"The composers have few friends."

Translation:A zeneszerzőknek kevés barátjuk van.

September 10, 2016

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I got burned with A zeneszerzőknek kevés barátjuk van.
I see van at the end of some of these sentences and after the topic. What is the deal here?


Nothing. That sentence is the correct, and accepted, translation.


Shouldn't it be barátja because it's a 3rd person plural possessor?


I share your opinion, but the reason is another one :-)

The 3rd person plural possessor is not wrong at all, because the property can be singular or plural:

a zeneszerzők barátja / a zeneszerzőknek a barátja = the friend of the composers

a zeneszerzők barátjuk / a zeneszerzőknek a barátjuk = the friends of the composers

But there is a numeral in front of it: kevés.

And nouns used with a numeral are always used in the singular form.


Andreas305, sorry, I have to correct you here... There is something else also at play in this case. There are several things intertwined here, actually.

1 - First things first:
"a zeneszerzők barátjuk" - is simply incorrect. But it is still singular anyway. The friends of the composers would be "a zeneszerzők barátai / a zeneszerzőknek a barátai".

2 - Secondly, whether the possessed in the singular actually means singular or plural. I think it depends on the actual thing. For example:

"a gyerekek keze piszkos" - the children's hands are dirty. Naturally, we are not talking about one single hand. Each child has their own, single or more, dirty hands.

"a gyerekek apja a férjem" - the children's father is my husband. Obviously I am talking about one single man who is the father of all the children.

Same structure, different number.
So, if the possessor is plural and the possessed is singular, the actual number of the possessed is up to interpretation.

Now, if the possessed is also plural, then we are definitely talking about multiple possessions. And it is most probably multiple for each possessor.
"a gyerekek könyvei" - the children's books
"a gyerekek barátai" - the children's friends
It may be several to each, or shared "possesseds".

3 - Now, let's turn to the "-k" ending, with a third person plural possessor:
The situation is this:

When the third person possessor is plural ("a zeneszerzők" - they), then the possessed loses the "-k" ending, except in two cases:

  • when the possessor is not mentioned:
    "a barátjuk" - (their) friend - possessor not mentioned
    "a barátaik" - (their) friends - possessor not mentioned

  • when the possessor is the pronoun itself ("ők"). But then the pronoun loses the "-k" ending and becomes simply "ő":
    "az ő barátjuk" - their friend - possessor is the pronoun
    "az ő barátaik" - their friends - possessor is the pronoun

In all other cases the "-k" ending is omitted:

"a zeneszerzők barátja" - the composers' friend - possessor named
"a zeneszerzők barátai" - the composers' friends - possessor named

Now, the above only stands if the possessor-possessed structure is not "broken up" by something stuck in the middle. If it is just an adjective, that is fine, the rule still stands:

"a magyar barátjuk"
"az ő magyar barátjuk"
"a zeneszerzők magyar barátja"

"a magyar barátaik"
"az ő magyar barátaik"
"a zeneszerzők magyar barátai"

But if it is predicate that is stuck in-between, like a verb or a nominal predicate, then the structure is broken, the "-k" ending comes back:

"a zeneszerzőknek magyar a barátjuk"
"a zeneszerzőknek hazament a barátjuk"
"a zeneszerzők barátja hazament" - structure not broken up.

"a zeneszerzőknek magyarok a barátaik"
"a zeneszerzőknek hazamentek a barátaik"
"a zeneszerzők barátai hazamentek" - structure not broken up.

4 - Now, one more wrench was thrown in there: "kevés" - few. Which is a quantity/amount word, demanding a singular noun after it, no matter what.
"A zeneszerzőknek kevés barátjuk van." - I would stick with the "-juk" version here. The possessor-possessed structure is broken up, "kevés" is part of the predicate ("kevés van").

But I would say that this "third person plural possessor - singular possessed" structure is kind of ambiguous. I say that the "-juk" version is the actual correct one in some cases but the "-ja" version is also widely used. I think this is the result of some confusion and interference between the various forms that are quite close to each other in meaning.
a gyerekek barátja - correct
a gyerekek barátjuk - totally incorrect, do not use
a gyerekeknek a barátja - correct, (maaaaaaaaybe incorrect, sometimes), used
a gyerekeknek a barátjuk - probably incorrect, but used
a gyerekeknek van barátja - probably incorrect, but used
a gyerekeknek van barátjuk - correct

So, see, this is a bit complicated. And all the above is at play here, possible more.

But to return to Arcaeca's original question, it is probably a "broken structure", because part of it is part of the predicate. It is a compound predicate (the thing that we are stating) which includes the verb "van" and probably the word "kevés". "Kevés van" is our statement here.

Let's contrast it with another sentence, stripped of all the other factors:

"A zeneszerzők okos barátja hazament." - The composers' smart friend went home.
Or in plural:
"A zeneszerzők okos barátai hazamentek." - The composers's smart friends went home.

No broken structure, no quantity indicator, the possessed loses the "-k" ending.

Please also refer to these discussion for more on this confusing topic. I got confused several times myself while writing it. Whew, I am still not sure I got everything right.

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