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How to Join Hungarian Suffixes

Hungarian uses suffixes for most grammatical relations English expresses with prepositions. But before examining the suffixes themselves, let’s see how does Hungarian joins words (stems) and suffixes.
  We have to take account of
  – the vowel harmony,
  – either the last vowel or the last consonant,
  – and the exceptions.

The Vowel Harmony

The rule is easy. All Hungarian vowels are considered front, back or neutral ones.
  Front vowels: e, é, i, í, ö, ő, ü, ű.
  Back vowels: a, á, o, ó, u, ú.
  There are suffixes that doesn’t change, no matter what vowels does the word have, but there are suffixes that do. Additionally, some suffixes require a linking vowel to be applied between the stem and the suffix. For changing suffixes and linking vowels, we have to examine what vowel order does the word belong to.
  a) Words with only front or only back vowels are front or back words, respectively.
  b) If both front and back vowels are present, they are considered back words (mixed order).
  c) For some suffixes and for linking vowels, front words are treated separately if their last vowel is ö, ő, ü or ű.
  d) In compound words, only the last member is taken into account.

Now, having the vowel order determined, we can choose the linking vowel and/or the suffix. The vowels are a or o for back order words, and e or ö for front order ones. I’m sorry, but you aren’t allowed to choose freely from the two variants.

Let’s see some examples. Suffixes are red here, linking vowels are green.
  Back:
  hajó (ship): hajóban, hajóval, hajón, hajóhoz, hajók
  ház (house): házban, házzal, házon, házhoz, házak
  kutya (dog): kutyában, kutyával, kutyán, kutyához, kutyák
  Front:
  gyerek (child): gyerekben, gyerekkel, gyereken, gyerekhez, gyerekek
  medve (bear): medvében, medvével, medvén, medvéhez, medvék
  Front with ö/ü:
  kesztyű (glove): kesztyűben, kesztyűvel, kesztyűn, kesztyűhöz, kesztyűk
  gyümölcs (fruit): gyümölcsben, gyümölccsel, gyümölcsön, gyümölcshöz, gyümölcsök
  Mixed:
  csillag (star): csillagban, csillaggal, csillagon, csillaghoz, csillagok
  Irregular:
  férfi (man): férfiban or férfiben, férfival or férfivel, férfin, férfihez, férfiak

The Last Vowel

There is a simple rule about the last vowel: if it is a or e, it turns to á or é, respectively: kutya → kutyák, medve → medvék. (I know only one exception from this rule, the rare use of the -i adjective forming suffix in words like kutyai, medvei; these would mean something like „dogly” and „bearly”.)
  There are some words with a last vowel ó or ő that change that vowel before some suffixes to e or a, respectively:
  erdő (forest): erdeje (his forest)
  mező (meadow): mezeje (his meadow)
  idő (time): ideje (his time)
  bíró (judge): bírák (judges)
  ajtó (door): ajtaja (his door)

The Last Consonant

The last consonant has to be taken into account for only two suffixes, -val, -vel and -vá, -vé. The sound v in these suffixes assimilates to the last consonant of the stem, I mean, the last pronounced consonant of the stem:
  ház: házzal (with house)
  gyerek: gyerekkel (with child)
  gyümölcs: gyümölccsel (with fruit) – because cs is a digraph, and the long forms of digraphs double the first letter only
  düh (anger): dühvel (because it’s pronounced with a mute h)
  Iaşi (city in Romania): Iaşi-sal (because final i is mute in Romanian, and ş is the same sound as Hungarian s; the hyphen is added because of the mute letter)
  Christchurch (city in New Zealand): Christchurchcsel (because English ch and Hungarian cs are the same sound, and no mute letter, no hyphen)

Exceptions

There are several exceptions from the above rules. The most important categories include:
  1. Long stem vowels shortening when certain suffixes are applied:
  víz (water): vízben, vízzel, vízen, but vizek
  2. Front words behaving like back ones:
  híd (bridge): hídban, híddal, hídon, hidak (belongs to point 1 above, too)
  3. Both back and front suffixes are used:
  férfi (man): férfiban or férfiben, férfival or férfivel, but only férfiak, never férfiek
  4. Different linking vowel for different meaning:
  felelős means responsible, liable, both as a noun (he is responsible) and as an adjective (the responsible person) – but its plural has separated to
  felelősök: noun (linking vowel for an ö/ü word)
  felelősek: adjective (linking vowel for a front word)
  5. Linking vowel present even after a vowel:
  ehető (edible): ehetőek (edibles)
  6. Unpredictable linking vowels:
  báb (puppet): bábok – láb (leg): lábak
  gáz (gas): gázok – ház (house): házak


Láng Attila D., 2013.5.29.

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