The ambiguity of the definite conjugation


The advantage the definite conjugation guarantees us, that is concision and short phraseology, is the disadvantage at the same time.

Here we have a simple dialogue:

-Látod? -Igen, látom.
-Can you see it? -Yes, I can see it.

With no context, it is not possible to tell what we refer to. It is because the definite form ’látom’ can refer to the following:

Látom azt
azokat
őt
őket
magát
magukat
önt
önöket
I can see it
those
him/her
them
you-sing. polite
you-plur. polite
you-sing. polite
you-plur. polite

So who or what exactly do we refer to in the dialogue? The answer is: we don’t know until we give it a context. That is why I translated ’látod’ and ’látom’ with the pronoun ’it’. In Hungarian there is no distinction between genders. That can cause problems when you have to translate sentences without any context.

In excercises for Hungarian students references are given: Látom őt. – I can see ____ (girl). That is how the students know that they have to write the pronoun ’her’.

Now back to our example. We need a context.

-Nézd! Ott van egy csinos lány. Látod? -Igen, látom.
-Look. There’s a pretty girl over there. Can you see her? -Yes, I can see her.

Here I’ll enumerate the possibilities for you with ’lát-see’ in definite conjugation:

Látom azt, azokat
őt, őket
magát, magukat
önt, önöket
magamat
magunkat
I can see it, those
him/her, them
you (polite)
you (polite)
myself
ourselves
Látod azt, azokat
őt, őket
magadat
magatokat
You can see it, those
him/her, them
yourself
yourselves
Látja azt, azokat
őt, őket
magát, magukat
önt, önöket
magát
magukat
He can see
She can see
it, those
him/her, them
you (polite)
you (polite)
him/herself
themselves
Látjuk azt, azokat
őt, őket
magát, magukat
önt, önöket
magunkat
We can see it, those
him/her, them
you (polite)
you (polite)
ourselves
Látjátok azt, azokat
őt, őket
magatokat
You can see it, those
him/her, them
yourselves
Látják azt, azokat
őt, őket
magát, magukat
önt, önöket
magukat
They can see it, those
him/her, them
you (polite)
you (polite)
themselves

As you can see, I wrote ’magát, magukat’ twice where it is possible because these pronouns are different in English. In Hungarian they can be personal pronouns expressing politeness. In this case they are equivalent to ’you, sir/madam…’. They can also be reflexive pronouns meaning …self (himself, themselves…).

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5 comments on “The ambiguity of the definite conjugation

  1. Matt Howard-Jones says:

    Hello, first of all as a new student of hungarian I would like to congratulate you on such an excellent website.

    I was wondering if you would mind posting on two areas I have difficulty getting my head around!

    1. The use of meg, el and ki as perfective markers. Sometimes they seem to add perfectivity, and seem to correlate directly with the difference between the English tenses eg. I have walked vs I walked, and other times they seem to alter the basic meaning of the verb.
    I find many grammar books and articles just seem to mention this rather than give in depth explanation and also concentrate on the perfectivity only with regard to the past tenses and miss out their application in future, present and conditional. Is it just a matter of learning what verbs take el, meg or ki?

    2. I may be wrong but it would seem on further in depth reading Hungarian has many subtle ways of expressing the same variety of tenses we have in English as opposed to the basic explanation of ‘Hungarian has only three tenses past present and future’.
    I did find a website that I have posted below that expressed this in the last two articles http://mitmagyar.weebly.com/anyagok.html

    The examples I seemed to find are;
    A. In the present tense of verbs of motion the addition of a directional coverb adds a sense of futurity eg. Megyünk a kertbe. = We are going (currently) to the garden vs Kimegyünk a kertbe. = We will go out to the garden.
    B. Separating the coverb returns the meaning to a present progressive eg. Megyünk ki a kertbe. = We are (currently) going out to the garden. Is there a difference between this and Megyünk a kertbe. = We are going (currently) to the garden. If they are truly equivalent which form is favoured?
    C. With verbs that are not verbs of motion in the present tense ‘meg’ is used to convey futurity;
    Mária tanulja a verset = Maria is studying the poem [currently (imperfective)].
    Mária megtanulja a verset = Maria will learn the poem [completely (perfective)].
    Mária meg fogja tanulni a verset = Maria will learn the poem.
    Mária fogja tanulni a verset = Maria will learn the poem.
    If they are conveying the future are there subtle differences between the above? If they truly are equivalent which form is favoured? Are some of the subtle differences achieved the same in English using vocal intonation?
    D. I found some examples with a verb of motion as well and was wondering if you could comment on this.
    Laci megy a korházba = Laci is going to the hospital [currently (imperfective)].
    Laci elmegy a korházba = Laci will go to the hospital [completely (perfective)].
    Laci el fog menni a korházba = Laci will go to the hospital.
    Laci fog menni a korházba = Laci will go to the hospital.
    E. I also found similar examples in the past tense;
    ‘For verbs of motion, past tense alone implies incompleteness (called imperfect in other languages)
    Mentem a boltba = I was going to the store
    Add a coverb to create completeness
    Elmentem a boltba = I went to the store
    But to keep the imperfective meaning, decouple
    the coverb
    Mentem el a boltba, amikor… = I was (in the middle of) going to the store, when…’
    This also prompted me to ask is there a difference between; Mentem a boltba and Mentem el a boltba?
    F. Can the above be used to differentiate between (just using the verb to walk as an example) I will walk, I will be walking, I will have walked, I will have been walking, I walk, I am walking, I have walked, I have been walking, I walked, I had walked, I had been walking and all the conditional would forms as well?

    I really apologise for the length of this, but it seems many grammar books just seem to gloss over this, and as an English speaker who doesn’t have the advantage of a Uralic/Ugric psychology embued by being blessed with an Uralic language as a first language it is quite confusing! Additionally I would like to apologise if I seem like I’m trying to force Hungarian into a more Indo-European model of tenses.

    Many thanks again on an excellent website.
    Matt

  2. dailymagyar says:

    Nice blog, colleague! 🙂

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