Hungarian Sentence Structure?
I'm not sure I understand the sentence structure in Hungarian. At first I though it was simply SOV, but I noticed that the word order can change. Is Hungarian a "free word order" language? Is there anyone that explain Hungarian sentence structure in a very clear way with examples? I don't know if I am actually learning it in an effective way.
Wikipedia writes this: 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. János látja az almát. - ‘John sees the apple.’ Neutral sentence. János látja az almát. - ‘John does see the apple.’ - But Peter may not. (Putting John to the topic indicates that the proposition may not be true if we replace the topic, in this case John, by something else) János látja az almát. - ‘It is John who sees the apple.’ - The listener may have thought it was Peter. János az almát látja. - ‘What John sees is the apple.’ - It is specifically the apple that John sees and not the pear. By contrast Peter may see the pear. Az almát látja János. - 'The apple is indeed seen by John.' or more exactly 'Considering the apple, it is seeing what happens to it by John - But the pear may not be seen by him (but for example smelled). Az almát János látja. - 'It is by John that the apple is seen.' - It is not by Peter. But the pear may be seen by Peter.
Perhaps this will make things a bit clearer:
I'd be very careful with that site. It wasn't written by a native speaker and there are a lot of errors because of this. It's a good start, just take everything with a grain of salt.
Can you tell us the errors please? Are you a native speaker or linguist? Thanks.
Native speaker. I don't see any errors on the exact page wyqtor linked, but let's look at some other page from the same site:
Below "Verb stem emphasis": Sentences like "lép ki Ági a kertbe" are taken as examples of emphasizing the verb (=saying "Ági steps, not runs, out into the garden.". I think this is very unnatural, even incorrect - I'd say "kiLÉP Ági a kertbe, (nem pedig kifut).", with the stress on LÉP. (These situations are the only ones where Hungarian words are not stressed on the first syllable, AFAIK.)
Below "The imperative" "megvárj!" is cited as an example as a "very demanding imperative". No one would say this - you have to make do with saying "várj meg!" in a demanding tone. (There are verbs where doing this is common practice, cf. "gyere ide!" (come here) and "idegyere!!!" (come here, you!!), but "wait" isn't one of them.
The word "airplane" is consistently spelled "répülőgép" instead of the correct "repülőgép".
Below "Auxiliary verbs": "fel lehet szállni répülőgépre" - an "a" is missing: "onto the plane" is "a repülőgépre".
Below "Answering questions with coverbs": "Bevettem a gyógyszert? Be." (Did you buy the medicine? Yes.) The sentence actually translates to "Did I take the medicine? Yes." "To buy" is "megvesz".
In any case, the site is written by a proficient speaker, and I applaud his efforts and his methods to teach Hungarian from an English-speaker's perspective (a better perspective than what this Duo course takes!). Still, there are just too many errors that arise from the author being a native speaker for the site to be able to be considered as objectively helpful. A learner can read it, but if they see something in it that doesn't match what they've already learned, (or see something in the future that doesn't fit with this), it's probably this site which is wrong.
I suggest that whatever a learner uses to learn Hungarian should be written (or at least checked) by a native speaker. Even if the English is terrible, even if the structure is messy, knowing that the Hungarian they're taught there is factually correct outweighs all those.
Az iskola előtt sétál Péter.
Sétál Péter az iskola előtt.
Az iskola előtt Péter sétál.
Sétál az iskola előtt Péter.
Péter az iskola előtt sétál.
Péter sétál az iskola előtt.
They are all correct.
The Hungarian is an extremly flexible language. There is no strict word order in this language, and we can create new words while we are speaking. So if you like the poetry it is the language of the poetry :)