Definitions

case agreement

Finnish grammar

This article deals with the grammar of the Finnish language. It is probably best to read the main article first. There is a separate article covering the ways in which spoken Finnish differs from the formal grammar of the written language.

Pronouns

The pronouns are inflected in the Finnish language much in the same way that their referent nouns are.

Personal pronouns

Somewhat like in English, the personal pronouns are used to refer to human beings only. The personal pronouns in Finnish in the nominative case are listed in the following table:
Personal pronouns
Finnish English
Singular
minä I
sinä you
hän she or he
Plural
me we
te you
he they
Polite
Te you

Since Finnish verbs are inflected for person, personal pronouns are not required for sense and are usually omitted in standard Finnish except where used for emphasis. In spoken Finnish, all pronouns are generally used. In the third person, the pronoun is needed: "hän menee" = he goes, "he menevät" = they go. This applies to both colloquial and written language.

In colloquial Finnish, the pronouns se and ne are very commonly used as the singular and plural third person pronouns, respectively. Use of hän and he is mostly restricted to writing and formal speech. Similarly, and are used colloquially to replace minä and sinä. Te, being formal, is never reduced. Some of the most common verbs, such as olla ("to be") and tulla ("to come") exhibit similar reduced colloquial forms:

Personal pronouns
Written/Formal Spoken/Colloquial
Singular
minä olen/tulen mä oon/tuun
sinä olet/tulet sä oot/tuut
hän/se on/tulee se on/tulee
Plural
me olemme/tulemme me ollaan/tullaan
te olette/tulette te ootte/tuutte
he/ne ovat/tulevat ne on/tulee
Polite
Te olette/tulette Te ootte/tuutte

In common with some other languages, the second person plural can be used as a polite form when addressing one person. This usage is diminishing in Finnish society.

Demonstrative pronouns

The demonstratives are used of non-human animate entities and inanimate objects. However, se and ne are often used to refer to humans in colloquial Finnish. Furthermore, the demonstratives are used to refer to group nouns and the number of the pronoun must correlate with the number of its referent.
Demonstrative pronouns
Finnish English
Singular
tämä this
tuo that
se it/that
Plural
nämä these
nuo those
ne they/those

Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns
Finnish English
kuka who, which (of many)
mikä what, which (of many)
ken who, which (of many) - (old or dialectal word)
kumpi which (of two)
kumpainen which (of two) - (old or dialectal word)

"Ken" is now archaic, but its inflected forms are used instead of those of "kuka": "ketä" instead of "kuta" ("whom"). "Ketä rakastat?" = "Whom do you love?"

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns
Pronoun Example English
jonka (refers to preceding word) "hän on ainoa, jonka muistan" "[s]he is the only one whom (I) remember"
minkä (refers to preceding clause/
sentence or to a pronoun or a superlative that refers to a thing)
"se on ainoa asia, minkä muistan" "it is the only thing that (I) remember"

Reciprocal pronouns

Reciprocal pronouns
Pronoun Example English
toinen "he rakastavat toisiaan" "they love each other" (plural)
"he rakastavat toinen toistaan" "they love one another" (double singular)

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns
Pronoun Suffix Example English
itse plus corresponding possessive suffix "keitin itselleni teetä" "(I) made myself some tea"

Indefinite pronouns

A large group that entails all of the pronouns that do not fall into any of the categories above. Notice that there are no negative pronouns, such as "nobody", but the positive pronoun has to be negated with the negative verb "ei". No double negatives are possible.
Indefinite pronouns
Finnish English
joka (uninflected) every, each
jokainen every, everyone
joku some, someone (person)
jompikumpi either one
jokin some, something (animal, thing)
kukin each one
kumpainenkin both (old or dialectal)
kumpikin both
mikin each thing (dialectal)
kenkään anyone (old or dialectal)
kukaan (nom.), kene+..+kään (oblique) anyone
-> ei kukaan no one
kumpikaan either one
-> ei kumpikaan neither one
mikään anything -> ei mikään = nothing
mones (nom.), monente- (oblique) the ordinal pronoun (representing first, second, etc.)

Each pronoun declines. However, the endings -kAAn and -kin are clitics, and case endings are placed before them, e.g. mikään "any", miltäkään "from any". It should be noted that there are irregular nominatives. As indicated, kukaan is an irregular nominative; the regular root is kene- with -kään, e.g. kukaan "(not) anyone", keneltäkään "from (not) anyone".

English lacks a direct equivalent to the pronoun mones; it would be "that-th", or "which-th" for questions. For examples, Palkkio riippuu siitä monentenako maaliin tulee "The reward depends on as-which-th one comes to the finish", or explicitly "The reward depends on in which position one comes to the finish". It would be difficult to translate the question Monesko?, but, while far from proper English, the question How manyeth may give an English-speaking person an idea of the meaning.

Some indefinite adjectives are often perceived as indefinite pronouns. These include:

Indefinite adjectives
Finnish English
ainoa only
eräs some, certain, one
harva few
itse (non-reflexive) self
kaikki all, everyone, everything
molemmat both
moni many
muu other
muutama some, a few
sama same
toinen (non-reciprocal, non-numeral use) another

Noun forms

The Finnish language does not distinguish gender in nouns or even in personal pronouns: 'hän' = 'he' or 'she' depending on the referent.

Cases

Finnish has fifteen noun cases: four grammatical cases, six locative cases, two essive cases (three in some Eastern dialects) and three marginal cases. Notice that the word in a given locative case modifies the verb, not a noun.

Finnish cases
Case Suffix English prep. Sample Translation
Grammatical
nominatiivi (nominative)   - talo house
genetiivi (genitive) -n of talon of (a) house
akkusatiivi (accusative) - or -n - talo or talon house
partitiivi (partitive) -(t)a - taloa house (as an object)
Locative (internal)
inessiivi (inessive) -ssa in talossa in (a) house
elatiivi (elative) -sta from (inside) talosta from (a) house
illatiivi (illative) -an, -en, etc. into taloon into (a) house
Locative (external)
adessiivi (adessive) -lla at, on talolla at (a) house
ablatiivi (ablative) -lta from talolta from (a) house
allatiivi (allative) -lle to talolle to (a) house
Essive
essiivi (essive) -na as talona as a house
(eksessiivi; dialectal) (exessive) -nta from being talonta from being a house
translatiivi (translative) -ksi to (role of) taloksi to a house
Marginal
instruktiivi (instructive) -n with (the aid of) taloin with the houses
abessiivi (abessive) -tta without talotta without (a) house
komitatiivi (comitative) -ne- together (with) taloineni with my house(s)

Plurals

There are three different 'plurals' in Finnish:

Nominative plural

The nominative plural is the definite, divisible, telic plural. The suffix is -t; it can only appear in final position.
Nominative plural
Finnish English
"koirat olivat huoneessa" "the dogs were in the room"
"huoneet olivat suuria" "the rooms were large"

Following numerals

After numerals greater than one in the nominative singular, the noun is put in the partitive singular. Otherwise the noun agrees with the numeral in number and case.

Following numerals
Finnish English
"huoneessa oli kaksi koiraa" "there were two dogs in the room"
"talossa oli kolme huonetta" "the house had three rooms"
"ostin tietokoneen tuhannella eurolla" "I bought a computer for a thousand euros"

Inflected plural

This uses the stem of the partitive plural inflected with the same set of endings as for singular nouns. The suffix is -i-, and it suppresses long vowels; it may only appear before another suffix.
Inflected plural
Finnish English
'huone' -> 'huoneita' '(some) rooms'
-> 'huoneissa' 'in rooms'

As a combined example of plurals

Inflected plural
Finnish English
'lintu on puussa' 'the bird is in the tree'
-> 'linnut ovat puissa' 'the birds are in the trees'

Inflection of pronouns

The personal pronouns are inflected in the same way as nouns, and can be found in most of the same cases as nouns. For example:
Inflection of pronouns
Finnish Case Example English
'minä' nominative 'I'
'minun' genitive ('my, mine')
'tämä talo on minun ' 'this house is mine '
'tämä on minun taloni ' 'this is my house'
'minut' accusative 'hän tuntee minut' '[s]he knows me'
'minua' partitive 'hän rakastaa minua' '[s]he loves me'
'minussa' inessive 'tämä herättää minussa vihaa' 'this provokes (lit. awakens) anger in me'
'minusta' elative 'hän puhui minusta' '[s]he was talking about/ of me'. Also used idiomatically to mean 'in my opinion'.
'minuun' illative 'hän uskoi minuun' '[s]he believed in me'
'minulla' adessive 'minulla on rahaa' 'I've got some money'
'minulta' ablative 'hän otti minulta rahaa' '[s]he took some money from/off me'.
'minulle' allative 'anna minulle rahaa' 'give me some money'
'sinuna' essive 'If I were you' (lit. 'as you')
'minuksi' translative 'häntä luullaan usein minuksi' '[s]he is often mistaken for me'

Noun/adjective stem types

Vowel stems

Vowel stems are generally invariable. However, the ending vowel can change.
English singular sg. gen. sg. part. plural pl. gen. pl. part. notes
a fish kala kalan kalaa kalat kalojen kaloja Mutation ao before i or j.
a country maa maan maata maat maiden maita A long vowel is shortened before the oblique plural -i-.
a road tie tien tietä tiet teiden teitä Historically *tee, later diphthongized, but the original vowel survives in other forms.

An exception is the word ending -i, which is elided under agglutination to produce the stem, e.g. nimi ~ nim-. In singular, an epenthetic -e- is inserted, e.g. nime-. In plural, the plural marker -i- is added, followed by the aforementioned -e-, e.g. nimie-. This is used e.g. in this manner: nimi "name", nimen "of the name", nimien "of the names".

Failure to elide the -i changes meanings. For example, the genitive case will be mistaken for the instructive case, e.g. nimen "of the name" → nimin "using names". Another good example is the accidental production of a plural, e.g. nimiä "(at the) names", as contrasted to the nimeä "at the name".

Recent loanwords are an exception to this elision, but the plural is unchanged. (Often the -i is added to nativize a word as Finnish nouns generally don't end in consonants). For example, the singular stem of taksi is taksi-, but the plural stem is taksie-. The usage is as such: taksin "of the taxi", taksien "of the taxies". Likewise, applying the elision rule to the recent loans produces unintended meanings.

Consonant stems

In general, Finnish does not borrow new consonant stems, but employs paragoge. However, older consonant stems are retained, in all forms if the consonant is alveolar (n, r, l, or s), e.g. tanner "solid ground". Former -m-stems have merged with the n-stems in the nominative but not in the other cases, e.g. ydin "core", ytimet "cores". -h and -k stems have been abbreviated, but they still behave like consonant stems. In some dialects, the -h stems have shifted to -s instead, e.g. standard vene, in Pohjanmaa venesveneh. By analogy, in standard Finnish all words ending in 'e' behave as former -h stems. The illative case also changes form with a consonant stem, where the ending -hen is assibilated to -seen, as -hen is the genitive.
Nouns ending in -s
Vocalization or lenition is found in addition to any possible consonant gradation, e.g. kuningas (nominative) ~ kuninkaan (genitive), or mies ~ miehen. The illatives are marked thus: kuninkaaseen, mieheen.
-nen nouns
This is a very large class of words which includes common nouns (for example 'nainen' = 'woman'), many names, and many common adjectives. Adding -nen to a noun is a very productive mechanism for making adjectives ('muovi' = 'plastic' -> 'muovinen' = 'made of plastic'). It can also function as a diminutive ending.

The form behaves like it ended in -s, with the exception of the nominative, where it is -nen. Thus, the stem for these words removes the '-nen' and adds '-s(e)' after which the inflectional ending is added:

Finnish English
'muovisessa pussissa' 'in the plastic bag'
'kaksi muovista lelua' 'two plastic toys'
'muoviseen laatikkoon' 'into the plastic box'

Here are a few of the diminutive forms that are still in use:

Finnish From word English
'kätönen' käsi 'a small hand' (affectionate)
'lintunen' lintu 'birdie', 'a small bird'
'veikkonen' veikka 'my friend' (used in some sayings, like the English form)
'kirjanen' kirja 'booklet'
'kukkanen' kukka 'little flower'
'kalanen' kala 'little fish'

The diminutive form mostly lives in surnames which are usually very old words to which most Finns have forgotten the meaning. Some of the most common:

Finnish From word English
'Rautiainen' rautio blacksmith (of a blacksmith's family)
'Korhonen' korho 'deaf' (of a deaf man's family)
'Leinonen' leino 'sorrowful, melancholic'; alternatively male name Leino as short for Leonard
'Virtanen', 'Jokinen', 'Järvinen', 'Nieminen'... virta, joki, järvi, niemi 'the family from by the stream (virta), river (joki), lake (järvi), peninsula (niemi)'
'Mikkonen' [A family name assimilated from the name of the farmhouse, after the householder's name 'Mikko']
'Martikainen' possible origin Martikka, a South Karelian surname, identical to Russian surname Martika
'Lyytikäinen' from 'Lyytikkä', originating to Germanic male name 'Lydecke'

Occasionally such nouns become placenames. For example, there is a peninsula called "Neuvosenniemi" in one lake. "Neuvonen" means "a bit of advice/direction"; at this peninsula people rowing tar barrels across the lake would stop to ask whether the weather conditions would make it unsafe to continue to the other side. Placenames ending in -nen take a plural form when inflected. For instance, the illative of "Sörnäinen" is "Sörnäisiin" instead of singular "Sörnäiseen".

-e nouns
This set of nouns are a historic class which formerly had a consonant on the end, which has in present times been reduced to a glottal stop in most dialects. The dictionary form represents weak gradation, and each word has two stems, a weak grade stem in which the final glottal stop assimilates (used for the partitive singular), and strong grade vowel stem to which most case suffixes are applied. The vowel stem has an additional -e-: perhe 'family' -> perhee-: perheessä, perheellä, etc.; which represents the historical loss of a medial consonant which is sometimes found in dialects as an -h- (ex. ruostet 'rust' -> ruostehena).

The weak grade stem, which is found in the 'dictionary' form results from another historic change in which a final consonant has changed to a glottal stop. This is important to word inflection, because the partitive ending is suffixed directly onto this stem, resulting in the glottal stop assimilating to a -t-. Otherwise, other case endings are suffixed on to the strong grade/vowel stem.

-e nouns
huone 'room' laite 'device'
kaksi huonetta
'two rooms'
kaksi laitetta
'two devices'
huoneet
'rooms'
''laitteet'
'devices'
huoneessa
'in the room'
laitteessa
'in the device'
huoneeseen
'into the room'
laitteeseen
'into the device'

More of this phenomenon is discussed in Finnish Phonology: Sandhi.

Adjectives

Adjectives in Finnish are inflected in exactly the same way as nouns, and an adjective must agree in number and case with the noun it is modifying.

For example, here are some adjectives:

Finnish English
'iso' 'big'
'pieni' 'small'
'punainen' 'red'

And here are some examples of adjectives inflected to agree with nouns:

Finnish English
'iso|n talo|n edessä 'in front of the big house'
'kaksi pien|tä talo|a' 'two small houses'
'punaise|ssa talo|ssa' 'in the red house'

Notice that the adjectives undergo the same sorts of stem changes when they are inflected as nouns do.

Comparative formation

The comparative of the adjective is formed by adding '-mpi' to the inflecting stem. For example:
Finnish English Finnish English
'iso' 'big' 'iso|mpi' 'bigger'
'pieni' 'small' 'piene|mpi' 'smaller'
'punainen' 'red' 'punaise|mpi' 'more red'

Since the comparative adjective is still an adjective, it must be inflected to agree with the noun it modifies. To make the inflecting stem of the comparative, the '-mpi' ending loses its final 'i'. If the syllable context calls for a weak consonant, the '-mp-' becomes '-mm-'. Then '-a-' is added before the actual case ending (or '-i-' in plural). This should become clear with a few examples:

Finnish English
'iso|mma|n talo|n edessä' 'in front of the bigger house'
'kaksi piene|mpä|ä talo|a' 'two smaller houses'
'punaise|mma|ssa talo|ssa' 'in the redder house'
'punaise|mmi|ssa taloi|ssa' 'in the redder houses'

Superlative formation

The superlative of the adjective is formed by adding '-in' to the inflecting stem. For example:
Superlative formation
Finnish English Finnish English
'iso' 'big' 'iso|in' 'biggest'
'punainen' 'red' 'punais|in' 'reddest'

Note that because the superlative marker vowel is an 'i', the same kind of changes can occur with vowel stems as happen in verb imperfects, and noun inflecting plurals:

Finnish English Finnish English
'pieni' 'small' 'pienin' 'smallest' (not *'pienein')

Since the superlative adjective is still an adjective, it must be inflected to agree with the noun it modifies. The '-in' becomes either '-imma-' or '-impa-' (plural '-immi-' or '-impi-') depending on whether the syllable context calls for a weak or strong consonant. Here are the examples:

Finnish English
'iso|imma|n talo|n edessä' 'in front of the biggest house'
'kaksi pien|in|tä taloa' 'the two smallest houses'
'punais|imma|ssa talo|ssa' 'in the reddest house'
'punais|immi|ssa taloi|ssa' 'in the reddest houses'

Irregular forms

The most important irregular form is:
Main irregular form
Finnish English
'hyvä, parempi, paras' 'good, better, best'

Notice also:

More irregular forms
Finnish Hypothetic regular English
'pitkä, pidempi ~ pitempi, pisin' 'pitkä, *pitkempi, *pitkin' 'long, longer, longest'
'lyhyt, lyhempi, lyhin' 'lyhyt, lyhyempi, lyhyin' 'short, shorter, shortest'
(although the standard forms are also used)

There are a small number of other irregular comparative and superlative forms, such as:

Finnish English
'uusi' 'new'

Where the inflecting stem is 'uude-' but the superlative is 'uusin' = 'newest'.

Postpositions and prepositions

Postpositions are more common in Finnish than prepositions. Both postpositions and prepositions can be combined with either a noun or a possessive suffix to form a P-positional phrase.

Postpositions

Postpositions indicate place, time, cause, consequence or relation. In postpositional phrases the noun is usually in genitive:
Postpositions
Finnish English
'pöydän alla under the table'
'joulun jälkeen after Christmas'
'lasten tähden for the sake of the children'
'jonkun puolesta on behalf of somebody'

The noun (or pronoun) can be omitted when there is a possessive suffix:

Finnish English
'olen _ ''vierellä|si' '' '(I) am next to (you)' or
'(I) am by (your) side'

As with verbs, the pronoun can not be omitted in third person (singular or plural): "Olin __ mukanasi" -> "I was with you" vs. "Olin hänen mukanaan" -> "I was with him/her"

"Tulen __ mukaanne" -> "I will come with you (plural or polite)" vs. "Tulen heidän mukanaan" -> "I will come with them"

Prepositions

There are few important prepositions in Finnish. In prepositional phrases the noun is always in the partitive:
Prepositions
Finnish English
ennen joulua' before Christmas'
ilman sinua' without you'

Some postpositions can also be used as prepositions:

Prepositions
Finnish Equal Finnish English
'kylän keskellä ' ' keskellä kylää' ' in the middle of the village'

Verb forms

Finnish verbs are usually divided into six groups depending on the stem type. All six types have the same set of endings, but the stems undergo (slightly) different changes when inflected.

There are very few irregular verbs in Finnish. In fact, only 'olla' = 'to be' has an irregular form on "is"; other forms follow from the stem ol- with an epenthetic 'e' and consonant cluster abbreviation if necessary; e.g. oletol+t "you are", ovatol+vat "they are". A handful of verbs, including 'nähdä' = 'to see', 'tehdä' = 'to do/make', and 'juosta' = 'to run' have rare consonant mutation patterns which are not derivable from the infinitive.

Finnish does not have a separate verb for possession. Possession is indicated in other ways, mainly by genitives and existential clauses. For animate possessors, the adessive case is used with 'olla', for example 'koiralla on häntä' = 'the dog has a tail' - literally 'on the dog is a tail', or in English grammar, "There is a tail on the dog". This is similar to Irish forms such as "There is a hunger on me".

Tenses

Finnish verbs have present, imperfect, perfect and pluperfect tenses.

  • Present (nonpast): corresponds to English present and future tenses. For the latter, a time qualifier may need to be used to avoid ambiguity. The present is formed with using the personal suffixes only. For example, otan "I take" (from ottaa, "to take").
  • Imperfect: actually a preterite tense, but called "imperfect" for historical reasons; corresponds to English past continuous and past simple, indicating a past action which is complete but might have been a point event, a temporally extended event, or a repeated event. The imperfect is formed with the suffix -i- in addition to the personal suffixes, e.g. otin "I took".
  • Perfect: corresponds to the English present perfect ("I have eaten") in most of its usages, but can carry more sense than in English of a past action with present effects. The form is Germanic of origin, and uses the verb olla "to be" in the present tense as an auxiliary verb. Personal suffixes are added to the auxiliary, while the main verb is in the -nut/-nyt participle form. For example, olen ottanut "I have taken", where ole- is the auxiliary verb stem, -n is the personal suffix for "I", otta- is the stem for the main verb, and -nut is the participle marker.
  • Pluperfect: corresponds to the English past perfect ("I had visited") in its usage. Similarly to perfect, the verb olla is used in the past tense as an auxiliary verb. For example, olin ottanut "I had taken".

Voices

Finnish has two possible verb voices: definite and indefinite. The definite voice corresponds with the active voice of English, but the indefinite voice has some important differences from the passive voice.

Indefinite voice

The Finnish indefinite would best be described as a "fourth person", since there is no way of connecting the action performed with a particular agent and hence there is only one form of the indefinite. This should become clear through an example: talo maalataan "the house will be/is being painted".

The time when the house is being painted could be added: talo maalataan marraskuussa "the house will be painted in November". The colour and method could be added: talo maalataan punaiseksi harjalla "the house is being painted red with a brush". But nothing can be said about the person doing the painting; there is no simple grammatical mechanism to say "the house is being painted by Jim". There is a calque, evidently from Swedish, toimesta "from the action of", that can be used to introduce the agent: Taloa maalataan Jimin toimesta, approximately "One paints the house from Jim's action". This expression is grammatically incorrect, but it may be found wherever direct translation from Swedish, English, etc. has been attempted, especially in legal texts.

Hence the form maalataan is the only one which is needed. Notice also that the subject of the verb (that is, the object of the action) is in the nominative case. Verbs which govern the partitive case continue to do so in the indefinite, and where the subject is a personal pronoun, that goes into its special accusative form: minut unohdettiin "I was forgotten".

It can also be said that in the Finnish indefinite the agent is always human and never mentioned. A sentence such as the tree was blown down would translate poorly into Finnish if the indefinite were used, since it would suggest the image of a group of people trying to blow the tree down.

Because of its vagueness about who is performing the action, the indefinite can also translate the English one does (something), (something) is generally done, as in sanotaan että… "they say that…"

In modern colloquial Finnish, the indefinite form of the verb is used after me to mean "we do (something)", for example, me tullaan "we are coming", and on its own at the beginning of a sentence to make a suggestion, as in Mennään! "Let's go!". In case of the former, the me cannot be omitted without risk of causing confusion with the latter, unlike with the "standard" form tulemme.

Formation of the indefinite will be dealt with under the verb types below.

Moods

Indicative

The indicative is the form of the verb used for making statements or asking simple questions. In the verb morphology sections, the mood referred to will be the indicative unless otherwise stated.

Conditional

The conditional mood expresses the idea that the action or state expressed by the verb may or may not actually happen. As in English, the Finnish conditional is used in conditional sentences (e.g. "I would tell you if I knew") and in polite requests (e.g. "I would like some coffee").

In the former case, and unlike in English, the conditional must be used in both halves of the Finnish sentence:

"ymmärtäisin jos puhuisit hitaammin" = *"I would understand if you would speak more slowly".

The characteristic morphology of the Finnish conditional is 'isi' inserted between the verb stem and the personal ending. This can result in a 'closed' syllable becoming 'open' and so trigger consonant gradation:

'tiedän' = 'I know', 'tietäisin' = 'I would know'.

cf. 'haluan' = 'I want', 'haluaisin' = 'I would like'.

Conditional forms exists for both definite and indefinite voices, and for present and perfect tenses.

Imperative

The imperative mood is used to express commands. In Finnish, there is only one tense form (the present-future). The possible variants of Finnish imperatives are:

  • 1st, 2nd or 3rd person
  • singular or plural (only plural for 1st person)
  • definite or indefinite
  • positive or negative

Definite, 2nd person imperatives
These are the most common forms of the imperative: "Do this", "Don't do that".

The singular imperative is simply the verb's present tense without any personal ending (that is, chop the '-n' off the first person singular form):

Definite, 2nd person imperatives
Finnish English
'tule!' 'come!'
'syö!' 'eat!'
'huomaa!' 'note!'

To make this negative, 'älä' (which is the definite imperative singular 2nd person of the negative verb) is placed before the positive form:

Finnish English
'älä sano!' 'don't say!'
'älä mene!' 'don't go!'
'älä valehtele!' 'don't lie!'
(from 'valehdella' = 'to lie', type II)

To form the plural, add '-kaa' or '-kää' to the verb's stem:

Finnish English
'tulkaa!' 'come!'
'juokaa!' 'drink!'
'mitatkaa!' 'measure!'
(from 'mitata' = 'to measure', type IV)

To make this negative, 'älkää' (which is the definite imperative present plural 2nd person of the negation verb) is placed before the positive form and the suffix '-ko' or '-kö' is added to the verb stem:

Finnish English
'älkää sanoko!' 'don't say!'
'älkää menkö!' 'don't go!'
'älkää tarjotko!' 'don't offer!'

Note that 2nd person plural imperatives can also be used as polite imperatives when referring to one person.

The Finnish language has no simple equivalent to the English "please". The Finnish equivalent is to use either 'ole hyvä' or 'olkaa hyvä' = 'be good', but it is generally omitted. Politeness is normally conveyed by tone of voice, facial expression, and use of conditional verbs and partitive nouns. For example, voisitteko means "could you", in the polite plural, and is used much like English "Could you..." sentences: voisitteko auttaa "could you help me, please?"

Also, familiar (and not necessarily so polite) expressions can be added to imperatives, e.g. menes, menepä, menehän. These are hard to translate exactly, but extensively used by Finnish speakers themselves. Menes implies expectation, that is, it has been settled already and requires no discussion; menepä has the -pa which indicates insistence, and -hän means approximated "indeed".

Indefinite imperatives
Indefinite imperatives
Finnish English
tehtäköön let (sth) be done
älköön tehtäkö let (sth) not be done
olkoon tehty let (sth) have been done
älköön olko tehty let (sth) not have been done
3rd person imperatives
3rd person imperatives
Finnish English
'olkoon' 'let it (him, her) be'
'tehkööt' 'let them do'
'älköön unohtako' 'let him not forget', 'he better not forget'
'älkööt unohtako' 'let them not forget'
1st person plural imperatives
1st person plural imperatives
Finnish English
'menkäämme' 'let's go'
'älkäämme tehkö' 'let us not do', 'we better not do'

The 1st person imperative sounds archaic, and a form resembling the indefinite indicative is often used instead: 'mennään!' = 'let's go!'

Optative

The optative mood is a variant of the imperative mood. It expresses hopes or wishes. Archaic and/or poetic.
Optative
Finnish English
'kävellös' 'oh, please walk'

Potential

The potential mood is used to express that the action or state expressed by the verb is likely but not certain, and is rare in modern Finnish, especially in speech. It has only the present and perfect tenses. The potential has no counterpart in English.

The characteristic morphology of the Finnish conditional is -ne- inserted between the verb stem and the personal ending. Furthermore, continuants assimilate progressively (pes+ne- → pesse-) and stops regressively (korjat+ne- → korjanne-). The verb "lie" always replaces the verb "olla" "to be" in the potential mood, e.g. the potential of on haettu "has been fetched" is lienee haettu "may have been fetched".

Potential forms exists for both definite and indefinite voices, and for present and perfect tenses:

Potential
Finnish English
lie|ne|n I may be / it's possible that I am
pes|se|e [s]he may wash
korjan|ne|e [s]he may fix
sur|re|vat it is possible that they are mourning/ will mourn
se pes|tä|ne|en it may be washed (by smb.)
lie|ne|tte nähneet you may have seen
ei lie|ne annettu possibly may not have been given (by smb.)

In some dialects 'tullee' ('may come') is an indicative form verb ('tulee' = 'comes') but grammatically it is a potential verb.

Eventive

The eventive mood is used in the Kalevala. It is a combination of the potential and the conditional. It is also used in some dialects of Estonian.
Eventive
Finnish English
'kävelleisin' 'I probably would walk'

Infinitives

Finnish verbs are described as having four, sometimes five infinitives:

First infinitive

The first infinitive short form of a verb is the "dictionary entry" form. It is not unmarked; its overt marking is the suffix -ta, which is however radically changed more often than not. First, vowel harmony has 'a' for back-vowel and 'ä' for front-vowel words. Intervocalically, the 't' elides, e.g. sano|a, kirjoitta|a. The cluster '-k+ta' is changed to '-hda', e.g. *näk+tänähdä. Consonant gradation is not used; the root for this form is the strong form. This corresponds to the English 'to' form, for example:
Finnish English
'sano|a' 'to say'
'tietä|ä' 'to know'
'teh|dä' 'to do'
'luke|a' 'to read'

The first infinitive long form is the translative plus a possessive suffix (rare in spoken language).

Finnish English
'...soitti sano|a|kse|en...' '...([s]he) phoned in order to say...'
'tietä|ä|kse|mme' (idiomatic use:) 'as far as we know'
'voi|da|kse|ni lukea' ' in order for me to be able to read'

The first infinitive only has active form.

Second infinitive

The second infinitive is used to express aspects of actions relating to the time when an action takes place or the manner in which an action happens. In equivalent English phrases these time aspects can often be expressed using 'when', 'while' or 'whilst' and the manner aspects using the word 'by' or else the '-ing' form of the English verb to express manner.

It is recongnizable by the letter 'e' in place of the usual "a" or "ä" as the infinitive marker. It is only ever ever used with one of two case makers; the inessive "ssa/ssä" indicating time or the instructive "n" indicating manner. Finnish phrases using the second infinitive can often be rendered in English using the "-ing" verb form.

The second infinitive is formed by replacing the final 'a'/'ä' of the first infinitive with 'e' then adding the appropriate inflectional ending. If the vowel before the 'a'/'ä' is already an 'e', this becomes 'i' (see example from 'lukea' = 'to read').

The cases in which the second infinitive can appear are:

Second infinitive
Finnish English
Active Inessive (while someone is in the act of)
'teh|de|ssä' 'when doing'
'sano|e|ssa' 'when saying'
Active Inessive + Possessive Suffix (while themselves in the act of)
'luki|e|ssa|an' 'while he is/was reading'
'sano|e|ssa|si' 'while you are/were saying'
Passive Inessive (when or while in the act of something being done)
'sano|tta|e|ssa' 'when saying'
'teh|tä|e|ssä' 'when doing'
'lue|tta|e|ssa' 'when reading'
Active Instructive (by means of/ while in the act of)
'teh|de|n' 'by doing'
'sano|e|n' 'by saying'
'luki|e|n' 'by reading'
'hän tuli itki|e|n huoneeseen' 'she came into the room crying'

The inessive form is mostly seen in written forms of language because spoken forms usually express the same idea in longer form using two clauses linked by the word kun (when). The instructive is even rarer and mostly exists nowadays in set phrases (for example 'toisin sanoen' = 'in other words').

If the person perfoming the action of the verb is the same as the person in the equivalent relative clause, then the verb uses the appropriate personal possessive suffix on the verb for the person. If the person in the main clause is different to that in the relative clause then this is indicated by with the person in the genitive and the verb is unmarked for person.

Second infinitive inessive Equivalent kun phrase English translation
ollessani englannissa kävin monessa pubissa kun olin englannissa, kävin monessa pubissa when I was in England, I went into many pubs
ollessaan englannissa he kävivät monessa pubissa kun he olivat englannissa, he kävivät monessa pubissa when they were in England, they went into many pubs
Jaakon ollessa englannissa Laura meni espanjaan Kun Jaakko oli englannissa, Laura meni espanjaan when Jaakko was in England, Laura went to Spain

Third infinitive

This corresponds to the English verbal noun (-ing form), and behaves as a noun in Finnish in that it can be inflected, but only in a limited number of cases. It is used to refer to a particular act or occasion of the verb's action.

The third infinitive is formed by taking the verb stem with its consonant in the strong form, then adding 'ma' followed by the case inflection.

The cases in which the third infinitive can appear are:

Case Finnish English
inessive 'lukemassa' '(in the act of) reading'
Example: 'hän on lukemassa kirjastossa' '[s]he's reading in the library'
elative 'lukemasta' '(from just having been) reading'
illative 'lukemaan' '(about to be / with the intention of) reading'
adessive 'lukemalla' '(by) reading'
abessive 'lukematta' '(without) reading'

A rare and archaic form of the third infinitive which occurs with the verb pitää:

Case Finnish English
instructive 'sinun ei pidä lukeman' 'you must not read'

The third infinitive instructive is usually replaced with the first infinitive short form in modern Finnish.

Note that the '-ma' form without a case ending is called the 'agent participle' (see 'participles' below). The agent participle can also be inflected in all cases, producing forms which look similar to the third infinitive.

Fourth infinitive

The fourth infinitive has the stem ending -MINEN and indicates obligation, but it is quite rare in Finnish today. This is because there are other words like pitää and täytyy that can convey this meaning.

For example

Fourth Infinitive
Finnish English
'Sinne ei ole menemistä' 'There is no going there' i.e. 'One must not go there'

Though not an infinitive, a much more common -MINEN verbal stem ending is the noun construct which gives the name of the activity described by the verb. This is rather similar to the English verbal noun -ING form, and therefore as a noun, this form can inflect just like any other noun.

-MINEN noun formation
Finnish English
'lukeminen on hauskaa' 'reading is fun'
'vihaan lukemista' 'I hate reading'
'nautin lukemisesta' 'I enjoy reading'

Fifth infinitive

This is a fairly rare form which has the meaning 'on the point of ...ing / just about to ...'
Fifth infinitive
Finnish English
'olin lukemaisillani' 'I was just about to read'

Verb conjugation

For full details of how verbs are conjugated in Finnish, please refer to the Finnish verb conjugation article.

Participles

Finnish verbs have past and present participles, both with passive and active forms, and an 'agent' participle. Participles can be used in different ways than ordinary adjectives and they can have an object.

Past passive participle

Finnish English
'lähde|tty|ä|si kotiin' 'after you went home'
[pass. II participle sg. ess.+ poss.suff.]

Past active participle

Basically this is formed by removing the infinitive ending and adding '-nut/nyt' (depending on vowel harmony). For example:
From To
'puhua' 'puhunut'
'syödä' 'syönyt'

However, depending on the verb's stem type, assimilation can occur with the 'n' of the ending.

In type II verbs, the 'n' is assimilated to the consonant at the end of the stem:

From To To
'mennä' ('men-') 'mennyt'
'harjoitella' ('harjoitel-') 'harjoitellut'

In verbs of types IV-VI, the 't' at the end of the stem is assimilated to the 'n':

From To To
'haluta' ('halut-') 'halunnut'
'tarvita' ('tarvit-') 'tarvinnut'
'rohjeta' ('rohjet-') 'rohjennut'

Present passive participle

Present passive participle
Finnish English
'minun on nuku|tta|va' 'I must sleep' [pass. I participle sg. nom.]

Present active participle

Present active participle
Finnish English
'nukku|va koira' 'sleeping dog'
'häikäise|vä valo' 'blinding light'
'olin luke|v|i|na|ni' 'I pretended to be reading'
[act. I participle pl. essive + poss. suff.]

Agent participle

The agent participle is formed in a similar way as the third infinitive (see above), adding -ma or -mä to the verb stem. It allows the property of being a target of an action to be formatted as an adjective-like attribute. Like adjectives, it can be inflected in all cases. For example, ihmisen tekemä muodostelma "a man-made formation". The party performing the action is indicated by the use of genitive, or by a possessive suffix. This is reflected in English, too: ihmisen tekemä — "of man's making", or kirjoittamani kirja "book of my writing". For example:
Agent participle
Finnish English
'tytön lukema kirja' the book read by the girl
'tytön lukemaa kirjaa' (partitive) the book read by the girl
'tytön lukemassa kirjassa' in the book read by the girl
etc.
It is not required for the action to be in the past, although the examples above are. Rather, the construction simply specifies the subject, the object and the action, with no reference to time. For an example in the future, consider: huomenna käyttämänänne välineenä on -- "tomorrow, as the instrument you will be using is --". Here, käyttämä "that which is used" describes, i.e. is an attribute to väline "instrument". (Notice the case agreement between käyttämä-nä and välinee-nä.) The suffix -nne "your" specifies the person "owning" the action, i.e. who does it, thus käyttämänne is "that which was used by you(pl.)", and käyttämänänne is "as that which was used by you".

It is also possible to give the actor with a pronoun, e.g. sinun käyttämäsi "that which was used by you". In standard language, the pronoun sinun "your" is not necessary, but the possessive suffix is. In inexact spoken usage, this goes vice versa; the possessive suffix is optional, and used typically only for the second person singular, e.g. sun käyttämäs.

Negation of verbs

Present indicative

Verbs are negated by using a 'negative verb' in front of the stem from the present tense (in its 'weak' consonant form):
Present indicative
Finnish English Finnish English
Singular
'tiedän' 'I know' -> 'en tiedä' 'I don't know'
'tiedät' 'you know' -> 'et tiedä' 'you don't know'
'tietää' '(s)he knows' -> 'ei tiedä' '(s)he doesn't know'
Plural
'tiedämme' 'we know' -> 'emme tiedä' 'we don't know'
'tiedätte' 'you know' -> 'ette tiedä' 'you don't know'
'tietävät' 'they know' -> 'eivät tiedä' 'they don't know'

Note that the inflection is on the negative verb, not on the main verb, and that the endings are regular apart from the 3rd person forms.

Present indefinite

The negative is formed from the third-person singular "negative verb" - 'ei' - and the present indefinite with the final '-an' removed:
Finnish English
'ei puhuta' 'it is not spoken'
'ei tiedetä' 'it is not known'

Imperfect indicative

The negative is formed from the appropriate part of the negative verb followed by the nominative form (either singular or plural depending on the number of the verb's subject) of the active past participle. So for 'puhua' the pattern is:
Imperfect indicative
Finnish English
Singular
'en puhunut' 'I did not speak'
'et puhunut' 'you did not speak'
'ei puhunut' '([s]he) did not speak'
Plural
'emme puhuneet' 'we did not speak'
'ette puhuneet' 'you did not speak'
'eivät puhuneet' 'they did not speak'

Note one exception: when the 'te' 2nd person plural form is used in an honorific way to address one person, the singular form of the participle is used: 'te ette puhunut' = 'you (s, polite) did not speak'.

Imperfect indefinite

The negative is formed from the third-person singular negative verb - 'ei' - and the nominative singular form of the passive present participle (compare this with the negative of the imperfect indicative):
Imperfect passive
Finnish English
'ei puhuttu' 'it was not spoken'
'ei tiedetty' 'it was not known'

Note that in the spoken language, this form is used for the first person plural. In this case, the personal pronoun is obligatory:

Finnish English
'me ei menty' 'we did not go'

Interrogatives (questions)

There are two main ways of forming a question - either using a specific question word, or by adding a '-ko/kö' suffix to one of the words in a sentence. A question word is placed first in the sentence, and a word with the interrogative suffix is also moved to this position:
Interrogatives (questions)
Finnish English
'mikä tämä on?' 'what is this?'
'tämä on kirja' 'this is a book'
'onko tämä kirja?' 'is this a book?'
'tämäkö on kirja?' 'is this a book?'
'kirjako tämä on?' 'is this a book?'
'eikö tämä ole kirja?' 'is this not a book?'
(note the '-kö' goes on the negative verb)

Adverbs

A very common way of forming adverbs is by adding the ending '-sti' to the inflecting form of the corresponding adjective:
Adverbs
Finnish English
'nopea, nopeasti' 'quick, quickly'
'kaunis, kauniisti' 'beautiful, beautifully'
'hidas, hitaasti' 'slow, slowly'
'helppo, helposti' 'easy, easily'

Adverbs are modifying verbs, not nouns, therefore they don't inflect.

Comparative formation

The comparative form of the adverb has the ending '-mmin'
Comparative formation
Finnish English
'nopea, nopeasti, nopeammin' 'quick, quickly, more quickly/faster'
'kaunis, kauniisti, kauniimmin' 'beautiful, beautifully, more beautifully'
'hidas, hitaasti, hitaammin' 'slow, slowly, more slowly'
'helppo , helposti, helpommin' 'easy, easily, more easily'

Superlative formation

The superlative form of the adverb has the ending '-immin'.
Superlative formation
Finnish English
'helppo, helposti, helpommin, helpoimmin' 'easy, easily, more easily, most easily'

Because of the '-i-', the stem vowel can change, similarly to superlative adjectives, or to avoid runs of three vowels:

Finnish English
'nopea, nopeasti, nopeammin, nopeimmin' 'quick, quickly, more quickly/faster, fastest'
'kaunis, kauniisti, kauniimmin, kauneimmin' 'beautiful, beautifully, more beautifully, most beautifully'
'hidas, hitaasti, hitaammin, hitaimmin' 'slow, slowly, more slowly, most slowly'

Irregular forms

There are a number of irregular adverbs, including:
Irregular forms
Finnish English
'hyvä, hyvin, paremmin, parhaiten' 'good, well, better, best'

Numbers

Please refer to the separate numbers article for details of how numbers work in Finnish.

Sentence structure

Since Finnish is an inflected language, word order within sentences can be comparatively free - the function of a word being indicated by its ending.

The most usual neutral order, however, is subject-verb-object:

Finnish English
'koira puri miestä' 'the dog bit the man'

or:

Finnish English
'koira on puutarhassa' 'the dog is in the garden'

although puutarhassa "in the garden" is not grammatically an object, as well as:

Finnish English
'minulla on rahaa' 'I have money'

where minulla is not considered the subject.

Word order can be varied for emphasis:

Finnish English
'miestä puri koira' 'the man was bitten by a dog'

and:

Finnish English
'rahaa minulla on' 'money is something I do have' (although I may not have something else)
'rahaa on minulla' 'I, for one, have money'
'minulla rahaa on' 'it is I that have money' (and not someone else)
'on minulla rahaa' 'I do have money' (if my having money is doubted)

and finally, a classic example:

Finnish Translation
'minä olen valtio' 'I am the state' (matter-of-fact)
'valtio olen minä' l'état, c'est moi’ (French)

Besides the word-order implications of turning a sentence into a question, there are some other circumstances where word-order is important:

Existential sentences

These are sentences which introduce a new subject - they often begin 'there is' or 'there are' in English.
Finnish English
'huoneessa on sänky' 'there is a bed in the room'

The location of the thing whose existence is being stated comes first, followed by its stative verb, followed by the thing itself. Note how this is unlike the normal English equivalent, though English can also use the same order:

Finnish English
'siellä seisoi mies' '(in/out) there stood a man'

Note what happens to the verb in the English and Finnish versions when the meaning is plural.

Finnish English
'huoneessa on sänky' 'there is a bed in the room'
'huoneessa on kaksi sänkyä' 'there are two beds in the room'

Note that the verb remains singular in Finnish existential statements when declaring more than one item. The English construction moves the verb to a plural form because English follows the beds as subject whereas the Finnish construction treats the beds as objects (it is essentially ADVERB-STATIVE VERB-OBJECT)

See also

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