Difference between "mellett" and "-nél/-nál"?
Hello, dear Hungarian native speakers. I have a question about the difference between "mellett" and words with the suffix/case-ending "-nél/-nál". I know that there are some uses of the "-nél/-nál" suffix that differ greatly from the meaning of "mellett" (e.g. "pénz van nálam"), but in the general case do you feel a difference between the two?
For example, if I say "Péter a fánál van" vs. "Péter a fa mellett van" do you sense any difference in meaning?
Thank you in advance for your explanations.
The word 'mellett' ('mell' means chest/breast, so lit. "by one's chest") is a postposition which:
- describes a clear relative position where two things or people are side-by-side
- also has a figurative meaning similar to "besides" when used as "in addition to"
- can also form adverbs: 'emellett/amellett' (compare to: "e mellett a fa mellett")
The suffix '-nál/nél' is used to make the locative case of nouns, commonly translated as "by":
- not a strict relative position, just closeby: "A fánál fordulj jobbra." means "Turn right at the tree."
- relative quality/quantity: "A fánál nagyobb." and "Nagyobb, mint a fa." both mean "Bigger than the tree."
- also has a figurative meaning similar to a different postposition: 'közben' (during). "Ebédnél" and "Ebéd közben" both mean "During lunch" or "At lunch."
"-nál/-nél" refers to a less definite location than "mellett." I'd say it means "somewhere in the close proximity of ...", while "mellett" is exactly "beside/at the side of ..."
Often they are interchangeable, just like in your example. When you want to express or emphasise that the subject is at the side of someone/something, that's when you can only use "mellett".