One of the most difficult aspects of Hungarian language learning is spelling and writing. Grammar aside, the multitude of Hungarian spelling rules makes learning especially hard. Below, you will find some tips to make your experience in mastering Hungarian writing a little easier!
The first thing when it comes to writing in a foreign language is patience. It is easy to forget just how comfortable we are in our native tongue. When it comes to learning a language, we become painfully aware that what we write as beginners is not perfect. We notice each and every small mistake in structure, vocabulary, and punctuation. This is why we must keep in mind that mastering all aspects of a foreign language will take a lot of time. Practice makes perfect, focus on gradually building your skills. Most importantly, zero in on what sort of benefits your newly acquired language will bring to you!
Now, continue below for some tips about the tricky spelling nuances of the Hungarian language!
The four principles of Hungarian spelling
To start off, we must examine the four fundamental principles of the Hungarian writing system. Knowing these rules will give you a foundational understanding of the inner workings of our writing system.
Pronunciation (phonetic) spelling
Hungarian reflects the sound of the words as closely as possible. The spelling of word elements (parts of speech, verbs) is written according to their colloquial pronunciation.
Word analysis (etymological) spelling
Hungarian mostly indicates the constituent elements of words in subordinate (adjectival, indicative) and compound words. The sounds of the conjunctions of words with prefixes, infinitives, compounds etc. and the sounds of the constituents of successive words interact and often change when the words are pronounced. Our spelling, however, does not take account of occasional sound changes but spells the word elements in their original form.
In Hungarian adjectives and suffixes, the doubled form of multi-digit letters is shortened, meaning only the first digit of the letter is repeated (meggy – sour cherry, hosszú – long). We do not, however, simplify the letters of the same two-digit number which are members of compound words (jegygyűrű – wedding ring, kulcscsomó – keychain).
During suffixation, if there are three of the same consonants next to each other, they merge into only two (füttyel [=fütty+tyel] – with a whistle, hallak [=hall+lak] – I hear you).
The rule does not apply to Hungarian family names, foreign proper names and word compounds. In these cases, the long consonant letters are joined to the newer one by a hyphen (balett-táncos – ballet dancer, Széll-lel – with Széll).
Spelling by Hungarian tradition
There are cases in Hungarian where spelling adheres to historically established conventions. Three major categories exist here:
- family names (Batthyány, Kossuth, Széchenyi, Thököly, etc.)
- the letters “DZ” and “DZS” (menedzser – manager, bodza – elderflower, dodzsem – bumper cars)
- and words that contain the letter “LY”
Hungarian verb conjugation
One of the most difficult aspects of the Hungarian language is its verb conjugation system. It is the process through which verbs are changed to match the other components of a given phrase. Each verb has three persons in both singular and plural. For the basic form of each verb, you must use the third person singular.
For further studying, this verb conjugation website by KaleidoVox is a great resource. It not only shows you each verb form, but it allows you to test your skill as well!
J or LY?
Lastly, let us look at one of the most irregular rules of Hungarian writing: the use of the letters “J” and “LY.” These two letters denote the same sound, /j/. From childhood to adulthood, many native Hungarian speakers are burdened by this rule of tradition. What makes it even more difficult, is that there is hardly any rule on when to use which.
Fear not, as there is some logic behind the madness. These pointers from Tantaki will help you understand. Keep in mind, that there are always exceptions!
- There is only one word in the Hungarian dictionary that starts with the letter “LY.” (lyuk – hole). Any derivatives of the word “lyuk” will also start with “LY.”
- One syllable words ending in a /j/ sound that are written with “LY” include hely, súly, moly (place, weight, moth).
- Multi syllable words ending in a /j/ sound that are written with “LY” include kristály, pehely, bagoly (crystal, flake, owl). Exceptions include papagáj – parrot.
- Words that end with -aj and -ej are often written with “J:” olaj, tolvaj, zörej (oil, thief, noise). Exceptions include tavaly – last year.
- Words ending with -lya and -lye are often written with “LY:” gereblye, korcsolya, pocsolya (rake, ice skates, puddle). Exceptions include bója – buoy.
- Read More: Hungarian slang you should know!
Source: kaleidovox.hu, tantaki.hu
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