"The train is passing by the station."

Translation:A vonat elhalad az állomás mellett.

November 12, 2016

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Is the above the most neutral way to say this (i.e., no particular emphasis)? I had entered "A vonat az állomás mellett halad," which was not accepted, but I wasn't sure whether that was because it was expecting "elhalad" or because of my word order (or both).

But while I'm on the subject, I have to say that it never occurred to me to use the preverb on "halad." I can't remember any lesson that included "passing by," where I might've learned that you use "el" on the verb. It makes sense - once something passes by something else, it's going away from it. But that wasn't intuitive to me.


It is not so much about "away" as it is about the completed action, or perfective.
It may make more sense if we change the tenses. Consider these two sentences:

"A vonat az állomás mellett haladt." - The train was passing by the station.
"A vonat elhaladt az állomás mellett." - The train has/had passed by the station.

Here, it is clear, even in English, that the second sentence is talking about an action that is already done. The train is already past the station. Hungarian conveys that meaning in the very present with the preverb "el". It means something like "when this current action is complete - and it will be complete, I guarantee you that - the train will have passed by the station". It projects the completion into the future.
The version without the preverb, on the other hand, is just talking about the current situation, without any reference to how it will play out in the future.
"A vonat az állomás mellett halad." - The train is passing by the station.

Seriously, it creates more confusion than help to think of "el" as "away". Rarely does it have that meaning. It is more frequently an indicator of the completeness.

"elolvas" - read away? No! Finish (a book)
"elalszik" - sleep away? No! Fall asleep
"elmagyaráz" - explain away? No way! Explain so that you understand

Etc., millions of more examples where "el" has absolutely nothing to do with "away".


Thank you, this is very clear. Could you also translate the sentence with "el" as "The train passed by the station?" Not "the train was passing by the station" (which would be called past imperfect in English), but passed.

I'm curious, do the other preverbs also function mostly to express a completed action, or is it just "el?"

Another curiosity: "magyaráz" means "explain?" I wonder how that came about.


I guess magyaráz for "to explain" (lit. more around "to Hungarify") came about from a similar situation as those where you don't understand what they're talking about and reply "And now in English, please". Asking to talk in simpler, more familiar terms.


Perfect, thanks!


Yes, since Hungarian does not have that many grammatical tenses, you can also translate this in the simple past:
"A vonat elhaladt az állomás mellett." - The train passed by the station.

Grammatically, Hungarian has only simple present and simple past. So, all your English tenses have to be tricked into one of those two, one way or another. :)

I would say most, if not all, of the preverbs express a completed action. But most of them do have an actual meaning besides the indication of completeness. Most of these meanings are directional indications. To there, to here, up, down, over, apart, together, onto, etc.
"El" is also partly directional, as it indeed can mean "away".
But there is one preverb that I cannot assign any meaning to, other than the indication of completeness. This one is "meg".

And yes, "magyarázni" means "to explain". I am not qualified to scientifically explain that but it is indeed very interesting. Certainly not a coincidence.


Like "Deutsch" (German) and "deutlich" (clear, comprehensive)


If elhalad implies a future perfect, as you say, shouldn't the translation be "The train will have passed the station"?


It is not an actual future perfect, it is completely in the present. We are watching it happen. It is just that we know the end result. I was just trying to explain the part of the Hungarian sentence that is getting lost in translation. I still think "The train is passing by the station." is the best translation.


How about: the train is going to pass the station


That sounds a bit futuristic to me. In the Hungarian sentence, the train is currently passing the station (or passing it at a set point in the future, depending on context). There is no indication of an actual future tense here.


Why not mellé? Elsewhere in these pages someone explained that a person was walking beside (mellett) teachers if they were walking together and their relative positions didn't change. Given that the station isn't moving and the train is moving past it, doesn't mellé make more sense?


No, because "mellé" is about a destination. "Where to? To (be) next to sg."
But we are talking about the location where this passing is taking place. By, or next to, the station. "Az állomás mellett."


Why not az állomás előtt? Doesn't the train pass in front of the station? How many railway tracks run beside a station? Why is it so necessary to specify mellett and what if the train passes behind the station? Do we then say mögött or is it always mellett? In fact, on thinking about it we had something similar with cars and buildings, (or a building), and there they were passing in front so előtt was required. Here, we're not told so why not előtt if we think that trains pass in front of stations rather than beside them?


Well, the English sentence seems to say "by the station", not "in front of the station".
Other than that, there is no strict rule. I guess it is up to individual point of view. Also, what do we refer to as a "station"? Is it the whole premises, rail tracks included, or just the building next to the tracks? Also, is it a railway station, or could it be a bus/gas/etc. station that happens to be located near the tracks?


Thank you vvsey, that's really helpful. Hungarian seems to need what I might describe as a "location anchor." We have ott/ahol or onnan/ahova and many, many more. The English, as you rightly say, simply says "passing by" and which side, front/back/side, is a matter which remains unmentioned. It's a bit of elhalad mindegy or, to put it another way, elhalad by itself.

I'm guessing that elhalad by itself doesn't work in Hungarian. There's no "location anchor" so we need to give it one. Whether it's előtt, mögött or mellett will be "up to the individual point of view." I imagine that mellett is most commonly used where the speaker has no particularly fixed point of view but if they do, then out come the other possibilities.

I hope that I have understood correctly. If I have, it's another little window into the language for me.


You are welcome.

Well, I guess "passing by" has become kind of an idiom. You don't need to mention the reference point, it is understood. "I am watching people passing by (in front of me)."
"Nézem az elhaladó embereket." - Why not. It works.
But our sentence here does have a location: the station. It is not just "passing by". It is "passing" plus "by the station". So, the translation also has to have a location: "az állomás". And how do we translate the non-specific "by the station"? In lack of a less specific option, with "az állomás mellett". It does not necessarily mean "the left or right side but not the front or back". No, it can be just a non-specific "close to"/"near"/"by". For example, what if the train is passing by a city? Does a city have a front, back, and two sides? How about if the city is perfectly round? It doesn't matter. The Hungarian train will be passing "a város mellett". In English: "passing by the city". I do not see any difference.
So, "elhalad ... mellett" can be just as non-specific as "passing by ...".

Maybe Hungarian likes to specify its locational references much more than English does. That I can agree with. Probably because Hungarian has more specific tools for that: short, precise, single-word solutions. For example: "előtt" for "in front of".

As for those location (and other) anchors, I think it had to be an evolutionary necessity, forced by the greater flexibility in word order. Or the two were mutually forcing and enabling each other.
Anyway, having a two-part anchor system, we can break up a structure and play around with its parts, place them away from each other, and still keep the logical connection.
English could also do that. And sometimes does. It just chooses not to, usually. But you can find quotes like
"As is the garden such is the gardener."
What is that if not a perfect "anchor"?
Except today we would probably say
"The gardener is like the garden." Or
"The garden is like the gardener." I am not sure which.
Anyway, today's English likes to place the referenced noun right in front of the referencing subclause. Hence no need for an extra anchor. That "is like" encompasses "as is" and "such is" in one place, since the referenced noun is always right in front of it.

Hungarian word order, and especially the need to place the emphasized word in front of the verb, makes it necessary to use the two-part system.
"Ott vagyok, ahol a vonat halad."
"I am (at the place) where the train is moving/passing."
That "at the place" is not necessary. But it equals the Hungarian "ott", which is emphasized, in front of the verb, playing a very important role in telling us what the sentence is about.

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