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Negatives - nem, ne, sem, se

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There a four basic negatives in Hungarian, all of which correspond to "no" or "not" in English. They're all presented here.

nem - no, not, don't

This is a very easy word to grasp. It serves as both "no" and "not", and as the negative version of the dummy "do" (ie, as "don't").

  • Szereted? Nem. Do you like it? No.
  • nem vagyok itt I am not here
  • nem akarom ezt I don't want it
  • nem tetszik I don't like it [it doesn't please me]

ne - do not

When used in the imperative, nem becomes ne. It means "do not!".

  • ne gyere ide! do not come here!
  • ne haragudj! do not be angry!

When used with hogy, this negates the conjunction and forms nehogy lest. There are two ways to use this, one which splits the verbal prefix and one which does not.

Look at how the coverb detatches when we use hogy-ne, and stays attached when we use nehogy:

  • A öreg férfi vigyázz, nehogy elessen.
  • A öreg férfi vigyázz, hogy el ne essen.
  • The old man takes care, lest he (should) fall.

Can you work out what this means?
Ne ítélkezz! Nehogy téged el fognak ítélni.
Tip: ítélni = to judge

se and sem

When repeated, nem and ne become sem and se respectively. This essentially means they become "nor" or "neither".

  • ha te nem mész, én nem sem megyek if you don't go, neither will I
  • ma ne gyere, és holnap is ne se gyere don't come today, nor nor tomorrow!

Double negatives

Hungarian is one of those funny languages with double negatives. It's one of its few faults.

When the following pronouns are used in a negative sentence, we usually get a double negative. Pronouns in question are:

  • senki nobody
  • semmi nothing
  • sehol (sehová, sehonnan) (to/from) nowhere

When the above negative pronoun comes AFTER the predicate (verb in this context), we have what I call the N-S pattern. That is, we use Nem and then Senki.

Positive statement Negative statement Concrete English translation
látok valakit I see someone nem látok senkit I don't see anyone Lit: I don't see noone
itt van valami something is here itt nincs semmi there is nothing here Lit: here there isn't nothing
a kulcsom itt van my key is here a kulcsom nincs sehol my key is nowhere Lit: my key isn't nowhere
Ági megy valáhová Ági is going somewhere Nem megy sehová Ági is not going anywhere Lit: Ági isn't going nowhere

When one of the above negative pronouns comes BEFORE the predicate, we have what I call the S-S pattern. That is, we use Senkni and then the predicate translates to Sem. This gives a slightly more pessamistic, more concrete result.

Positive statement Negative statement Concrete English translation
valakit látok I see someone senkit sem látok I see noone
itt van valami something is here semmi sincs itt nothing is here
a kulcsom itt van my key is here sehol sincs a kulcsom my is nowhere
valahová megy Ági Ági is going somewhere sehová sem megy Agi Ági is going nowhere

nincs and sincs

Similar to the way that a second nem become a sem, the opposite of van, which is nincs, must also change when it would appear twice. It become sincs.

  • Daniel nincs ott, Ági nincs sincs Daniel is not there, nor is Ági
  • nincs házam, nincs sincs autóm I have no house, nor a car
  • az iskolai barátaim Atlantában nincsenek, nincsenek Sydneyben sincsenek, pedig Angliában vannak. My school friends are not in Atlanta, nor in Sydney, rather in England.

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