Problems with the word order

I wrote this sentence to a friend: A családom nélkül Budapestre utaztam el.

Writing this, I intended to emphasise that I would be going without my family. I have not done so before.

My friend told me that my word order was wrong.

(Noone has ever commented on my word order before. Since I met this man, I feel like every single one of my sentences has been deemed wrong. I am starting to lose my motivation a bit. I still hope to regain it, though, as I love this language.)

My friend's suggestion was this: Budapestre a családom nélkül utaztam el.

When I asked this friend about what was wrong about my sentence, he just told me that his sentence was better.

What was wrong with my sentence? Apparently, my friend wished to emphasise Budapest – but I did not wish to do so. I wished to emphasise that I was to be alone on my journey. I really appreciate getting help with this. I suddenly feel very confused.

June 23, 2018


It would be "A családom nélkül utaztam el Budapestre". This is a more natural order unless you answer to the question where did you travel without your family, but I guess this is not the situation.

June 24, 2018

I also vote for "A családom nélkül utaztam el Budapestre". An emphasized place in the sentence is right in front of the verb.

This is a great post:

June 24, 2018

Zsuzsi, I don't agree with vvsey, he/she wrote in the quoted link:
"The word order in a Hungarian sentence continues to be one of the major headaches for learners of Hungarian."
I think the free word order is a minor problem as the restrictive one. For example:

Kati megevett egy szelet tortát.
Egy szelet tortát Kati evett meg.
Kati evett meg egy szelet tortát.
Kati egy szelet tortát evett meg.
Egy szelet tortát evett meg Kati.
Megevett egy szelet tortát Kati.
Megevett Kati egy szelet tortát.

All the seven sentences are correct grammatically and semantically, although their meanings are a bit different. But:

Kate ate a piece of cake. Correct.
Ate Kate a piece of cake.. Incorrect
Ate a piece of cake Kate.. Incorrect
A piece of cake Kate ate.. Incorrect
A piece of cake ate Kate. Nonsense.

June 24, 2018, I think it is much easier if you have only one correct solution. Because if you say it wrong, then people understand that you are having trouble expressing yourself.
But if all possible permutations are correct, and especially if some of them mean something totally different, then you are in trouble. Because people will accept it on face value and react accordingly.
Word order is not "free" in Hungarian. It is variable, but there are rules. And it does have a very important role. It conveys part of the meaning of what we say. So, if you are satisfied with just coming up with any of the possible, grammatically correct, variations, then you are setting yourself up for some great surprises. May all of them end up being good ones! :)
And I took it from the comments all over the course that people are having problems with the word order. It is not my opinion. It is my observation. (Also note the title of this discussion.)

July 2, 2018

Theoretically, the fact that there is no rule is simpler than there is a rule for the word order. In Hungarian, a grammatically correct sentence in a different word order has only a nuance of meaning. But in a common case the meaning can be the same. E.g. "Kérek egy kilo almát. / Egy kilo almát kérek." In turn suffixes are used to express the grammatical cases.

July 6, 2018

But there are rules. And word order is not free. Saying that there are no rules other than it has to be grammatically correct sounds a bit funny.

And people are having problems with the word order, that is a fact.
If there were no rules, people would not have a problem. Because then every word order would be perfect and would mean the same thing. But that is not the case.

July 6, 2018

Let's call flexible word order, because the word order is not absolutely free (Wiki). I have no better example than this: Kati megevett egy szelet tortát. Egy szelet tortát Kati evett meg. Kati evett meg egy szelet tortát. Kati egy szelet tortát evett meg. Egy szelet tortát evett meg Kati.
Megevett egy szelet tortát Kati. Megevett Kati egy szelet tortát.
These sentences have the same meaning, they only differ in emphasis. But the indefinite article, the attribute and noun are inseparable: "egy szelet tortát".

July 7, 2018

That is what I call it: flexible. But there are strict rules. So it is definitely not free. Only the word order plays an important role in conveying the meaning. Much more so than English, which uses mostly emphasis.
And those seemingly equivalent sentences are very different. Let's just pose a few questions, and see if they would all answer them:

"Ki evett meg egy szelet tortát?" - "Who ate a slice of cake?"
"Mit csinált Kati?" - "What did Kati do?"
"Hány szelet tortát evett meg Kati?" - "How many slices of cake did Kati eat?"
Very different questions, with very different meanings.

And the rule of emphasis has a marked effect on word order: we place the emphasized word in front of the verb. Or ve emphasize the verb itself.
This is not what I call freedom. :)

July 7, 2018

Would I be emphasising the verb itself if I were to put it first in the sentence?

August 7, 2018

Yes, of course!

August 7, 2018

Explained in detail. Hungarian uses free word order with few restrictions. Here are some obvious restrictions: The article precedes the noun, the negative comes before the relevant word.

In Hungarian, the preferred word order is SOV (subject–verb–object) but this is not mandatory. Recently the linguists name 'focus' the emphasized words or phrases. This is what precedes the verb (predicate).

Let see the variations of the following sentence (the verb in bold): Kate ate a piece of cake. = Kati megevett egy szelet tortát. (

  • "Kati megevett egy szelet tortát." (same word order as English) ["Kate ate a piece of cake."]
  • "Egy szelet tortát Kati evett meg." (emphasis on agent [Kate]) ["A piece of cake Kate ate."] (One of the pieces of cake was eaten by Kate.)
  • "Kati evett meg egy szelet tortát." (also emphasis on agent [Kate]) ["Kate ate a piece of cake."] (Kate was the one eating one piece of cake.)
  • "Kati egy szelet tortát evett meg." (emphasis on object [cake]) ["Kate a piece of cake ate."] (Kate ate a piece of cake – cf. not a piece of bread.)
  • "Egy szelet tortát evett meg Kati." (emphasis on number [a piece, i.e. only one piece]) ["A piece of cake ate Kate."] (Only one piece of cake was eaten by Kate.)
  • "Megevett egy szelet tortát Kati." (emphasis on completeness of action) ["Ate a piece of cake Kate."] (A piece of cake had been finished by Kate.)
  • "Megevett Kati egy szelet tortát." (emphasis on completeness of action) ["Ate Kate a piece of cake."] (Kate finished with a piece of cake.)

Finally, I note that Hungarian word order is not that simple :) (See: in Hungarian.)

June 24, 2018

No, your friend is NOT emphasizing Budapest - you are. It is the phrase directly before the verb that is emphasized - not the one at the beginning of the sentence.

July 23, 2018

I have realised that I originally misunderstood that the most emphasised information would be placed immediately in front of the verb.

However: what level of emphasis does the first word in the sentence get? There are a first word, a second word – which is emphasised – and the verb. In that order.

August 7, 2018

That is called the topic of the sentence. The rest of the sentence tells us something about the topic.
Of course, it can be the topic and the most emphasized word (in front of the verb) at the same time.

August 7, 2018

I have been away for a while – but I thank everyone who has contributed to solving this problem.

I wrote A családom nélkül Budapestre utaztam el. Having been studying a bit more, I know realise why this may sound a bit off (unless I was asked where I went without my family). So in the end, I also vote for uj.mappas suggestion: A családom nélkül utaztam el Budapestre. It is the most natural, as I wanted to emphasise that I would be going alone. Hungarian is starting to make some sense. For some reason, word order has been a great obstacle for me.

August 7, 2018
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