The Hungarian word

order

Source: Carol H. Rounds/ Hungarian - An essential grammar

In general
Hungarian allows a freedom of word order unknown in English. This does not mean that hungarian word order is free; word order is used instead as a means of backgrounding and/or highlighting information. 2 main sentence types exist in Hungarian regarding the word order. The 1st is the ‘neutral sentence’, the other is the ‘focus sentence’. Before discussing their characteristics, we get to know the main sentence elements and their positions.

Sentence elements & positions
Topic Preverb Verb X

Neutral Preverb

Focus Preverb

Neutral sentence structure

Focus sentence structure

The

sentence

elements

Topic
The topic position is in the beginning of the sentence and is usually filled with subject(s), general time expressions, and any other information which serves to set the background for more essential information to come. It may contain several constituents or remain empty.

„X”
This position is filled by any part of speech (except the conjugated verb); it may contain several constituents; it may occur empty. For the most part, the constituents may occur in the X position in any order without a difference is meaning. In sentences with focus, however it is usual that the 1st element of X is the element that was removed from the neutral preverb position.

Preverb
The preverb occupies the position immediately before the conjugated verb. It is the crux of the sentence for it is primarily here that the grammaticality of a sentence is determined. It is filled by different elements of speech depending on whether the sentence is neutral or focused.

The

sentence

types

I. Neutral sentence structure
Neutral sentences have a level intonation pattern; they are further characterized by not containing
   

elements with heavy stress interrogatives answers negation

Examples

Topic

Neutral Preverb
itt szépen
Budapesten

Verb

X

Attila Klára Múlt évben Múlt évben a szülei

van énekel laktak laktak

a szülei. -

Budapesten

Topic Reggel a gyerekek Reggel Péter Zsuzsa

Neutral Preverb
a kertben a kertben Amerikaiak jól megel

Verb

X

játszanak játszanak vagyunk tanulta akar

a gyerekek. a leckét. utazni Prágába.

What might fill the role of a neutral preverb?
  

a coverb an adverb a verbal complement

Verbal complements

Types of verbal complements 1.

Predicate nominative/ adjective
 

Én mérnök vagyok. Magasak vagytok. Nekem 2 testvérem van. Lacinak kevés ideje van.

‘Have’ constuctions
 

Types of verbal complements 2.

Generic activities with no reference to specifics
     

Dénes könyvet olvas. Jánost tollat keres. Tévét nézek. Holnap moziba megyünk. Adri egyetemre jár. Kovácsék vidéken laknak.

II. Focus sentence structure
Focussed sentences have an intonation pattern containing the main stress on the focussed elements. Focus affects the word order of neutral sentences by taking away the preverb position for itself & removing the neutral preverb element to a position immediately behind the verb. The topic postion remains unaffected.

II. Focus sentence structure

Containing

emphasis

Csak Dénes Ki

FOCUS PREVERB

olvasVERB könyvetX.

interrogative

FOCUS PREVERB

olvasVERB könyvetX? olvasVERB könyvetX. olvasVERB könyvetX.

answers to previous questions

Dénes

FOCUS PREVERB

negation

DénesTOPIC nem

FOCUS PREVERB

Examples

Type of focus

Topic

Focus preverb
kik a gyerekek a gyerekek Mikor mikor reggel

Verb

X

Q Q A Q Q A

Reggel Reggel Reggel A gyerekek A gyerekek

játszanak játszanak játszanak játszanak játszanak játszanak

a kertben? a kertben? a kertben. a gyerekek a kertben? a kertben? a kertben.

Type of focus

Topic

Focus preverb
sohasem nem reggel

Verb

X

N N E E

A gyerekek A gyerekek

játszanak játszanak játszanak játszanak,

a kertben reggel. a kertben, hanem délután. a kertben, este soha. a házban soha.

A gyerekek Reggel a gyerekek

csak reggel csak a kertben

The position of coverbs
(simple cases)
Sent ence type

Topic
Tegnap Tegnap Tegnap

Preverb
megnem MegMit 2 sört Én

Verb
ittam ittam meg ittam ittam ittam meg ittam meg

X
a barátaimmal 2 sört. 2 sört a barátaimmal 2 sört a barátaimmal tegnap? tegnap a barátaimmal? a barátaimmal. a barátaimmal 2 sört, és nem te.

N N Q Q E

The

End

Next: Word order of the quasi – auxiliary verbs
(kell, akar, tud, lehet, szokott, tetszik, fog)