Finnish Noun and Adjective Declensions

Learn how to decline nouns and adjectives in Finnish

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These Finnish lessons were written by Josh Pirie.

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Finnish Noun and Adjective Declensions

As mentioned earlier, there are fifteen cases in Finnish. Some of the forms of the declensions are not predictable, but rather are the product of knowing the principal parts for each of the nominal forms.

The nominative case, as mentioned before, is used as the subject of a personal sentence. Because it is a principal part, the singular form is unmarked and unpredictable in form. The nominative plural, however, is formed from the genitive singular stem. The -n is removed and replaced with -t. The nominative singular tyttö (N1 "girl") has as its plural tytöt ("girls"). Note that a weak grade in the genitive has yielded a weak grade in the nominative plural as well. The plural of vastaus ("answer") is vastaukset ("answers"), and so on.

The accusative case has no separate form; in the singular, it looks like the nominative or the genitive, depending on the sentence type. (In impersonal sentences, it looks like the nominative. Generally, otherwise it looks like the genitive.) In the plural, it always looks like the nominative plural, i.e. with the -t ending. This case is one of two used for direct objects. The other is the partitive. If the accusative is used, it usually means the entirety of the object was acted upon and the action of the verb was complete. If the partitive is used as direct object, it means that the action was either incomplete, or that there was a lot of effort required on the part of the doer. (Please keep in mind that these are generalizations intended to give the first-time visitor to Finnish syntax a general idea. More information on this is included in the section on sentence types.)

The genitive case is used to show possession. It is also the case used in a few prepositions and postpositions in Finnish; again, the partitive also takes certain prepositions and postpositions. (They are becoming more and more common in Finnish.) The form of the singular is not necessarily predictable, other than the fact that we know it ends in -n, without fail. The plural is not as easily formed. To form the genitive plural in Finnish, you must look at the partitive plural ending (i.e. the plural stem). If it ends in the vocalic -a/-ä, then simply add -en. The noun poika, pojan, poikaa, poikia (N5 "boy") has as its genitive plural poikien ("of the boys"). If the consonantal -ta/-tä is present, then the ending -den is used. The noun perhe, perheen, perhettä, perheitä (N8 "family") carries the genitive plural perheiden ("of the families"). Some people still use a similar genitive plural ending in this situation: -tten, yielding perheitten ("of the families"). Some genitive plurals are formed from the consonantal partitive singular ending -ta/-tä. This is especially common with N2 nominals, such as suuri, suuren, suurta, suuria ("great"), and N17 nominals, such as nainen, naisen, naista, naisia ("woman"). The genitive plural can be formed as above, i.e. suurien and naisien, or by removing the -ta/-tä ending and replacing it with -ten, giving suurten ("of the great.") and naisten ("of the women"). It is ultimately more common with N2s and N17s than adding the -ien ending.

The partitive forms for singular and plural are both part of the principal parts, so they should be memorized along with the nominative singular and the genitive singular. The purpose of the partitive is to be a predicative complement (either a predicate noun/adjective) or an object complement. The sentence types will further illustrate.

There are three external locative cases in Finnish: the adessive, ablative and allative. (The Latin root LAT- is found in many of the locative cases; the root is from the Latin past participle of the verb "ferre," which means to bring, so the cases echo this idea of being brought onto something, or away from something, or into something, etc. This is just a little aside, but if you study many inflected or agglutinating languages, you'll see this terminology a lot.) The Latin ad- + -lat- would therefore mean "towards -lat-" The prefix ab- means "away from". The Latin root ESS- has the meaning of "being", as found in the Latin infinitive esse ("to be"). The d in ad- has been assimilated to al- for English language reasons in our terminology. The uses of these cases, therefore, should be clear. The adessive case answers the question missä? ("where?") and is formed by adding -lla/-llä. Se on kolmannella kadulla means "It's on the third street." Note how the ending is added to the second principal part, the genitive, after removing the -n from it. The ablative answers the question mistä? ("from where?" or archaic "whence?") and is formed by adding the ending -lta/-ltä to the genitive stem. Se on kolmannelta kadulta means "It's from the third street." The allative answers the question minne? ("where to?" or archaic "whither?") and is formed by adding -lle. This case is as close to other languages' dative case as you'll find. "(On)to the third street" would then be expressed as kolmannelle kadulle.

The internal locative cases are the inessive, elative (formed from ex-lative) and illative formed when in- assimilated to il-). The endings for these cases go as follows: -ssa/-ssä for the inessive (giving us lämpimimmässä kirkossa "in the warmest church," again answering the question missä? "where?"), -sta/-stä for the elative (giving us lämpimimmästä kirkosta "from inside the warmest church," again answering the question mistä? "from where?"), and a variety of formations for the illative, which will again answer the question minne? "to where?" or mihin? "into where?" If there is only one vowel in the genitive, before the -n ending, it is doubled before the -n is reinserted. Strong grade is then reinserted, for the illative always has strong grade. Our example would then become lämpimimpään kirkkoon ("into the warmest church"). Monosyllabic N6 nominals such as pää ("head") or maa ("land") cannot prolong a vowel that is already double, so to form the illative, they add an -h-, then repeat the vowel, then add -n. This yields suureen maahan ("into the great land") or isoon päähän ("into the big head"). If the genitive stem ends in two vowels and the word has more than one syllable, then the endings -seen for the singular and -siin for the plural are added. This yields kauniiseen perheeseen ("into the beautiful family").

Plurals for the first five locative cases should not prove difficult (it's simply a matter of adding the same endings to the partitive plural stem):

Adessive: kolmannella kadulla > kolmansilla kaduilla (weak grade reinserted)

Ablative: kolmannelta kadulta > kolmansilta kaduilta (again)

Allative: kolmannelle kadulle > kolmansille kaduille (and yet again)

Inessive: lämpimimmässä kirkossa > lämpimimmissä kirkoissa (here too)

Elative: lämpimimmästä kirkosta > lämpimimmistä kirkoista (and here too)

 

The plural of the illative presents a small difficulty: the plural stem usually ends in two vowels, at which point the -hVn ending is prevalent: nominative talo ("house") > genitive talon > illative singular taloon > illative plural taloihin ("into the houses"). If the illative singular was marked by -seen, then the plural shall automatically be marked by -siin: nominative rikas ("rich") > genitive rikkaan > illative singular rikkaaseen > illative plural rikkaisiin.

Finnish has two "role" cases: the essive case (which, like the illative, always has strong grade) and the translative case. The essive takes on a -na/-nä ending, such as tyttönä ("as a girl"), plural tyttöinä ("as girls"), and poikana ("as a boy"), plural poikina ("as boys"). Whereas the essive denotes a state, the translative denotes change, such as when we need to say that one thing turned into another. The ending is -ksi-, but it's not always an ending. In fact, it's rarely an ending, as Finnish usually makes use of possessive suffixes, such as -ni ("my") and -si ("your"). The i in the suffix then changes to e: "into a man" is rendered as mieheksi; "into my man (i.e. husband)" would be miehekseni. (The word for "man" is N2: mies, miehen, miestä, miehiä.)

And finally, the three remaining cases: the obsolete abessive, instructive, and comitative. These are used in frozen expressions because prepositions and postpositions are entering the language more and more frequently now. The abessive once showed the absence of something; it carries the ending -tta/-ttä it's used in expressions such as pitemmittä puheitta ("without further ado", lit. "without longer speeches") and in what we'll call the third infinitive (Finnish has four infinitives). Where in English we use the preposition without + a gerund, Finnish uses simply the third infinitive, which has the endings -ma/-mä and then behaves like N4 and N5 nominals, in the abessive: puhuma ("speaking") > puhumatta ("without speaking"). The instructive case is much like the instrumental cases in the Slavic languages, denoting the meaning of "by means of." The ending is -n, which makes it look similar (at least in the singular) to the genitive. It's most often used in the plural, though, in set expressions such as omin käsin ("with one's own hands"). The nominative form is oma (N5) käsi (N2). The comitative case also has the meaning of "with" but rather with accompaniment, not manner. The ending for the comitative is -ne-, which must always be added to the plural stem, and which, like the translative, often uses a personal possessive suffix. The term "small family," pieni (N2) perhe (N8), takes the comitative pienine perheineni ("with my small family"). Remember, -ni added to any form of any nominal means "my."

 

Let's see what a complete inflection looks like, then.

Singular

Nominative: iso maa ("great land") rikas tyttö ("rich girl")
Accusative: ison maan / iso maa rikkaan tytön / rikas tyttö
Genitive: ison maan rikkaan tytön
Partitive: isoa maata rikasta tyttöä
Adessive: isolla maalla rikkaalla tytöllä 
Ablative: isolta maalta rikkaalta tytöltä
Allative: isolle maalle rikkaalle tytölle
Inessive: isossa maassa rikkaassa tytössä
Elative: isosta maasta rikkaasta tytöstä
Illative: isoon maahan rikkaaseen tyttöön 
Essive: isona maana rikkaana tyttönä
Translative: isoksi maaksi rikkaaksi tytöksi 
Abessive: isotta maatta rikkaatta tytöttä
Instructive: ison maan rikkaan tytön
Comitative: isoine maine- rikkaine tyttöine-

 

Plural

Nominative: isot maat ("great lands") rikkaat tytöt ("rich girls")
Accusative: isot maat rikkaat tytöt
Genitive: isojen maiden/maitten rikkaiden/rikkaitten tyttöjen
Partitive: isoja maita rikkaita tyttöjä
Adessive: isoilla mailla rikkailla tytöillä 
Ablative: isoilta mailta rikkailta tytöiltä
Allative: isoille maille rikkaille tytöille
Inessive: isoissa maissa rikkaissa tytöissä
Elative: isoista maista rikkaista tytöistä
Illative: isoihin maihin rikkaisiin tyttöihin 
Essive: isoina maina rikkaina tyttöinä
Translative: isoiksi maiksi rikkaiksi tytöiksi 
Abessive: isoitta maitta rikkaitta tytöittä
Instructive: isoin main rikkain tytöin
Comitative: isoine maine- rikkaine tyttöine-

 


 

Finnish Vocabulary and Grammar



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