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Hungarian Telicity - Can someone explain it for me?

Does anyone know why I have to use meg- for certain verbs, like beszélni and megbeszélni, or látni and meglátni? I'm not a genius so please explain it in a simple way.

November 22, 2018



Unfortunately, there is no easy explanation. Or there is, but it will not make you easily understand. Basically, Hungarian has a way of speaking of an action as a complete whole, without regard to its inner structure.

If I say "megnézem a filmet" (I watch the movie), it describes the whole, complete action, from start to finish, including meaning that the action is complete ie. watching the whole movie.

English does not have this structure (at least not explicitly), so there is nothing to compare it to.

The trouble is, you can use it in any tense.

"Megnéztem a filmet." - I (have) watched the whole movie.
"Megnézem a filmet." - I (am going to) watch the whole movie.
"Meg fogom nézni a filmet." - I will watch the whole movie.

Or you can think of it as "I am doing the watching of the whole movie".

This form just does not care about the inner happenings (starting, being in the process, finishing), it describes it as one whole.

I (am) watch(ing) the movie. - "Nézem a filmet."
I am doing the watching of the complete movie. - "Megnézem a filmet."

Now, the trouble starts when you realize that these so-called preverbs have a broader use than just adding the perfective sense. Some of them have actual meanings (up, down, into, out of, etc.), and some add new meanings to the verbs. Some of those new meanings are expressed with different verbs in English:

"beszélni" - to talk/speak
"megbeszélni" - to have a (complete) discussion about something

"látni" - to see
"meglátni" - to catch sight of

"állni" - to stand
"megállni" - to stop (to come to a complete stop)

"jönni" - to come
"megjönni" - to arrive (that is the completed action of coming)

Sometimes you can express that sense of completeness with the verb "finish":

"Eszed a szendvicset?" - Are you eating the sandwich?
"Megeszed a szendvicset?" - Are you going to finish the sandwich?

And sometimes that different meaning is quite idiomatic.
This one could be familiar, if you think about those phrasal verbs in English: verbs with an attached preposition and/or an adverb, with a totally different meaning than one would expect from the individual words:

"put off" - postpone

In Hungarian, this kind of effect is usually achieved via the use of various preverbs.

"tenni" - to put, to do
"megtenni" - to do, to appoint, to place a bet

So, this is definitely not easy. Even if you understand what I tried to explain, it may still take a long time for you to actually get it and be able to correctly use this phenomenon.

So, give yourself time, and don't worry about it too much.


Listen to this guy, he is the ultimate master of explaining Hungarian grammar.


That's a wonderful explanation. I understand it now, just need to start using it


Yes, I have had hints from my teachers over the years but when I push them for a general rule I get "in this case you need a meg-", vague comments about completeness ("Oh, but for this use el-"), and dark mutterings about definite conjugation. So, I just copy what I hear and if it is new I try it and wait for the smile and the correction.


Yes, I guess that is the best you can do. If there were a simple, general rule, you would already know. But there isn't.
Especially with "meg" and "el".

"Meg", as far as I know, has absolutely no meaning on its own (in this role).

"El", on the other hand, has a bit of an "away" meaning, even when it does not literally mean "away". Think "make it go away", "fix it", etc. Or something goes awry. So, there may be a tiny hint of "away", even if the literal meaning is not there.
But, at the end, you just have to learn these verbs one by one...


Not easy, for sure.


Let's stay in this simple example: 'beszél' -> 'megbeszél'. Here 'meg' is a prefix of the verb or a coverb. This word modifies the meaning of the verb:
beszél = speak, talk, megbeszél = debate, dicuss, talk. For example the prefix 'meg' expresses a completeness. (Hungarian has only three simple tenses: past, present future.) For list of the frequent coverb see this

Although the coverb and the verb are often written together, however, the two words are separate ones. E.g.
Beszéltem a tanárral. (I talked to the teacher.)
Megbeszéltem a házi feladatot. (I have talked about the homework.)
Meg kell beszélnem a házi feladatot. (I have to talk about the homework.)
Mit beszéltél meg a tanárral? (What did you talk to the teacher?)


The meaning is different.

lát • see • sight

meglát • notice, spot, catch sight of, glimpse, catch a glimpse of

beszél • speak, talk

megbeszél • talk something over, negotiate, debate, discuss, concert



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