https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

The use of articles in Hungarian

Recently, there was a question about the use of English articles on the Hungarian discussion. I've written a reply, and I thought it might be interesting for many people who learn Hungarian, and I would apply it to English. So I wrote a brief explanation of the use of the Hungarian articles.

Articles are used before nouns, and they are a kind of determinants. There are three articles in English and in Hungarian too: The definite article, the indefinite article and the zero article (the absence of the article, i.e. a bare noun). Some languages use articles differently. For example, Latin, Russian, Chinese has no articles. Esperanto has only the definite article.

In the first part, I point out some differences between English and Hungarian usage, however, I do not describe rules, but the most common cases. The list cannot be complete, as there are many exceptions that can be considered idioms. In the second part, I try to describe the general use of articles and I would note these are general principles.

1) Special cases:

In Hungarian:

  • The definite article is used after 'this, that, these, those' (ez, az, ezek, azok) demonstrative pronouns:
    Ez a film unalmas.
    This movie is boring.

  • The definite article is used before the possessed nouns with possessive endings:
    Nyisd ki a könyved a 10. oldalon!
    Open your book on page 10!

  • No article is used before the names of musical instruments and names of dances used in a general sense:
    Zongorázik. (verb)/Tud zongorán (noun) játszani.
    He plays the piano.
    Gyakran tangózom. (verb)
    I often dance the tango.

  • The names of languages take articles:
    Az angol nyelv korai formája ragozott volt.
    English in its early form was an inflected language.

  • Unlike English, before "doctor, teacher, cook, nurse, etc", father, mother, aunt, etc., the definite article is used when mentioned by the members of a family:
    Az orvos azt mondja, hogy túl sokat dohányzom.
    Doctor says I smoke too much.
    A szakács elment vásárolni.
    Cook has gone shopping.
    (Az) apa ma nem jön haza.
    Father won't come home today.

  • The definite article is used before "breakfast, lunch,dinner, supper, tea":
    Készen van az ebéd./Kész az ebéd./Az ebéd készen van.
    Lunch is ready.

  • In general, the zero article is used before names of professions:
    Ő (egy) tanár.
    He is a teacher.
    Tamás orvos akar lenni.
    Tom wants to become a doctor.

  • The definite article is used before the structure of noun + number, room, page, chapter:
    Nyisd ki a könyved a 10. oldalon!
    Open your book on page 10!

  • The definite article is omitted before days of the week, months, seasons, in a specific sense:
    2007 júliusa nagyon esős volt.
    The July of 2007 was very rainy.

  • No article is used before the times of the day in a general sense:
    reggel, délelőtt
    in the morning
    délután
    in the afternoon
    este
    in the evening
    napközben
    during the day
    tegnapelőtt
    the day before yesterday
    holnapután
    the day after tomorrow
    annak idején
    at the time
    akkorra, amikor
    by the time
    But: at night, down, noon, sunrise, sunset are used without articles in English too.

  • There is also no article:
    ugyanaz
    the same

  • Usually articles are used in newspaper headlines

  • Sometimes there is a difference in the use of proper names

2) General uses

In both languages, the definite article may be used before singular as well plural nouns whether countable or uncountable. The indefinite article is only used before singular countable nouns. In the two languages, the countable and uncountable nouns are not exactly the same (eg. information, advice).

  • The definite article usually denotes that the following noun refers to a known, definite object or objects:
    A könyv, a könyvek, a piros toll, a víz, stb.
    A book, the books, the red pen, the water, etc.

  • The indefinite article usually denotes that the following noun refers to a new, indefinite object:
    Egy könyv, egy piros toll, stb.
    A book, a red pen, etc.

  • The zero article is used more frequently in Hungarian than in English. There are three most common types of bare nouns:
    a) A predicative noun phrase. It does not specify something but expresses an attribute of something:
    Péter jó tanuló.
    Péter is a good student.
    b) A case-marked bare noun as an adverbial:
    Péter hétfőn örömmel segített a feladatban.
    Péter was glad to help with the task on Monday.
    c) An argument of the verb (in this case an object), that is, a verb modifier (immediately before the verb) :
    Péter levelet ír.
    Péter is writing a letter.

  • On the other hand, semantically, it can be distinguished individual, generic, definite and indefinite noun phrases.
                       
                                  noun phrase
                                  /                 \
                      individual             generic
                      /             \
              definite         indefinite

  • Individual, definite reference of a noun phrase. The object is known for both the speaker and the listener. In the plural, it refers to a set of entities:
    Add ide a tollat!
    Give me the pen! [that pen]
    Add ide a tollakat!
    Give me the pens! [those pens]

  • Individual, indefinite reference of a noun phrase. Then a new entity will be introduced into the discourse and the object is still unknown for the listener. In the plural, it also refers to a set of entities:
    Adj egy tollat!
    Give me a pen! [It doesn't matter which one]
    In plurals, not an indefinite article but another determinant, numeral, or pronoun is applied:
    Adj néhány/két/sok tollat!
    Give me some/two/many pens!

  • The generic reference denote a whole class of objects thought of a single entity.
    The reference can be expressed in three ways in Hungarian:

  • A noun with a definite article, in singular:
    A tigris éjjel vadászik.
    The tiger hunts by night.

  • A noun with an indefinite article:
    Egy lepke élete rövid.
    A butterfly's life is short.

  • A noun with a definite article, in plural, for countable noun and in singular for uncountable nouns.
    But in English, a completely different structure is used: a bare noun in plural for countable nouns and in singular for uncountable nouns respectively:
    A dinoszaurusz nagyméretű állat volt.
    Dinosaurs were a large beast.
    A kutya az ember jó barátja.
    Dogs are good friends to men.
    Hogy kezdődött az élet? [uncountable]
    How did life begin?
    Az arany ritka. [uncountable]
    Gold is rare.

It is important to note that the above sentences are often ambiguous. They may be individual or generic interpretation, that can be determined by the context and the sentence meaning. Compare these:
Egy zebra csíkos.
A zebra is striped.
A zebra csíkos.
The zebra is striped.
A zebrák csíkosak.
Zebras are striped.

Egy nő kiszámíthatatlan.
A woman is unpredictable.
A nő kiszámíthatatlan.
The woman is unpredictable.
A nők kiszámíthatatlanok.
Women are unpredictable.

But the matter is not so simple. Linguists also distinguish between specific and non-specific nouns. Those who interested in linguistics they can be found this topic in detail here:
- Syntax of Hungarian vol 2, chapter 2.5.
- In Hungarian: Jelentéselmélet

February 17, 2019

21 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ulrike782207

Thank you! So clear and really helpful

February 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jzsuzsi
Mod
  • 402

Great post, I put it in my collection post:)

In this course, what comes up the most often are:

General statements (no article in English, definite article in Hungarian)

Az elefántok nagyok. Elephants are big.

And when Hungarian just drops the indefinite article.

Ez alma. (Ez egy alma). This is an apple.

February 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

Thanks. I see the problem. That's why I've completed the explanations for bare nouns and generic references and I made some minor fixes.

February 18, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

Great!

February 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Hubinou

Great post Peter Kristof. Köszönöm szépen !

February 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jzsuzsi
Mod
  • 402

Link to the similar discussion on the Hungarian-speaking forum: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/30785088

For seasons, you wrote:

"The definite article is omitted (in Hungarian) before days of the week, months, seasons, in a specific sense: 2007 júliusa nagyon esős volt. The July of 2007 was very rainy."

2007 nyara nagyon esős volt. The summer of 2007 was very rainy.

But, for seasons in a general sense, it is the opposite. (Definite article in Hungarian, the article can be dropped in English)

Nagyon szép a tavasz. Spring is very beautiful.

Szeretem a tavaszt. I like spring.

http://www.mywords.hu/angol-nyelvtan/nevelok

March 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

Hi, your examples for seasons used in a general sense:
Nagyon szép a tavasz.
Spring is very beautiful.
Szeretem a tavaszt.
I like spring.
Where "tavasz" (spring) takes the definite article.

My opposite example:
Július az év legforróbb hónapja.
July is the hottest month of the year.
Here, "Július" (July) stands without an article.

I think your examples are the common cases and my example is the case that I wrote on the uses of the zero article. [a) A predicative noun phrase.]
Here is the source I've quoted: Syntax of Hungarian vol 2, see 2.5.1.2. Noun phrases without an article.
Well, I think, the use of articles is not an easy problem.

March 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MarcoC2018

Thank you! very useful post. Indeed the correct use of the article (especially the definite one) it seems simple at a first glance, but it is not.

For instance I found this one too: "Van kávé későbbre"

February 19, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

"There is coffee for later." as a translation of "Van kávé későbbre". I'm thinking of the following grammatical explanation:

This sentence expresses the existence of something, therefore this type of sentence always require an indefinite noun (e.g.: a pen (toll), coffee (kávé), some coffee (egy kevés kávé), etc.) both in English and Hungarian. Considering that "coffee" ("kávé") is an uncountable noun, it cannot take an indefinite article.

February 19, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MarcoC2018

Thank you! Indeed I was more surprised by későbbre instead of "a/egy későbbre"

February 19, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jzsuzsi
Mod
  • 402

Kávé can take an indefinite article (or a number?) Kérek egy kávét.

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

Ok, but when we say "Kérek egy kávét." we mean "a cup of coffee" (egy csésze kávé) , where the cup is a countable noun.

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jzsuzsi
Mod
  • 402

Yes, of course :)

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MarcoC2018

Sorry for my messy question, I will try to explain me better.

I was expecting it to be:

Van kávé a későbbre

Indeed this one may be a case of "No article is used before the times of the day in a general sense", actually when a time is involved, even in an indirect way, no article is needed. Correct?

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

No, I think rather the "zero article is used... b) A case-marked bare noun as an adverbial" could be used for this case. I took this rule from the quoted English source. (But I'm still studying this part of the grammar :)

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MarcoC2018

Here is another example of difficult (for me) case:

A gyerekek különböző városokból vannak.

Instead of

A gyerekek a különböző városokból vannak.

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

The indefinite noun phrase denotes a thing which is new, unknown, or introduced to a listener for the first time.
The definite noun phrase denotes a thing which is already known to the listener or which has been previously mentioned, introduced, or discussed.
A noun itself is not definite or indefinite, but only together with an article, a pronoun or an adjective, etc. (In this case: "különböző".) "Különböző városok" is an indefinite noun phrase, because we (the listener) don't know which ones.
A gyerekek különböző városokból vannak.
A gyerekek néhány/számos/két különböző városból vannak. (singular!)
A gyerekek a különböző városokból vannak.
A gyerekek egy különböző városokból vannak.

The situation is similar in English:
Children are from different cities.
Children are from the different cities.
Children are from a different cities.

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MarcoC2018

Thanks!

So which of the following are correct? (here we have the singular case)

A gyerekek távoli városokból vannak.

A gyerekek távoli városból vannak.

A gyerekek egy városból vannak.

If I have understood correctly, in case of an indefinite object, an adjective in front of the noun makes the 'egy' not needed. Is it correct?

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

Yes, all three sentences are correct. It is interesting that "A gyerekek egy távoli városból vannak." sentence is also correct.

No. The determinant before the noun specifies whether the noun definite or indefinite will be. Here, in a general sense, numerals are also determinants, The possible type of constructions:
Érkezett egy vendég. 'A guest arrived'
Érkezett két vendég. 'Two guest arrived'
Érkezett sok vendég. 'Many guest arrived'
Érkeztek vendégek. 'Guests arrived' (bare noun)
These are all indefinite nouns.
Új magyar nyelvtan, 4.3.2.

February 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jzsuzsi
Mod
  • 402

Hello,

A little correction :

Egy könyv, a piros toll, stb. A book, a red pen, etc.

should be Egy könyv, egy piros toll, stb.

February 22, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/peter.kristof.hu

Thank you. I corrected it.

February 22, 2019
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