Hungarian phonology: Wikis


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Hungarian language
Closeup of Hungarian keyboard
Alphabet, including ő ű and
cs dz dzs gy ly ny sz ty zs
Phonetics and phonology
Vowel harmony
(Noun phrases · Verbs ·
T-V distinction)
Regulatory body
Hungarian names
Language history
(Sound correspondences)

Hungarian pronunciation of English
Old Hungarian script
English words from Hungarian

This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
For assistance in making IPA transcriptions of Hungarian for Wikipedia articles, see WP:IPA for Hungarian.

This article is about the phonology of the Hungarian language. It deals with current phonology and phonetics. Hungarian is notable for its process of vowel harmony.



This is the Hungarian consonantal system using symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

Consonant phonemes of Hungarian[1 ]
  Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive p  b t  d k  ɡ
Affricate t͡s  d͡z t͡ʃ  d͡ʒ c͡ç  ɟ͡ʝ
Fricative f  v s  z ʃ  ʒ h   
Trill r
Approximant l j

Almost every consonant may be geminated, written by doubling a single letter grapheme: bb, pp, ss etc., or by doubling the first letter of a grapheme cluster: ssz, nny, etc.

The phonemes /dz/ and /dʒ/ can appear on the surface as geminates: bridzs [briddʒ] ('bridge (the card game)'). (For the list of examples and exceptions, see Hungarian dz and dzs.)

The most important allophones are:

  • /n/ becomes [ŋ] if followed by a velar consonant (e.g. hang [hɒŋɡ] 'voice').
  • /j/ becomes [ç] if preceded by one of /p t k/ in the imperative conjugation at the end of a word (e.g. kapj [kɒpç] 'get (imp.)').
  • /h/ may become [ɦ] between two vowels (e.g. tehát [tɛɦaːt] 'so'), [ç] after front vowels , and [x] word-finally after back vowels (e.g. doh [dox] ) if it isn't deleted (which it often is; e.g. méh [meː] 'bee').[2]
  • /h/ becomes [xː] when geminated, in certain words: méhhel [meːxːɛl] ('with a bee'), peches [pɛxːɛʃ] ('unlucky')
Examples[1 ]
Phoneme Example
/p/ pipa [pipɒ] 'pipe'
/b/ bot [bot] 'stick'
/t/ toll [toll] 'feather'
/d/ dob [dob] 'throw', 'drum'
/k/ kép [keːp] 'picture'
/ɡ/ gép [ɡeːp] 'machine'
/f/ fa [fɒ] 'tree'
/v/ vág [vaːɡ] 'cut'
/s/ szó [soː] 'word'
/z/ zöld [zøld] 'green'
/ʃ/ só [ʃoː] 'salt'
/ʒ/ zseb [ʒɛb] 'pocket'
/j/ jó [joː] 'good'
/h/ hó [hoː] 'snow', 'month'
/t͡s/ cél [t͡seːl] 'goal', 'target'
/d͡z/ edző [ɛd͡zːøː] 'coach'
/t͡ʃ/ csak [t͡ʃɒk] 'only'
/d͡ʒ/ dzsessz [d͡ʒɛss] 'jazz'
/l/ ló [loː] 'horse'
/c͡ç/ tyúk [c͡çuːk] 'hen'
/ɟ͡ʝ/ gyár [ɟ͡ʝaːr] 'factory'
/r/ ró [roː] 'carve'
/m/ ma [mɒ] 'today'
/n/ nem [nɛm] 'no', 'gender'
/ɲ/ nyár [ɲaːr] 'summer'

Although not part of standard pronunciation, older speakers from certain rural (Palóc) communities in Hungary, including those of Alföld, Northeast Hungarian (especially from Nógrád megye), Székely, and Jászberény tend to speak with slight to heavy retroflexion of /t/ and /d/. Because this feature is stigmatized, younger people in these areas tend to have more alveolar articulations.


The vowel phonemes of Hungarian. From Szende (1994:92)

Hungarian has seven pairs of corresponding short and long vowels. Their phonetic value does not match exactly, especially in the /ɛ//eː/ and /ɒ//aː/ pairs. For the other pairs, the short vowels are slightly lower and more central, and the long vowels more peripheral.

Although not found in Budapest, about half of all Hungarian speakers distinguish phonemic "ë" /e/ from /ɛ/ and /eː/. An example is orthographic mentek, which in 'Regional Standard' represents four contrasting words: mëntëk [mentek] ('you all go'), mëntek [mentɛk] ('they went'), mentëk [mɛntek] ('I save'), and mentek [mɛntɛk] ('they are exempt'). In Budapest, the first three collapse to [mɛntɛk], while the latter one is unknown, having a different form in the literary language (mentesek).

Phoneme Example
/ɒ/ hat [hɒt] 'six'
/aː/ vár [vaːr] 'castle'
/o/ ok [ok] 'cause'
/oː/ tó [toː] 'lake'
/u/ ujj [u] 'finger'
/uː/ út [uːt] 'road'
/ɛ/ ez [ɛz] 'this'
/eː/ él [eːl] 'live'
/i/ visz [vis] 'carry'
/iː/ víz [viːz] 'water'
/ø/ öl [øl] 'kill'
/øː/ lő [løː] 'shoot'
/y/ üt [yt] 'hit'
/yː/ tűz [tyːz] 'fire'

Phonological processes


Vowel harmony

As in Finnish and Turkish, vowel harmony plays an important part in determining the distribution of vowels in a word. The primary division is between front and back vowels.

The following vowels are considered front vowels:

e [ɛ]
é [eː]
i [i]
í [iː]
ö [ø]
ő [øː]
ü [y]
ű [yː]

The following vowels are considered back vowels:

a [ɒ]
á [aː]
o [o]
ó [oː]
u [u]
ú [uː]

For the most part, words contain vowels primarily of one of the two types. Mixed category words are uncommon, but do exist, even in native words (e.g. "derekas"). Most mixed words are of foreign origin (e.g. "telefon") or are compound words (e.g. "pénz|tárca" [purse]). For purposes of determining the class of suffix to use (suffixes usually have two forms, one for each of the classes of vowels) compound words take the suffix corresponding to the vowel-class of the last unit of the compound, and loanwords use the vowel-class of the last vowel.

/i/, /eː/ and sometimes /e/, while being nominally "front" vowels, are "transparent"; i.e. if they are preceded by back vowels, the word is considered a back-vowel word.

A few words which contain /i/, /iː/ and, rarely, /eː/ are counted as back-vowel words because in Old Hungarian, the words contained the /ɨ/ phoneme in their place. This sound is the same as Polish y, Russian yery, Romanian â and î, and bears some resemblance to the sound of the "e" in "roses" in some dialects of English (in those dialects where "Rosa's" and "roses" don't sound alike). In today spoken Hungarian dialects, this vowel has merged with /i/, /iː/, and, rarely, /eː/ or even /u/.

Additionally, there is another set of criteria based on vowel roundedness for mid-high front vowels.

Most of Hungarian's multitude of suffixes have multiple forms for use depending on the vowel class predominating in the stem.

Most types are:

alternating vowels example back stems front non-rounded stems front rounded stems
/a/, /e/ -ban, -ben "in ..." házban "in a house" kézben "in hand" könyvben "in a book"
/aː/, /eː/ -ság, -ség "-ity, -ness, a collection of ..." okosság "cleverness" vétség "fault" ökörség "ox-like-ness = stupidity"
/o/, /e/, /ø/ -on, -en, -ön "on ..." házon "on (the top of) a house" kézen "on hand" könyvön "on a book"
/oː/, /øː/ -ó, -ő "-ing" váró "(sy) waiting" néző "(sy) looking" lövő "(sy) shooting"
/u/, /y/ -unk, -ünk "plural 1st person present suffix" várunk "we're waiting" nézünk "we're looking" lövünk "we're shooting"
/uː/, /yː/ -ú, -ű "something having ..." ötágú "five-pointed (star)" szépszemű "having nice eyes" gyönyörű "beautiful"

As can be seen, the phoneme /e/ is found both in the low vowel series (/a/ - /e/), and in the mid vowel series (/o/ - /e/ - /ö/). This odd feature is solved in the old language and in dialects: there was/is an eighth short phoneme /ë/, which is just like the /e/ but it is mid, and its pronunciation is [e], in contrast with /e/ being [ɛ]. In dialects, this phoneme is found in the mid series, and the low /e/ in the low series.

The requirement of vowel harmony means that suffixes must always be of the same sound order as the word it is attached to, so a word of high order gets high suffixes (szekrénybe), and a word of deep order gets deep suffixes (házba). Therefore, suffixes containing vowels have two or three variants, one or two with a high vowel and one with a deep vowel (in: -ban, or -ben; on: -en, -ön, or -on).

Words of composite order generally get deep-ordered suffixes (békával), except some unused archaisms and some loanwords from foreign languages (farmerben = farmerban), or old but frequently used words containing neutral vowels (i,í and sometimes é) (hídon, hídra; derék ~ derekam). So for example the word kartonpapír, a compound word (karton|papír) with a composite-ordered last component (papír), gets deep suffixes (kartonpapírral, kartonpapírhoz, etc.), even though its last vowel is high.

Many suffixes have only one form. These are usually new-born suffixes (-kor "at the time of ...": hatkor "at 6 o'clock", hétkor "at 7 o'clock", ötkor "at 5 o'clock"), or they contain /i/ or /eː/ (-i "universal noun → adjective suffix": budai "somebody from Buda", pesti "somebody from Pest"; -ért "for ...": aranyért "for gold", ezüstért "for silver").


The overall charateristics of the consonant assimilation in Hungarian are the following:

  • Assimilation types are typically regressive, that is the last element of the cluster determines the change.
  • In most cases, it works across word boundaries if the sequence of words form an “accentual unity”, that is there is no phonetic break between them (and they bear a common phase stress). Typical accentual unities are :
    • attributes and qualified nouns, e.g. hideg tél [hidɛk‿teːl] 'cold winter';
    • adverbs and qualified attributes, e.g. nagyon káros [nɒɟoŋ‿kaːroʃ] ~ [nɒɟon‿kaːroʃ] 'very harmful';
    • verbs and their complements, e.g. nagyot dob [nɒɟod‿dob] 's/he throws long toss', vesz belőle [vɛz‿beløːle] 'take some (of it)'.
  • There are obligatory, optional and stigmatized types of assimilation.
  • Palatal affricates gy and ty behave like stops in assimilation processes. Therefore they will be treated as stops in this section, including IPA notations [ɟ] and [c].

Voice assimilation

In a cluster of consonants ending in an obstruent, all obstruents change their voicing according to the last one of the sequence. The affected obstruents are the following:

Voiced Voiceless Undergoes devoicing Undergoes voicing Causes voicing Causes devoicing
b [b] p [p] dobtam [doptɒm] 'I threw (it)' 'képzés [keːbzeːʃ] 'training, forming' futball [fudbɒlː] 'soccer' központ [køspont] 'center'
d [d] t [t] adhat [ɒthɒt] 's/he can give' tből [heːdbøːl] 'from 7' csapda [tʃɒbdɒ] pénztár [peːnstaːr] 'cash desk'
dz [dz] c [ts] edzhet [ɛtshɛt] 's/he can train' ketrecben [kɛtrɛdzbɛn] 'in (a) cage' alapdzadzíki [ɒlɒbdzɒdziːki] 'standard tzatziki' abcúg! [ɒptsuːɡ] 'down with him!'
dzs [dʒ] cs [tʃ] bridzstől [britʃtøːl] '(because) of bridge <game of cards>' ácsból [aːdʒboːl] 'from (a) carpenter' barackdzsem [bɒrɒdzɡdʒɛm] ~ [bɒrɒdʒːɛm] 'apricot jam' távcső [taftʃøː] 'telescope'
g [ɡ] k [k] fogtam [foktɒm] 'I held (it)' zsákból [ʒaːkboːl] 'out of (a) bag' állítgat [aːlːiːdɡɒt] 's/he constantly adjusts' zsebkendő [ʒɛpkɛndøː] 'handkerchief'
gy [ɟ] ty [c] ágytól [aːɟtoːl] 'from (a) bed' pintyből [piɲɟbøːl] 'fom (a) finch' gépgyár [ɡeːbɟaːr] 'machine factory' lábtyű [laːpcyː] 'socks with sleeves for the toes'
v [v] f [f] szívtam [siːftɒm] 'I smoked/sucked (it)' széfben [seːvbɛn] 'in (a) safe' lábfej [laːpfɛj] 'part of the foot below the ankle'
z [z] sz [s] ztől [meːstøːl] 'from honey' szből [meːzbøːl] 'out of lime' alapzat [ɒlɒpzɒt] 'base(ment)' rabszolga [rɒpsolɡɒ] 'slave'
zs [ʒ] s [ʃ] zstól [ruːʃtoːl] 'from lipstick' 'hasba [hɒʒbɒ] 'in(to) (the) stomach' köldökzsinór [køldøɡʒinoːr] 'umbilical cord' különbség [kylømpʃeːɡ] ~ [kylømʃeːɡ] 'difference'
h [h] adhat [ɒt.hɒt] 's/he can give'


  • Voice assimilation has precedence over other types of assimilation, e.g. egység 'unity': *[ɛɟ-ʃeːɡ] → voice assimilation: *[ɛc-ʃeːɡ] → sibilant assimilation: [ɛtʃːeːɡ]; nemzetgyűlés 'national assembly': *[nɛmzɛt-ɟyːleːʃ] → voice assimilation: *[nɛmzɛd-ɟyːleːʃ] →palatal assimilation: [nɛmzɛɟːyːleːʃ]
  • In standard Hungarian, obstruent [v] doesn′t cause voicing, e.g. hatvan [hɒtvɒn] '60'. – Voicing before [v] occurs only in the south-western dialect and it is considered as a funny provincial feature.
  • /h/ never undergoes voicing in consonant clusters, it remains unchanged, e.g. dohból [doxboːl] 'from (the) musty smell'.
  • Only a very few foreign morphemes start with phoneme /dz/ in Hungarian (even its phonemic state is highly debated), therefore it is hard to find a real example when it induces voicing (even alapdzadzíki is forced and not used colloquially). However, the regressive voice assimilation before [dz] does occur even in nonsense sound sequences.
  • In Hungarian there is no devoicing before phonetic breaks (at the end of the words), e.g. dob [dob] 's/he throws; drum'

Nasal place assimilation

  • Alveolar n /n/ changes into a homorganic nasal when followed by another consonant, that is:
    • [m] before labials b, p, m: különb [kylømb] 'better (than)', színpad [siːmpɒd] 'stage (in theatre)', énmagam [eːmːɒɡɒm] 'myself';
    • [ɲ] before palatals gy, ny, ty: ángy [aːɲɟ] 'wife of a close male relative', magánnyomozó [mɒɡaːɲːomozoː] 'private detective', pinty [piɲc] 'finch';
    • allophone [ŋ] before velar k, g: munka [muŋkɒ] 'work', angol [ɒŋɡol] 'English; English(wo)man'
    • allophone [ɱ] before labiodental f, v: különféle [kyløɱfeːlɛ] 'various', szenved [sɛɱvɛd] 's/he suffers'.
  • Labial m /m/ changes into allophone [ɱ] before labiodental f, v: mfa [ʃaːɱfɒ] 'shoe-tree'; hamvas [hɒɱvɒʃ] 'bloomy'.
  • Nasal place assimilation is obligatory within the word, but optional across a word or compound boundary, e.g. szénpor [seːmpor] ~ [seːnpor] 'coal-dust', nagyon káros [nɒɟoŋ‿kaːroʃ] ~ [nɒɟon‿kaːroʃ] 'very harmful', olyan más [ojɒm‿maːʃ] ~ [ojɒn‿maːʃ] 'so different'.

Sibilant assimilation

  • Voiceless sibilants form a voiceless geminate affricate with preceding alveolar and palatal stops (d [d], gy [ɟ], t [t], ty [c]):
    • Clusters ending in sz [s] or c [ts] give [tsː]: metszet [mɛtsːɛt] 'engraving, segment', ötödször [øtøtsːør] 'for the fifth time', gyszer [neːtsːɛr] 'four times', ttyszó [fytsːoː] 'whistle (as a signal)'; átcipel [aːtsːipɛl] 's/he lugs (something) over', dcukor [naːtsːukor] 'cane-sugar'.
    • Clusters ending in s [ʃ] or cs [tʃ] give [tʃː]: tség [keːtʃeːɡ] 'doubt', fáradság [faːrɒtʃːsaːɡ] 'trouble', egység [ɛtʃːeːɡ] 'unity', hegycsúcs [hɛtʃːuːtʃ] 'mountain-top'.
  • Two sibilant fricatives form a geminate sibilant fricative; the assimilation is regressive as usual:
    • sz [s] or z [z] + s [ʃ] gives [ʃː]: egészség [eɡeːʃːeːɡ] 'health', zség [køʃːeːɡ] 'village, community';
    • sz [s] or z [z] + zs [ʒ] gives [ʒː]: vadászzsákmány [vɒdaːʒːaːkmaːɲ] 'hunter′s game'; száraz zsömle [saːrɒʒ‿ʒømlɛ] 'dry bread roll';
    • s [ʃ] or zs [ʒ] + sz [s] gives [sː]: kisszerű [kisːeryː] 'petty', rozsszalma [rosːɒlmɒ] 'rye straw';
    • s [ʃ] or zs [ʒ] + z [z] gives [zː]: tilos zóna [tiloz‿zoːnɒ] 'restricted zone', parázs zene [pɒraːz‿zɛnɛ] 'hot music'.
    • Clusters zs+s [ʃː], s+zs [ʒː], z+sz [sː] and sz+z [zː] are rather the subject of the voice assimilation.
  • If one of the two adjacent sibilants is an affricate, the first one changes its place of articulation, e.g. malacság [mɒlɒtʃːaːɡ], halászcsárda [hɒlaːʃtʃaːrda] 'Hungarian fish restaurant'. Sibilant affricate-fricative sequences like /tʃʃ/ are pronounced the same as geminate affricate [tʃː] during normal speech.
  • Sibilant assimilation can be omitted in articulated speech, e.g. to avoid homophony: rozsszalma [rosːɒlmɒ] ~ [roʃsɒlmɒ] 'rye straw' ≠ rossz szalma [ros‿sɒlmɒ] 'straw of bad quality', and rossz alma [rosː‿ɒlmɒ] 'apple of bad quality' as well.
  • NB. Letter cluster szs can be read either as sz+s [ʃː], e.g. egészség [eɡeː ʃːeːɡ] 'health', or as s+zs [ʒː], e.g. liszteszsák [listɛʒːaːk] 'bolting-bag' depending on the actual morpheme boundary. Similarly zsz is either zs + z [zː], e.g. varázszár [vɒrazːaːr] 'magic lock', or z + sz [sː], e.g. házszám [haːsːaːm] 'street-number'; and csz: cs + z [dʒz] ~ c + sz [tss]. Moreover, single digraphs may prove to be two adjacent letters on morpheme boundary, like cs: cs [tʃ] ~ c + s [tʃʃ]; sz: sz [s] ~ s + z [zː], zs: zs [ʒ] ~ z + s [ʃː].

Palatal assimilation

Combination of a "palatalizable" consonant and a following palatal consonant results in a palatal geminate. Palatalizable consonants are palatal ones and their non-palatal counterparts: gy [ɟ] ~ d [d], l [l] ~ j [j], n [n] ~ ny [ɲ], ty [c] ~ t [t].

  • Full palatal assimilation occurs when the ending palatal consonant is j [j]: nagyja [nɒɟːɒ] 'most of it', adja [ɒɟːɒ] 's/he gives it'; tolja [tojːɒ] 's/he pushes it'; unja [uɲːɒ] 's/he is bored with it', nja [haːɲːɒ] 's/he throws it'; tja [laːcːɒ] 's/he sees it', atyja [ɒcːɒ] 'his/her father'. — Cluster lyj [jː] is a simple orthographic variant of jj [jː]: folyjon [fojːon] 'let it flow'.
  • Partial assimilation takes place if an alveolar stop (d, t) is followed by palatal is gy [ɟ], ty [c]: hadgyakorlat [hɒɟːɒkorlɒt] 'army exercices', nemzetgyűlés [nɛmzɛɟːyːleːʃ] 'national assembly'; vadtyúk [vɒcːuːk] 'wild chicken', hat tyúk [hɒc‿cuːk] 'six hens'.
  • Some sources[6] report that alveolars stops change into their palatal counterparts before ny [ɲ]: dnyak [luːɟɲɒk] 'neck of a goose', átnyúlik [aːcɲuːlik] 'it extends over'. The majority of the sources doesn't mention this kind of assimilation. Maybe just palatalized allophones [dʲ], [tʲ] are pronounced in this position.
  • When the first consonant is nasal, the partial palatal assimilation is a form of the nasal place assimilation (see above).
  • The full palatal assimilation is an obligatory feature in the standard Hungarian: its omission is stigmatized and it is considered as a hypercorrection of an undereducated person. Partial palatal assimilation is optional in articulated speech.


Long consonants become short when preceded or followed by another consonant, e.g. folttal [foltɒl] 'by/with (a) patch', varrtam [vɒrtɒm] 'I sewed'.

Intercluster elision

The middle alveolar stops may be omitted in clusters with more than two consonants, depending on speed and articulation of speech: azt hiszem [ɒs‿hisɛm] ~ [ɒst‿hisɛm] 'I presume/guess', mindnyájan [miɲːaːjɒn] 'one and all', különbség [kylømpʃeːɡ] ~ [kylømʃeːɡ] 'difference'. In morpheme onsets like str- [ʃtr], middle stops tends to be more stable in educated speech, falanxstratégia [fɒlɒnʃtrɒteːɡiɒ] ~ [fɒlɒŋkʃtrɒteːɡiɒ] ~ [fɒlɒŋksʃtrɒteːɡiɒ] 'strategy based on phalanxes'.

Elision of [l]

Sound [l] tends to be omitted between a preceding vowel and an adjacent stop or affricate in the common speech, causing the lengthening of the vowel (or diphtongization in dialects), e.g. volt *[voːt] ‘was', polgár *[poːɡaːr] ‘citizen, civilian'. Despite the fact that it is a very old and constant tendency in spoken Hungarian, language standard never allowed it. Therefore, this drop-out is avoided in educated speech.


Standard Hungarian allows (prefers) hiatus between adjacent vowels. However some optional dissolving features can be observed:

  • An optional weak glide [j] may be pronounced within a word (or a compound element) between two adjacent vowels if one of them is i [i], e.g. fiaiéi [fiɒieːi] ~ [fijɒjijeːji] 'the ones of his/her sons'.
  • Other usage of this glide is considered as highly stigmatizing.
  • Adjacent identical short vowels other than a and e may be pronounced as the corresponding long vowel, e.g. vákuum [vaːkuum] ~ [vaːkuːm] ‘vacuum', zoológia [zooloːɡiɒ] ~ [zoːloːɡiɒ] 'zoology'.
  • Two adjacent i′s are always pronounced as single short [i] in the word endings, e.g. Hawaii [hɒvɒi]. This reduction is reflected in the current orthography when the adjective-forming suffix -i is added to a noun ending in i. In this case suffix -i is omitted also in writing. e.g. Lenti ‘a small town in SW Hungary' + -ilenti 'of Lenti'.

See also


  1. ^ a b Szende (1994:91)
  2. ^ Szende (1994:93)
  3. ^ Szende (1994:92)
  4. ^ Miklós Törkenczy: Practical Hungarian Grammar. A compact guide to the basics of Hungarian Grammar. Corvina, 2002. pp. 9-12. ISBN 963 13 5131 9
  5. ^ A magyar helyesírás szabályai. 11.kiadás, 12. lenyomat. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1984-2000. pp. 26-30. ISBN 963 05 7735 6
  6. ^ [1]

External links


  • Szende, Tamás (1994), "Illustrations of the IPA:Hungarian", Journal of the International Phonetic Alphabet 24 (2): 91–94, doi:10.1017/S0025100300005090  


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