The Hungarian Alphabet – Rovásírás

Not so long ago Hungarian people had their own alphabet just like the Chinese and the Japanese. Nowadays we refer to it as runic alphabet, but given the fact that in our modern days we use the Latin writing system, it is more appropriate to simply call it Hungarian alphabet.

Our ancestors originally carved these letters into wood sticks, then on their houses, buildings and probably books. I say ‘probably books’ because a lot of them were burnt after the Christians had arrived.

The Hungarian writing was exercised by both priests and ordinary people. Among others, we’ve found needle cases and other mundane objects decorated with these letters, which proves that the average people could write and read.

When the farmer carved these letters into the wood sticks, he was holding the stick with his left hand, so he started to write with his right hand. When he turned the stick, he continued to write from left to right, but fundamentally it is an alphabet written from right to left.

There was no need to use compound letters like we do today: sz, ny, ly, cs, etc. We have to do that because we have 40 letters in our alphabet and when our ancestors were forced to use the Latin writing, they had to figure out how to write a sound they had a character for in the Hungarian alphabet. Hence older family names like Weöres, Batthyhányi, Széchenyi…We pronounce them as Vörös, Battyányi, Szécsenyi. And that’s how we would have written any word back in the day because there is a character for every sound without letter combinations.

The rules of writing for the Hungarian alphabet are:

  1. Generally speaking, start writing from right to left.
  2. The omission of vowels was common especially the e-é vowels because originally these vowels were used to say the alphabet: eb, ec, ecs, ed, ef, eg, egy…(today we say bé, cé, csé, dé, ef, gé, gyé…). As the consonants express the meaning of the word, it is no problem omitting the vowels.
  3. You can omit the vowels when it does not hinder you from understanding the word, but always write it when back-vowels and front-vowels change in the same word and you always write it at the end of the word.
  4. The sounds w, x, y, q are transcribed with v, ksz, i, kv. Not part of the alphabet.
  5. The sounds dz, dzs are also not part of it, so they are written as in the Latin writing: d+z, d+zs
  6. The indication of long vowels is a recent development. Our ancestors didn’t make a distinction in writing, only in speech.

Here’s the alphabet from right to left:

m ly l k j í i h gy g f é e d cs c b á a

m L l k j í i h G g f é e d C c b á a

zs z v ű ü ú u ty t sz s r p ő ö ó o ny n

Z z v ű ü ú u T t S s r p ő ö ó o N n

Variations for o-ó, ö-ő and ü-ű can be found as we go back further in time. Check the Internet if you like for sites like that. Let’s see some texts. Keep in mind that the Hungarian alphabet goes from right to left.

Text with each character written out:

aNál moráh kanna sé NoSSa Ge reSGe tlov, tlov men loh, tlov reSGe

Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy asszony és annak három lánya.
Once upon a time there was a woman and she had three daughters.

Same text with vowel omission where possible:

aNál moráh knna s NoSSa G rSG tlv, tlv mn lh, tlv rSG

Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, volt egyszer egy asszony és annak három lánya.
Once upon a time there was a woman and she had three daughters.

The interesting thing about this alphabet is that you can use ligatures, that is you can combine these characters. It is your hand writing, if you will. The computer does not write ligatures, so I wrote it myself. Note that there are vowel omissions and ligatures in it.


Note that there are two versions of K = k and K. Linguist believe that it’s due to vowel harmony. The first is believed to be EK or KE like meredek kederem (steap), the second one is AK or KA like akna anK (mine). Some linguists say that the second ”deep-vowel” K was only used for expressing the plural form, but there is no evidence to that. It is simpler to use the first k k. Look at this:

Linguists saying there is Ek and AK would write KAKUKKOK (cuckoos) like this:


Linguists saying that K is only for plural would write it like this:


Language and Pronunciation


And here some reasons why Hungarian is not a difficult language:

-One letter is one sound (if you know how to pronounce a letter, you say it exactly like that in every word)
-No gender discrimination (much like in English)
-Adjectives are unmarked when preceding nouns (like in English)
-There is only one present tense, one past tense and the future tense is often expressed with present tense
-Only 14(-20) irregular verbs in the entire language!!
-No striking dialect variations (if you can speak Hungarian, you’ll understand people in the whole country)

Here are some reasons why Hungarian is a difficult language:

-Two ways to conjugate verbs (definite and indefinite)
-Some vowels and consonants are not present in English, or they’re said in a slightly different way
-It is an agglutinative language, that is suffixes are attached to the end of the word. Prepositions are quite unknown. There is only one of them ‘mint’.

Vowels – A a

The Hungarian a is different from anything you know in English. Well almost. You don’t say it as the a in cat or the a in access.

The simplest explanation is the interrogative word: WHAT. The a in what is the closest thing I can refer to if I have to explain native English speakers how to say it. Many books, websites and teachers teach nonsense like “The phoneme a is to be pronounced as o in hot”. It is important for you to understand that Hungarian a has no correlation with any kind of o. Yes, it’s between á (sound like u in cup) and o (sound like o in hot with British pronunciation), but still, it’s definitely not similar to o.

Practice saying these Hungarian words by saying WHAT first and then the Hungarian words:

WHAT- ALMA (apple)
WHAT- ABLAK (window)
WHAT- ALAK (figure)
WHAT – ADAT (data)
WHAT – ALAP (base)

Vowels – Difference between Á-O-A

If you’ve downloaded the book, you already know this:

á is to be pronounced like u in cut, but it’s always a long sound! A better example is the word spa.

o is to be pronounced like hot, bot with British pronunciation! It’s a short sound. Its long version is ó.

a is to be pronounced like the a in the English word what.

Practice these words:

alom (litter)
farok (tail)
okos (smart)
óvatos (wary)
gondos (thoughful)
parkoló (car park)
szálloda (hotel)

Vowels – E e, É é

e is pronounced like e in get
é is pronounced like a in bay, except that in Hungarian é never becomes y at the end. Try to say bay without the y.

Practice these words:

szél (wind)
szel (to cut)

téli (winter – as adjective)
teli (full)

vér (blood)
ver (to beat, to hit)

Vowels — I i, Í í

The short i is pronounced like i in kit, the long í like ee in deep.

Practice these words:

kis (small)
iskola (school)
kinn (outside)

ír (to write; Irish)
sír (to cry)
nyíl (arrow)

Vowels — O o, Ó ó

The short o is pronounced like o in hot with British pronunciation. The long ó is said like o in role.

Practice these words:

tol (to push)
bokor (bush)
rokon (relative)

jó (good)
pók (spider)
folyó (river)

Vowels – Ö ö, Ő ő

ö is pronounced like fur, early, curly, certain, curtain, again
ő is the same, just longer

Practice these words:

tör (to break)
szög (angle)
köd (fog)
köp (to spit)

lő (to shoot)
kő (stone)
nő (woman)
tő (shaft)

and watch the difference between short ö and long ő:

tör (to break)
tőr (dagger)

örök (eternal)
őrök (guards)

töke (his marrow)
tőke (capital)

Vowels — U u, Ú ú

The short u is pronounced like u in put. The long ú is said like oo in shoot.

Practice these words:

un (to be annoyed)
ruha (clothes)
kulcs (key)

út (road)
súly (weight)
búcsú (good-bye)

Vowels – Ü ü, Ű ű

It’s the hardest vowel for a native English speaker. Examples can be given from other foreign languages.

ü is pronounced like: ü the German word Mütter or u in the French word tu.
ű is the same, just longer.

Practice these words:

ül (to be sitting)
fül (ear)
szül (to bear a child)
küld (to send)
szünet (pause)
tünet (symptom)
üveg (bottle)

űr (space)
fű (grass)
szűk (narrow)
tű (needle)

Consonants – C c , CS cs

c is pronounced like ts in tsunami
cs is pronounced like ch in change, church. You always write c and s together if you want to write that ch sound

C = TS (tsunami)
CS = CH (change)

Practice these words:

cica (kitten)
cukor (sugar)
kelepce (trap)

csend (silence)
kacsa (duck)
csapat (team)

Consonants – DZ dz, DZS dzs

There’s no need to worry about these consonants. They are present in a few words.

dz is pronounced like ds in Hudson. The letter dz is a digraph, that is two letters give one sound.
dzs is pronounced like j in jungle. The letter dzs is a trigraph, that is three letters give one sound.

The few words with dz and dzs are:

madzag (string)
edz (to be in training)
bodza (elderberry)
dzsungel (jungle)
dzsem (jam)
maharadzsa (maharaja)

If you want to tarnscribe the word JUDO in Hungarian, it goes like this: DZSÚDÓ

Consonants – G g , GY gy

g is always pronounced like g in get
gy is like saying d in duty, duke with British pronunciation

Practice these words:

galamb (pigeon)
gomb (button)
gitár (guitar)
gömb (orb, sphere)
adag (dose)
ország (country)
bagoly (owl)

gyep (lawn)
egy (one)
megy (he goes)
gyenge (weak)
gyufa (match)
agyag (clay)
gyalog (on foot)

Consonants – H h

H is not really a difficult consontant, but needs an explanation. Fundamentally, it is never a mute h! You always say it like in these words: hit, hat, honey. However, there are some exceptions when h is at the end of certain words. These three words are said without that h sound!

méh (bee), rüh (mange), düh (anger)

If they get a suffix, then h is pronounced again: méhek (bees), rühes (mangy), dühös (angry)

Other words ending in h are fully pronounced: doh (fustiness), potroh (abdomen of an insect)

Consonants – J j, LY ly

If you remember, there are two sounds in Hungarian alphabet, which are pronounced as y in yellow. These are

J and LY

And the difference? There is no difference between j and ly. You say both like y in yellow.  The difference occurs in written form. Due to historical reasons, some words are written with j, some with ly. However, there is only one word beginning with ly: lyuk (hole). Let’s see some examples:

lya (stork)
lya (swaddle)
gally (twig) DOUBLE CONSONANT!
ilyen, olyan (like this, like that)
ölyv (buzzard)
bagoly (owl)

száj (mouth)
jelen (present)
nyáj (herd)
éj (night)  – Actually, this word is said like the letter A in English!

Consonants – NY ny, TY ty

ny is pronounced like n in new with British pronunciation
ty is pronounced like t in stew, tuna with British pronunciation

COMPARE ny and ty to: – gy is pronounced like d in duke, duty with British pronunciation

Practice these words:

nyak (neck)
nyúl (rabbit)
anya (mother)
ny (girl)
nyal (to lick)
aranyos (cute, sweet – referring to animal, person)
nyeremény (prize)

tyúk (hen) > the only word beginning with ty!
atya (father – meaning clerk, not dad!)
latyak (slush)
ty (elder brother)
tyol (veil)
hattyú (swan) DOUBLE TY = TTY!

Consonants – S s vs. SZ sz

Now listen to this part carefully! These two sounds are quite in the way of driving foreign students crazy. I think you’ve already realized why.

In English, the S sound is to be said like s in see, spoon and sound itself . The SH combination, however, is said like in ship, Ashton.


The Hungarian S sound is pronounced like the English SH!!!


The Hungarian SZ sound is pronounced like the English S!!! Furthermore, note that this sound is created with S+Z! So if you see a word like ASZTAL (table), you don’t say s and z separately, but you say this digraph as one sound, like the English S.

Difficult? Not really. You just need to practice and memorize them.

Let’s see examples:

seb (wound)
sas (eagle)
só (salt – said like show in English)
has (belly – almost said like HUSH or HAH-SH)
esik (to fall, to rain)
ás (to dig)

sz (ready, finished)
veszély (danger – said like VEH-SAY;  if it helps?)
szesz (spirit, hard drink)
szex (sex)
eszik (to eat)
iszik (to drink)
szem (eye)

Consonants – Q q, W w, X x, Y y

We’ve arrived to the ’odd’ number 13. So now we’ll take a look at these four strange consonants: q, w, x, y.

What’s important about these consonants is that they are present in loan-words as they were adopted from abroad.

Q is actually not quite present in Hungarian words. The explanation is this: foreign words usually have q followed by u, that is qu. QUANTUM, AQUARIUM and so on. Hungarian transcribes these two letters into KV! Examples: quantum – kvantum; aquarium – akvárium, quartz – kvarc, quasar – kvazár

W is pronounced like the simple V! That is: watt is written like watt, but said as vatt. Other example:

English people say “I’m going to the toilet”, while Hungarian people say “WC-re megyek.” We use the abbreviation for water closet and say it like VÉCÉ, that is VA(Y)-TSA(Y) or VE(Y)-TSE(Y). I hope it’s some help at least.

X is said like IKSZ and pronounced like in English: szex (sex), fax (fax), maximum (maximum), expresszionizmus (expressionism), latex (latex), oximoron (oximoron), oxigén (oxygen). There some words where GZ replaces X: egzakt (exact), egzotikus (exotic), egzisztencia (existence), egzaltált (exalted).

Y is NOT PRONOUNCED in any way! The letter itself is called IPSZILON and has one job in Hungarian: to make g, l, n, t unvoiced!

g+y = gy
l+ y = ly
n+ y = ny
t +y = ty

Consonants – Z z vs. ZS zs

Z vs. ZS is much easier than S vs. SZ.

z is pronounced like z in zero, zap, zest. It’s the same as its English fellow.
zs is pronounced like s in pleasure, g in genre, or j in the French name Jean. If you see Z and S together in a word like ZSEB (pocket), you don’t say it separately, but like those S, G, J in those words

Examples for zs (because z is the same):

zsák (sack)
zsarnok (despot, oppressor)
zsaru (cop – it’s a word specifically for ‘cop’. Police-officer is rendőr)
Zsuzsanna (female name – Susan)
zs (beige)
darázs (wasp)
garázs (garage)
zsit (lawn – synonym is gyep)
zsa (rose)

Short and Long/High and Deep Vowels

As written in the book you can download in the Download the grammar book/More to Hungarian category, there are short and long vowels, and consonants are to be pronounced long/doubled if written doubled. It’s important since the length of these sounds changes the meaning of a word.

VOWELS: are either front or back vowel words. The Hungarian term is high (magas) and deep (mély) words. From now on I’ll refer to them like that. HIGH AND DEEP.

High vowels are: e, é, i,  í, ö, ő, ü, ű
Deep vowels are: a, á, o, ó, u, ú

Long sounds are: á, é, í, ó, ő, ú, ű
Short sounds are: a, e, i, o, ö, u, ü

Vowels written without accent are: a, e, o, u
Vowels written with one long accent (stroke on the top) are: á, é, í, ó, ú
Vowels written with two long accents are: ő, ű
Vowels written with two dots on the top are: ö, ü
There is only one vowel written with one dot: i

The capitalized versions of these vowels are the same A, Á, E, É, Í, O, Ó, Ö, Ő, U, Ú, Ü, Ű except the capitalized I which has no dot on the top.

Now let’s see how vowels can change the meaning of a word. In English, it should be familiar to some extent: hat, hit – cat, cut – pet, put…


Short/Long vowel <> High/Deep vowels
ver (to beat) <> ver (to beat)
vér (blood) <> vár (to wait)

rak (to put) <> szó (word)
rák (cancer) <> sző (to weave)

kor (age) <> kár (damage)
kór (disease) <> kér (to ask)

kerek (round) <> szél (wind)
kerék (wheel) <> szál (strand)
kérek (I’d like) <> szól (to tell)

IMPORTANT! There are no diphthongs in Hungarian. Every vowel is spelled separately! The only diphthongs you can find is in autó (car) and Európa (Europe).


All those troubles with vowels (and consonants) have a purpose. The purpose is to understand:

Hungarian words are either HIGH or DEEP VOWEL words.

Let’s see the vowels according to vowel harmony again.

High vowels: e, é, i, í, ö, ő, ü, ű
Deep vowels: a, á, o, ó, u, ú

The Hungarian language is entirely based on VOWEL HARMONY which means that high-vowel words take suffixes containing high vowels, while deep-vowel words take suffixes containing deep vowels. Examples:

Let’s see these two suffixes: –ban, -ben meaning in, inside. -ban is deep-vowel, -ben is high-vowel.

ház (deep word) + deep-vowel suffix -ban = házban (in the house)

kert (high word) + high-vowel suffix -ben = kertben (in the garden)

Well, that’s all about it in a few words. You can read about it much more in the book. And I’ll continue blogging about it soon. I’ll give you more examples and also exercises:

ablak + -on, -en ? = ablakon (on the window)
ágy + -nál, -nél ? = ágynál (next to the bed)
étterem + -ban, -ben ? = étteremben (in the restaurant)
tér + -hoz, -hez ? = térhez (to the square)

And now the exercises after the examples above:

asztal + -on, -en ? =______________ (on the table)
repülő + -tól, -től ? =_______________ (from the airplane)
bank + -ban, -ben? =________________ (in the bank)
egyetem + -on, -en? =_______________ (at the university)
állomás + -on, -en? =_______________(at the station)

NOTE! Accents on vowels are NOT SYLLABLE ACCENTS!

Long and Short Consonants

Important! While long and short vowels are part of the Hungarian alphabet, doubled consonants are NOT!

Examples can be Italian words : pizza, mamma. You say zz and mm doubled, double as long as it were z or m.

Simple consonants are doubled (gemination) by writing the same letter after it: bb, cc, dd, ff, gg, hh, jj, kk, ll, mm, nn, pp, rr, ss, tt, vv, zz

Digraphs and trigraphs are doubled by only writing the first consonant twice: ccs, ddz, ddzs, ggy, lly, nny, ssz, tty, zzs

At the beginning of a sentence or when writing a name, only the first letter is capitalized: Zsuzsanna…Csak moziba megyek.

Like vowels, consonants can change the meaning of a word when doubled. Common examples for this:

megy (he goes)
meggy (sour cherry)

szál (string)
száll (to fly)

hason (prone)
Hasson! (It’d better have an effect / It should be effective)

Other words with doubled consonants:

dinnye (melon)
tonna (ton)
kotta (music sheet)
abba (into that) – NOTE! It’s not the ABBA band
védett (protected)
fattyú (bastard)
ggöny (curtain)

NOTE! Hungarian words NEVER BEGIN with double consonants!

The Alphabet

The entire Hungarian alphabet consists of 14 vowels + 30 consonants = 44 letters. Watch the Hungarian pronunciation in the brackets, as well.


a á b (bé) c (cé) cs (csé) d (dé) dz (dzé) dzs (dzsé) e é f (eff) g (gé) gy (gyé) h (há) i í j (jé) k (ká) l (ell) ly (ejj) m (emm) n (enn) ny (enny) o ó ö ő p (pé) q (kú) r (err) s (ess) sz (essz) t (té) ty (tyé) u ú ü ű v (vé) w (dupla vé) x (iksz) y (ipszilon) z (zé) zs (zsé)

More in detail:

You say the consonant + é with these letters: b c cs d g gy p t ty v w z zs (bé, cé, csé…)
You say e + the consonant with these letters: f l ly m n ny r s sz (eff, ell…)
You say the consonant + á with these letters: h k (há, ká)

Q = kú
W = dupla vé (double v and NOT DOUBLE U like in English)
X = iksz (not EKS)
Y = ipszilon