almát János látja." ('John sees the apple', more exactly, 'It is John who sees the apple.', literally "The apple John sees."), the apple is in the topic, implying that other objects may not be seen by him, but by other people (the pear may be seen by Peter). The topic part may be empty.

Putting something in the focus means that it is the new information for the listener that they may have not known or where their knowledge must be corrected. For example, in the sentence "Én vagyok az apád." ('I am your father', more exactly, 'It is I who am your father.') from the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the pronoun I (én) is in the focus, implying that this is new information, and the listener thought that another person is his father.

Note that sometimes this is described as Hungarian having free word order, even though different word orders are generally not interchangeable and the neutral order is not always correct to use. Besides word order, intonation is also different with different topic-comment structures. The topic usually has a rising intonation and the focus has a falling intonation. In the following examples the topic is marked with italics, and the focus (comment) with boldface.


Hungarian has a four-tiered system for expressing levels of politeness.

The four-tiered system has somewhat been eroded due to the recent expansion of "tegeződés".

Some anomalies emerged with the arrival of multinational companies who have addressed their customers in the te (least polite) form right from the beginning of their presence in Hungary. A typical example is the Swedish furniture shop IKEA, whose web site and other publications address the customers in te form. When a news site[34] asked IKEA—using the te form—why they address their customers this way, IKEA's PR Manager explained in his answer—using the ön form—that their way of communication reflects IKEA's open-mindedness and the Swedish culture. However IKEA in France use the most polite (vous) form. Another example is the communication of Telenor (a mobile network operator) towards its customers. Telenor chose to communicate towards business customers in the polite ön form while all other customers are addressed in the less polite te form.


Examples with ad
Hungarian English
Derived terms
ad to give
adás transmission
adó tax or transmitter
adózik to pay tax
adózó taxpayer
adós debtor
adósság debt
adat data
adakozik to give (practise charity)
adalék additive (ingredient)
adag dose, portion
adomány donation
adoma anecdote
With verbal prefixes
átad to hand over
bead to hand in
elad to sell
felad to give up, to mail
hozzáad to augment, to add to
kiad to rent out, to publish, to extradite
lead to lose weight, to deposit (an object)
megad to repay (debt), to call (poker), to grant (permission)
összead to add (to do mathematical addition)

Giving an accurate estimate for the total word count is difficult, since it is hard to define what to call "a word" in agglutinating languages, due to the existence of affixed words and compound words. To have a meaningful definition of compound words, we have to exclude such compounds whose meaning is the mere sum of its elements. The largest dictionaries from Hungarian to another language contain 120,000 words and phrases[35] (but this may include redundant phrases as well, because of translation issues). The new desk lexicon of the Hungarian language contains 75,000 words[35] and the Comprehensive Dictionary of Hungarian Language (to be published in 18 volumes in the next twenty years) will contain 110,000 words.[36] The default Hungarian lexicon is usually estimated to comprise 60,000 to 100,000 words.[37] (Independently of specific languages, speakers actively use at most 10,000 to 20,000 words,[38] with an average intellectual using 25–30 thousand words.[37]) However, all the Hungarian lexemes collected from technical texts, dialects etc. would all together add up to 1,000,000 words.[39]

Parts of the Lexicon can be organized using word-bushes. (See an example on the right.) The words in these bushes share a common root, are related through inflection, derivation and compounding, and are usually broadly related in meaning.

The basic vocabulary shares a couple of hundred word roots with other Uralic languages like Finnish, Estonian, Mansi and Khanty. Examples of such include the verb él 'live' (Finnish elää[40]), the numbers kettő 'two', három 'three', négy 'four' (cf. Mansi китыг kitig, хурум khurum, нила nila, Finnish kaksi, kolme, neljä,[40] Estonian kaks, kolm, neli, ), as well as víz 'water', kéz 'hand', vér 'blood', fej 'head' (cf. Finnish[40] and Estonian vesi, käsi, veri, Finnish pää,[40] Estonian pea or 'pää).

Words for elementary kinship and nature are more Ugric, less r-Turkic and less Slavic. Agricultural words are about 50% r-Turkic and 50% Slavic; pastoral terms are more r-Turkic, less Ugric and less Slavic. Finally, Christian and state terminology is more Slavic and less r-Turkic. The Slavic is most probably proto-Slovakian and/or -Slovenian. This is easily understood in the Uralic paradigm, proto-Magyars were first similar to Ob-Ugors who were mainly hunters, fishers & gatherers, but with some horses, too. Then they accultured to Bulgarian r-Turks, so the older layer of agriculture words (wine, beer, wheat, barley &c.) are purely r-Turkic, and also lots of termini of statemanship & religion were, too.[41]

Origin of word roots in Hungarian[42]
Latin and Greek
Other known

Except for a few Latin and Greek loan-words, these differences are unnoticed even by native speakers; the words have been entirely adopted into the Hungarian lexicon. There are an increasing number of English loan-words, especially in technical fields.

Another source [43] differs in that loanwords in Hungarian are held to constitute about 45% of bases in the language. Although the lexical percentage of native words in Hungarian is 55%, their use accounts for 88.4% of all words used (the percentage of loanwords used being just 11.6%). Therefore, the history of Hungarian has come, especially since the 19th century, to favor neologisms from original bases, whilst still having developed as many terms from neighboring languages in the lexicon.

Word formation

Words can be compounds or derived. Most derivation is with suffixes, but there is a small set of derivational prefixes as well.


Compounds have been present in the language since the Proto-Uralic era. Numerous ancient compounds transformed to base words during the centuries. Today, compounds play an important role in vocabulary.

A good example is the word arc:

orr (nose) + száj (mouth) → orca (face) (colloquial until the end of the 19th century and still in use in some dialects) > arc (face)[44]

Compounds are made up of two base words: the first is the prefix, the latter is the suffix. A compound can be subordinative: the prefix is in logical connection with the suffix. If the prefix is the subject of the suffix, the compound is generally classified as a subjective one. There are objective, determinative, and adjunctive compounds as well. Some examples are given below:

menny (heaven) + dörög (rumble) → mennydörög (thundering)
nap (Sun) + sütötte (lit by) → napsütötte (sunlit)
fa (tree, wood) + vágó (cutter) → favágó (lumberjack, literally "woodcutter")
új (new) + (modification of -vá, -vé a suffix meaning "making it to something") + építés (construction) → újjáépítés (reconstruction, literally "making something to be new by construction")
sárga (yellow) + réz (copper) → sárgaréz (brass)

According to current orthographic rules, a subordinative compound word has to be written as a single word, without spaces; however, if the length of a compound of three or more words (not counting one-syllable verbal prefixes) is seven or more syllables long (not counting case suffixes), a hyphen must be inserted at the appropriate boundary to ease the determination of word boundaries for the reader.

Other compound words are coordinatives: there is no concrete relation between the prefix and the suffix. Subcategories include word duplications (to emphasise the meaning; olykor-olykor 'really occasionally'), twin words (where a base word and a distorted form of it makes up a compound: gizgaz, where the suffix 'gaz' means 'weed' and the prefix giz is the distorted form; the compound itself means 'inconsiderable weed'), and such compounds which have meanings, but neither their prefixes, nor their suffixes make sense (for example, hercehurca 'complex, obsolete procedures').

A compound also can be made up by multiple (i.e., more than two) base words: in this case, at least one word element, or even both the prefix and the suffix is a compound. Some examples:

elme [mind; standalone base] + (gyógy [medical] + intézet [institute]) → elmegyógyintézet (asylum)
(hadi [militarian] + fogoly [prisoner]) + (munka [work] + tábor [camp]) → hadifogoly-munkatábor (work camp of prisoners of war)

Noteworthy lexical items

Points of the compass

Hungarian words for the points of the compass are directly derived from the position of the Sun during the day in the Northern hemisphere.

Two words for "red"

There are two basic words for "red" in Hungarian: "piros" and "vörös" (variant: "veres"; compare with Estonian "verev" or Finnish "punainen"). (They are basic in the sense that one is not a sub-type of the other, as the English "scarlet" is of "red".) The word "vörös" is related to "vér", meaning "blood" (Finnish and Estonian "veri"). When they refer to an actual difference in coloor (as on a colour chart), "vörös" usually refers to the deeper (darker and/or more red and less orange) hue of red. In English similar differences exist between "scarlet" and "red". While many languages have multiple names for this colour, often Hungarian scholars assume this is unique in recognizing two shades of red as separate and distinct "folk colours".[45]

However, the two words are also used independently of the above in collocations. "Piros" is learned by children first, as it is generally used to describe inanimate, artificial things, or things seen as cheerful or neutral, while "vörös" typically refers to animate or natural things (biological, geological, physical and astronomical objects), as well as serious or emotionally charged subjects.

When the rules outlined above are in contradiction, typical collocations usually prevail. In some cases where a typical collocation does not exist, the use of either of the two words may be equally adequate.


Kinship terms

The Hungarian words for brothers and sisters are differentiated based upon relative age. There is also a general word for sibling, testvér, from test = body and vér = blood—i.e. originating from the same body and blood.

relative age
brotheröcsbátyfivér or
sisterhúgnővérnővér or
sibling kistestvér (nagytestvér) testvér

(There used to be a separate word for "elder sister", néne, but it has become obsolete [except to mean "aunt" in some dialects] and has been replaced by the generic word for "sister".)

In addition, there are separate prefixes for several ancestors and descendants:

(OR ük-ükszülő)
(OR ük-ükunoka)

The words for "boy" and "girl" are applied with possessive suffixes. Nevertheless, the terms are differentiated with different declension or lexemes:

lover, partner

Fia is only used in this, irregular possessive form; it has no nominative on its own (see inalienable possession). However, the word fiú can also take the regular suffix, in which case the resulting word (fiúja) will refer to a lover or partner (boyfriend), rather than a male offspring.

The word fiú (boy) is also often noted as an extreme example of the ability of the language to add suffixes to a word, by forming fiaiéi, adding vowel-form suffixes only, where the result is quite a frequently used word:

fiú boy
fia his/her son
fiai his/her sons
fiáé his/her son's (singular object)
fiáéi his/her son's (plural object)
fiaié his/her sons' (singular object)
fiaiéi his/her sons' (plural object)

Extremely long words

Partition to root and suffixes with explanations:
meg- verb prefix; in this case, it means "completed"
szent holy (the word root)
-ség like English "-ness", as in "holiness"
-t(e)len variant of "-tlen", noun suffix expressing the lack of something; like English "-less", as in "useless"
-ít constitutes a transitive verb from an adjective
-het expresses possibility; somewhat similar to the English modal verbs "may" or "can"
-(e)tlen another variant of "-tlen"
-ség (see above)
-es constitutes an adjective from a noun; like English "-y" as in "witty"
-ked attached to an adjective (e.g. "strong"), produces the verb "to pretend to be (strong)"
-és constitutes a noun from a verb; there are various ways this is done in English, e.g. "-ance" in "acceptance"
-eitek plural possessive suffix, second-person plural (e.g. "apple" → "your apples", where "your" refers to multiple people)
-ért approximately translates to "because of", or in this case simply "for"
Translation: "for your [plural] repeated pretending to be indesecrable"

The above word is often considered to be the longest word in Hungarian, although there are longer words like:

"like those of you that are the very least possible to get desecrated"

Words of such length are not used in practice, but when spoken they are easily understood by natives. They were invented to show, in a somewhat facetious way, the ability of the language to form long words (see agglutinative language). They are not compound words—they are formed by adding a series of one and two-syllable suffixes (and a few prefixes) to a simple root ("szent", saint or holy). There is virtually no limit for the length of words, but when too many suffixes are added, the meaning of the word becomes less clear, and the word becomes hard to understand, and will work like a riddle even for native speakers.

Hungarian words in English

The English word best known as being of Hungarian origin is probably paprika, from Serbo-Croatian papar "pepper" and the Hungarian diminutive -ka. The most common however is coach, from kocsi, originally kocsi szekér "car from/in the style of Kocs". Others are:

Writing system

The oldest surviving words written in Hungarian, from the founding declaration of the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany, 1055.
It reads "feheruuaru rea meneh hodu utu rea" (in modern Hungarian "Fehérvárra menő hadi útra", meaning "to the military road going to Fehérvár")
Hungarian language road sign.
Medieval Hungarian book (a copy of the Hussite Bible), 1466

The Hungarian language was originally written in right-to-left Old Hungarian runes, superficially similar in appearance to the better-known futhark runes but unrelated. When Stephen I of Hungary established the Kingdom of Hungary in the year 1000, the old system was gradually discarded in favour of the Latin alphabet and left-to-right order. Although now not used at all in everyday life, the old script is still known and practiced by some enthusiasts.

Modern Hungarian is written using an expanded Latin alphabet, and has a phonemic orthography, i.e. pronunciation can generally be predicted from the written language. In addition to the standard letters of the Latin alphabet, Hungarian uses several modified Latin characters to represent the additional vowel sounds of the language. These include letters with acute accents (á,é,í,ó,ú) to represent long vowels, and umlauts (ö and ü) and their long counterparts ő and ű to represent front vowels. Sometimes (usually as a result of a technical glitch on a computer) ô or õ is used for ő, and û for ű. This is often due to the limitations of the Latin-1 / ISO-8859-1 code page. These letters are not part of the Hungarian language, and are considered misprints. Hungarian can be properly represented with the Latin-2 / ISO-8859-2 code page, but this code page is not always available. (Hungarian is the only language using both ő and ű.) Unicode includes them, and so they can be used on the Internet.

Additionally, the letter pairs ny, ty, and gy represent the palatal consonants /ɲ/, /c/, and /ɟ/ (a little like the "d+y" sounds in British "duke" or American "would you") – a bit like saying "d" with the tongue pointing to the palate.

Hungarian uses s for /ʃ/ and sz for /s/, which is the reverse of Polish usage. The letter zs is /ʒ/ and cs is /t͡ʃ/. These digraphs are considered single letters in the alphabet. The letter ly is also a "single letter digraph", but is pronounced like /j/ (English y), and appears mostly in old words. The letters dz and dzs /d͡ʒ/ are exotic remnants and are hard to find even in longer texts. Some examples still in common use are madzag ("string"), edzeni ("to train (athletically)") and dzsungel ("jungle").

Sometimes additional information is required for partitioning words with digraphs: házszám ("street number") = ház ("house") + szám ("number"), not an unintelligible házs + zám.

Hungarian distinguishes between long and short vowels, with long vowels written with acutes. It also distinguishes between long and short consonants, with long consonants being doubled. For example, lenni ("to be"), hozzászólás ("comment"). The digraphs, when doubled, become trigraphs: sz + sz = ssz, e.g. művésszel ("with an artist"). But when the digraph occurs at the end of a line, all of the letters are written out. For example, ("with a bus"):

... busz-

When the first lexeme of a compound ends in a digraph and the second lexeme starts with the same digraph, both digraphs are written out: jegy + gyűrű = jegygyűrű ("engagement/wedding ring", jegy means "sign", "mark". The term jegyben lenni/járni means "to be engaged"; gyűrű means "ring").

Usually a trigraph is a double digraph, but there are a few exceptions: tizennyolc ("eighteen") is a concatenation of tizen + nyolc. There are doubling minimal pairs: tol ("push") vs. toll ("feather" or "pen").

While to English speakers they may seem unusual at first, once the new orthography and pronunciation are learned, written Hungarian is almost completely phonemic (except for etymological spellings and "ly, j" representing /j/).

Word order

The word order is basically from general to specific. This is a typical analytical approach and is used generally in Hungarian.

Name order

Main article: Hungarian names

The Hungarian language uses the so-called eastern name order, in which the surname (general, deriving from the family) comes first and the given name comes last. If a second given name is used, this follows the first given name.

Hungarian names in foreign languages

For clarity, in foreign languages Hungarian names are usually represented in the western name order. Sometimes, however, especially in the neighbouring countries of Hungary – where there is a significant Hungarian population – the Hungarian name order is retained, as it causes less confusion there.

For an example of foreign use, the birth name of the Hungarian-born physicist, the "father of the hydrogen bomb" was Teller Ede, but he immigrated to the USA in the 1930s and thus became known as Edward Teller. Prior to the mid-20th century, given names were usually translated along with the name order; this is no longer as common. For example, the pianist uses András Schiff when abroad, not Andrew Schiff (in Hungarian Schiff András). If a second given name is present, it becomes a middle name and is usually written out in full, rather than truncated to an initial.

Foreign names in Hungarian

In modern usage, foreign names retain their order when used in Hungarian. Therefore:

The Hungarian name Kiss János is in the Hungarian name order (János is equivalent to John), but the foreign name John Travolta remains in the western name order.

Before the 20th century, not only was it common to reverse the order of foreign personalities, they were also "Hungarianised": Goethe János Farkas (originally Johann Wolfgang Goethe). This usage sounds odd today, when only a few well-known personalities are referred to using their Hungarianised names, including Verne Gyula (Jules Verne), Marx Károly (Karl Marx), Kolumbusz Kristóf (Christopher Columbus, note that it is also translated in English).

Some native speakers disapprove of this usage; the names of certain historical religious personalities (including popes), however, are always Hungarianised by practically all speakers, such as Luther Márton (Martin Luther), Husz János (Jan Hus), Kálvin János (John Calvin); just like the names of monarchs, for example the king of Spain, Juan Carlos I is referred to as I. János Károly or the queen of the UK, Elizabeth II is referred to as II. Erzsébet.

Japanese names, which are usually written in western order in the rest of Europe, retain their original order in Hungarian, e. g. Kuroszava Akira instead of Akira Kurosawa.

Date and time

The Hungarian convention for date and time is to go from the generic to the specific: 1. year, 2. month, 3. day, 4. hour, 5. minute, (6. second)

The year and day are always written in Arabic numerals, followed by a full stop. The month can be written by its full name or can be abbreviated, or even denoted by Roman or Arabic numerals. Except for the first case (month written by its full name), the month is followed by a full stop. Usually, when the month is written in letters, there is no leading zero before the day. On the other hand, when the month is written in Arabic numerals, a leading zero is common, but not obligatory. Except at the beginning of a sentence, the name of the month always begins with a lower-case letter.

Hours, minutes, and seconds are separated by a colon (H:m:s). Fractions of a second are separated by a full stop from the rest of the time. Hungary generally uses the 24-hour clock format, but in verbal (and written) communication 12-hour clock format can also be used. See below for usage examples.

Date and time may be separated by a comma or simply written one after the other.

Date separated by hyphen is also spreading, especially on datestamps. Here – just like the version separated by full stops – leading zeros are in use.

When only hours and minutes are written in a sentence (so not only "displaying" time), these parts can be separated by a full stop (e.g. "Találkozzunk 10.35-kor." – "Let's meet at 10.35."), or it is also regular to write hours in normal size, and minutes put in superscript (and not necessarily) underlined (e.g. "A találkozó 1035-kor kezdődik." or "A találkozó 1035-kor kezdődik." – "The meeting begins at 10.35.").

Also, in verbal and written communication it is common to use "délelőtt" (literally "before noon") and "délután" (lit. "after noon") abbreviated as "de." and "du." respectively. Délelőtt and délután is said or written before the time, e.g. "Délután 4 óra van." – "It's 4 p.m.". However e.g. "délelőtt 5 óra" (should mean "5 a.m.") or "délután 10 óra" (should mean "10 p.m.") are never used, because at these times the sun is not up, instead "hajnal" ("dawn"), "reggel" ("morning"), "este" ("evening") and "éjjel" ("night") is used, however there are no exact rules for the use of these, as everybody uses them according to their habits (e.g. somebody may have woken up at 5 a.m. so he/she says "Reggel 6-kor ettem." – "I had food at *morning 6.", and somebody woke up at 11 a.m. so he/she says "Hajnali 6-kor még aludtam." – "I was still sleeping at *dawn 6."). Roughly, these expressions mean these times:

ExpressionApproximate time
Hajnal4–6 a.m.
Reggel6–9 a.m.
Délelőtt (de.)9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Dél*=12 p.m. (="noon")
Délután (du.)12–6 p.m.
Este6–11 p.m.
Éjjel11 p.m. – 4 a.m.
Éjfél*=12 a.m. (="midnight")


Although address formatting is increasingly being influenced by standard European conventions, the traditional Hungarian style is:

Budapest, Deák Ferenc tér 1. 1052

So the order is: 1) settlement (most general), 2) street/square/etc. (more specific), 3) house number (most specific) 4)(HU-)postcode. The house number may be followed by the storey and door numbers. The HU- part before the postcode is only for incoming postal traffic from foreign countries. Addresses on envelopes and postal parcels should be formatted and placed on the right side as follows:

Name of the recipient
Street address (up to door number if necessary)

Vocabulary examples

Note: The stress is always placed on the first syllable of each word. The remaining syllables all receive an equal, lesser stress. All syllables are pronounced clearly and evenly, even at the end of a sentence, unlike in English.

Controversy over origins

Today the scientific consensus among linguists is that Hungarian is part of the Uralic family of languages. For many years (from 1869), it was a matter of dispute whether Hungarian was a Finno-Ugric/Uralic language, or was more closely related to the Turkic languages, a controversy known as the "Ugric–Turkish war",[46] or whether indeed both the Uralic and the Turkic families formed part of a superfamily of "Ural–Altaic languages". Hungarians did absorb some Turkic influences during several centuries of cohabitation. For example, it appears that the Hungarians learned animal breeding techniques from the Turkic Chuvash, as a high proportion of words specific to agriculture and livestock are of Chuvash origin. There was also a strong Chuvash influence in burial customs. Furthermore, all Ugric languages, not just Hungarian, have Turkic loanwords related to horse riding.

There have been attempts, dismissed by mainstream linguists as pseudoscientific comparisons, to show that Hungarian is related to other languages including Hebrew, Hunnic, Sumerian, Egyptian, Etruscan, Basque, Persian, Pelasgian, Greek, Chinese, Sanskrit, English, Tibetan, Magar, Quechua, Armenian, Japanese and at least 40 other languages.[47]

Comparison of Uralic words

Wiktionary: Swadesh lists for Uralic languages

Hungarian Finnish Estonian Mordvinic (Erzya dialect) Komi-Permyak English
# by the
Swadesh list
én minä mina мон mon ме me I, myself, me 1
te sinä sina тон ton тэ te you/thou 2
mi me meie, me минь miń ми mi we 4
ti te teie, te тынь tyń ти ti you (plural) 5
ez/itt tämä/täällä see те te тайö tajö this/here 7
az/ott tuo/tuolla too што što сійö sijö that/there 8
ki? kuka? kes? кие? kije? коді? kodi? who? 11
mi? mitä? mikä? mis? мезе? meze? мый? myj? what? 12
egy yksi üks вейке vejke öтік ötik one 22
kettő kaksi kaks кавто kavto кык kyk two 23
három kolme kolm колмо kolmo куим kuim three 24
négy neljä neli ниле nile нёль ńol four 25
öt viisi viis вете vete вит vit five 26
nej nainen 'woman' naine ни ni гöтыр götyr wife 40
anya äiti ema (тиринь) ава (tiriń) ava мам mam mother 42
fa puu puu чувто čuvto пу pu tree, wood 51
vér veri veri верь veŕ вир vir blood 64
haj hius, hiukset juuksed черь čeŕ юрси jursi hair 71
fej pää pea пря pŕa юр jur head 72
fül korva kõrv пиле pile пель peĺ ear 73
szem silmä silm сельме seĺme син sin eye 74
orr nenä nina судо sudo ныр nyr nose 75
száj suu suu курго kurgo вом vom mouth 76
fog hammas hammas пей pej пинь piń tooth 77
láb jalka jalg пильге piĺge кок kok foot 80
kéz käsi käsi кедь ked́ ки ki hand 83
szív/szűny sydän süda седей sedej сьöлöм śölöm heart 90
inni juoda jooma симемс simems юны juny to drink 92
tudni tietää teadma содамс sodams тöдны tödny to know 103
élni elää elama эрямс eŕams овны ovny to live 108
víz vesi vesi ведь ved́ ва va water 150
kivi kivi кев kev из iz stone 156
ég/menny taivas taevas менель meneĺ енэж jenezh sky/heaven 162
szél tuuli tuul варма varma тöв töv wind 163
tűz tuli tuli тол tol би bi fire 167
éj öö ве ve вой voj night 177

See also



This book gives an introduction to the Hungarian language in 15 chapters. The dialogues are available on CDs.
This is a complete course in spoken and written Hungarian. The course consists of 21 chapters with dialogues, culture notes, grammar and exercises. The dialogues are available on cassette.
These course books were developed by the University of Debrecen Summer School program for teaching Hungarian to foreigners. The books are written completely in Hungarian and therefore unsuitable for self study. There is an accompanying 'dictionary' with translations of the Hungarian vocabulary into English, German, and French for the words used in the first two books.




  1. This number is a lower estimate, as 382,493 people (7.0% of the total population) did not specify their mother tongue.


  1. Modern Hungarian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Old Hungarian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Hungarian". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Salminen, Tapani (2002): Problems in the taxonomy of the Uralic languages in the light of modern comparative studies
  5. Michalove, Peter A. (2002) The Classification of the Uralic Languages: Lexical Evidence from Finno-Ugric. In: Finnisch-Ugrische Forschungen, vol. 57
  6. Lebedynsky, Iaroslav, Les Nomades: Les peuples nomades de la steppe des origines aux invasions mongoles [The Nomads: the steppe nomad people from origins to Mongol invasions] (in French), p. 191.
  7. Sugar, P.F..A History of Hungary. University Press, 1996: p. 9
  8. Maxwell, A.Magyarization, Language Planning and Whorf: The word Uhor as a Case Study in Linguistic RelativismMultilingua 23: 319, 2004.
  9. Marcantonio, Angela. The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics. Blackwell Publishing, 2002: p. 19
  10. Linguistica Uralica:
  11. Daniel Abondolo, “Introduction,” The Uralic Languages (London: Routledge, 1998), 1–42.
  12. Daniel Abondolo, “Hungarian,” The Uralic Languages (London: Routledge, 1998), 453.
  13. Laszlo Gyula, The Magyars: Their Life and Civilization, (1996). On p. 37 he states, “This seemed to be an impeccable conclusion until attention was paid to the actual testimony of tree-pollen analyses, and these showed that the linguists had failed to take into account changes in the vegetation zones over the millennia. After analysis of the plant pollens in the supposed homeland of the Magyars, which were preserved in the soil, it became clear to scientists that the taiga and deciduous forests were only in contact during the second millennium B.C.E., which is much too late to affect Finno-Ugrian history. So the territory sought by the linguists as the location of the putative ‘ancient homeland’ never existed. At 5,000-6,000B.C.E., the period at which the Uralic era has been dated, the taiga was still thousands of kilometres away from the Ural mountains and the mixed deciduous forest had only just begun its northward advance.”
  14. Attila Türk, A magyar őstörténet és a szaltovói régészeti kultúrkör. PhD, University of Szeged, 2011 .
  15. András Róna-Tas & Árpád Berta, West Old Turkic: Turkic Loanwords in Hungarian. Part 1: Introduction, A-K (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011), 151-2.
  16. Róna-Tas & Berta, WOT 2011/1: 291-4.
  17. "Hungary – Early history". Library of Congress (public domain). Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  18. Gábor Zaicz, Etimológiai szótár: Magyar szavak és toldalékok eredete, s.v. “karácsony” (Tinta Könyvkiadó, 2006)
  19. Marius Sala, Vocabularul reprezentativ al limbilor romanice (Bucharest: Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică, 1988).
  20. Kim Schulte, "Loanwords in Romanian", Loanwords in the World's Languages: A Comparative Handbook (Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2009), 239.
  21. 1 2 Hungarian census 2011 / Országos adatok / A népesség nyelvismeret és nemek szerint (population by spoken language), A népesség anyanyelv, nemzetiség és nemek szerint (population by mother tongue and ethnicity) (Hungarian)
  22. Romanian census 2011
  23. Slovak census 2011
  24. Serbian census 2002
  25. Ukrainian census 2001 Archived August 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  26. United States census 2000
  27. Canadian census 2001
  28. Australian census 2011
  29. Ethnologue - Magyar
  30. Éva Szabó: Hungarian Practical Dictionary, George Blagowidow Publisher, US, 2005, pp. 9
  31. Judit Hajnal Ward: Hungarian Dictionary & Phrasebook, Hippocrene Books, 2006, pp. 1
  32. United States Census Bureau, 2006
  33. Szende (1994:91)
  35. 1 2 A nyelv és a nyelvek ("Language and languages"), edited by István Kenesei. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 2004, ISBN 963-05-7959-6, p. 77)
  36. The first two volumes of the 20-volume series were introduced on 13 November, 2006, at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (in Hungarian)
  37. 1 2 "Hungarian is not difficult" (interview with Ádám Nádasdy)
  38. A nyelv és a nyelvek ("Language and languages"), edited by István Kenesei. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 2004, ISBN 963-05-7959-6, p. 86)
  39. A nyelv és a nyelvek ("Language and languages"), edited by István Kenesei. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 2004, ISBN 963-05-7959-6, pp. 76 and 86)
  40. 1 2 3 4 ""Related words" in Finnish and Hungarian". Helsinki University Bulletin. Retrieved 2008-06-15.
  41. Proto-Magyar Textsv from the middle of 1st Middle of 1st Millenium? or Are they published or not? B. Lukács, President of Matter Evolution Subcommittee of the HAS. H-1525 Bp. 114. Pf. 49., Budapest, Hungary.
  42. A nyelv és a nyelvek ("Language and languages"), edited by István Kenesei. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 2004, ISBN 963-05-7959-6, p. 134)
  43. The Structure and Development of the Finnish Language, The Uralic and Altaic Series: 1960–1993 V.1-150, By Denis Sinor, John R. Krueger, Lauri Hakulinen, Gustav Bayerle, Translated by John R. Krueger, Compiled by Gustav Bayerle, Contributor Denis Sinor, Published by Routledge, 1997 ISBN 0-7007-0380-2, ISBN 978-0-7007-0380-7, 383 pages. p. 307
  44. "It's written in chapter Testrészek". Retrieved 2010-01-31.
  45. Berlin, B and Kay, P (1969). "Basic Color Terms." Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press
  47. Miklós Zsirai: Őstörténeti csodabogarak. Budapest, 1943.
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Hungarian
Hungarian edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For a list of words relating to Hungarian language, see the Hungarian language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hungarian language.
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Hungarian.

Encyclopaedia Humana Hungarica


This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/4/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.