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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, and is typologically between fusional and agglutinative languages.
- 1 Pronouns
- 2 Noun forms
- 3 Adjectives
- 4 Postpositions and prepositions
- 5 Verb forms
- 5.1 Tense-aspect forms
- 5.2 Voices
- 5.3 Moods
- 5.4 Infinitives
- 5.5 Verb conjugation
- 5.6 Participles
- 5.7 Negation of verbs
- 6 Adverbs
- 7 Numbers
- 8 Sentence structure
- 9 References
- 10 See also
The pronouns are inflected in the Finnish language much in the same way that their referent nouns are.
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:
|hän||he or she|
Because Finnish verbs are inflected for person and number, subject pronouns are not required, and the first and second-person pronouns are usually omitted in standard Finnish except when used for emphasis. In spoken Finnish, all pronouns are generally used. In the third person, the pronoun is required: "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 or markedly polite speech. Minä and sinä are usually replaced with colloquial forms (the most common variants mä and sä, in some dialects mää and sää, mnää and snää or mie and sie). Me, te and he are short enough to lack reduced colloquial forms, and their variants are considered dialectal. Some common verbs, such as olla "to be" and tulla "to come", exhibit similar reduced colloquial forms:
|(minä) olen/tulen||mä oon/tuun|
|(sinä) olet/tulet||sä oot/tuut|
|hän/se on/tulee||se on/tulee|
|(me) olemme/tulemme||me ollaan/tullaan|
|(te) olette/tulette||te ootte/tuutte|
|he/ne ovat/tulevat||ne on/tulee|
|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; however, this usage is diminishing in Finnish society.
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.
|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?"
|joka (refers to preceding word)||"hän on ainoa, jonka muistan"||"[s]he is the only one whom (I) remember"|
|mikä (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"|
|toinen||"he rakastavat toisiaan"||"they love each other" (plural)|
|"he rakastavat toinen toistaan"||"they love one another" (double singular)|
|itse||plus corresponding possessive suffix||"keitin itselleni teetä"||"(I) made myself some tea"|
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.
|joka (uninflected)||every, each|
|joku||some, someone (person)|
|jokin||some, something (animal, thing)|
|kumpainenkin||both (old or dialectal)|
|mikin||each thing (dialectal)|
|kenkään||anyone (old or poetic)|
|kukaan (nom.), kene+..+kään (oblique)||anyone|
|→ ei kukaan||no 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 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:
|ainoa||the only one|
|eräs||some, certain, one|
|kaikki||all, everyone, everything|
|muutama||some, a few|
|toinen (non-reciprocal, non-numeral use)||another|
The Finnish language does not distinguish gender in nouns or even in personal pronouns: 'hän' = 'he' or 'she' depending on the referent. There aren't any articles, neither definite nor indefinite.
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.
|genitive (genetiivi)||-n||of / 's||talon||of (a) house / house's|
|accusative (akkusatiivi)||-, -t or -n||-||talo / talon||house|
|partitive (partitiivi)||-(t)a||-||taloa||house (as an object)|
|inessive (inessiivi)||-ssa||in||talossa||in (a) house|
|elative (elatiivi)||-sta||from (inside)||talosta||from (a) house|
|illative (illatiivi)||-an, -en, etc.||into||taloon||into (a) house|
|adessive (adessiivi)||-lla||at, on||talolla||at (a) house|
|ablative (ablatiivi)||-lta||from||talolta||from (a) house|
|allative (allatiivi)||-lle||to||talolle||to (a) house|
|essive (essiivi)||-na||as||talona||as a house|
|(exessive; dialectal) (eksessiivi)||-nta||from being||talonta||from being a house|
|translative (translatiivi)||-ksi||to (role of)||taloksi||to (being) a house|
|instructive (instruktiivi)||-n||with (the aid of)||taloin||with the houses|
|abessive (abessiivi)||-tta||without||talotta||without (a) house|
|comitative (komitatiivi)||-ne-||together (with)||taloineen||with the house(s)|
Note that a noun in the comitative case is always followed by a possessive suffix, but an adjective is not: "Mies ylellisine taloineen", "A man with his luxurious house(s)". Also, only the pronouns' accusative is different from the nominative and/or genitive: minut, the accusative form of minä, "I".
There are three different 'plurals' in Finnish:
The nominative plural is the definite, divisible, telic plural. The suffix is -t; it can only appear in word-final position; i.e. it is omitted when a possessive suffix is present.
|"koirat olivat huoneessa"||"the dogs were in the room"|
|"huoneet olivat suuria"||"the rooms were large"|
After numerals greater than one in the nominative singular, the noun is put in the partitive singular. Otherwise the noun and the numeral agree with each other in number and case.
|"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"|
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.
|'huone' -> 'huoneita'||'(some) rooms'|
|-> 'huoneissa'||'in rooms'|
As a combined example of plurals
|'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|
|'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||'sinuna en tekisi sitä'||'If I were you, I wouldn't do it' (lit. 'as you')|
|'minuksi'||translative||'häntä luullaan usein minuksi'||'[s]he is often mistaken for me'|
Noun/adjective stem types
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:
|English||stem vowel||singular||sg. gen.||sg. part.||plural||pl. gen.||pl. part.||Notes|
|fish||-a||kala||kalan||kalaa||kalat||kalojen||kaloja||a + i becomes oj when after a, e or i.|
|corner||-a||kulma||kulman||kulmaa||kulmat||kulmien||kulmia||a + i becomes i when after o or u.|
|summer||-ä||kesä||kesän||kesää||kesät||kesien||kesiä||ä + i becomes i.|
|name||-e||nimi||nimen||nimeä||nimet||nimien||nimiä||e becomes i at the end of a word; e + i becomes i.|
|hall||-i||halli||hallin||hallia||hallit||hallien||halleja||i + i becomes ej.|
|light||-o||valo||valon||valoa||valot||valojen||valoja||A stem with a labial vowel -o, -u, -y, -ö is invariable; plural i becomes j between vowels.|
|teddy bear||-e||nalle||nallen||nallea||nallet||nallejen||nalleja||Invariable e-stems can be found in very recent coinages.|
|land, earth||-aa||maa||maan||maata||maat||maiden||maita||A long vowel is shortened before the oblique plural -i-.|
|road||-ie||tie||tien||tietä||tiet||teiden||teitä||Historical 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.
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.
|English||stem||singular||sg. gen.||sg. part.||plural||pl. gen.||pl. part.||Notes|
|broth||-m(e)||liemi||liemen||lientä||liemet||liemien, lienten||liemiä||m → n before t.|
Words of this type may have somewhat irregular declension due to additional historical changes:
|English||stem||singular||sg. gen.||sg. part.||plural||pl. gen.||pl. part.||Notes|
|child||-ps(e)||lapsi||lapsen||lasta||lapset||lapsien, lasten||lapsia||The first consonant in a cluster of three is lost: Cs + t → st.|
|hand||-t(e)||käsi||käden||kättä||kädet||käsien, kätten||käsiä||ti becomes si. (Variation of t/d, nt/nn is regular and due to consonant gradation.)|
|two||-kt(e)||kaksi||kahden||kahta||kahdet||kaksien||kaksia||In 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.
|English||stem||singular||sg. gen.||sg. part.||plural||pl. gen.||pl. part.||Notes|
|core||-m(e)||ydin||ytimen||ydintä||ytimet||ytimien, ydinten||ytimiä||m → n when word-final or before t.|
|beer||-t(e)||olut||oluen||olutta||oluet||oluiden||oluita||t 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.
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 ('muovi' = 'plastic' -> 'muovinen' = 'made of plastic'/'plastic-like' ). 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:
|'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:
|'kätönen'||käsi||'a small hand' (affectionate)|
|'lintunen'||lintu||'birdie', 'a small bird'|
|'kukkanen'||kukka||'a little flower'|
|'lapsonen'||lapsi||'a little child'|
The diminutive form mostly lives in surnames which are usually ancient words many of whose meaning has been obfuscated. Some of the most common:
|'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 place-names. For example, there is a peninsula called "Neuvosenniemi" beside a certain 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 allow to continue to the other side. Most place-names ending with -nen assume a plural form when inflected. For instance, the illative of "Sörnäinen" is "Sörnäisiin" instead of singular "Sörnäiseen".
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 venes ← veneh. 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.
|case||huone 'room'||laite 'device'|
|partitive sg.||kaksi huonetta
'in the room'
'in the device'
'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:
|'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.
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:
|'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'|
The superlative of the adjective is formed by adding '-in' to the inflecting stem. For example:
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:
|'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:
|'iso/imma/n talo/n edessä'||'in front of the biggest house'|
|'kaksi pien/in/tä talo/a'||'the two smallest houses'|
|'punais/imma/ssa talo/ssa'||'in the reddest house'|
|'punais/immi/ssa taloi/ssa'||'in the reddest houses'|
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.
|More irregular forms|
|'pitkä, pidempi ~ pitempi, pisin'||'pitkä, *pitkempi, *pitkin'||'long, longer, longest'|
|'lyhyt, lyhyempi ~ 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:
|'uusi, uudempi, uusin'||'new, newer, newest'|
Where the inflecting stem is 'uude-' but the superlative is 'uusin' = 'newest'.
Postpositions and prepositions
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:
|'olen _ ''vierellä|si' ''||'(I) am next to (you)' or
'(I) am by (your) side'
As with verbs, the pronoun can not be omitted in the 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"
There are few important prepositions in Finnish. In prepositional phrases the noun is always in the partitive:
|ennen joulua||before Christmas|
|ilman sinua||without you|
Some postpositions can also be used as prepositions:
|kylän keskellä||keskellä kylää||in the middle of the village|
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. olet ← ole+t "you are", olkoon ← ol+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 (cf. 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".
- Present (nonpast): corresponds to English present and future tense forms. 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, 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 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".
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.
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 theme 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 when..." into PIN-koodia kysytään kun... begs 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.
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).
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.
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 (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 active and passive voices, and for present tense and perfect.
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".
|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|
|'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'|
|'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.
|ollos||o, if only/that/would you were|
The potential mood is used to express that the action or state expressed by the verb is likely 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 "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:
|lienen||I may be / it's possible that I am|
|pessee||[s]he may wash / she is [likely] to wash|
|korjannee||[s]he may fix / she is [likely] to fix|
|surrevat||it is possible that they are mourning/ will mourn|
|se pestäneen||it will probably be washed (by smb.)|
|lienette nähneet||you may have seen|
|ei liene 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.
|'kävelleisin'||'I probably would walk'|
Finnish verbs are described as having four, sometimes five infinitives:
The first infinitive short form of a verb is the "dictionary entry" form. It is not unmarked; its overt marking is always the suffix -a or -ä, though sometimes there are modifications (which may be regarded as stem or ending modifications depending on personal preference).
|Finnish infinitive||English infinitive|
However, when the stem is itself a single syllable or is of two or more syllables ending in -oi, the suffix is -da.
|Finnish infinitive||English infinitive|
If the stem ends in one the consonants l,r,n, then the final consonant is repeated before adding the infinitive -a or -ä. In the case of a stem ending in consonant s, the s does not repeat but becomes t before the infinitive -a or -ä. (These consonant stems take a link vowel -e-when forming the present tense or -i- when forming the imperfect, e.g. pestä - pesen - pesin "to wash - I wash - I washed"). Stems ending -ts followed by a link vowel in the present or imperfect drop the s from the stem before adding the infinitive -a or -a marker
|Finnish infinitive||English infinitive|
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 ä-. 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 -ä first infinitive marker. The a dropping to t weakens a preceding KPT consonant 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 KPT consonant.
|Inflected Finnish||English||Finnish infinitive||English infinitive||Note|
|minä putoan||I am falling||pudota||to fall down||putoa- strong grade|
|minä putosin||I fell down||pudota||to fall down||putosi- strong grade|
|olen pudonnut||I have fallen down||pudota||to fall down||pudon- weak grade (nn forces weak grade)|
|he kokoavat||they'll assemble||koota||to assemble||kokoa- strong grade|
|me kokoamme||we'll assemble||koota||to assemble||kokoa- 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, which may cause weakness 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 use:) 'as far as we know'|
|'voidakseni lukea'||' in order for me to be able to read'|
The first infinitive only has active form.
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:
|Active Inessive (while someone is in the act of)|
|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)|
|Active Instructive (by means of/ while in the act of)|
|'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 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|
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:
|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'|
A rare and archaic form of the third infinitive which occurs with the verb pitää:
|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.
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.
|'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'|
This is a fairly rare form which has the meaning 'on the point of ...ing / just about to ...'
|'olin lukemaisillani'||'I was just about to read'|
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
|'lähde|tty|ä|si kotiin'||'after you went home'
[pass. II participle sg. ess.+ poss.suff.]
|This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2008)|
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 infinitive||active 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 Infinitive||Stem||Active 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-VI, the 't' at the end of the stem is assimilated to the 'n':
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:
|Infinitive||Past Passive||Passive Participle||English|
|antaa||annettiin||annettava||Which is to be given|
|syödä||syötiin||syötävä||Which is to be eaten|
|kertoa||kerrottiin||kerrottava||Which 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 vesi||Drinkable 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 conjungtion 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
|Present active participle|
|'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.]
|This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2008)|
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:
|'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|
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
|'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.
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'|
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:
|'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 (s, polite) did not speak'.
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):
|'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.
The comparative form of the adverb has the ending '-mmin'
|'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'|
The superlative form of the adverb has the ending '-immin'.
|'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'|
There are a number of irregular adverbs, including:
|'hyvä, hyvin, paremmin, parhaiten'||'good, well, better, best'|
Please refer to the separate numbers article for details of how numbers work in Finnish.
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|
Here koira, dog is in the nominative form but the word expressing man, mies 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:
These are sentences which introduce a new subject - they often begin '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'|
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:
|'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)
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.
|'mihin päin ne lähtee?'||'which way are they headed?'|
|'onko sinulla avain?'||'have you got the key?'|
|'on'/'ei ole'||'yes'/'no' (literally 'is'/'is not' in possession)|
|'menettekö leffaan?'||'are you guys going to the movies?'|
|'menemme'/'emme mene'||'yes'/'no' (literally 'we are going'/'we are not going')|
|'aiotko lähteä ilman pipoa?'||'Are you intending to go off without a hat?|
|'aion'||'Yes' (literally '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; literally: I don't)
- en osaa (I cannot)