Finnish grammar

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This article deals with the grammar of the Finnish language (the article Finnish language discusses the language in general and contains a quick overview of the grammar). For the ways in which the spoken language differs from the written language, see Colloquial Finnish. Unlike the languages spoken in neighbouring countries, such as Swedish and Norwegian, which are North Germanic languages, Finnish is a Uralic language. Typologically, Finnish is agglutinative, [1] and is somewhat unique among the languages of Europe in having vowel harmony.



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

Personal pronouns

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
hän singular they
heplural they

Because Finnish verbs are inflected for person and number, in the Finnish standard language subject pronouns are not required, and the first and second-person pronouns are usually omitted except when used for emphasis. In the third person, however, the pronoun is required: hän menee 's/he goes', he menevät 'they go'. In spoken Finnish, all pronouns are generally used.

In colloquial Finnish, the inanimate pronouns se and ne are very commonly used in place of the singular and plural animate third-person pronouns, respectively. Use of hän and he is mostly restricted to writing and formal or markedly polite speech as this clear distinction has never occurred naturally in the language. (Also the distinction isn't even about animacy as hän and he are only used when referring to humans, never to animals.) Minä and sinä are usually replaced with colloquial forms. The most common variants are and , though in some dialects mää and sää, mnää and snää or mie and sie are used. Me, te and he are short enough to lack reduced colloquial forms, and their variants (for example myö, työ, and hyö of some eastern varieties) are considered dialectal. Some common verbs, such as olla "to be" and tulla "to come", exhibit similar reduced colloquial forms:

Personal pronouns
(minä) olen/tulenmä oon/tuun
(sinä) olet/tuletsä oot/tuut
hän/se on/tuleese on/tulee
(me) olemme/tulemmeme ollaan/tullaan
(te) olette/tulettete ootte/tuutte
he/ne ovat/tulevatne on/tulee
Te olette/tuletteTe ootte/tuutte

The second-person plural can be used as a polite form when addressing one person, as in some Romance languages. However, 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. (This usage is quite correct in a demonstrative sense, i.e. when qualified by the relative pronoun joka, and in fact it is hypercorrect to replace a demonstrative se or ne with hän or he just because the antecedent is human.) 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

Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns
kukawho, which (of many)
mikäwhat, which (of many)
kenwho, which (of many) — old or dialectal word
kumpiwhich (of two)
kumpainenwhich (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
(refers to preceding word)
hän on ainoa, jonka muistan"s/he is the only one whom (I) remember"
(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
toinenhe rakastavat toisiaan"they love each other" (plural)
he rakastavat toinen toistaan"they love one another" (dual)

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns
itseplus corresponding possessive suffixkeitin 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"; rather, the positive pronoun is negated with the negative verb ei. No double negatives are possible.

Indefinite pronouns
joka (uninflected)every, each
jokainenevery, everyone
jokusome, someone (person)
jompikumpieither one
jokinsome, something (animal, thing)
kukineach one
kumpainenkinboth (old or dialectal)
mikineach thing (dialectal)
kenkäänanyone (old or poetic)
kukaan (nom.), kene...kään (oblique)anyone
ei kukaanno one
kumpikaaneither one
ei kumpikaanneither one
ei mikäännothing
mones (nom.), monente- (oblique)the ordinal pronoun (representing first, second, etc.)

Each pronoun declines. However, the endings -kaan/-kään and -kin are clitics, and case endings are placed before them, e.g. mikään "any", miltäkään "from any". 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 tulee maaliin "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, although 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
ainoathe only one
erässome, certain, one
itse (non-reflexive)self
kaikkiall, everyone, everything
muutamasome, a few
toinen (non-reciprocal, non-numeral use)another

Noun forms

The Finnish language does not distinguish gender in nouns or even in personal pronouns: hän is 'he', 'she', 'they' (singular) or 'it' depending on the referent. There are no articles, neither definite nor indefinite.

Possessive suffixes


Finnish has fifteen noun cases: four grammatical cases, six locative cases, two essive cases (three in some Eastern dialects) and three marginal cases.

Finnish cases
CaseSuffixEnglish prep.ExampleTranslation
nominative (nominatiivi)sinä, taloyou, house
genitive (genetiivi)-nof, 's sinun, talonyour(s), house's
accusative (akkusatiivi)-tsinutyou (thee) (but see discussion below)
partitive (partitiivi)-(t)a / -(t)äsinua, taloayou, house (as the object of an atelic verb)
Locative (internal)
inessive (inessiivi)-ssa / -ssäintalossain a house
elative (elatiivi)-sta / -stäout oftalostaout of a house
illative (illatiivi)-Vn, -seen, -siinintotaloon, Porvooseeninto a house, into Porvoo
Locative (external)
adessive (adessiivi)-lla / -lläat, ontalollaat a house
ablative (ablatiivi)-lta / -ltäfromtaloltafrom a house
allative (allatiivi)-lleontotalolleonto a house
essive (essiivi)-na / -näastalonaas a house
translative (translatiivi)-ksiinto (the role of)taloksiinto (being) a house
instructive (instruktiivi)-nwith (the aid of)taloinwith the houses
abessive (abessiivi)-tta / -ttäwithouttalottawithout a house
comitative (komitatiivi)-ne-together (with)taloineenwith the house(s)

Some notes about the cases listed in the table above:

Relationship between locative cases

As in other Uralic languages, locative cases in Finnish can be classified according to three criteria: the spatial position (interior or surface), the motion status (stationary or moving), and within the latter, the direction of the movement (approaching or departing). The classification captures a morphophonological pattern that distinguishes interior and surface spatial position; long consonants (/sː/ in -ssa / -ssä and /lː/ in -lla / -llä) express stationary motion, whereas a /t/ expresses "movement from". The table below shows these relationships schematically:

Schematic summary of locative cases
Spatial positionMotion status
Interiorinessive ('in')
-ssa / -ssä
illative ('into')
elative ('out of')
-sta / -stä
Surfaceadessive ('on')
-lla / -llä
allative ('onto')
ablative ('off from')
-lta / -ltä


Finnish nominal plurals are often marked by /-i/ (though /-t/ is a suppletive variant in the nominative and accusative, as is common in Uralic languages). Singular and plural number cross-cut the distinctions in grammatical case, and several number/case combinations have somewhat idiosyncratic uses. Several of these deserve special mention.

Nominative/accusative plural

The nominative plural is used for definite count nouns that are subjects, while the plural object of a telic verb bears the accusative plural. The syncretic suffix that covers both uses is -t. This suffix can only appear in word-final position; i.e. it is omitted when a possessive suffix is present.

Nominative plural
Koirat olivat huoneessa"The dogs were in the room"
Huoneet olivat suuria"The rooms were large"
Minäkin näin koirat"I too saw the dogs"


When a noun is modified by a numeral greater than one, and the numeral is in the nominative singular, the noun bears the partitive singular. Otherwise, the noun and the numeral agree with each other in number and case.

Following numerals
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"
tarvitsen kahdet kengät"I need two pairs of shoes"

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
huonehuoneita'(some) rooms'
huoneissa'in rooms'

As a combined example of plurals

Inflected plural
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
minungenitive('my, mine')
tämä talo on minun'this house is mine'
tämä on minun taloni'this is my house'
minutaccusativehän tuntee minut's/he knows me'
minuapartitivehän rakastaa minua's/he loves me'
minussainessivetämä herättää minussa vihaa'this provokes (lit. awakens) anger in me'
minustaelativehän puhui minusta's/he was talking about/of me'. Also used idiomatically to mean 'in my opinion'.
minuunillativehän uskoi minuun's/he believed in me'
minullaadessiveminulla on rahaa'I've got some money' (lit.'On me there's money')
minultaablativehän otti minulta rahaa's/he took some money from/off me'.
minulleallativeanna minulle rahaa'give me some money'
sinunaessivesinuna en tekisi sitä'If I were you, I wouldn't do it' (lit. 'as you')
minuksitranslativehäntä luullaan usein minuksi's/he is often mistaken for me'

Noun/adjective stem types

The stem of a word is the part to which inflectional endings are affixed. For most noun and adjective types, the nominative case is identical to the basic stem (the nominative is unmarked).

Vowel stems

A word with a vowel stem is one that ends in a vowel in the nominative, and retains a final vowel in all forms. The stem vowel can however change in certain inflected forms:

Englishstem vowelsingularsg. gen. sg. part.
fish -akalakalankalaakalatkalojenkalojaa + i becomes oj when after a, e or i.
corner -akulmakulmankulmaakulmatkulmienkulmiaa + i becomes i when after o or u.
summerkesäkesänkesääkesätkesienkesiää + i becomes i.
name -eniminimennimeänimetnimiennimiäe becomes i at the end of a word; e + i becomes i.
hall -ihallihallinhalliahallithallienhallejai + i becomes ej.
light -ovalovalonvaloavalotvalojenvalojaA stem with a labial vowel -o, -u, -y, -ö is invariable; plural i becomes j between vowels.
teddy bear -enallenallennalleanalletnallejennallejaInvariable e-stems can be found in very recent coinages.
land, earth -aamaamaanmaatamaatmaidenmaitaA long vowel is shortened before the oblique plural -i-.
road -ietietientietätietteidenteitäHistorical long mid vowels *ee *öö *oo have been diphthongized, but the original vowel survives in shortened forms.

The change of original (pre-Proto-Finnic) final *e to i means that the stem vowel of a word ending in i cannot be determined from the nominative alone; one of the inflected forms must be consulted. However, most old inherited words ending in i decline as e-stems (or consonants stems, see below), while modern loans, where i frequently is added for phonotactic reasons (as in the case of halli), always decline as i-stems.

Consonant stems

A word with a consonant stem is one where case suffixes can in some cases be affixed directly after the last consonant for at least some forms. Words with consonant stems come in three broad classes.

The first class of consonant-stem words largely resemble e-stems, but allow elision of the stem vowel in the partitive singular, and for certain words, plural genitive. In the later case, this involves a special allomorph -ten, employing the plural marker t rather than i/j.

The final consonant in words of this class must be one of h, l, m, n, r, s, t. Other remarks for e-stem words still apply.

Englishstemsingularsg. gen. sg. part.
goat -h(e) vuohi vuohen vuohta vuohet vuohien vuohia
wind -l(e) tuuli tuulen tuulta tuulet tuulien, tuulten tuulia
broth -m(e)liemiliemenlienliemetliemien, lientenliemiämn before t.
sound -n(e) ääni äänen ääntä äänet äänien, äänten ääniä
bow -s(e) jousi jousen jousta jouset jousien, jousten jousia

Words of this type may have somewhat irregular declension due to additional historical changes:

Englishstemsingularsg. gen. sg. part.
child -ps(e) lapsi lapsen lasta lapset lapsien, lasten lapsiaThe first consonant in a cluster of three is lost: Cs + tst.
knife -ts(e) veitsi veitsen veis veitset veitsien veitsiä
hand -t(e)si käden kättä kädetsien, kättensti becomes si. (Variation of t/d, nt/nn is regular and due to consonant gradation.)
nail -nt(e) kynsi kynnen kynttä kynnet kynsien kyns
two -kt(e) kaksi kahden kahta kahdet kaksien kaksiaIn addition to the previous changes, kt and ktt become ht/hd.

For some words of this type, modern Finnish displays a tendency of development from consonant-stems to e-stems. For example, the partitive singular of the word tuomi "bird cherry" may be tuonta (consonant stem) or tuomea (vowel stem).

Another class of consonant-stem words end in a consonant even in the nominative; if a stem vowel is required for phonotactic reasons, e again appears. Modern Finnish only allows dental and alveolar consonants (l, n, r, s, t) to occur as word-final, but originally, words ending in h, k, m were possible as well.

Englishstemsingularsg. gen. sg. part.
joint -l(e) nivel nivelen niveltä nivelet nivelien, nivelten niveliä
core -m(e) ydin ytimen ydin ytimet ytimien, ydinten ytimiämn when word-final or before t.
perch -n(e) ahven ahvenen ahventa ahvenet ahvenien, ahventen ahvenia
sister -r(e) sisar sisaren sisarta sisaret sisarien, sisarten sisaria
beer-t(e) olut oluen olutta oluet oluiden oluitat disappears in vowel-stem forms due to consonant gradation.
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 proper names, and many common adjectives. Adding -nen to a noun is a very productive mechanism for creating adjectives (lika 'dirt, filth' → likainen 'dirty'; ilo 'joy' → iloinen 'merry, happy'; muovi 'plastic' → muovinen 'made of plastic'/'plastic-like' ). It can also function as a diminutive ending.

The form behaves as if 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:

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

Here are some of the diminutive forms that are in use:

FinnishStemming fromEnglish
kätönenkäsi'a small hand' (affectionate)
lintunenlintu'birdie', 'a small bird'
kukkanenkukka'a little flower'
lapsonenlapsi'a little child'

A special class of Finnish nouns in -nen are surnames. Some of these are very old and often their original meaning is not readily apparent to a modern speaker. Many were later coined on the -nen pattern and these often have the suffix added to a word meaning a natural feature. Some representative examples are:

FinnishFrom wordEnglish
Rautiainenrautioblacksmith (of a blacksmith's family)
Korhonenkorho'deaf' (of a deaf man's family)
Leinonenleino'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']
Martikainenpossible origin Martikka, a South Karelian surname[ citation needed ]
Lyytikäinenfrom Lyytikkä, originating to Germanic male name Lydecke[ citation needed ]

The suffix -nen also occurs in place-names. Many place-names ending with -nen assume a plural form when inflected. For instance, the illative of Sörnäinen is Sörnäisiin instead of singular Sörnäiseen.

-e nouns

Older *-h and *-k-stems have changed rather drastically. The consonant does not survive in any form of the paradigm, and these nouns make the appearance of ending in an unchanging -e. However, the former existence of a consonant in still seen in that the dictionary form represents weak gradation, and each word has two stems, a weak grade stem in which the former final consonant has assimilated (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- (e.g,. ruoste 'rust' → *ruostehena).

By analogy, in standard Finnish all words ending in 'e' behave as former -h stems. In some dialects, the -h stems have however shifted to -s instead, e.g. standard vene, in Pohjanmaa venesveneh. The illative case also changes form with a consonant stem, where the ending -hen is assibilated to -seen, as -hen is the genitive.

The weak grade stem, which is found in the 'dictionary' form results from another historic change in which a final consonant has been lost. This is important to word inflection, because the partitive ending is suffixed directly onto this stem, where the consonant has been assimilated to a -t- instead of being lost. Other case endings are suffixed to the strong grade/vowel stem.

-e nouns
casehuone 'room'laite 'device'
partitive sg.kaksi huonetta
'two rooms'
kaksi laitetta
'two devices'
nominative pl.huoneet
inessive sg.huoneessa
'in the room'
'in the device'
illative sg.huoneeseen
'into the room'
'into the device'

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


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:


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

n talo|n edessä'in front of the big house'
tä talo|a'two small houses'
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:


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:

mma|n talo|n edessä'in front of the bigger house'
mpä|ä talo|a'two smaller houses'
mma|ssa talo|ssa'in the redder house'
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

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

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

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:

imma|n talo|n edessä'in front of the biggest house'
in|tä talo|a'the two smallest houses'
imma|ssa talo|ssa'in the reddest house'
immi|ssa taloi|ssa'in the reddest houses'

Irregular forms

The most important irregular form is:

Main irregular form
hyvä, parempi, paras'good, better, best'

The form paree "good" is not found in standard Finnish, but can be found in the Southern Ostrobothnian dialect.

Notice also:

More irregular forms
FinnishHypothetic regularEnglish
pitkä, pidempi ~ pitempi, pisinpitkä, *pitkempi, *pitkin'long, longer, longest'
lyhyt, lyhyempi ~ lyhempi, lyhinlyhyt, 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:

uusi, uudempi, uusin'new, newer, newest'

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 postpositional phrase.


Postpositions indicate place, time, cause, consequence or relation. In postpositional phrases the noun is usually in genitive:

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:

si'(I) am next to (you)' or
'(I) am by (your) side'

As with verbs, the pronoun cannot be omitted in the third person (singular or plural):

Olin _ mukanasi "I was with you"
but Olin hänen mukanaan "I was with him/her"
Tulen _ mukaanne "I will come with you (plural or polite)"
but Tulen heidän mukanaan "I will come with them"


There are few important prepositions in Finnish. In prepositional phrases the noun is always in the partitive:

ennen jouluabefore Christmas
ilman sinuawithout you

Some postpositions can also be used as prepositions:

Postpositions as prepositions
kylän keskelläkeskellä kylääin the middle of the village

Using postpositions as prepositions is not strictly incorrect and occurs in poetry, as in, for example, the song "Alla vaahterapuun" "under a maple tree", instead the usual vaahterapuun alla.

Verb forms

Finnish verbs are usually divided into seven groups depending on the stem type. All seven 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 two irregular forms on "is" and ovat "are (pl.)"; other forms follow from the stem ole–/ol–; e.g. oletole+t "you are", olkoonol+koon "let it be". 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. In spoken Finnish, some frequently used verbs (mennä, tulla, olla, panna) have irregular stems (mee, tuu, oo, paa, instead of mene, tule, ole, pane ("go, come, be, put"), respectively).

Finnish does not have a separate verb for possession (compare English "to have"). 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 and Welsh forms such as "There is a hunger on me".

Tense-aspect forms

Finnish verbs have present, imperfect, perfect and pluperfect tense-aspect forms.

As stated above, Finnish has no grammatical future tense. To indicate futurity, a Finnish speaker may use forms that are, by some, deprecated as ungrammatical. One is the use of the verb tulla, 'to come', as it were as an auxiliary: Tämä tulee olemaan ongelma 'This is going to be a problem', cf Swedish Det här kommer att vara ett problem. Another, less common and now archaic, is to use the verb olla, 'to be', with the present passive participle of the main verb: Hän on oleva suuri Jumalan mies 'For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord' (Luke 1:15).


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

Passive voice

The Finnish passive is unipersonal, that is, it only appears in one form regardless of who is understood to be performing the action. In that respect, it could be described as a "fourth person", since there is no way of connecting the action performed with a particular agent (except for some nonstandard forms; see below).

Consider an example: talo maalataan "the house will be 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 will be painted red with a brush". But nothing can be said about the person doing the painting; there is no simple way to say "the house will be painted by Jim". There is a calque, evidently from Swedish, toimesta "by the action of", that can be used to introduce the agent: Talo maalataan Jimin toimesta, approximately "The house will be painted by the action of Jim". This type of expression is considered prescriptively incorrect, but it may be found wherever direct translations from Swedish, English, etc. are made, especially in legal texts, and has traditionally been a typical feature of Finnish "officialese". An alternative form, passive + ablative, also a calque from Swedish, was once common but is now archaic.

Hence the form maalataan is the only one which is needed. Notice also that the object is in the nominative case. Verbs which govern the partitive case continue to do so in the passive, and where the object of the action is a personal pronoun, that goes into its special accusative form: minut unohdettiin "I was forgotten". Whether the object of a passive verb should be termed the subject of the clause has been debated, but traditionally Finnish grammars have considered a passive clause to have no subject.

Use of the passive voice is not as common in Finnish as in Germanic languages; sentences in the active voice are preferred, if possible. Confusion may result, as the agent is lost and becomes ambiguous. For instance, a bad translation of the English "the PIN code is asked for when..." into PIN-koodia kysytään kun... raises the question "who asks?", whereas laite kysyy PIN-koodia kun... ("the device asks for the PIN code when...") is unambiguous. Nevertheless, this usage of the passive is common in Finnish, particularly in literary and official contexts. Occasionally this leads to extreme cases such as valtuusto halutaan erottaa "it is wanted that the municipal board resigns", implying that there could be popular uprising near, when this suggestion is actually made by a single person. [2]

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

Colloquially, the first-person plural indicative and imperative are replaced by the passive, e.g. menemme meille ("we'll go to our place") and menkäämme meille ("let us go to our place") are replaced by mennään meille (see spoken Finnish). [3]

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

Formation of the passive is dealt with in the article on Finnish verb conjugation.

As first-person plural

In modern colloquial Finnish, the passive form of the verb is used instead of the active first-person plural in the indicative and the imperative, to the almost complete exclusion of the standard verb forms. For example, in the indicative, the standard form is me menemme 'we are going', but the colloquial form is me mennään. Without the personal pronoun me, the passive alone replaces the first-person plural imperative, as in Mennään! 'Let's go!'. In colloquial speech, the pronoun me cannot be omitted without confusion, unlike when using the standard forms menemme (indicative) and menkäämme (imperative).

An almost identical (though unrelated) shift has happened in French and Brazilian Portuguese, whereby the impersonal on and a gente replace first-person plural nous and nós respectively.

Zero person

The so-called ”zero person” is a construct in which a verb appears in the third-person singular with no subject, and the identity of the subject must be understood from the context. Typically the implied subject is either the speaker or their interlocutor, or the statement is intended in a general sense. The zero person has some similarity to the English use of the formal subject one.

  • Saunassa hikoilee "In the sauna, one sweats"
  • Jos tulee ajoissa, saa paremman paikan "If you arrive in good time, you get a better seat"



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.


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 (for example "I would tell you if I knew") and in polite requests (for example "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'.
haluan = 'I want', haluaisin = 'I would like'.

Conditional forms exist for both active and passive voices, and for present tense and perfect.

The conditional can be used for added politeness when offering, requesting, or pleading: Ottaisitko kahvia? 'Would you like some coffee?'; Saisinko tuon punaisen? 'May I have that red one?'; Kertoisit nyt 'I do wish you would tell me'.


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
  • active or passive
  • positive or negative
Active, 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, remove the '-n' from the first-person-singular form):

Active, 2nd-person imperatives

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

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:

(from 'mitata' = 'to measure', type IV)

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

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".

Passive imperatives
Passive imperatives
tehtäköönlet (something) be done
älköön tehtäkölet (something) not be done
olkoon tehtylet (something) have been done
älköön olko tehtylet (something) not have been done
3rd-person imperatives

The 3rd-person imperatives behave as if they were jussive; besides being used for commands, they can also be used to express permission. In colloquial language, they are most often used to express disregard to what one might or might not do, and the singular and plural forms are often confused.

3rd-person imperatives
olkoon'let it (him, her) be'
tehkööt'let them do'
älköön unohtako'let him not forget', 'he'd better not forget'
älkööt unohtako'let them not forget'
1st-person-plural imperatives
1st-person-plural imperatives
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 passive indicative is often used instead: mennään! = 'let's go!'


The optative mood is an archaic or poetic variant of the imperative mood that expresses hopes or wishes. It is not used in normal language.

ollosif only/that/would you were


The potential mood is used to express that the action or state expressed by the verb is possible but not certain. It is relatively rare in modern Finnish, especially in speech. Most commonly it is used in news reports and in official written proposals in meetings. It has only the present tense and perfect. The potential has no specific counterpart in English, but can be translated by adding "possibly" (or occasionally "probably") to the verb.

The characteristic morphology of the Finnish potential is -ne-, inserted between the verb stem and the personal ending. Before this affix, continuants assimilate progressively (pes+ne-pesse-) and stops regressively (korjat+ne-korjanne-). The verb olla 'to be' in the potential has the special suppletive form lie-, e.g. the potential of on haettu 'has been fetched' is lienee haettu 'may have been fetched'.

Potential forms exists for both active and passive voices, and for present tense and perfect:

lienenI may be/it's possible that I am
pesseeshe may wash/she is [likely] to wash
korjanneeshe may fix/she is [likely] to fix
surrevatit is possible that they are mourning/will mourn
se pestäneenit will probably be washed (by someone)
lienette nähneetyou may have seen
ei liene annettupossibly may not have been given (by someone)

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


No longer used in modern Finnish, 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.

kävelleisin'I probably would walk'


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

First infinitive

The first infinitive short form of a verb is the citation form found in dictionaries. It is not unmarked; its overt marking is always the suffix -a or , though sometimes there are modifications (which may be regarded as stem or ending modifications depending on personal preference).

Verb stemFinnish infinitiveEnglish infinitive
sano-sanoato say
tietä-tietääto know
luke-lukeato read

When the stem is itself a single syllable or is of two or more syllables ending in -oi or -öi, the suffix is -da or -dä, respectively. (This represents the historically older form of the suffix, from which the d has been lost in most environments.)

Verb stemFinnish infinitiveEnglish infinitive
tuo-tuodato bring
jää-jäädäto stay
imuroi-imuroidato vacuum
epäröi-epäröidäto hesitate

If the stem ends in one the consonants l, r, n, then the final consonant is doubled before adding the infinitive -a or . In the case of a stem ending in the consonant s, the infinitive ending gains the consonant t, becoming -ta or -tä. (These consonant stems take a linking vowel -e- when forming the present tense, or -i- when forming the imperfect, e.g. pestä 'to wash': pesen 'I wash' : pesin 'I washed'). Stems ending in -ts, followed by a link vowel in the present or imperfect, drop the s from the stem before adding the infinitive marker -a or .

Verb stemFinnish infinitiveEnglish infinitive
men(e)-mennäto go
ol(e)-ollato be
pur(e)-purrato bite
pes(e)-pestäto wash
mainits(e)-mainitato mention

Some verbs have so called "alternating stems" or multiple stems with weak-strong consonant gradation between them. It depends on the verb if the infinitive is in the strong or weak form. These have long vowel stems in the present/future tense, which already ends with -a or . These verbs drop the a which is present in the present tense stem and replace it with -t in the first infinitive stem followed by the standard -a or first infinitive marker. The a dropping to t weakens a preceding k, p or t so that a weak grade is seen in the first infinitive form. This often creates difficulties for the non-Finn when trying to determine the infinitive (in order to access the translation in a dictionary) when encountering an inflected form. Inflected forms are generally strong except when the stem ending contains a double consonant and there is only a single vowel separating this from the last stem k, p or t.

Inflected FinnishEnglishFinnish infinitiveEnglish infinitiveNote
minä putoanI am fallingpudotato fall downputoa- strong grade
minä putosinI fell downpudotato fall downputosi- strong grade
olen pudonnutI have fallen downpudotato fall downpudon- weak grade (nn forces weak grade)
he kokoavatthey'll assemblekootato assemblekokoa- strong grade
me kokoammewe'll assemblekootato assemblekokoa- strong grade (mm does not cause weakness because oa is not a diphthong)

Some verbs lose elements of their stems when forming the first infinitive. Some verbs stem have contracted endings in the first infinitive. Stems ending -ene/-eni in the present/imperfect drop the n and replace it with t, and where applicable, trigger the weak grade in the infinitive stem. The contracted infinitive ending -eta/-etä have -itse/-itsi verbs take the infinitive stem -ita/itä. These contracted verbs may also be subject to consonant weakening when forming the infinitive

e.g. mainita 'to mention' has the longer conjugated stem mainits- as in mainitsen huomenna, että... 'I'll mention tomorrow that...'

e.g. paeta 'to flee' has the longer conjugated stem paken- as in me pakenimme Afganistanista 'we fled from Afghanistan'

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

...soitti sanoakseen...'...(s/he) phoned in order to say...'
tietääksemme(idiomatic) 'as far as we know'
voidakseni lukea'in order for me to be able to read'

The first infinitive only has an 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 gerund, which is formed by adding "-ing" to English verb to express manner.

It is recognizable by the letter e in place of the usual a or ä as the infinitive marker. It is only 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 gerund.

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
Active inessive (while someone is in the act of)
tehdessä'when doing'
sanoessa'when saying'
Active inessive + possessive suffix (while themselves in the act of)
lukiessaan'while he is/was reading'
sanoessasi'while you are/were saying'
Passive inessive (when or while in the act of something being done)
sanottaessa'when saying'
tehtäessä'when doing'
luettaessa'when reading'
Active instructive (by means of/while in the act of)
tehden'by doing'
sanoen'by saying'
lukien'by reading'
hän tuli itkien 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 performing 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 from 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 inessiveEquivalent kun phraseEnglish translation
ollessani Englannissa kävin monessa pubissakun olin Englannissa, kävin monessa pubissawhen I was in England, I went into many pubs
ollessaan Englannissa he kävivät monessa pubissakun he olivat Englannissa, he kävivät monessa pubissawhen they were in England, they went into many pubs
Jaakon ollessa Englannissa Laura meni EspanjaanKun Jaakko oli Englannissa, Laura meni Espanjaanwhen Jaakko was in England, Laura went to Spain

Third infinitive

This corresponds to the English gerund ("verb + -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:

inessivelukemassa'(in the act of) reading'
Example: hän on lukemassa kirjastossa's/he's reading in the library'
elativelukemasta'(from just having been) reading'
illativelukemaan'(about to be / with the intention of) reading'
adessivelukemalla'(by) reading'
abessivelukematta'(without) reading'

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

instructivesinun 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
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
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 / just about to ...'

Fifth infinitive
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.


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

This is formed in the same way as the passive perfect or passive past-perfect forms, by taking the passive past form, removing the -tiin ending and replacing it with -ttu/tty (depending on vowel harmony)

lähdettyäsi kotiin'after you went home'
[pass. II participle sg.ess. + poss. suffix]

Past active participle

Basically this is formed by removing the infinitive ending and adding -nut/nyt (depending on vowel harmony) and in some cases -lut/lyt, -sut/syt, -rut/ryt. For example:

1st infinitiveactive past participle

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

In type II verbs, and n, l, r or s in the stem ending is assimilated to the consonant in the participle ending (as also happens in formation of the first infinitive, although -s stem endings take an extra t in the first infinitive)

1st InfinitiveStemActive past participle

The assimilation causes the final consonant cluster to be strengthened which in turn can weaken a strong cluster if one exists in the stem. See harjoitella above.

In verbs of types IV, V and VI, the t at the end of the stem is assimilated to the n:

1st infinitiveStemActive past participle

Present passive participle

The present passive participle can be constructed from the past passive form of the verb. The -iin ending of the past passive is replaced with -ava/ävä, which can be inflected in the same way as the present active participle. For example:

InfinitivePast passivePassive participleEnglish
antaaannettiinannettavawhich is to be given
syödäsyötiinsyötäväwhich is to be eaten
kertoakerrottiinkerrottavawhich is to be told

It is possible to translate this participle in several related ways e.g. sanottava 'which must be/is to be said', 'which can be said', 'which will be said' or 'which is said'. Here are some sentences and phrases further illustrating the formation and use of the present passive participle:

Juotava vesiDrinkable water
Onko sinulla mitään sanottavaa?Do you have anything to say?
Onko pöydässä jotakin syötävää?Is there anything to eat on the table? Or even, Is there anything edible on the table?

This participle can also be used in other ways. If used with the appropriate third-person singular form of the verb olla and with the subject in the genitive it can express necessity or obligation.

Minun on lähdettävä 'I must leave'
Heidän olisi mentävä 'They would have to go'

Inflected in the inessive plural, it can be used in conjunction with the verb 'to be' to indicate that something can or cannot be done.

Onko Pekka tavattavissa? 'Is Pekka available?'/'Is Pekka able to be met with?'

Present active participle

This participle is formed simply by finding the 3rd person plural form of the verb and removing -t, and acts as an adjective describing what the object or subject of the sentence is doing, for example:

Present active participle
va koira'sleeping dog'
vä valo'blinding light'
v|i|na|ni'I pretended to be reading'
[act. I participle pl. essive + poss. suffix]

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
tytön lukema kirjathe book read by the girl
tytön lukemaa kirjaa(partitive) the book read by the girl
tytön lukemassa kirjassain the book read by the girl

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). This verb form used with the negative verb is called a connegative.

Present indicative
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'
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 passive

The negative is formed from the third-person singular "negative verb" ei and the present passive with the final -an removed:

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
en puhunut'I did not speak'
et puhunut'you did not speak'
ei puhunut'(s/he) did not speak'
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 (sg. polite) did not speak'.

Imperfect passive

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
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:

me ei menty'we did not go'


A very common way of forming adverbs is by adding the ending -sti to the inflecting form of the corresponding adjective:

nopea, nopeasti'quick, quickly'
kaunis, kauniisti'beautiful, beautifully'
hidas, hitaasti'slow, slowly'
helppo, helposti'easy, easily'

Adverbs modify verbs, not nouns, therefore they do not inflect. -sti adverbs are not used to modify adjectives (such as to express degree) like -ly adverbs might be in English; the genitive of adjectives is used for this purpose.

Comparative formation

The comparative form of the adverb has the ending -mmin.

Comparative formation
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
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:

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
hyvä, hyvin, paremmin, parhaiten'good, well, better, best'


The ordinary counting numbers (cardinals) from 0 to 10 are given in the table below. Cardinal numbers may be inflected and some of the inflected forms are irregular in form.

Cardinal numbers and key inflected forms
Number Nominative Genitive Partitive Illative
7seitsemänseitsemänseitsemää (*)seitsemään

(*) sometimes seitsentä (alternative form)

In colloquial spoken Finnish, the numerals usually appear in contracted forms.

To form teens, toista is added to the base number. Toista is the partitive form of toinen, meaning here "second group of ten". Hyphens are written here to separate morphemes. In Finnish text, hyphens are not written.

"one of the second, two of the second, … nine of the second"
11, 12, … 19

In older Finnish, until about the early 20th Century, the same pattern was used up to one hundred: kolmeneljättä 'thirty-three'.

Sentence structure

Word order

Since Finnish is an inflected language, word order within sentences can be much freer than, for example, English. In English the strong subject–verb–object order typically indicates the function of a noun as either subject or object although some English structures allow this to be reversed. In Finnish sentences, however, the role of the noun is determined not by word order or sentence structure as in English but by case markings which indicate subject and object.

The most usual neutral order, however, is subject–verb–object. But usually what the speaker or writer is talking about is at the head of the sentence.

koira puri miestä'the dog bit the man'we are talking of the dog and what it did
miestä puri koira'the man was bitten by a/the dog'we are talking about the man and what it was that bit him, e.g. not a snake
koira miestä puri'the dog bit the man'we are talking of the dog's actions in a somewhat poetic form or confirming that it was the dog that bit the man, not some other animal

Here koira ('dog') is in the nominative form but mies ('man') is marked as object by the case marked form miestä. This sentence is a bald statement of fact. Changing the word order changes the emphasis slightly but not the fundamental meaning of the sentence.

minulla on rahaa'I have money'a bald statement of fact
rahaa minulla on'money is something I do have'although I may not have something else
rahaa on minulla'The money is with me'I am telling you where the money is
minulla rahaa on'I've definitely got (the) money'I am confirming that I do have (the) money
on minulla rahaa'Yes, I do have (the) money'if having money has been questioned

Minulla here is the word minä (I) in a case form ending -lla which when used with the verb olla (to be, expressed here in the form on) expresses ownership. This is because Finnish does not have a verb form equivalent of the English word 'have'. Minulla is not considered the subject.

And finally, a classic example:

minä olen valtio'I am the state' (matter-of-fact)
valtio olen minä'L'État, c'est moi' (French – attributed to Louis XIV)

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 with 'there is' or 'there are' in 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:

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

Forming 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)
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)

Forming answers

The response to a question will of course depend on the situation, but grammatically the response to a question typically follows the grammatical structure in the question. Thus a question structured in the inessive case (e.g. missä kaupungissa asut? 'in which town do you live?') will have an answer that is also in the inessive (e.g. Espoossa 'in Espoo') unless special rules dictate otherwise. Questions which in English would be answered with 'yes' or 'no' replies are usually responded to by repeating the verb in either the affirmative or negative.

Interrogatives (questions)
mihin päin ne lähtee?'which way are they headed?'
Helsinkiin'towards Helsinki'
onko sinulla avain?'have you got the key?'
on/ei ole'yes'/'no' (lit. 'is'/'is not' in possession)
menettekö leffaan?'are you guys going to the movies?'
menemme/emme mene'yes'/'no' (lit. 'we are going'/'we are not going')
aiotko lähteä ilman pipoa?'Are you intending to go off without a hat?'
aion'Yes' (lit. 'I intend')

The words kyllä and ei are often shown in dictionaries as being equivalent to 'yes' and 'no', but the situation is a little more complicated than that. The typical response to a question which in English is answered 'yes' or 'no' is, as we see above, more usually answered by repeating the verb in either an affirmative or negative form in the appropriate person. The word 'kyllä' is rather a strong affirmation in response to a question and is similar to the word 'niin' which is an affirmation of a response to a statement of fact or belief. (However, in conversations, niin may even simply mean that the sentence was heard, not expressing any sort of concurrence. The same problem occurs with the colloquial joo "yeah".)

Kyllä and Niin
aiotko lähteä ilman pipoa? (question)'Are you intending to go off without a hat?'
kyllä'Yes, I sure am' (Strong affirmation. I really do intend to go bareheaded)
on hölmöä lähteä ulos talviaikana ilman pipoa (statement)'it is foolish to go out in wintertime without a hat'
niin'Yes indeed' (I agree with your statement)

The word ei is the negative verb form and has to be inflected for person and the verb itself is usually present, though not always.

osaatko sinä saksaa? 'can you (speak) German?'
en ('no'; lit. 'I don't')

or better

en osaa ('I can't')

See also

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  1. Haspelmath, Martin Dryer, Matthew S Gil, David Comrie, Bernard Bickel, Balthasar Nichols, Johanna (2005). Fusion of selected inflectional formatives. Oxford University Press. OCLC   945596278.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. "Hyvä paha passiivi : näkökulmia Ulla Tiililä Unelma ja todellisuus Kielenhuoltopäivä Hanasaari" (PDF). 18 May 2011. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2013-01-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

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