Finnish Grammar: An Introduction

Learn the basics of Finnish grammar

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These Finnish lessons were written by Josh Pirie.

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Finnish Grammar

Finnish is a language that has no grammatical gender. Therefore, there is no need to worry about whether nouns are masculine or feminine or neuter; they are all neuter. Even the personal subject pronouns hän ("he"/"she") and he ("they" masculine & feminine) are without gender, despite the existence of se ("it", colloquial "he" and "she") and ne ("they" neuter). This means that when students learn that there are fifteen cases in Finnish, they don't have to be as worried as they might think. (In Hungarian, there are 22!) The endings are placed on singular and plural stems, so there are no fused endings; the Finnish taloissa ("in the houses") is comprised of talo ("house") + i (plural marker) + ssa (inessive ending, meaning "in"). The singular would be simply talossa ("in the house").

The above examples should also illustrate that there is no definite or indefinite article in Finnish. The notions of count and mass are grammaticalized in other ways, as will be seen in due time.

The challenge, then, is to master the principal parts of the twenty-two different nominal types (we'll use the word "nominal" to mean nouns and adjectives) and those of the eleven different verbal types. Once those are committed to memory, then it becomes easier to predict how nominals found in the dictionary will be inflected. This will hold true for verbs as well.

What exactly is inflection? It simply means that where English uses a complex array of modal and verbal operators, prepositions and adverbials to show the relationships between the grammatical constituents in a sentence, Finnish can express the same relationships with suffixes, as seen in the example above. Finnish is an agglutinating language, like its closest relatives, Hungarian and Estonian. However, because of the relatively small number of its speakers around the world, Finnish has not developed the myriads of exceptions and irregularities commonly found in more widely-spoken languages. So in the end, the student of Finnish won't necessarily be overwhelmed by the different endings (there really are only fifteen or so, as opposed to the over sixty that are found in Russian thanks to the various consonantal-palatalized and non-palatalized-and vocalic endings, in six cases and three genders).

Verbs inflect according to person and number, much like prototypical Indo-European languages. Endings will come later. The personal pronouns are as follows:

minä, often pronounced mä in spoken Finnish ("I")

sinä, often pronounced sä in spoken Finnish ("you" singular informal)

hän ("he"/"she")

se ("it", colloquial "he"/"she")

me ("we")

te ("you" plural; capitalized, "you" singular formal, somewhat similar to French)

he ("they" masculine and feminine)

ne ("they" formally neuter only, colloquially for all sexes)



Finnish Vocabulary and Grammar

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