Splitting coverbs from verb root
In the main page about
Hungarian verbal prefixes,
we saw that little adverb-like helpers can attach themselves to the front of a verb stem to
modify its meaning or its aspect. They do not alays attach to the front of the verb. In this lessson we will see
when they split from the root and where they go.
A coverb's default position is attached to the front of the verb stem.
This is the case in neutral sentences where nothing in particular needs to be emphasised.
When we need to change the emphasis of a sentence, we
the word order (we change the syntax), and the coverb, usually being the least important part of
the sentence, gets kicked around. Let's look at some different scenarios.
Verb stem emphasis
When the verb's stem is emphasised, the coverb splits and follows the stem.
While the writer is free to make this split for effect at his leisure, but it is not a choice when using the
imperative. Then it is a rule: in the imperative, the coverb must split and follow the stem.
lép ki Ági a kertbe
Ági steps out into the garden (e.g. she doesn't run)
szállok fel a répülőgépre
I board the plane (e.g. I don't paint the plane)
vezetek vissza Londonba
I'm driving back to London (e.g. I'm not walking)
Imperative and subjunctive
Although the imperative and subjunctive.aspx
moods have identical conjugation, their use is different.
Coverbs behave differently with this mood.
Since the command usually gives emphasis to the verb, not its helper,
the coverb splits and follows the verb. For example:
lépj ki a kertbe!
step out into the garden!
szállj fel a répülőgépre
board the plane!
menj vissza Londonba!
go back to London!!
Exceptions to this: if the command is threataning or very demanding,
the prefix stays attached at the front.
The subjunctive as a subordinate clause usually gives
the focus to the main clause. This allows the coverb to usually stay attached.
miért kell, hogy elmenj?
why should you go? why do you have to go?
Also see the "nem/ne" page
for an example of what to do when using
Emphasis not on the verb
Naturally, if the a word other than the verb needs to be emphasised, this comes at the start of the sentence
(see the page on
This means that the sentence's verb is no longer the most important part, and the coverb must get the boot to reflect this.
To stress any other word, the coverb splits and follows the verb
and the word you wish to stress comes at the start of the phrase, before the verb.
Ági lép ki a kertbe
Ági steps out into the garden (e.g. not someone else)
A répülőgépre szállok fel
I board the plane (e.g. not the train)
Londonba vezetek vissza
I'm driving back to London (e.g. not to Atlanta)
Én vezetek vissza Londonba
I am driving back to London (e.g. not Ági)
When the sentence is negated, the 'nem' takes priority,
and the coverb must bow to this by splitting and following.
However we must still follow the general rules of stress, and ensure the stressed
word is followed by the verb as usual.
nem lép ki a kertbe Ági
Ági does not step out into the garden
nem Ági lép ki a kertbe
it is not Ági who steps out into the garden (e.g. it is I)
nem a kertbe lép ki Ági
it is not into the garden that Ági steps (e.g. it's onto the patio)
nem a répülőgépre szállok fel
I do not board the plane (e.g. rather, the train)
nem szállok fel a répülőgépre
I do not board the plane (neutral negative)
nem megyek vissza Londonba
I'm not going back to London
nem Londonba megyek vissza
I'm not going back to London (e.g. rather, Atlanta)
ne menj vissza Londonba! ne menj el!
Don't go back to London! Don't go away!
When a sentece is a question, using an interrogative word, the question word comes first and the
coverb splits and follows the stem. Question words include ki, mi, hol, etc; all their
flexional forms (ki: kit, kinek, kire, kiból; mi: mikor, miért); all their directional forms (hol: hová, honnan), etc.
kik mentek be?
who (pl) went out?
melyik répülőgépre száll fel
which plane does she board?
mit írsz le?
what do you write down?
hová mész el?
where are you going? Whither do you go?
ne menj vissza Londonba! Ne menj el!
Don't go back to London! Don't go away!
Emphasising the coverb
To emphasise the coverb, it splits from the stem but remains in front of the verb.
vissza megyek Londonba
I'm going back to London
he came here (e.g. not there)
she stood to the side (e.g. not in the middle)
When an auxillary verb is in the sentence, the coverb splits from the stem
and sits in front of the auxilliary. N.B. if there is also a question word, the coverb stays attached!
ki fogok lépni a kertbe
I will step out into the garden
fel lehet szállni répülőgépre
it is possible to board the plane
Similar sentences with question word and with/without auxilliary verb:
mikor fogsz hazamenni?
when will you go home? Note how the coverb stays attached.
mikor mész haza?
when do you go home? The rule about question words forces this to detatch.
Answering questions with coverbs
When a neutral question is asked, one that has a coverb and has a yes/no answer,
it is answered in the affirmative by simply repeating the coverb.
Kiszálltam a vonatból? Ki.
Did you alight from the train? Yes.
Bevettem a gyógyszert? Be.
Did you buy the medicine? Yes.
Felírta a számát? Fel.
Did you tot up his bill? Yes.
Megitta a sörömet? Meg.
Did he drink my beer? Yes.
Other handy uses of coverb splitting
Here are two other uses of splitting coverbs.
To show that a verb is done in one way, and then in another, opposite way, you can take two opposite coverbs
and apply both. For example, to show a to/fro motion, an in/out movement, etc.
The two coverbs are both detatched from the verb, preceed it, and are hyphenated.
walking up and down.
travelling there and back. Note, an "oda-vissza" ticket is a return ticket.
pacing up and down, here and there
To show that an action stops and starts frequently, or repeats frequently after pauses, one can double-up the coverb.
The pair are hyphenated but the second remains attached to the verb.
meg-megáll: Az öreg néni lassan ment és közben meg-megállt.
the old lady went slowly and during this she stopped and started
they quarrel, make up, quarrel again, etc.
You may see this feature of grammar in books but it's not colloquial.