Stress in Hungarian words

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Senior Member
English – American
Hello, all. I'm just beginning to learn hungarian, and am a little confused as to where stress is placed in a word. All sources tell me that stress is almost always placed on the first sylable of a word, but there are many instances in which I hear it to be otherwise.

For example, I started doing the hungarian pimsleurs, and in the first lessons the word "beszélek" is clearly stressed on the "é".

Another example, on the website forvo, the audio file for word "mosolygok" is also stressed on the second syllable.

Could anyone give me a hint as to what is going on?

Many Thanks––
  • Zsanna

    Hungarian - Hungary
    Hello jiris and welcome to our forum:)

    Well, I am not an expert but I think the first problem may be to get used to all the bits that can influence our pronunciation.
    The stress is on the first syllable - that you can take as a rule.

    However, a long vowel (like the "é" in beszélek) may give the impresssion as if there were a stress on it but it is not the case: it is just pronounced longer. You will have to get used to making the difference between stress and length. (It may not be easy!:()

    Mosolygok also has the stress on the first syllable but the 2nd syllable is pronounced longer (but without a stress like on the 1st again), probably because of the meeting of "ly+g", i.e. exactly these two consonants. (It is not always the case when two consonants meet.)

    My guess is that maybe we "take our time" to pronounce these two consonants (ly+g) "properly"/fully. (Hungarian doesn't like the accumulation of consonants, by the way, in general.) It may well be that the forming (= pronouncing) these two consonants doesn't allow a comfortable "flow" in the pronounciation that could shorter the time we take to do it.
    See for yourself: try pronounce y in yoghurt and g in gift immediately one after the other and you'll see: it's not difficult but they need "separation", not like e.g. l and t in the word difficult that you can pronounce quite "smoothly", one after the other without stopping/having to separate them.
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    Senior Member
    français - France
    Yes, in English, stress associates (1) a louder voice, (2) a higher tone, and (3) a longer vowel, but in Hungarian (3) mainly differenciates words (or is also influenced by context) independantly of (1), and (2) mainly organises the information at sentence level independantly of (1). So based on your experience of English and similar languages, you may mistakenly hear (2) or (3) as stress in Hungarian, though it is only (1).
    And there may also be a secondary stress on every second syllable: for instance beszélek "I speak" in a group like nem beszélek "I do not speak" would get the main stress on the 1st syllabe nem and possibly a lighter stress on the 3rd syllable -szé- ; though in this case I am not convinced that -szé- is louder than be-, what do native speakers think?
    -- Olivier


    Senior Member
    English – American
    Thanks to both of you. Oliveier's respone makes some sense, as I tend to associate stress with pitch more than anything else. Is it the case that in Hungarian long sylablles often include a change in pitch??? I had expected that it would not, and that though pronounced for a longer period of time, a long syllable would not also involve a raising of pitch. On the other hand, I expected that in most cases the first syllable of each word would generally have a slightly higher pitch. Is it really the case that the stress at the beginning of each word does not involve a raising of pitch, not at all? Pitch and stress are completely different things in Hungarian? And if this is the case then how is pitch determined?


    Hungarian - Hungary
    Pitch/intonation has more to do with sentence structure (emphasis, topic-comment structure) than "stress". In some cases the stressed syllable is lower-pitched than normal, but it's not because of stress but because of the intonation pattern. For example in questions or the topic parts of sentences.
    Long syllables have nothing to do with pitch or stress, they have a role in differentiating words. You could even consider long vowels as separate vowels.
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