Unit 3

Grammar

The possessive case

Expressing possession in Hungarian is different from the English way. In Hungarian we do not have possessive adjectives like my, your, his, her etc. that we can put before the noun to express to whom the item belongs to. We mark the possessed object instead (attach an ending); and to each person (I, you etc.) belongs a different ending. That is, if I want to say "my address" I will say "címem" where the "em" ending expresses that the possessor is the first person (I). If I want to say "your address" I will say "címed" where the "ed" ending expresses that the possessor is the second person (you). If I want to say "his address" or "her address" I will say "címe" where the "e" ending expresses that the possessor is the third person (in Hungarian there is no gender distinction in the third person pronoun). If I want to indicate that the possessor is the formal you, I will use the third person ending ("e").

If we want to be precise we have to say that the possessive markers are not "em" and "ed" but "m" and "d" while the vowel "e" is a "helping vowel," that is, a vowel that helps in the pronunciation. If the word ends in a vowel, we only attach "m" or "d." Also, if the word is a low-pitched word, the helping vowel will be not "e" but "o" or "a," and the third person ending will be "a" instead of "e" (as in "telefonszáma"). Below is a table that summarizes the possessive endings when the possessors (and the possessed objects) are in the singular.

Possessor

Helping vowel

Marker

Examples

Hungarian

English

first person (I) possessor

e

m

címem

my address

ö

bőröndöm

my suitcase

a

házam

my house

o

telefonszámom

my phone number

second person (you) possessor

e

d

címed

your address

ö

bőröndöd

your suitcase

a

házad

your house

o

telefonszámod

your phone number

third person (he or she and formal you) possessor

----

(j)a

h

telefonszáma

his or her phone number

(j)e

címe

his

Notes:

1. The helping vowel is "ö" when the last vowel in the word is a rounded vowel ("ö" or "ü").
2. There is no easy rule when we add a "j" in the third person. You have to memorize those words that use a "j" in the third person.
3. When the word is a low-pitched vowel, the helping vowel is "a" or "o." It is again hard to tell whether you need to use "a" or "o." The easiest is to memorize it as you learn the words.

. Definite and indefinite article

As in English there is a definite and indefinite article in Hungarian. The definite article (the equivalent of "the") in Hungarian has two versions: "a" or "az." Depending whether the word following the article begins with a consonant or a vowel we use either "a" or "az" respectively. The indefinite article (the equivalent of "a" or "an") in Hungarian is "egy." "Egy" also has the meaning of "one."

. Expressing possession

Hungarian language does not have a verb "to have." If we want to express that somebody has something (possession), we use the verb "to be" and put the possessed object into the possessive case in the appropriate person (e.g. "my sister"). That is, to say "I have a cell phone," you will say "Van mobiltelefonom," where "van" means "is" and "mobiltelefonom" means "my cell phone." That is, you begin with the verb in the third person (numbers agree with the numbers of the possessed object-singular if the possessed object is singular and plural if the possessed object is plural) and then you put the possessed object in the proper possessive case (depending on who owns the object).

The word order in these sentences depends on what is emphasized.

Statements: If you want to make a simple statement that you have something, you begin the sentence with the verb and follow it with the possessed object. E.g. "Van mobiltelefonom." = "I have a cell phone."  If you want to emphasize a quality of the possessed object too (expressing that somebody has a certain number or a certain kind of possession) you begin with the possessed object qualified by the adjective and then follow with the verb. E.g. "Három mobiltelefonom van" = "I have three cell phones."

Questions: If the question merely refers to the fact of possession (whether somebody possesses something or not) you begin the question with the verb. E.g. "Van mobiltelefonod?" = "Do you have a cell phone?" If the question is about the possessed object, you begin the question with a question word. E.g. "Hány mobiltelefonod van?" = "How many cell phones do you have?"

Articles: When we ask a general question about possession, whether somebody has something (one or more of that item), in Hungarian we use the item in the singular and we do not use any articles. Thus the question "Do you have any sisters or brothers?" will be translated as "Van testvéred?" where "van" means "is" (singular verb), "testvéred" means "your sibling" (in the singular) and there is no article before that. Similarly, if you want to say that you have something without specifying how many of those items you have (that is, merely stating the fact of possession), you begin the sentence with the verb and follow with the object possessed (in the possessive case) without any article preceding it. E.g.: Van testvérem. When you mention how many siblings you have or that you have "a sibling" (one sibling), you simply put the number or the indefinite article before the noun, e.g. "Van három testvérem" or "Van egy testvérem." However, oftentimes when we say the number of the possessed item, we put the emphasis on the number. Thus the word order might change and the number may go right in front of the verb: "Három testvérem van."