"The train is passing by the station."
Translation:A vonat elhalad az állomás mellett.
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.
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.
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.
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.