Three Times Ten Steps To Learn Hungarian

Adrianus Van den End

Ten Steps To Understand Hungarian Grammar And Learn To Read Hungarian

Here we'll list ten steps you can take to read Hungarian and to understand what you're reading.

  1. Understand the basic concepts of grammar - What are nouns, verbs, pronouns, articles? Check out our Blog item on generic grammar concepts here!
  2. Find Hungarian grammatic components in actual texts - Check our text below for examples of verbs, nouns, pronouns, articles and coordinating conjunctions to learn the main components that you'll encounter. When hovering over a word you'll see its meaning and {} will indicate which grammatical component it is. And you'll learn some new words. Eventually once you start reading the texts it is about being able to read the Hungarian with the pop-up translation helping you to quickly learn new words. You can re-read a page without having to go to the index AGAIN or getting your dictionary out AGAIN for the same words that you already looked up (with a regular course or a book you're trying to read by yourself or even a dual language book), because any time you hover over a word you'll get it's meaning immediately. Research states you will learn words after meeting them 5 to 20 times. In quantitative terms, this means that to learn 1 word it will cost you ten seconds with the Bermuda Word method (0.5 second hovering over the word times 20) as opposed to three to 20 minutes (10-60 seconds to find the word in an index or dictionary, times 20). To learn a 1000 new words, with the Bermuda Word method (apart from the reading that you'll do) will cost you three hours that way, while a regular method takes you three to 20 days. Of course flash cards would be faster than looking up words in an index but they're also much more boring. And you're learning the vocabulary of a language as a grocery list instead of as part of an organic structure in a story.
  3. Understand Hungarian words and roots and their forms - If you know only a few hundred Hungarian roots including suffixes, you can deduce the meanings of probably ten thousands (yes!) of Hungarian words. Learning one verb stem while knowing verb grammar teaches you dozens of verb forms. Learning one noun stem while knowing all the suffixes existing you grasp the meaning of dozens of other new words. Read our "Ten Observations On Hungarian Grammar" below. They're just to give an indication of the forms that you can meet. It's especially the verbs that can have different persons (first, second, third and singular or plural) and different tenses/moods; present (I do), past (I did), future (I will), conditional (I would), past conditional (I should have...), subjunctive (that I would like) and for each of those an intransitive and in many Hungarian verbs a transitive case (the verb/action has a subject). Same goes for the nouns which in Hungarian because of the suffixes can have dozens of different forms, but when you look at this closely it is a lot more simple than you think, as the only thing happening is that the noun is being combined with the pronoun, i.e. where we say "in school", "on (top of the) school", "(standing) by (the) school" in Hungarian you say "school-in", "school-on", "school-by", etc. So instead of different forms of school it's just the word school with the pronoun attached to it. 
  4. Find the roots in Hungarian words in actual texts - For example  when you know nem (not), sok (long) and the pronoun ra (onto) you can deduce that nemsokára (see text example paragraph 5) would mean something like not-long-onto (it means soon). Leány or lány which are the root for leánykáját (paragraph 2) and leányka (paragraph 4) or lányka. Or see úr and urát both meaning Mr., mister, gentleman or lord depending on the context. Our e-books give the correct meaning in context. Or from stem lát from látni (to see) the form látvány (sight). You'll get better with time and practice and both your knowledge of the root of a word and the context of the sentence will make you understand new words even without having to look them up.
  5. Read a Hungarian sentence and try to guess its meaning - You can read and understand the Hungarian text because a pop-up translation is given for each word. Still it can be a puzzle to understand the sentence. In difficult cases the meaning given with each separate word or the last word of a complex sentence contains a translation of the whole sentence. This sentence Huber   úr   vasárnap   délelőtt   sétálni   vitte   a   gyermekeit  (Huber Mr. Sunday morning to walk took the kids, or rather Mr. Huber took the kids out to walk Sunday morning) needs less explanation than for example this one; Pápaszemes,   vézna,   komoly   kis   fiát (Bespectacled, thin, serious, little son-his or rather His bespectacled, thin, serious, little son). You might have to re-read a sentence a few times before you understand, but once you're immersed in the story this will be easier than if you'd have to learn a lot of different sentences, or if you get dozens of very short texts without any apparent connection. A word is part of a sentence, and sentences are part of a story, and stories are part of language. So that's also the best way to build up a language in your brain.
  6. Read a Hungarian page with pop-up translation - re-read it until you feel you can read it without having to look up too many words anymore. You can download the free Hungarian demo product of the Bermuda Word Hungarian Fairytales product if you're not ready to buy the full e-book yet.
  7. Get the Bermuda Word e-book Hungarian Fairytales and practice high frequency words - Before testing with the Easy Test, set the Easy level to 6 to 20 (number of times a word occurs in the book) to determine how common the words are that you will be tested on. If for example you set the Easy Level in configuration settings panel to 18 or up, you'll get tested on articles and  words like "kis (small)" or "és (and)" pronouns like "what (hogy)" which is a good way to get an understanding of the most used words in Hungarian.
  8. Read a Hungarian story from one of Bermuda Word's e-books - read Hungarian Fairytales, for starters, try to and let yourself be tested by the built-in software on your vocabulary knowledge of the chapter.
  9. Practice medium frequency words - Set the Easy level to a lower number or use the Average level and tests to test words that occur between 5 and 18 times to learn other words that occur often in Hungarian. With only a small amount of words (relatively to the total Hungarian vocabulary) you can read 95% of texts. By the way, you can also skip this step and just reread the first chapter(s) of the e-book, as medium frequency words will often occur enough in the first chapters to make you remember them (you'll look them up just hovering over the word until you know the word and don't need to look it up anymore).
  10. Read the Hungarian e-books - Reread the chapters until you're confident you know the words. Click any words you don't know, which may still be dozens or even hundreds, and use the built-in spaced repetition software to test them until you know them. Simply put, the software will calculate how often you have to test the words until they're permanently memorized. When you have finished our two Bermuda Word Hungarian e-books you can probably read about 90% of Hungarian texts. Using a double language text (just buy a bestseller you already have and like in Hungarian, then read them together) you can practice until you're a fluent and fast reader of Hungarian. Or hopefully we will have another Hungarian e-book out in 2016 to get you to a level of 95% understanding of Hungarian texts before you start out on your own :-)


Ten Different Observations On Hungarian Grammar

  1. Nouns, pronouns and the usage of prefix and suffix - instead of "to her" we see "her-to", "ra-a" becoming "rá", instead of "with interest" we get "interest-with", érdeklődéssel, (-vel changes with the word it's added to). Other forms (that don't change consonants) are for example -ban (in); télibundában  or  -ból (from); álmodozásából  or  -hez (with, at)   gyermekekhez. The diminutive is the suffix -ka or -ke depening on the sound of the stem. For example legénykeleányka. Since most of the times our pop-up translation includes the meaning of any prefixes or suffixes you'll learn on the go, as in, you'll learn the Hungarian grammar while already reading Hungarian texts.  By the way, this is also the reason why Hungarian (seems) to have more words if you go by the Bermuda Word Hungarian product descriptions; instead of "in", "by", "to", "school", "bus" and "house" (6) they would have "school-in", "school-by", "school-to", "bus-in", "bus-by", "bus-to", "house-in", "house-by", "house-to", a factor more as the words are combined. 
  2. Vowel harmony or vowel and consonant change - Most suffixes adapt to the vowel or general word sound of the word they're attached to, i.e. the diminutive -ka/-ke follows the vowel/word it's attached to: legényke (le-gain-keh; little boy), lányka (laaine-kah; little girl). Similar with Utrechtben (In Utrecht) or Amszterdamban (In Amsterdam). Vowel change can occur in words that are suffixed, for example the last "a" in lányka changes to "á" in leánykáját. It changes to long pronunciation to accomodate the sound of pronunciation (lánykáját with all long a's sounds more natural in Hungarian sentence flow than lánykajjat). In érdeklődéssel, the "v" of -vel changes with the word it's added to.
  3. Verb first, second and third singular and plural persons - Instead of the simple "I come" and "We come" there is a difference in conjugations for verbs per first, second and third, and singular or plural person. Normally from the stem sétál the infinitive is formed by adding -ni; sétálni (see text below paragraph 1). The present tense goes like this: sétálok (I walk), sétálsz (you walk), sétál (he/she walks), sétálunk (we walk), sétáltok (you walk), sétálnak (they walk).  An irregular example is infinitive jönni; jövök (I come), jössz (you come), jön (he comes), jövük (we come), jöttök (you -plural- come), jöttek (they come), or a very common one from init "lenni (to be)" vagyok (I am), vagy (you are), van (he is), vagyunk (we are), vagytok (you -plural- are), vannak (they are). Generally speaking, and this goes for the other tenses as well, the first person singular form ends with -k, or with -m in case of a transitive word (get something, someone, kick something, someone, etc), the second person singular form ends with -sz or -d (transitive), the third person is the stem or ends with -ja or -i in case of transitive word, the first person plural ends with -nk or -uk (transitive), the second person plural with -tek/-tok and the third person singular with -nek/-nak. With our pop-up translation giving you the exact conjugation of the meaning, you don't have to figure out the forms yourself, i.e. you don't have to memorize them before you start reading, so for now just make sure you understand that there is something like first, second and third singular and plural forms of the verbs and a transitive version, and that you'll encounter them in the texts. After one e-book if someone tells you that -nek forms are used in third person plural (they do x) you will say "Yes that sounds familiar, I encountered that form lots of times and in my mind it is attached to the third person plural". Something worth mentioning which you might encounter is that the "first person singular" (I) sometimes has an extra form of appearing, for example in the case of sétálok (I walk), sometimes sétálak (I walk) is used. Jövök (I come) doesn't have this.
  4. Verb past tense - if you see a verb ending in -t, it's probably past tense. If the stem ends with -d or -t the past tense will be with -dt or -tt. For jönni (to come), with stem jön; jött (came), jöttem (I came), jöttél (you came), jött (he/she came), jöttünk (we came), jöttetek (you came), jötttek (they came). For várni (to wait) with stem vár, it's vártam or vártalak (I waited), vártál (you waited), várt (he/she waited), vártunk (we waited), vártatok (you waited), vártak (they waited).
  5. Verb future tense - Formed with fogni, for example with várni (to wait for) with stem vár the forms are várni fogok (I will wait, lit. wait will I) or alternatively várni foglak (I will wait), várni fogsz (you will wait), várni fog (he will wait), várni fogunk (we will wait), várni fogtok (you -plural- will wait), várni fognak (they will wait). An irregular exception is "lenni (to be)" which is irregular in the present tense (stem is vagy, van) but irregular in a different way in the future tense using leszek (I will be/I become), leszel (you will be), lesz (he will be), leszünk (we will be), lesztek (you -plural- will be), lesznek (they will be). Again, don't go memorizing this like one does in regular courses, as that would take you years and in 99% of the cases ends up in failure, just know that these forms exist and don't go like "b-b-b-b-but I thought the future tense is supposed to be with a form of fogni". Once you're reading Hungarian, you're absorbing the whole structure (the grammar) of the language like a sponge, and when you finish several books, and you read a grammar tome, you'll say "Ah that sounds logical/familiar, I know that, I've encountered it".
  6. Verb present and past tense in transitive mode - Many Hungarian verbs have, as already mentioned above, a transitive mode, which in general is used when a verb is applied to a specific object or person. For example, the transitive mode for várni (to await, wait for) with stem vár goes like this; várom (I wait for x), várod (you wait for x), várja (she waits for x), várjuk (we wait for x), várjátok (you wait for x), várják (they wait for x) or past tense vártam (I waited for x), vártad (you waited for x), várta (she waited for x), vártuk (we waited for x), vártátok (you waited for x), várták (they waited for x) or future tense várni fogom (I will wait for x), várni fogod (you will wait for x), várni fogja (she will wait for it), várni fogjuk (we will wait for it), várni fogjátok (you will wait for it), várni fogják (they will wait for it). For now just understand that this form exists, and when you wonder why the first person singular ("I") form is ending with -m or the second person singular ("you") form with -d you might realize that there's an object to this verb, that this verb is transitive and as such has a different form in all the tenses.
  7. Verb conditional tense - if you see a verb using -n added to the stem or a verb ending in a conjunction with volna it is the conditional. For example jönnék, jönnél, jönne, jönnénk, jönnétek, jönnének, or from vár (await); várnék (I would wait), várnál (he would wait), várna (he/she would wait), várnánk (we would wait), várnátok (you would wait), várnának (they would wait). As a regular irregular example, the forms for "would", in case of lenni (vagy, van) are volnék (I would be), volnál (you would be), volna (she/he would be), volnánk (we would be), volnátok (you would be), volnának (they would be), and for "would have" use the form "volna" with the following forms of the verb you're using, for example for infinitive menni (to go) with stem megy; mentem volna (I should go), mentél volna (you would have gone), ment volna (she/he would have gone), mentünk volna (we would have gone), mentetek volna (you -plural- would have gone), mentek volna (they would have gone).
  8. Preverbs are prefixes or separate parts of a verb conjunction in a sentence - For example "meg" which makes a verb perfective and in the dictionary will be part of a separate verb, in the following sentence "megtudni";  "Nemsokára   meg   fognak   tudni   mindent...". Other preverbs you might encounter are alá (under), át (through, across), be (into), bele (into), el (away, see also paragraph 4 the word elmélázott), fel/föl (up), ki (out), le (down), ide (here), oda (there), tul (past), vissza (back), but since together with a verb they form a new word in fact here again it's just a case of knowing the root verb and the pop-up explanation will help you learn those preverb-verb combinations.
  9. More on nouns and pronouns - Nouns can be formed from verbs or adjectives, nouns can have pronouns attached as suffixes, pronouns can have suffixes as well, for example nekem (to me), neki (to her), etc. or based on the article a, az you can have all those forms as well with indicative pronouns az a (that) or plural azak a (those) abban a(z) (in that) and azaknak a(z) (to those).
  10. Adverbs and adjectives - Are used to describe nouns or verbs. Can also be formed from nouns or verbs. It may be difficult to  An example of the difference between adverb (jól nevelt, well bred) and adjective (jó ember, good person) or (szépen megvirradt, (it) beautifully dawned) and adjective (szép világ, beautiful world). Again this is an example where it's enough to know jó and be able to understand all its forms. In Hungarian the comparative forms differ a bit from other languages, the comparative is formed with -bb and the superlative by using prefix leg-;  lassú (slow), lassab (slower), leglassab (slowest).


Learn To Read Ten Paragraphs Of Hungarian Text

Components of the Hungarian language are given as part of a Hungarian text. You can move your cursor over any word to see its meaning. In our standalone e-books the translation is immediate (here there is a tiny lag because HTML title tags are used). Don't click or you'll end up on the Short Stories product page :-)

AZ   ELÉGTÉTEL (excerpt from a short story by Ambrus Zoltán)

  1. Huber   úr   vasárnap   délelőtt   sétálni   vitte   a   gyermekeit :
  2. Pápaszemes,   vézna,   komoly   kis   fiát   -   egy  összeaszott   öreg   legénykét   -   és  tíz   esztendős   nyurga   leánykáját,   a   ki   olyan   érdeklődéssel   nézelődött   az   utczán,   mintha   bizony      is   tartozná   ez a   szép   világ.
  3. Száraz,   hideg   januári   nap   volt,   s   a   merre   mentek,   keményre   fagyott      csikorgott   a   lábuk   alatt.
  4. Az   öreg   legényke   apró   léptekkel   baktatott   előbbre,   s   szomorúan   nézte   a   csillogó   jégszemektől   fehérlő   útat,   mintha   érezte   volna,   hogy   minden   lépése   egy   igen-igen  komor   helyhez   viszi   közelebb.
  5. A   leányka   folyvást   csipogott,   mint   egy   sárga   szájú   kis   veréb,   s   Huber   úr   elmélázott.
  6. "Vincze   nyolcz   éves,   Malvinka   már   tíz",   tünődött   magában.   "Nemsokára   meg   fognak   tudni   mindent..." 
  7. De   egy   kellemes   látvány   felverte   álmodozásából.
  8. "Vincze,   Malvinka",   figyelmeztette   gyermekeit,  "amott   jön   Bórenbukk   báró,   a   méltóságos   úr."   
  9. "Szépen   köszönjetek   neki,   mint   jól   nevelt   gyermekekhez   illik."   
  10. Csakugyan,   egy   viziló   formájú   emberi   lény   jött   velök   szembe,   csodás   télibundában.