written by Josh Pirie
Pronouncing Finnish will certainly not be the hardest part of learning the language. There are some very simple rules that will facilitate the understanding of the phonological system of this language. First, stress in Finnish is completely predictable: you stress the first syllable in every word, regardless of its status either as a native Finnish word or as a foreign borrowing. Second, there exist certain phonotactic constraints in Finnish: there can never be more than one word-initial or word-final consonant. The word Franska, then, would have to undergo a change because the cluster Fr- is not allowed. Consequently, the language spoken in France is referred to as ranska in Finnish. Word-medially, though, as many as three consonants are allowed, provided that the first one is a sonorant, i.e. a consonant that can only be voiced, such as /l/ or /r/ or /m/ or /n/. Finally, remember to pronounce everything you see, including double consonants or vowels. Doubling is phonemic in Finnish, unlike English. This means that where we see two p's in English approach, only one is pronounced. In Finnish, if there are two of any letters, they must be pronounced double, or the speaker runs the risk of not being understood. For example, Finnish kuusi ("six") has a radically different meaning from Finnish kusi ("urine"); Finnish tapan ("I kill") similarly has a different meaning from Finnish tapaan ("I meet").
Finnish Vowel Orthography English (or Other) Equivalent
a "uh" as in the name "Dullah"
aa "ah" as in "father"
ä similar to "a" as in "hat" (consider German ä)
ää similar to "bad" but without the glide
e "eh" as in "met"
ee longer "eh", no real English equivalent
i "ih" as in "sit"
ii long "ee" as in "read"
o "aw" (but without the drawl) as in "cot"
oo like British "sort"
ö like British "erm" (consider German ö)
öö like British "further"
u halfway between the sound in "foot" and "boot"
uu like "shoot" but further back in the mouth
y similar to French u or German ü
yy longer version of y, somewhat like Scottish "stew"
ai "eye" as in English "line"
äi "eh-y" as in Australian "say"
ei "eh-ee" as in "day" but with both vowels full
oi "oy" as in "toy" but with both vowels full
öi like Bronx "heard"
ui like "ooh-ee" but far back in the mouth
yi consider Chinese /üi/
au "ow" as in "sour"
ou "oh" as in "owe"
eu "eh-oo" but without glides
iu "ee-oo" but without glides, similar to Portuguese
äy no English equivalent (ä+y)
öy similar to British "oh"
to Spanish "sierra"
uo "oo-oh" but without glides
yö no English equivalent (ö+y)
Finnish consonants are very similar to their English counterparts. (Notable in Finnish is the lack of certain consonants, such as c, q, f, w, x and z.) Exceptions are as follows:
Finnish Consonant Orthography English Equivalent
j "y" as in "yes"
h always pronounced, even before consonants
r trilled, as in Spanish or Italian
nk /ŋk/ as in "bank" (not as in "non-king")
s always hard, as in "sod" (not as in "rose");
however, it is palatalized more than in English
(primarily due to the lack of /z/ and /s/ and /z/). So
technically it's halfway between "sod" and "shod".
Finnish has vowel harmony, which means that roots that contain front vowels will couple with endings that too have front vowels. Finnish has eight pure vowels: three front (ä, ö and y), three back (a, o and u) and two "neutral": e and i. This means that if a word such as loma- can only take one of -llä or -lla as an ending, it must take -lla (back vowel harmony). This yields lomalla ("on leave"). Within a root, only the neutral vowels can coexist with both front and back vowels. Exceptions to this are compound words such as äänihuulet ("vocal cords").
Plosives (stops) in Finnish undergo a process called gradation. Whereas some forms will naturally exist in "strong" grade, double consonants will appear, such as pp or kk. Some forms within the inflection, however, will require a "weaker" grade, in which case the doubling is removed, or a sonorant is inserted. Consider the following:
Strong Grade Weak Grade
pp p as in tappaa > tapan
kk k as in kakku > kakun
tt t as in tyttö > tytön
k - or j as in arka > aran
p v (in the absence of b) as in saapua > saavun
t d as in katu > kadun
nk ng as in Helsinki > Helsingin
mp mm as in vanhempi > vanhemman
nt nn as in antaa > annan
lt ll as in kulta > kullan
rt rr as in ymmärtää > ymmärrän
Hi! Hei! (Hei hei!)
Good morning. Hyvää huomenta.
Good day. Hyvää päivää.
Good evening. Hyvää iltaa.
Good night. Hyvää yötä.
How are you? Mitä kuuluu?
-Fine, thanks. -Kiitos hyvää.
Thanks a lot. Paljon kiitoksia.
Pleased to meet you. Hauska tavata.
I'm sorry. Valitan.
How's your family? Mitä perheellesi kuuluu? (informal)
Mitä perheellenne kuuluu? (formal)
Merry Christmas! Hauskaa joulua!
Happy New Year! Iloista uutta vuotta!
I love you. Minä rakastan sinua.
Goodbye (when said in person). Näkemiin.
Goodbye (when said on the phone). Kuulemiin.
I don't speak Finnish well. Minä en osaa suomea hyvin.
Do you speak English? Puhutteko Te englantia?
I don't understand. Minä en ymmärrä.
See ya! Moi! (Moi moi!)
Finnish Basics: An Introduction
Finnish is a language that has no grammatical gender. Therefore, there is no need to worry about whether nouns are masculine or feminine or neuter; they are all neuter. Even the personal subject pronouns hän ("he"/"she") and he ("they" masculine & feminine) are without gender, despite the existence of se ("it", colloquial "he" and "she") and ne ("they" neuter). This means that when students learn that there are fifteen cases in Finnish, they don't have to be as worried as they might think. (In Hungarian, there are 22!) The endings are placed on singular and plural stems, so there are no fused endings; the Finnish taloissa ("in the houses") is comprised of talo ("house") + i (plural marker) + ssa (inessive ending, meaning "in"). The singular would be simply talossa ("in the house").
The above examples should also illustrate that there is no definite or indefinite article in Finnish. The notions of count and mass are grammaticalized in other ways, as will be seen in due time.
The challenge, then, is to master the principal parts of the twenty-two different nominal types (we'll use the word "nominal" to mean nouns and adjectives) and those of the eleven different verbal types. Once those are committed to memory, then it becomes easier to predict how nominals found in the dictionary will be inflected. This will hold true for verbs as well.
What exactly is inflection? It simply means that where English uses a complex array of modal and verbal operators, prepositions and adverbials to show the relationships between the grammatical constituents in a sentence, Finnish can express the same relationships with suffixes, as seen in the example above. Finnish is an agglutinating language, like its closest relatives, Hungarian and Estonian. However, because of the relatively small number of its speakers around the world, Finnish has not developed the myriads of exceptions and irregularities commonly found in more widely-spoken languages. So in the end, the student of Finnish won't necessarily be overwhelmed by the different endings (there really are only fifteen or so, as opposed to the over sixty that are found in Russian thanks to the various consonantal-palatalized and non-palatalized-and vocalic endings, in six cases and three genders).
Verbs inflect according to person and number, much like prototypical Indo-European languages. Endings will come later. The personal pronouns are as follows:
minä, often pronounced mä in spoken Finnish ("I")
sinä, often pronounced sä in spoken Finnish ("you" singular informal)
se ("it", colloquial "he"/"she")
te ("you" plural; capitalized, "you" singular formal, somewhat similar to French)
he ("they" masculine and feminine)
ne ("they" formally neuter only, colloquially for all sexes)
Cases: an Introduction
The cases will be expanded on later in the tutorial. It is important to introduce them, however, before going into the forms of the principal parts mostly because the principal parts are made up of some of the cases. The word "case" is the word we use to signify a specific ending and its form/use. Unlike Russian, where cases are few but each carries a large number of grammatical functions, Finnish cases are quite light; they each carry no more than two or three functions, often no more than one.
The cases are divided into the four syntactic cases, which make up the principal parts of nominals, and eleven semantic cases, three of which have become quite obsolete and are no longer productively used. The four syntactic cases are the nominative, accusative, genitive and partitive. The nominative case is the dictionary case: when you look up words in the dictionary, you will find these. This is the "default" case, but the stem is not predictable from the nominative form. The stem is taken from the genitive form. The genitive case is used mostly for possession and it always ends in -n; like English but unlike Latin, the possessive form comes before the possessed noun in Finnish. (I bring up Latin because it too has a genitive, which also yields stems onto which case endings are placed in the oblique cases.) The partitive is the case that is used almost as commonly as the nominative in Finnish; it carries the meaning of partial, or mass, whereas the nominative carries the meaning of the entirety. In English, we grammaticalize this with the use of definite and indefinite articles. The accusative is almost a non-case in Finnish, as it carries the same form as either the nominative or the genitive, depending on the sentence type. When we need to determine the declensions of nominals, we look to the nominative singular to give us the dictionary form, the genitive singular to give us the singular stem, the partitive singular (which will always end in -a/-ä or -ta/-tä, but is otherwise unpredictable), and the partitive plural, which yields the plural stem. The plural stem, incidentally, will always carry an -i- or a -j-.
The semantic cases are grouped into different subsections: the internal locative cases, which show location in, into and from within, and the external locative cases, which show location on, onto and from on top of. There is also a translative case and an essive case, which are called role cases. The three obsolete cases are the abessive, instructive and comitative. The functions of these will come later.
Nominals: Principal Parts
The following are notes on each of the nominal types in Finnish. Remember that the principal parts are as follows: nominative singular, genitive singular, partitive singular, partitive plural.
Type 1 (N1): kirkko, kirkon, kirkkoa, kirkkoja ("church")
This basic nominal type is characterized by the low vowel endings: back -o, and -u, front -ö and -y. Note the weak gradation in the genitive. This means that if case endings are added to the stem kirko- (genitive form minus the -n) there will always be weak grade. There is an exception: the illative case always has strong grade. This is why we see kirkosta ("from within the church"), but kirkkoon ("into the church"). Again, specific endings will be discussed later. Strong gradation is reinserted for the partitive singular and plural, but wherever there is weak grade for the singular (as in kirkosta), weak grade will be reinserted in the plural: kirkoista ("from within the churches"); strong grade will be reinserted, again, in the illative plural: kirkkoihin ("into the churches"). Notice how the -j- from the partitive plural form becomes -i- before a consonantal ending: -j- between vowels will always become -i- before a consonant.
Type 2 (N2): lapsi, lapsen, lasta, lapsia ("child")
This nominal type exemplifies native Finnish roots with an ending in -i, which changes to -e- in the genitive. This particular word undergoes some other changes too, though. They are perfectly predictable and logical. The loss of p in the partitive form is simply a result of the partitive ending -ta being added to a consonantal stem. The form should be lapsta, but remember, Finnish phonotactic constraints dictate that there shall not be three consonants in a cluster unless the first one is a sonorant (i.e. voiced consonantal non-obstruent n, l, r or m). The sound /p/ is not a sonorant. It is an obstruent (a plosive, more specifically). It is subsequently dropped, but reinserted in the plural. There are a few such curious N2s in Finnish, such as the adjective uusi ("new"), whose principal parts are uusi, uuden, uutta, uusia. Historically, the s was a t, and so the principal parts were originally uuti, uuden (regular weak grade), uutta (regular strong grade with the -ta ending added to a consonantal stem), uutia. The t > s is simply a result of palatalization, which is the same process which yields the "sh" pronunciation in station in English. The high front /i/ triggers palatalization in many languages.
Type 3 (N3): lääkäri, lääkärin, lääkäriä, lääkäreitä ("doctor")
Words that enter Finnish from abroad (such as taksi, posti, etc) are instantly entered into this very productive nominal type. (The easiest way to make a non-Finnish word ending in a consonant into a Finnish word is to simply add -i to the end of it.) Some partitive plurals do not use the consonantal -ta/-tä ending; instead, the vocalic -a/-ä will be used, as in siisti, siistin, siistiä, siistejä ("tidy", "neat").
Type 4 (N4): hyvä, hyvän, hyvää, hyviä ("good")
This type is very similar to N5 in that they both end in -a/-ä. N4 nominals end in the front vowel (ä) variant, whereas N5 nominals end in the back (a) variant. Note, as always, the partitive ending -ä added to a vocalic stem.
Type 5a (N5a): tupa, tuvan, tupaa, tupia ("cabin")
Type 5b (N5b): kala, kalan, kalaa, kaloja ("fish")
N5a shows us something called the "Dog and Cabin" rule. It simply states that two-syllable words such as tupa ("cabin") or koira ("dog") with the low vowels o or u in their stems do not add the o in the partitive plural. The Dog and Cabin rule also governs N4 (front vowel) nominals.
Type 6 (N6): voi, voin, voita, voita ("butter")
This type features nominals that end in two vowels or a diphthong (other than the combinations -ie, -yö or -uo). Where the vowels are the same, as in maa, maan, maata, maita ("land") the plural stem comes after only a single vowel, otherwise we'd violate a phonotactic contraint: three vowels cannot coexist in Finnish. The partitive plural *maaita is not correct. This rule also explains why the consonantal partitive -ta/-tä is added to a vocalic stem.
Type 7 (N7): työ, työn, työtä, töitä ("job")
N7 is made up of nominals that end exclusively in diphthongs. Historically, these nominals were of type 6, and ended in -oo, -öö and -ee, which have since been replaced by -uo, -yö and -ie respectively. The first vowel drops in the partitive plural to allow for the maximum 2-vowel rule in Finnish.
Type 8 (N8): tarve, tarpeen, tarvetta, tarpeita ("need")
This nominal type is easier to see in its historical context, when there was a consonant at the end of the nominative singular. In the genitive, -en was added to that consonant stem, and in the partitive, -ta was added to that stem, yielding a double tt. Since the consonant t disappeared, tarvet became tarve; tarpeten became tarpeen; tarvetta remained, as did tarpeita.
Type 9 (N9): rikas, rikkaan, rikasta, rikkaita ("rich")
Type 10 (N10): allas, altaan, allaita, altaita ("pool")
These two types are almost identical. The only difference is in the partitive singular, where N10 merges with N9 in the plural stem. In both, historically there was an -h- separating the two vowels in the genitive; in fact, some dialects still refer to the genitive of rikas as rikkahan.
Type 11 (N11): mahdollisuus, mahdollisuuden, mahdollisuutta, mahdollisuuksia
This complex nominal type is characterized by the endings -us or -ys (which come after a vowel), where the s was historically a t (hence the change to d in the genitive). Historical gradation is also prevalent here; the vestige of N2 can be seen in this example (remember uusi, uuden, uutta, uusia from N2?) N11s tend to denote adjectives that in English would never become plural, such as vanhuus ("old age"), pimeys ("darkness") and leveys ("width"); as a result, the plural stem is taken mostly from the N12 stem.
Type 12 (N12): vastaus, vastauksen, vastausta, vastauksia ("answer")
This nominal type looks curiously similar to N11, but historically the nominative singular ending was not simply -s, but rather -ks. Given that Finnish no longer allows consonant clusters word-initially or -finally, the k drops from the nominative singular; from the partitive singular, which would otherwise be vastauksta, which is not allowable (can't have three consonants in a row) the k is also removed.
Type 13 (N13): sydän, sydämen, sydäntä, sydamiä ("heart")
Type 14 (N14): hapan, happaman, hapanta, happamia ("sour")
These two types are similar with the only exception is that the vowel stem in the genitive includes a/ä in N14 instead of e in N13. Historically, the word-final -n was -m. Epenthetic -e- is inserted between m (which still survives word-medially) and the genitive -n in N13. In the plural, both types behave similarly.
Type 15 (N15): ahven, ahvenen, ahventa, ahvenia ("key")
There is no historical change in N15; the -n ending has always been -n, unlike N13 and N14.
Type 16 (N16): lyhyt, lyhyen, lyhyttä, lyhyitä ("short")
Historically, in the weaker grade in the genitive, which should yield lyhyden, the d has dropped, yielding the present lyhyen. The -e- in the genitive is the same epenthetic vowel used in N13.
Type 17 (N17): mahdollinen, mahdollisen, mahdollista, mahdollisia ("possible")
This is probably Finland's most famous ending: -nen. It is a very productive nominal type; all nationalities are found in N17, such as kanadalainen, amerikkalainen, egyptiläinen, etc. Both nouns and adjectives are found in N17.
Type 18 (N18): lämpimämpi, lämpimämmän, lämpimämpää, lämpimämpiä ("warmer")
N18 is the comparative form. Note the Finnish lämmin, lämpimän, lämmintä, lämpimiä (N14) ("warm"). The ending -mpi is just added to the oblique stem, taken from the genitive: lämpimä- + -mpi à lämpimämpi (N18).
Type 19 (N19): lämpimin, lämpimimmän, lämpimintä, lämpimimpiä ("warmest")
N19 is the superlative form. Note the same Finnish N14 nominal that is being used in both N18 and N19. The ending -in characterizes the superlative, whereas other vowels signify the comparative. Compare: lämpimimmässä talossa ("in the warmest house") and lämpimämmässä talossa ("in the warmer house"). Note than all word-final vowels in adjectives such as vanha ("old"), köyhä ("poor") completely disappear in N19: they become vanhin ("oldest") and köyhin ("poorest"). N2 adjectives such as pieni, pienen, pientä, pieniä ("small") become pienin because the -e- vowel in the genitive singular stem drops, as it does in -a- and -ä- in N4 and N5 adjectives. N3 adjectives (those with the vowel -i- stem) face the following changes: kiltti, kiltin, kilttiä, kilttejä ("nice") where kilti- + -in à kiltein ("nicest"). N10 adjectives also behave this way: kaunis, kauniin, kaunista, kauniita ("beautiful") has the genitive singular stem kaunii- + -in à kaunein ("most beautiful").
Type 20 (N20): kolmas, kolmannen, kolmatta, kolmansia ("third")
Again, historical reasons account for the awkward distribution of t vis-à-vis d and s. As Finns tend to write out numbers in full before twenty and inflect all numbers (which all fall into the categories of the nominal types) and number segments, it's reassuring to know that beyond 20, the ordinal numeral is written instead of the word. This means that instead of writing "twelve thousand five hundredth" as kahdestoistatuhannes viidessadas, it is written simply as 12.500. Not even the -th that is included in English is written in Finnish.
Type 21 (N21): asumaton, asumattoman, asumatonta, asumattomia ("uninhabited")
These adjectives are specially formed with the -ton/tön ending, which means "lacking".
Type 22 (N22): kiinnostunut, kiinnostuneen, kiinnostunutta, kiinnostuneita ("interested")
This nominal type is reserved exclusively for past participles. These will make up the fourth principal part of all verbs, as will be seen in the verbal section. The participial ending is any consonant plus -ut or -yt. Quite often, these can act as nouns referring to a class or group of people. For example, ajatellut, ajatelleen, ajatellutta, ajatelleita means "someone who's thought"; juossut, juosseen, juossutta, juosseita means "someone who's run"; etc.
As mentioned earlier, there are fifteen cases in Finnish. Some of the forms of the declensions are not predictable, but rather are the product of knowing the principal parts for each of the nominal forms.
The nominative case, as mentioned before, is used as the subject of a personal sentence. Because it is a principal part, the singular form is unmarked and unpredictable in form. The nominative plural, however, is formed from the genitive singular stem. The -n is removed and replaced with -t. The nominative singular tyttö (N1 "girl") has as its plural tytöt ("girls"). Note that a weak grade in the genitive has yielded a weak grade in the nominative plural as well. The plural of vastaus ("answer") is vastaukset ("answers"), and so on.
The accusative case has no separate form; in the singular, it looks like the nominative or the genitive, depending on the sentence type. (In impersonal sentences, it looks like the nominative. Generally, otherwise it looks like the genitive.) In the plural, it always looks like the nominative plural, i.e. with the -t ending. This case is one of two used for direct objects. The other is the partitive. If the accusative is used, it usually means the entirety of the object was acted upon and the action of the verb was complete. If the partitive is used as direct object, it means that the action was either incomplete, or that there was a lot of effort required on the part of the doer. (Please keep in mind that these are generalizations intended to give the first-time visitor to Finnish syntax a general idea. More information on this is included in the section on sentence types.)
The genitive case is used to show possession. It is also the case used in a few prepositions and postpositions in Finnish; again, the partitive also takes certain prepositions and postpositions. (They are becoming more and more common in Finnish.) The form of the singular is not necessarily predictable, other than the fact that we know it ends in -n, without fail. The plural is not as easily formed. To form the genitive plural in Finnish, you must look at the partitive plural ending (i.e. the plural stem). If it ends in the vocalic -a/-ä, then simply add -en. The noun poika, pojan, poikaa, poikia (N5 "boy") has as its genitive plural poikien ("of the boys"). If the consonantal -ta/-tä is present, then the ending -den is used. The noun perhe, perheen, perhettä, perheitä (N8 "family") carries the genitive plural perheiden ("of the families"). Some people still use a similar genitive plural ending in this situation: -tten, yielding perheitten ("of the families"). Some genitive plurals are formed from the consonantal partitive singular ending -ta/-tä. This is especially common with N2 nominals, such as suuri, suuren, suurta, suuria ("great"), and N17 nominals, such as nainen, naisen, naista, naisia ("woman"). The genitive plural can be formed as above, i.e. suurien and naisien, or by removing the -ta/-tä ending and replacing it with -ten, giving suurten ("of the great.") and naisten ("of the women"). It is ultimately more common with N2s and N17s than adding the -ien ending.
The partitive forms for singular and plural are both part of the principal parts, so they should be memorized along with the nominative singular and the genitive singular. The purpose of the partitive is to be a predicative complement (either a predicate noun/adjective) or an object complement. The sentence types will further illustrate.
There are three external locative cases in Finnish: the adessive, ablative and allative. (The Latin root LAT- is found in many of the locative cases; the root is from the Latin past participle of the verb "ferre," which means to bring, so the cases echo this idea of being brought onto something, or away from something, or into something, etc. This is just a little aside, but if you study many inflected or agglutinating languages, you'll see this terminology a lot.) The Latin ad- + -lat- would therefore mean "towards -lat-" The prefix ab- means "away from". The Latin root ESS- has the meaning of "being", as found in the Latin infinitive esse ("to be"). The d in ad- has been assimilated to al- for English language reasons in our terminology. The uses of these cases, therefore, should be clear. The adessive case answers the question missä? ("where?") and is formed by adding -lla/-llä. Se on kolmannella kadulla means "It's on the third street." Note how the ending is added to the second principal part, the genitive, after removing the -n from it. The ablative answers the question mistä? ("from where?" or archaic "whence?") and is formed by adding the ending -lta/-ltä to the genitive stem. Se on kolmannelta kadulta means "It's from the third street." The allative answers the question minne? ("where to?" or archaic "whither?") and is formed by adding -lle. This case is as close to other languages' dative case as you'll find. "(On)to the third street" would then be expressed as kolmannelle kadulle.
The internal locative cases are the inessive, elative (formed from ex-lative) and illative formed when in- assimilated to il-). The endings for these cases go as follows: -ssa/-ssä for the inessive (giving us lämpimimmässä kirkossa "in the warmest church," again answering the question missä? "where?"), -sta/-stä for the elative (giving us lämpimimmästä kirkosta "from inside the warmest church," again answering the question mistä? "from where?"), and a variety of formations for the illative, which will again answer the question minne? "to where?" or mihin? "into where?" If there is only one vowel in the genitive, before the -n ending, it is doubled before the -n is reinserted. Strong grade is then reinserted, for the illative always has strong grade. Our example would then become lämpimimpään kirkkoon ("into the warmest church"). Monosyllabic N6 nominals such as pää ("head") or maa ("land") cannot prolong a vowel that is already double, so to form the illative, they add an -h-, then repeat the vowel, then add -n. This yields suureen maahan ("into the great land") or isoon päähän ("into the big head"). If the genitive stem ends in two vowels and the word has more than one syllable, then the endings -seen for the singular and -siin for the plural are added. This yields kauniiseen perheeseen ("into the beautiful family").
Plurals for the first five locative cases should not prove difficult (it's simply a matter of adding the same endings to the partitive plural stem):
Adessive: kolmannella kadulla > kolmansilla kaduilla (weak grade reinserted)
Ablative: kolmannelta kadulta > kolmansilta kaduilta (again)
Allative: kolmannelle kadulle > kolmansille kaduille (and yet again)
Inessive: lämpimimmässä kirkossa > lämpimimmissä kirkoissa (here too)
Elative: lämpimimmästä kirkosta > lämpimimmistä kirkoista (and here too)
The plural of the illative presents a small difficulty: the plural stem usually ends in two vowels, at which point the -hVn ending is prevalent: nominative talo ("house") > genitive talon > illative singular taloon > illative plural taloihin ("into the houses"). If the illative singular was marked by -seen, then the plural shall automatically be marked by -siin: nominative rikas ("rich") > genitive rikkaan > illative singular rikkaaseen > illative plural rikkaisiin.
Finnish has two "role" cases: the essive case (which, like the illative, always has strong grade) and the translative case. The essive takes on a -na/-nä ending, such as tyttönä ("as a girl"), plural tyttöinä ("as girls"), and poikana ("as a boy"), plural poikina ("as boys"). Whereas the essive denotes a state, the translative denotes change, such as when we need to say that one thing turned into another. The ending is -ksi-, but it's not always an ending. In fact, it's rarely an ending, as Finnish usually makes use of possessive suffixes, such as -ni ("my") and -si ("your"). The i in the suffix then changes to e: "into a man" is rendered as mieheksi; "into my man (i.e. husband)" would be miehekseni. (The word for "man" is N2: mies, miehen, miestä, miehiä.)
And finally, the three remaining cases: the obsolete abessive, instructive, and comitative. These are used in frozen expressions because prepositions and postpositions are entering the language more and more frequently now. The abessive once showed the absence of something; it carries the ending -tta/-ttä it's used in expressions such as pitemmittä puheitta ("without further ado", lit. "without longer speeches") and in what we'll call the third infinitive (Finnish has four infinitives). Where in English we use the preposition without + a gerund, Finnish uses simply the third infinitive, which has the endings -ma/-mä and then behaves like N4 and N5 nominals, in the abessive: puhuma ("speaking") > puhumatta ("without speaking"). The instructive case is much like the instrumental cases in the Slavic languages, denoting the meaning of "by means of." The ending is -n, which makes it look similar (at least in the singular) to the genitive. It's most often used in the plural, though, in set expressions such as omin käsin ("with one's own hands"). The nominative form is oma (N5) käsi (N2). The comitative case also has the meaning of "with" but rather with accompaniment, not manner. The ending for the comitative is -ne-, which must always be added to the plural stem, and which, like the translative, often uses a personal possessive suffix. The term "small family," pieni (N2) perhe (N8), takes the comitative pienine perheineni ("with my small family"). Remember, -ni added to any form of any nominal means "my."
Let's see what a complete inflection looks like, then.
Nominative: iso maa ("great land") rikas tyttö ("rich girl")
Accusative: ison maan / iso maa rikkaan tytön / rikas tyttö
Genitive: ison maan rikkaan tytön
Partitive: isoa maata rikasta tyttöä
Adessive: isolla maalla rikkaalla tytöllä
Ablative: isolta maalta rikkaalta tytöltä
Allative: isolle maalle rikkaalle tytölle
Inessive: isossa maassa rikkaassa tytössä
Elative: isosta maasta rikkaasta tytöstä
Illative: isoon maahan rikkaaseen tyttöön
Essive: isona maana rikkaana tyttönä
Translative: isoksi maaksi rikkaaksi tytöksi
Abessive: isotta maatta rikkaatta tytöttä
Instructive: ison maan rikkaan tytön
Comitative: isoine maine- rikkaine tyttöine-
Nominative: isot maat ("great lands") rikkaat tytöt ("rich girls")
Accusative: isot maat rikkaat tytöt
Genitive: isojen maiden/maitten rikkaiden/rikkaitten tyttöjen
Partitive: isoja maita rikkaita tyttöjä
Adessive: isoilla mailla rikkailla tytöillä
Ablative: isoilta mailta rikkailta tytöiltä
Allative: isoille maille rikkaille tytöille
Inessive: isoissa maissa rikkaissa tytöissä
Elative: isoista maista rikkaista tytöistä
Illative: isoihin maihin rikkaisiin tyttöihin
Essive: isoina maina rikkaina tyttöinä
Translative: isoiksi maiksi rikkaiksi tytöiksi
Abessive: isoitta maitta rikkaitta tytöittä
Instructive: isoin main rikkain tytöin
Comitative: isoine maine- rikkaine tyttöine-
Personal Possessive Suffixes
Possession in Finnish is expressed using either the genitive pronoun before the noun or the possessive suffix at the end of the noun, or both. They are as follows:
minun ___-ni meidän ___-mme
sinun ___-si teidän ___-nne
hänen __V-Vn* heidän __V-Vn (where V = any vowel)
In each use, the suffix is added to the form of the noun, in whichever case it happens to be, unless there is an -n or -t ending, of which there happen to be a lot in Finnish. In such cases, the -n or -t drops before the suffix is added. When adding to a nominative or genitive (or accusative that looks like a genitive), strong grade is present or re-inserted. If in the third person, there are already two vowels, then a different ending is added: -nsa/-nsä. "Come to our house!" would then be expressed Tule taloomme! where nominative talo > genitive talon > illative taloon + -mme > taloomme. One could also say Tule meidän taloomme! *Vowel prolongation is never used in the nominative singular. Use the -nsa/-nsä ending, to avoid making the nominative sound like the illative.
Prepositions & Postpositions in Finnish
Certain common prepositions include ilman ("without"), ennen ("before"), keskellä ("in the middle of"), lähellä ("near"), pitkin ("alongside") and vasten ("against"). These all require the partitive case: ilman rakkautta ("without love"), etc. Prepositions that take the genitive case include alle ("under"), kautta ("throughout"), läpi ("though"), etc.
There are many postpositions that require the partitive case, including kohtaan ("up towards"), kohti ("over towards"), pitkin ("alongside"), vastaan ("against"), varten ("for the benefit of"), vastapäätä ("across from"), etc. Postpositions, however, are far more common with the genitive case: aikana ("during"), alla/alta/alle ("under" in the tri-partite location scheme), ansiosta ("thanks to"), jälkeen ("after"), kanssa ("together with"), luona ("near"), mukaan ("according to"), edessä ("in front of"), takana ("behind"), vieressä ("next to"), vuoksi/takia/tähden ("because of"), yli ("over"), etc. The sentence "After dinner, let's go for a walk" would be translated as Päivällisen jälkeen mennään kavelylle. "Come with us!" is Tulkaa meidän kanssa!
Verbals: Principal Parts
Just as the nominals had four principal parts, so too will the verbals have four principal parts for the student to master. These are made up of first the basic infinitive (which will always end in -a/-ä or any assimilated form of -da/-dä and -ta/tä), then the first person singular present, then the third person singular past (what we in English call a "simple past"), and finally the past participle, which is a N22 nominal. There are only eleven verbal types, and they too carry gradation with voiceless plosives.
Type 1 (V1): nukkua, nukun, nukkui, nukkunut ("sleep")
V1s are the most common type of verbal in Finnish. Like N1s, they feature the back and front versions of mid to low vowels: o, ö, u and y.
Type 2 (V2): tuntea, tunnen, tunsi, tuntenut ("know")
This, like N2, seems to make more sense when considering that t > s before i. N2 nominals also had this kind of palatalization.
Type 3 (V3): pyrkiä, pyrin, pyrki, pyrkinyt ("strive")
The only difference between V2 and V3 is the same as the difference between N2 and N3: V3 has as its thematic vowel an i instead of an e.
Type 4 (V4): esittää, esitän, esitti, esittänyt ("present")
V4 does not take -a, but rather -ä as its infinitive marker. This is a similar difference in N4 and N5. V5 will feature infinitives in -a.
Type 5 (V5): kirjoittaa, kirjoitan, kirjoitti, kirjoittanut ("write")
The Dog & Cabin rules takes effect here. Just as disyllabic stems in N5 had a partitive plural in -ia if the stem vowel was o or u, and the partitive plural had the -oja ending otherwise, so too will V5s carry a third principal part in -oi if the infinitive does not have an o or a u in it. "To give" is antaa, annan, antoi, antanut, but "to take" is ottaa, otan, otti, ottanut. There is no -o- in this form because there is an o in the stem.
Type 6 (V6): saada, saan, sai, saanut ("get")
There is a double vowel before the infinitival ending -da/-dä in V6. In the third principal part, the appearance of -i will force the vowel to shorten.
Type 7 (V7): kuulla, kuulen, kuuli, kuullut ("hear")
There are two l's in the infinitive simply because one of them used to be a d. The second d is removed before the personal endings are affixed. Historically, the infinitive would have looked like kuulda. Verbs of this type aren't restricted to endings of -lla/-llä; there are also -nna/-nnä and -rra/-rrä infinitives, each of which carries a historical d that has been assimilated for ease of pronunciation.
Type 8 (V8): nousta, nousen, nousi, noussut ("rise")
In this type, the infinitive marker -da/-dä has become -ta/-tä as a result of assimilation of voicing (voiceless /s/ triggering the /t/ sound). This verbal type always has an s before the infinitive.
Type 9 (V9): tavata, tapaan, tapasi, tavannut ("meet")
The -t- has disappeared in the second principal part, hence the double aa. Once again, due to palatalization, the third principal part will use s instead of t. In the past participle, the t has assimilated to n. Historically, the forms were tavata, tapatan, tapati, tavatnut.
Type 10 (V10): merkitä, merkitsen, merkitsi, merkinnyt ("mark as")
This verbal type is characterized by the appearance of -i- in the infinitive and -itse- in the second principal part (the present stem). As in V9, the t in the past participle has assimilated to n.
Type 11 (V11): vanheta, vanhenen, vanheni, vanhennut ("become old")
V11 is reserved for those verbs that carry the meaning of "becoming" something, like vanheta ("to become old"), nuoreta ("to become young"), etc. It too has a special characteristic in the second and third principal parts: an epenthetic -ene-.
Finnish has what you might call four indicative tenses: present, past, perfect and pluperfect. Their formations are quite straightforward. The second principal part without the -n is called the present base form. The endings are added to the present base form: -n, -t, V-V (vowel elongation, if a single vowel exists, otherwise this form is unmarked) in the singular; -mme, -tte, -vat/-vät in the plural.
The formation of the perfect is almost the same. The third principal part is the past base form; the same endings as above are added to this stem. In the third person singular, however, there is no ending added-this form is unmarked.
Note how strong grade is always inserted in the third person singular and plural in the present tense in V1, V2, V3, V4 and V5. In the other forms, weak grade is reintroduced.
In the negative, the negative particle ei ("no") is inflected, and in the present, it accompanies the present base form. In the past, the negative particle is inflected, and it appears with the past participle of the verb, which is already a N22 type nominal. The ending -nut/-nyt is used for singular, and -neet for plural.
It should be noted that a special passive form is used in conversational Finnish. It carries the ending -taan/-tään, which is added to the present base form (second principal part), always with weak grade. The verb pyrkiä, pyrin (V3 "strive") takes as its passive form pyritään. The verb antaa, annan (V5 "give") would take the passive form annetaan because any a or ä changes to e before this ending can be attached. The negative version is formed by removing -Vn and putting the negative ei before it. The negatives of the above two examples would then be ei pyritä and ei anneta. These passive forms replace the first person plural form, both indicative and imperative, and can therefore be translated as "we strive/don't strive" and let's strive/not strive!" as well as "we give/don't give" and "let's give/not give!"
If the infinitive ends in only one vowel, however, then the passive is formed by adding the endings -an/-än to the infinitive (first principal part): the verb olla ("to be") would then take ollaan as its positive passive and ei olla as its negative. Tulla, tulen ("to come") has tullaan as its positive passive and ei tulla as its negative.
The past passive ending is -tiin. The formation is the same, but strong grade is inserted into each form. The forms we just saw would in the past become:
In bona fide passive sentences, the passive form is used, but the structure of the sentence is not the same as in many Indo-European languages, where active [subject + verb + object] becomes passive [patient + passive verb, usually including the verb "to be" with a past participle + agent]. The direct object in Finnish remains a direct object, but it takes the form of the nominative: Kirja kirjoitettiin viime vuonna. "The book was written last year").
The only irregular verb in Finnish is olla, olen, oli, ollut, the verb "to be". Its inflections are as follows:
This is important for the formation of the perfect and the pluperfect, which require the auxiliary verb olla. The present tense of olla plus the past participle gives us the perfect tense in Finnish: minä olen tavannut ("I have met"), sinä olet tavannut, hän on tavannut, me olemme tavanneet, te olette tavanneet, he ovat tavanneet. In the negative, the same occurs: minä en ole tavannut ("I haven't met"), sinä et ole tavannut, hän ei ole tavannut, etc. The pluperfect is formed by simply putting olla into the past and keeping the past participle inflected for number, just like in the perfect: minä olin vanhennut ("I had grown old"), sinä olit vanhennut, hän oli vanhennut, me olimme vanhenneet, te olitte vanhenneet, he olivat vanhenneet. In the negative, this would yield minä en ollut vanhennut ("I hadn't grown old"), sinä et ollut vanhennut, etc.
Other moods are used in Finnish. The imperative is formed with sinä by simply taking the present base form, from the second principal part. The plural imperative, with te or Te, is formed by adding -kaa/-kää to the infinitive stem (the infinitive without the endings -a/-ä or -ta/-tä). Tule sisään! ("Come in!") has a plural tulkaa sisään! The negative is älä tule sisään! ("don't come in!"), whose plural is älkää tulko sisään! The first person plural command form has already been discussed: the passive form of the verb in -taan/-tään. It should be noted here that the accusative in imperative sentences takes the form of the nominative: Anna tuo kirja ystävälleni! ("Give that book to my friend!")
The conditional is also common in Finnish. And, it's easy! It's just a matter of adding the infix -isi- between the present base form (second principal part) and the personal ending. The indicative minä puhun englantia ("I speak English") would become in the conditional minä puhuisin englantia ("I would speak English"). The third person singular form is unmarked, i.e. no vowel elongation occurs: hän puhuisi venäjää ("he/she would speak Russian"). In the perfect, the -isi- is inserted into the present of olla. A common expression in Finnish is Kukas olisi uskonnut!! ("Who would have thought!!") There are only two conditionals with -isi-: present and perfect.
There is also a potential mood with the infix -ne-, but it has fallen quite out of use.
Yes/No questions are formed in Finnish by adding the particle -ko/-kö to the verb or negative particle (in whatever form) and inverting subject and verb/negative particle: Asutko sinä Amerikassa? ("Do you live in America?") Etkö sinä asu Washingtonissa? ("Don't you live in Washington?") are two examples.
The infinitives listed above are all part of what we call the first infinitive. There is a special construction, however, in which a translative -kse- is added right onto the first infinitive to show purpose. It must also be accompanied with a personal possessive suffix. With the verb kaivaa (V5 "to dig") and the noun kuoppa (N5 "hole"), I can say "My father went to the cape to dig a hole" as Minun isä meni niemeen kaivaakseen kuopan. This construction is also possible with what we call the third infinitive. The third infinitive is formed by taking the strong-grade third person plural form without the ending -vat/-vät and adding instead -ma/-mä. This newly-formed third infinitive becomes a N4/N5 and can now be inflected in the inessive, elative, illative, adessive and abessive cases. The example above could easily be rendered as follows: Minun isä meni niemeen kaivamaan kuopan, where the third infinitive is in the illative case. However, this form does not emphasize the purpose as the translative + possessive suffix form does. The third infinitive is mostly used to allow for case markings on verbs.
The second infinitive is also used to allow for case inflection, but for more specific purposes. It's formed by removing the infinitive marker -a/-ä, -da/-dä or -ta/-tä and replacing it with -e-, onto which will then be added either the instructive case or the inessive case + in some situations, a possessive suffix. This construction is used where in English we would instead use adverb clauses of time. An example with the inessive case is: Professorin puhuessa kirjoitimme vihkoihimme "While the professor spoke, we wrote in our notebooks" lit. "With the professor's speaking, we wrote in our notebooks"). Another example with the inessive case is: Olimme juuri syömässä teidän tullessanne ("We were just about to eat when you came" lit. "We were just in eating in your coming"). Note tullessanne = tulla ("to come") > tulle- > tullessa + -nne possessive suffix. When using this construction with the instructional case, suffixes are not used. These are used to answer the question miten? ("how?"):
A: Miten vastaan kysymykseen? ("How do I answer the question?")
B: Vastaa käyttäen infinitiivä! ("Answer using an infinitive!")
The fourth infinitive isn't really an infinitive. It's simply a way of making a verb into a noun, ending in -minen and becoming a N17. From the noun kala ("fish") we get kalastaa ("to fish") and from that we can form a new noun, kalastaminen ("fishing").
Example with 1st INF: Minä haluan kalastaa. ("I want to fish.")
Example with 2nd INF: Minä on varovainen kalastaessani. ("I'm careful when fishing.")
Example with 3rd INF: Tule kalastamaan! ("Come and fish!")
Example with 4th INF: Minä pidän kalastamisesta. ("I like fishing.")
(Note: The verb pitää (V4 "to like") takes the elative case, hence the -sta ending.
Finnish has past participles, which are the fourth principal part of every verb type, and also declinable as N22 nominals. There also exists a present participle: it is formed by removing the -t from the third person plural form in the present tense. From the verb laulaa ("to sing") we get he laulavat ("they sing") and finally laulava ("singing"), which can now be inflected as a N4/N5 nominal, as in laulava nainen ("the singing woman").
Finnish Sentence Types
Finnish has a variety of sentence types that help speakers to determine in which form the subject, predicative adjective/noun and object take. The vast majority of times, the subject in Finnish will be in the nominative case. These are the sentence types that require a nominative subject:
Intransitive sentences: in these sentences, there is only a subject and a verb. Example: Minä nukun ("I am sleeping.")
Transitive sentences: in these sentences, the sentence requires a direct object complement. The subject is in the nominative and the object is in either the accusative or the partitive. Example: Minä juon teetä ("I drink tea"). Notice the object is in the partitive because juoda ("to drink") is what we call a "blood, sweat and tears" verb, which means the doer of the action expends quite a bit of energy, either because the action is strenuous or because it's long-lasting. Some verbs can take both an accusative or a partitive object: compare Hän luki kirjaa ("He read a book") with Hän luki kirjan ("He read the book"). The accusative is translated with the definite object in English, whereas the partitive is translated with the indefinite.
Copulative sentences: in these sentences, there is what looks like an equation: subject + a form of olla ("to be") + predicative adjective or noun. Minä olen kanadalainen ("I am a Canadian") is an example. Both subject and predicative noun are in the nominative. The plural will usually feature partitive plural: He ovat kanadalaisia ("They are Canadians") because we're not saying that those are all the Canadians of the world over there. There is no natural set, so we do not use partitive plural. Partitive singular is also used, when saying, for example, that "the food was good": ruoka oli hyvää.
There exist three types of existential sentences in Finnish: locative, possessive and part-whole.
Locative existential sentences: This is a sentence type that keeps the subject in the nominative even though it falls at the end of the sentence. The sentence begins with a location, followed by a verb and then the subject. Example: Sairaalassa oli vanha tohtori ("In the hospital was the/an old doctor"). The subject can be in the partitive in limited situations, such as in Kaloja ui vedessä ("There are fish swimming in the water").
Possessive existential sentences: Like Russian, Finnish does not have a verb "to have." Instead, the possessor is placed at the beginning of the sentence in the adessive case, and the verb olla ("to be") is used, followed by the subject, in the nominative. Example: Minulla on raha ("I have the money" lit. "On/at me is money")-notice how the subject in the nominative is translated with the definite object. The sentence Minulla on rahaa ("I have some money") has the subject in the partitive. The verb is always singular.
Part-whole existential sentences: These are similar to possessive existential sentences, with the difference being that the adverbial is rendered into the Inessive case to show the location of the whole. Example: Pohjois-Kanadassa on lyhyet kesät ("Northern Canada has short summers"). Notice that the verb again is always singular.
There are three types of impersonal sentences in Finnish: necessive, state and experiencer.
Necessive impersonal sentences: There are a few impersonal third person singular verbs in the present that require a genitive to come before them, such as täytyy and on pakko. Examples: Minun on pakko mennä pois ("I have to go away"). In such sentences, the accusative will always look like the nominative: Minun täytyy ostaa tuo kirja ("I have to buy that book").
State impersonal sentences: These are usually used in weather, and come with no subject, although nominative or partitive "subjects" (i.e. logical, semantic subjects) are possible: Sataa ensilunta ("The first snow is falling"). Sometimes one word is enough: Tuulee ("It's windy," lit. "blows").
Experiencer impersonal sentences: Some verbs require the "subject" to appear in the partitive. Example: Häntä väsytti ("He/She felt tired" lit. "Of him/her it tired/fatigued").
Notes on Spoken Finnish
The examples and tables shown in this tutorial exemplify written Finnish. However, the spoken language is quite different. For example, the personal pronouns are not spoken in full, and quite often the most common verbs are somewhat truncated. Third person plural is often ignored in favor of the singular. The first person plural is ignored in favor of the passive. Examples are as follows:
If you decide to study Finnish, be sure to give it the time it will need. It's an easy language to pick apart and study, but it's quite hard to piece together all the components of the morphology in the short time used in everyday conversations. Still, it's a beautiful language, one worthy of deep study. After a few years, you'll be able to tackle the Finnish national epic: Kalevala. Good luck! Or, in Finnish, Onnea Matkaan!
(Much of this tutorial has come from the benefit of my own Finnish professor, Prof. Börje Vähämäki, of the University of Toronto (formerly of the University of Minnesota), and his book Mastering Finnish (1994). Any inaccuracies found in this tutorial are my own. If you have constructive criticism, please feel free to comment: josh.pirie [at] yahoo [dot] ca.)