Navigating the Hungarian language can be a challenge even for a native speaker of the language. To ensure that you don’t end up in any uncomfortable situations or give a bad first impression, here is a quick and easy guide to writing emails and letters in Hungarian.
(Note: at the bottom of this article, there are examples of letters and emails written in Hungarian.)
It all depends on your relationship with the person you are writing to. While in the English language the formality of a tone depends on the overall context and not so much on the words themselves, in Hungarian things are a bit more complicated.
If you are writing a formal letter to somebody, say a colleague or an official, you must use the word «Tisztelt» («Dear») at the beginning of your letter.
In some cases «Kedves» («Dear») will also do the trick, as «Kedves» can be both formal or informal. If using it formally though, always write the surname and given name of the person you are addressing. When writing an official letter, your best bet is to stick with «Tisztelt».
While these words can both be used, when addressing the person, you should always use «Ön», the honorific form of «Te» («you»).
When addressing someone in a formal letter, it is most polite to address them by their family name and then their gendered title («Tisztelt Kovács Úr!» – «Dear Mr Kovács!»).
If you’re writing a message to somebody you don’t know, it's best if you use the Hungarian equivalents of the English «To Whom It May Concern.» These are the following: «Tisztelt Hölgyem/Uram!» («Dear Mr/Ms!»), without adding any name.
If you’re writing to a friend or anybody you already know informally, you can use «Kedves» and then add the person’s first name after it.
Even in the context of an email, it's also completely fine if you just write «Szia!» («Hi!»). Also, «Sziasztok!» («Hi Guys!») works if you are addressing multiple people or forwarding your message to a team.
In a very informal setting, and I mean really informal, with a close friend, it's alright to use highly informal greetings as well, such as «Csá!»
In the case of an informal message, you can use the person’s first name after a greeting («Szia Tomi!» – «Hi Tom!»), but you can also just send the greetings without using any name whatsoever.
When you know the person and the message is informal, you’re allowed to use the familiar form («Te», «Tiéd» – «You», «Yours») when addressing them.
Just like with beginnings, endings also depend on whether the letter is formal or informal. In the case of an official letter, a simple goodbye won’t exactly make the cut.
With most official or formal messages, the simplest way to end the letter is to write «Tisztelettel» (the Hungarian equivalent of «Best Regards») at the bottom of your text, followed by your full name (surname and given name are enough).
It's also fine to use «Üdvözlettel» («Goodbye») when ending a letter to someone who is more than a stranger but less than a friend, and who you are using the honorific speaking form with.
While some writing guides will claim that you should add things like «mielőbbi válaszában bízva» («awaiting your response») before «Tisztelettel», never add sentences like this. It comes off as tacky, annoying and can even give the impression of desperation.
Just like any other culture, people want information without having to cut through clutter. So get to the point and don’t add unnecessary junk sentences at the end of your letter. Junk just wastes people’s time.
Because informal messages are, well, informal, there are no rules about how to end a letter to a friend or partner. You don’t even have to end the message. After all, if you’re friends then you probably speak a lot to each other anyway, so it doesn’t make much sense to add an ending all the time.
If you do want to add an ending to an informal message, the best thing is to use «Üdv.» («Bye»). It's the short version of «Üdvözlettel» (Goodbye), which again, like «Kedves», can be both formal and informal.
If the other person addresses you informally, usually you too can address them informally. It's a bit awkward to continue addressing someone in the honorific when they’ve already started addressing you informally, but if there’s a big age gap between you it can still be polite to do this.
There are a bunch of words you can use in Hungarian emails. Just like in any other language, don’t clutter your email with uninformative sentences.
That being said, there are some sentences that are worth adding to an email that can help. «Remélem jól van» («hope you are well») is a polite generic sentence that can help you build a good relationship with a stranger.
When sending an email attachment, you can write «mellékelve küldöm» («I am sending attached») or «csatolva megtalálja» («attached you can find»), followed by information about the files you are sending.
If there’s something important that doesn’t belong to the main message, you can add «Ui:» to the bottom of the email and a short message. It's like «by the way» or «PS» (post scriptum, postscript).
Next up, we’ll take a closer look at how to write specific letters in Hungarian. Of course, most of the rules which apply to English writing also apply in these cases too.
When writing a postcard, it depends on who you’re addressing it to. If the person is a romantic love interest, you could go with a quote from a great Hungarian poet who wrote romantic poems. Endre Ady comes to mind, or Mihály Csokonai-Vitéz.
If you’re writing from a specific Hungarian location, you could go with a Hungarian writer who wrote something specific to that area, like Géza Gárdonyi and Eger. This nice touch is bound to impress.
Or, you could go with something formulaic, explaining how nice your vacation is, using expressions like «remek időnk van» (we’re having nice weather) or «hiányzol» (missing you).
Hungarian has many ways of expressing gratitude. The easiest way to write a thank you card (köszönetkártya) is to focus on who you’re addressing and why.
It doesn’t always have to be very specific. The most general and formulaic way of expressing your gratitude in Hungarian is to just write «köszönet mindenért» (thank you for everything). This works well if you don’t want to get into too many written details.
On the other hand, thank you cards can also be about an occasion too, like after someone has healed from a hospital stay.
Many Hungarians have mixed feelings about thank you cards, so don’t go over the top. Avoid ones that are too tacky and kitschy.
There are a lot of ways you can wish someone a happy birthday. «Boldog születésnapot» (happy birthday), «boldog szülinapot» (happy birthday) work equally well.
«Isten éltessen» (may God give you a long life) is also appropriate, although bear in mind that not everyone is religious in Hungary.
Besides this, adding a short poem to your birthday card, especially from a talented, well-known Hungarian poet, is also a great touch that will surely give a good impression.
Themes or quotes about the length and flow of life are easy to find in Hungarian also. It shouldn’t be too hard to find something that fits right in with the birthday theme.
Complementing the bride – «a világ legszebb menyasszonyának» (for the most beautiful bride in the whole wide world) is a good idea for such an occasion.
Like with greetings cards in general, more isn’t always better. One of the best things you can write is: «tartsatok ki egymás mellett és szeressétek egymást amíg éltek» (stay together and love each other for as long as you live.»)
A simple, thoughtful yet touching message, which shows that you wish the bride and groom much love and a long, happy marriage.
To help you get a better feel for writing a letter in Hungarian, we’ll show you a short example of a formal letter and an informal letter, along with a translation.
The first one is a letter to a colleague, actually your boss, about a job application. The second is a message to a friend who you’ve met lots of times, detailing your vacation.
Hungarian is widely considered to be one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. But hopefully, by following some of the tips in this article, you’ll be able to write quality letters in Hungarian that actually get the point across. With the right phrases and tone, you’ll make the right impression.