sentences beginning with a verb

Gavril

Senior Member
English, USA
Hello,

The topic of possible word orders in Hungarian sentences came up on a different Wordreference forum. Now I am wondering, how often do Hungarian sentences (other than question-sentences) begin with a verb, and in what sort of context(s) is this word order normally seen?

I am thinking of sentences that would have the same word order as English sentences like

"Came John to the meeting"
"Bought Michael a car"

(You don't actually see sentences like these in English; I just made them up for the sake of demonstration.)

Thanks for any info
 
  • Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Hello Gavril,

    Unfortunately, this is not only a difficult question (because the "rules" are vast and normally not presented from this point of view) but also one that even the native speakers don't know without specially studying the question. So I don't think we'll be able to give you an exhaustive answer.
    Nevertheless, just to start:
    Your sentences contain subjects of proper names and in these cases it would be more natural if the predicate followed the subject. However, your suggested word order is possible (I would say especially - if not exclusively) in yes or no questions.
    That already suggests, that part of the problem is also the nature (type) of the subject. Apparently, a subject with an indefinite article is more likely to follow the predicate (unless stressed):
    e.g. Közeledett egy asszony. (A woman was approaching.)

    Another approach could be connected to style: in newspaper titles, you can often see the verb (predicate) in the first position (e.g. Megmentették a gyerekeket = Children saved) but it could also be used in normal communication (especially in oral communication) when letting the others know about what happened (in what order), telling a story in which you relate the different actions that took place. (Like telling a story for children: Elment a fiú vadászni. Lőtt egy nyulat. Hazavitte. Megette. = A boy went to do hunting. Shot a hare. Took it home. Had it for lunch.)
     
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    Gavril

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Hi Zsanna,

    In what context(s) would one normally say Közeledett egy asszony ("was approaching" + "a woman") versus Egy közeledett asszony ("?

    Or, to use a transitive sentence from your examples, when would one say Lőtt a fiú egy nyulat ("shot" + "a boy" + "a hare") versus A fiú lőtt egy nyulat? ("a boy" + "shot" + "a hare")?

    Thanks again

    (PS -- This may be a side question, but Google Translate makes it seem as though a fiú means "the boy" and egy fiú means "a boy" -- is there a reason you translated a fiú as indefinite?)
     

    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Hi Zsanna,

    In what context(s) would one normally say Közeledett egy asszony ("was approaching" + "a woman") versus Egy közeledett asszony ("?
    The first is the "natural", "normal" way of saying it when you just inform somebody about what happened.
    The second (I suppose you meant: Egy asszony közeledett - because the indefinite article cannot precede the verb) puts a bit of an emphasis on "egy asszony" (as opposed to e.g. "egy férfi" - a man). In this case putting the word in front of the verb indicates that the subject is important for one reason or another.
    The point being: when the subject is "definite" (a proper name or a noun with a definite article, it is "important enough" to have its "normal" place before a verb/predicate, meanwhile when it is indefinite, it is the verb that comes before - unless the indefinite subject is stressed for some reason.)
    I gave this example with the subject but, in fact, there are rules even for the other parts of the sentence, this is just one aspect to approach the problem - which indicates how many are left to examine still.:eek:

    Or, to use a transitive sentence from your examples, when would one say Lőtt a fiú egy nyulat ("shot" + "a boy" + "a hare") versus A fiú lőtt egy nyulat? ("a boy" + "shot" + "a hare")?
    The trouble with your question is that on this basis, you could ask about any sentence for the reason of the word order and we wouldn't be any closer to a general rule... (which I gave originally for these sentences). However, ... there is another problem: in the context above (i.e. in my "little story"), you wouldn't repeat the "boy" in the following sentences because Hungarian doesn't like repetition of this sort. (You understand at the beginning that the hero of the story is a boy and until another person turns up, you don't have to name him again in the following sentences. Like in English: using the "he", instead of "the boy" in every consecutive sentence is enough. In Hungarian we don't use the personal pronouns in such a case, so you just leave out the subject altogether.)

    So we have to forget about the original context and just see what the difference is between (1) Lőtt a fiú egy nyulat and (2) A fiú lőtt egy nyulat.
    On the basis of the first case we saw above, I'd say the "normal" word order would be rather the 2nd (because the subject with a definite article is more usual to come before the verb).
    The first version could be justified (although it is a bit difficult to see at first sight in this example) if for one reason or other the verb had to be stressed. E.g. if the speaker wants to express his emotions about it because s/he is surprised by the fact that the boy managed to shoot anything with an ancient rifle or because of his lack of practice or because it was too dark to see at the time, etc. But somehow even in any of these cases the sentence sounds just a little bit odd. (Probably because it would be more natural to express these meanings otherwise in this case? E.g. surprise: (Csak) Sikerült lőnie egy nyulat!)

    In any case, the rough and ready rule is that when the predicate precedes a definite subject, it mainly happens when the predicate is nominal (e.g. A veréb madár.- A sparrow is a bird./A levegő friss.- The air is fresh./ Az eredmény három.- The result is three., etc.) because
    a) you want to emphasize an opposition: Madár a veréb. (it is a bird - as opposed to a mammal, for instance)/ Friss a levegő. (fresh but not cold.)...
    b) you express you emotions (surprise, satisfaction, etc.): Friss a levegő./! (I'm happy to say...) Három az eredmény! (I wouldn't have thought that!...)

    (PS -- This may be a side question, but Google Translate makes it seem as though a fiú means "the boy" and egy fiú means "a boy" -- is there a reason you translated a fiú as indefinite?)
    Yes, it is true. However, I think it was an instinct of mine that talking about a (non defined) person for the first time, it sounds more natural to use the indefinite article in English. Also, I wanted to underline the context of the "once upon a time, there was a boy who..." to situate better those sentences. (= They were part of a story.)
     
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    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Word orders like in Elment a fiú vadászni are not unusual neither in some other languages (the Slavic or Romance, tor example). E.g. in jokes: Va un hombre de avanzada edad al médico y le dice ... (Spanish). I think in these cases the focus is rather on what happened and not so on the subject itself. Elment egy fiú vadászni ..., i.e. with indefinite article, sounds equally natural, at least to me.
     

    franknagy

    Senior Member
    In what context(s) would one normally say Közeledett egy asszony ("was approaching" + "a woman") versus Egy közeledett asszony ("?

    Or, to use a transitive sentence from your examples, when would one say Lőtt a fiú egy nyulat ("shot" + "a boy" + "a hare") versus A fiú lőtt egy nyulat? ("a boy" + "shot" + "a hare")?
    There is a rule: The most important new information of the sentence stands before the predicate. If the predicate of the sentence is the most important the the sentence starts with the verb:
    Közeledett egy aszony. Lőtt a fiú egy nyulat.

    "Egy *közeledett asszony": Here közeledett is not a verb but it is a past participleand illegal. The present participle
    "Egy közeledő asszony" is correct.
     

    Evgeniy

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Hello,
    The most important new information of the sentence stands before the predicate.
    Then, the question is, how to determine importance… (What is obvious for a native speaker may be not obvious for a foreigner).
    For sake of example how different the concept of importance may be. In a different language with free word order, Russian, I noticed five tendencies on word order:
    1. Words that set up the context for those decisions on understanding words which follow that are important for interpretation of the sentence come first. For example, the indefinite woman is defined by her action of approaching. she is understood in such context; air is understood in the context of the action of defining its distinctive qualities, namely one of being fresh.
    2. Words that reflect choices made by the mind of a thinker before other choices need to be done come first, because they are important for those choices. This reflects the usual paradigm, "the topic comes first, the comment comes last". Like in a school problem, some data were given, some data were already found (by selecting from possible choices), and other data were then to be found. Notice, for example, that "lőtt" was first in the second sentence in the fairy tale: this verb was a link to the preceding sentence, the possibility of such activity was given. (I assume that the word order in which the object comes first is also possible).
    3. (Especially when spoken) Whatever the speaker has least patience to tell or to start to reflect on, because it is most important for his mental state, comes first.
    4. Habits for what needs to be important (and why) play a great role. A language commands not only how to say, but also what to say.
    5. Some words are combined into groups, they prefer to stay close in such groups, or even in a fixed order in such groups.
    Now, this scheme still allows a lot of tweaks (why such and such thing is important for that and that)… So, I assume it is similar in Hungarian? (Even though I see some differences as far as particular examples are considered).
     
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    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Thanks, Evgeniy, for this effort of summing up possible parts to start from, I would say you've managed to put your finger on major points - I just have some doubts whether going into every possible detail would fit the aims of the forum. However, already the first - "how to determine importance" - is a good one... (I remember when I wrote my posts above I wanted to avoid terms like "stress", "accent on", "emphasis", etc. because I know that in English there is a special vocabulary for the meanings we may master in Hungarian but to translate them into English exactly is already a difficult enough job in istelf...)

    Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget about the fact that there is a normal word order to start with, when nothing is stressed in particular and frank has already "forgotten" about that (post no.4! as the closest reminder) when he wrote this:
    If the predicate of the sentence is the most important the the sentence starts with the verb: Közeledett egy asszony.
    (If the word "woman" had a definite article in front, he would be right but the subject had an indefinite article.)
     
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    Evgeniy

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget about the fact that there is a normal word order to start with,
    I admit the point, and I actually think it is covered by #4 somehow: after all, the normal word order is also not the God's standard, it is also caused by something…
     

    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Yes, you are right.:) But...
    The trouble is that Gavril's original 2 sentences (that we should concentrate on in this thread) in fact, can either be questions (1) or statements (2).

    1) In (Yes or No) questions this is the "normal" word order (Eljött John a találkozóra? Megvette Michael a kocsit?) because the question focuses on whether the actions have or not taken place

    2) In statements, with a definite subject (= proper names here) - Eljött John a találkozóra./Megvette Michael a kocsit. - this (Predicate + Subject) is not the normal word order. This word order sounds a bit "forced" to me. By "forced" I mean that - although it is not impossible - it is a bit difficult to imagine a case when this word order could serve any of the functions I've mentioned above: underlining a contradiction, expressing a particular emotion (surprise, joy, satisfaction etc.)... - in this case, we should use exclamation marks instead of full stops in any case: Eljött John a találkozóra! (It looks more acceptable to me in this form...)

    N.B. There are five types of sentences in Hungarian. Although I don't think they'd - each - demand a different word order but, as you can see, some are already a source of complication... But style and register are certainly factors to take into consideration as well as short or long sentences. (As I've mentioned it already, it is a really vast subject and connected too much to various aspects of communication to be able to sum things up easily...)
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    ... Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget about the fact that there is a normal word order to start with, when nothing is stressed ...
    I agree from the practical point of view, for example in case of teaching the Hungarian language to foreigners. However, from the linguistic point of view, I think whatever word order reflects somehow the "importance" (let's use this term), even if the statistical occurence of various word orders may differ significantly, of course. Thus - in my opinion - neither the so called normal word order is "neutral", from this point of view. In other words, something is always "stressed", even if we do not particularly realize it.
    (I assume that the word order in which the object comes first is also possible).
    Yes, and this is not an exceptional - not even an infrequent - case.

    As to the article in the above examples: in my opinion, the word orders "A fiú lőtt egy nyulat", "Az asszony közeledett (hozzám)", but also "Egy fiú lőtt egy nyulat", "Egy asszony közeledett (hozzám)" would be the typical (most frequent) word orders, regardless of the presence of the definite or indefinite article. With this I do not want to contradict at all to what Zsanna has written, the choice of the article surely influences the word order, but not in the "grammatical" sense or "as rule", rather it changes the "importance".

    The presence of a verbal prefix may also change the "importance" and, for consequence, also the word order (let us not complicate this topic with further examples ...)

    As to the "Russian versus Hungarian" (Evgeniy's post #7): In my opinion there is a high degree of coincidence/similarity in case of the word order between the Hungarian and Slavic languages in general, however there are some (significant) differences given by more factors, namely in Hungarian there exist articles, all verbal prefixes are separable from the verb, the attribute always precedes the noun, etcetera ... I.e. a deeper analysis should be made to answer the question in post #7 in details, which exceeds the scope of the original question and, first of all, it is a too complex matter (but surely interesting :)) ...
     
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    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Francis, a quote from the Nyelvművelő Kézikönyv (which is aimed at Hungarian native speakers, not learners) about the predicate + definite subject word order:
    "Ez a higgadt, kiegyensúlyozott közlésnek, a száraz ténymegállapításnak szokásos szórendje."
    (In English, it won't sound as nice but I have a try: This is the usual word order of the sober, level-headed communication and of the pure statements of facts. )
    This is what I referred to as "normal".

    Mentioning the frequency of a usage can come handy (and it is often helpful here - even if it can be a double edged thing) but I had the impression that Gavril was interested rather in the rules applying to a certain word order. I may have been mistaken, of course.:rolleyes:
     
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    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    ... Francis, a quote from the Nyelvművelő Kézikönyv (which is aimed at Hungarian native speakers, not learners) about the predicate + definite subject word order:
    "Ez a higgadt, kiegyensúlyozott közlésnek, a száraz ténymegállapításnak szokásos szórendje."
    I agree. I am only trying to say that in this "higgadt, kiegyensúlyozott közlés" rather the subject is focused than the verb, that's why this word order.
    This is what I referred to as "normal".
    I understand. The more usual (or more frequent) solution is (or can be considered) also the most "normal" one.

    Turning back to Gavril's question:
    "Came John to the meeting"
    "Bought Michael a car"
    The Hungarian translation would be:

    "Jött János a találkozóra"
    "Vett Mihály egy kocsit"

    These sentences - without any other context - sound a bit "strange" in Hungarian, as one spontaneousely doesn't see/feel any reason to accentuate the verb. However - for sake of illustration - if we add e.g. the prefix "el-" (as in Zsanna's answer #10) and the word "is" (=also) to the first sentence, then the word order becomes more "natural":

    "Eljött János is a találkozóra"

    Why? ... My spontaneous answer is that these "little" changes give a certain (possible/intuible) context to the above example, that may change the "importance" of the members of the sentence ...
     
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    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Hello francis,

    The more usual (or more frequent) solution is (or can be considered) also the most "normal" one.
    I see what you mean but I still think that it may sound ambiguous.
    To bring a bit of an extreme example: if you could prove that Hungarians use a lot of swear words in their everyday speech, would you say that those words (linguistically) are part of normal speech in Hungarian? And that in order to formulate a "normal" Hungarian sentence you need them - given how frequently they are used? (I know you don't mean that, I'm just trying to point at the difference between style and - apparently - basic rules according to the book cited above...)

    As for Gavril's example sentences:
    I totally agree with you about how strange they look without the preverbs (this is why I translated the sentences with them to start with) but now that you put them like that, the question offers itself: how come that if you change the word order (to the "officially normal" one)

    János jött a találkozóra.
    and
    Mihály vett egy kocsit.

    the second sounds completely normal, meanwhile the first sounds a bit odd?
    (It could be a CMOT* question but we'll see.:D)

    *a la Terry Pratchett: Cut My Own Throat
     
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    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Hello francis, I see what you mean but I still think that it may sound ambiguous ...
    Hello Zsanna, yes, that's why I've written somewhere "so called normal" or why we put normal between quotation marks. It's not the best term ...


    János jött a találkozóra.
    and
    Mihály vett egy kocsit.
    the second sounds completely normal, meanwhile the first sounds a bit odd.
    I think the first sounds odd (without further context/informations) because we feel a certain disproportion between jött and what we want to say (i.e. he has come/he came, not he was coming). Jönni "as such" can express a continuous action or the action "itself", so in this case as if we wanted to say e.g. that János jött és nem ment ...(or something like this). Or, depending on the intonation, János jött és nem Béla ... But János eljött a találkozóra sounds usual to me.

    In case of venni I don't feel this "continuous aspect", but I don't know why ... (Perhaps because of the direct object - egy kocsit, which makes unnecessary the prefix, if we do not want to put emphasis on the perfectiveness. Mihály megvett egy kocsit is also good).
     
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    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    I agree, the problem is with the verb "jönni". Without a preverb - in this sentence - it is somehow not "enough" - especially written down (and/or without context).
     

    francisgranada

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    The example with János jött a találkozóra corresponds to what I've I said in post #11:
    Thus - in my opinion - neither the so called normal word order is "neutral", from this point of view.
    I.e. putting the verb after the subject doesn't make the sentence automatically "neutral", even if this is the most frequent/usual/typical word order.
     

    Zsanna

    ModErrata
    Hungarian - Hungary
    This is where we disagree, francis, because the moment you add the preverb, it is OK.:) (So the problem is with the verb without the preverb and not the word order, in my opinion - esp. as there is no such problem with the other sentence!)
     
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