Indefinite subject before the verb with prefix in a neutral sentence (word order)

Lazar_Bgd

Member
Serbian - Serbia
Dear all,

I am trying to fathom the intricacies of the word order in Hungarian and I decided to take a look at the book ’The Syntax of Hungarian’ by Katalin E. Kiss, published by Cambridge (it can be found freely online). Here is what it says on page 10 under the headline „The formal features of the topic constituent”:

a. Megállt egy autó a házunk előtt (= A car has stopped in front of our house)
b. Egy autó állt meg a házunk előtt (= A car has stopped in front of our house)
c. Egy autó megállt a házunk elótt (= One of the cars has stopped in front of our house)

And then it says the following: The topicalized egy autó in (c) can only be understood specifically, meaning ‘one of the aforementioned cars’.

Now, I am a bit puzzled about the examples under (b) and (c). I would have thought that (c) is the normal way to say „A car has stopped in front of our house” and that in (b) the inversion between the verb and the prefix is because “egy autó” has received extra stress (to say it’s not a bus or something else). I am not questioning what the book says but I would like to ask your opinion about the following:

If I want to say: „A man has crossed the street” (as a neutral sentence, no focus on any part in particular, just stating the fact), which would be the proper way to render it into Hungarian?

Egy ember átment az úton.

Or

Egy ember ment át az úton.

Thank you!
 
  • AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    I am trying to fathom the intricacies of the word order in Hungarian
    Hello Lazar,
    Don't lose heart, Hungarian word order and separating prefixes are indeed mind-boggling. :) Even native speakers get confused when you ask them about usage.

    And then it says the following: The topicalized egy autó in (c) can only be understood specifically, meaning ‘one of the aforementioned cars’.
    I disagree. I don't feel there's any significant difference between (a) and (c).

    I would have thought that (c) is the normal way to say „A car has stopped in front of our house” and that in (b) the inversion between the verb and the prefix is because “egy autó” has received extra stress (to say it’s not a bus or something else).
    :thumbsup:

    If I want to say: „A man has crossed the street” (as a neutral sentence, no focus on any part in particular, just stating the fact), which would be the proper way to render it into Hungarian?

    Egy ember átment az úton.

    Or

    Egy ember ment át az úton.
    The first sentence is a correct and neutral translation of your English example.
    However, I think that the second Hungarian sentence with the separated prefix ("ment át") could have two meanings:

    1. It's a man who has crossed the street (not a dog or a robot). === with extra emphasis on "egy ember"

    2. A man was crossing the street. === I would compare this usage to the Past Continuous tense in English.
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    According with AndrasBP, I'd like to add my two cents.

    Egy autó megállt a házunk elótt
    This sentence seems to me a normal sentence, practically "neutral". It's another question if there exist absolutely neutral sentences in general. Finally the English version „A car has stopped in front of our house” implicitly also emphasises that it was a car and not a bus or something else ....
    „A man has crossed the street”
    I'd translate it "Egy ember átment az úton". The logic (of mine :)) is the following: át precedes the proper verb menni, thus it has a bit higher emphasis, so it implies/suggests that the action has been completed (> in Eglish: "A man has crossed the street").

    In case of "Egy ember ment át az úton" the verb menni precedes át, so menni has a bit higher emphasis and át is separated from the verb. Thus át retains it's original adverbial function (> in English: "A man was crossing the street"; literally: "A man went across the street").
     
    Last edited:

    Lazar_Bgd

    Member
    Serbian - Serbia
    According with AndrasBP, I'd like to add my two cents.

    This sentence seems to me a normal sentence, practically "neutral". It's another question if there exist absolutely neutral sentences in general. Finally the English version „A car has stopped in front of our house” implicitly also emphasises that it was a car and not a bus or something else ....
    I'd translate it "Egy ember átment az úton". The logic (of mine :)) is the following: át precedes the proper verb menni, thus it has a bit higher emphasis, so it implies/suggests that the action has been completed (> in Eglish: "A man has crossed the street").

    In case of "Egy ember ment át az úton" the verb menni precedes át, so menni has a bit higher emphasis and át is separated from the verb. Thus át retains it's original adverbial function (> in English: "A man was crossing the street"; literally: "A man went across the street").
    Wow, thanks a lot for this! I knew the rule (i.e. the inversion between the verb and prefix has the meaning of a continuous tense) but now I actually understand the logic of it. Great!
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    ... thanks a lot for this!
    Szívesen, nincs mit :) .

    I'd like to add that the conventional grammatical terminology (based mostly on the Latin grammar) may be sometimes a bit misleading as various languages have different "logic" or peculiarities. Thus, the Hungarian át (across), fel (up), ki (out), be (into), etc... are primarily rather adverbs, not prefixes. They have a concrete meaning and they can be used separately, but when they precede the verb they are "felt" as part of the verb and pronounced as one word, so they "work" like prefixes.

    This is not the situation e.g. in Latin/Romance and Slavic languages. See for example the Hungarian kimenni, Latin exire, Slovak jsť:
    - Hova mész? -Ki (possible)
    - Quo is? -*Ex (impossible)
    - Kam ideš? -*Vy (impossible)
     

    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    I have been brooding over this ever since the question was put.
    Although I agree that the most neutral solution would be "Egy ember átment az úton." but still...
    The other possibility "Egy ember ment át..." could also be tempting if a) it weren't compared to the previous b) if the context allowed it.
    The questions about word order - it seems to me - are partly the question of grammar but also the question of context, mood of the speaker, etc. A bit like the Necker-cube: you look at it and you may see that the front points towards the left bottom but when you look at it another time, you see it points to the right upwards. There is not only one "right" interpretation. I think this is why it is impossible to state "for sure" what the actual sentence implies at times in Hungarian.
     
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