I've been living in Hungary for a year now and I've been slowly learning the language, so naturally a question arouse: are there any homographs in Hungarian? When I'm talking about homograph I mean a word that has the following characteristics (as per many dictionaries https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homograph):

  1. shares the same written form as another word;

  2. has a different meaning;

  3. (and) sounds different.

    I've been looking a lot on the web and I've been asking my Hungarian friends and coworkers and it seems that even the word homograph doesn't really have a meaning for them (at least for the people I've asked), let alone have some homographs in Hungarian.

  • Despite the "close" voters, I think this could be an excellent question if put in a slightly more general form, e.g. "Are there any languages that do not have homographs?"
    – fdb
    Dec 20 '17 at 14:41
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    Maybe: the question is, who re-writes the question? That's not a natural generalization of the actually-asked question, though it might inspire someone to ask a related generalized question. This question incorrectly holds that homographs are pronounced different, not may be.
    – user6726
    Dec 20 '17 at 17:52
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    As @user6726 notes, homographs refer to meaning, not sound. The term you are asking for is "heteronym". Hungarian certainly has many homographs in the sense of lemmata with multiple meanings; but as it's now written in a phonemic system it's not likely to have any heteronyms. Dec 20 '17 at 21:37
  • We can always close, edit and reopen it. @fdb or i can put up the question Dec 21 '17 at 0:18
  • Ok, so should I just close the question here? Or just rewrite it? It is indeed wrongly written in the question that I was looking for hungarian homographs when clearly I meant heteronyms - this is my bad. Also, it could be useful for other people that (like me) try to learn a totally different language and inherently stumble upon these kind of questions so I see the point in extending / generalising the question.
    – thvs86
    Dec 24 '17 at 12:05

The spelling of Hungarian is phonetic, so you won't really find any words spelt identically but pronounced differently.

There is one exception. There are two different e sounds in the language, one more open and one more closed. They are distinguished by a substantial fraction of speakers, but not in the "standard" language. Both are spelt as e. When there is a specific need to distinguish them in writing (e.g. in linguistics texts), the closed one is spelt as ë.

There are many minimal pairs, e.g. mëntëk can mean you (plural) go or I save while mëntek means they went.


To clarify the question: You mean something like "bank" - of a river, a place to store money or "to bank" as a verb. The reason why it is hard to think of a word which fits the description might be because the language is inherently built so that words quickly morph based on context. Which also implies that there is a lot of meaning packed into non-noun words unlike German and English. Germans can combine different nouns like Esstischreparaturausbildungslizenzbehörde (dinner table repair training licence authority) though.

Eszik - [He/She/It] eats.
Ehetetlen - Inedible.
Ehetetlenség - Inedibility (does not exist in English). "The inedibility of wood is rather displeasing."
Ehetetlensége - [His/Her/Its] inedibility.
Ehetetlenségének - For his/her/its inedibility (as of referencing it).

Not that these words make too much sense - however they are grammatically correct and understandable, just as the German example. Another point is that the sound of words is strictly bound to how they are written. The letters reflect exactly how to pronounce them, thus the requirement for 3. should be basically impossible to ever be fulfilled in Hungarian. Some examples:

Bor - Wine (alcoholic beverage).
Bőr - Skin/Leather.
Sor - Line.
Sör - Beer.

Note: I am actually not an alcoholic. The letters are always adjusted to match the different sound of the word with a different meaning, so it's different than English, where you have to know or figure out the pronunciation of words (the can have at least 2 ways to be pronounced based on the word following up on it). And I myself recognized that I would have difficulties to recognize what is meant if somebody mistakes letters like o, ó, ő, ö, even though I speak 3 languages (if you don't count programming languages). So I blatantly assume it may be a rather common issue for people understanding foreigners trying to speak Hungarian who make pronunciation errors. But when reading, it's often rather clear what is meant.

All of this being said, exceptions apply as the comments below pointed out: házszám for example makes it ambiguous how to pronounce it, as it's a compound of two words: ház and szám. Another example is szám - which means both "number" and "my mouth", however the pronunciation is identical. And then there is this not too excessive list of rare exceptions on Wikipedia for homophones.

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    "The letters reflect exactly how to pronounce them"—not entirely. Hungarian digraph letters like "sz" and "zs" can cause ambiguity, because they aren't pronounced the same as the combinations of separate letters that occur in compound words, but they do look the same. The Wikipedia article on the Hungarian alphabet gives "házszám" as an example of a word where you have to know the proper division of the compound (ház + szám) in order to alphabetize the word; you also need to know this to pronounce it correctly. Jul 30 '18 at 10:15
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    I don't know if there are any "homographs" based on this in Hungarian, though (a famous example in German of two compounds that look the same but have different pronunciations is "Wachstube" as Wach.stube vs Wachs.tube). Jul 30 '18 at 10:18
  • I guess you could argue that in Hungarian, a pair of words like this would not really count as "homographs", because the words would be spelled with different sequences of letters from the perspective of Hungarian speakers, who treat "sz" and "zs" as letters of their own—but the different spellings would still look the same. Jul 30 '18 at 10:23
  • I think you're overlooking the case where some surface form clashes with a different form, for example the base form, of another lemma. For one there are overloaded endings like -i and -ik which are both morphological and derivational. Jul 30 '18 at 10:33
  • hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homofón_magyar_szavak_listája is also worth reading, with loans the possibilities are near infinite, I think bután vs bután would qualify. Jul 30 '18 at 10:35

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