Finnish Nouns and Adjectives

Learn about nominal types in Finnish

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Finnish Nouns and Adjectives

The following are notes on each of the nominal types in Finnish. Remember that the principal parts are as follows: nominative singular, genitive singular, partitive singular, partitive plural.

Type 1 (N1): kirkko, kirkon, kirkkoa, kirkkoja ("church")

This basic nominal type is characterized by the low vowel endings: back -o, and -u, front -ö and -y. Note the weak gradation in the genitive. This means that if case endings are added to the stem kirko- (genitive form minus the -n) there will always be weak grade. There is an exception: the illative case always has strong grade. This is why we see kirkosta ("from within the church"), but kirkkoon ("into the church"). Again, specific endings will be discussed later. Strong gradation is reinserted for the partitive singular and plural, but wherever there is weak grade for the singular (as in kirkosta), weak grade will be reinserted in the plural: kirkoista ("from within the churches"); strong grade will be reinserted, again, in the illative plural: kirkkoihin ("into the churches"). Notice how the -j- from the partitive plural form becomes -i- before a consonantal ending: -j- between vowels will always become -i- before a consonant.


Type 2 (N2): lapsi, lapsen, lasta, lapsia ("child")

This nominal type exemplifies native Finnish roots with an ending in -i, which changes to -e- in the genitive. This particular word undergoes some other changes too, though. They are perfectly predictable and logical. The loss of p in the partitive form is simply a result of the partitive ending -ta being added to a consonantal stem. The form should be lapsta, but remember, Finnish phonotactic constraints dictate that there shall not be three consonants in a cluster unless the first one is a sonorant (i.e. voiced consonantal non-obstruent n, l, r or m). The sound /p/ is not a sonorant. It is an obstruent (a plosive, more specifically). It is subsequently dropped, but reinserted in the plural. There are a few such curious N2s in Finnish, such as the adjective uusi ("new"), whose principal parts are uusi, uuden, uutta, uusia. Historically, the s was a t, and so the principal parts were originally uuti, uuden (regular weak grade), uutta (regular strong grade with the -ta ending added to a consonantal stem), uutia. The t > s is simply a result of palatalization, which is the same process which yields the "sh" pronunciation in station in English. The high front /i/ triggers palatalization in many languages.


Type 3 (N3): lääkäri, lääkärin, lääkäriä, lääkäreitä ("doctor")

Words that enter Finnish from abroad (such as taksi, posti, etc) are instantly entered into this very productive nominal type. (The easiest way to make a non-Finnish word ending in a consonant into a Finnish word is to simply add -i to the end of it.) Some partitive plurals do not use the consonantal -ta/-tä ending; instead, the vocalic -a/-ä will be used, as in siisti, siistin, siistiä, siistejä ("tidy", "neat").


Type 4 (N4): hyvä, hyvän, hyvää, hyviä ("good")

This type is very similar to N5 in that they both end in -a/-ä. N4 nominals end in the front vowel (ä) variant, whereas N5 nominals end in the back (a) variant. Note, as always, the partitive ending -ä added to a vocalic stem.


Type 5a (N5a): tupa, tuvan, tupaa, tupia ("cabin")

Type 5b (N5b): kala, kalan, kalaa, kaloja ("fish")

N5a shows us something called the "Dog and Cabin" rule. It simply states that two-syllable words such as tupa ("cabin") or koira ("dog") with the low vowels o or u in their stems do not add the o in the partitive plural. The Dog and Cabin rule also governs N4 (front vowel) nominals.


Type 6 (N6): voi, voin, voita, voita ("butter")

This type features nominals that end in two vowels or a diphthong (other than the combinations -ie, -yö or -uo). Where the vowels are the same, as in maa, maan, maata, maita ("land") the plural stem comes after only a single vowel, otherwise we'd violate a phonotactic contraint: three vowels cannot coexist in Finnish. The partitive plural *maaita is not correct. This rule also explains why the consonantal partitive -ta/-tä is added to a vocalic stem.


Type 7 (N7): työ, työn, työtä, töitä ("job")

N7 is made up of nominals that end exclusively in diphthongs. Historically, these nominals were of type 6, and ended in -oo, -öö and -ee, which have since been replaced by -uo, -yö and -ie respectively. The first vowel drops in the partitive plural to allow for the maximum 2-vowel rule in Finnish.


Nominal types N1 to N7 reflect the STRONG + WEAK + STRONG + STRONG pattern of gradation within the principal parts. N8 to N17 will reflect a different scheme: WEAK + STRONG + WEAK + STRONG. (Again, some cases, such as the illative and the essive, as we'll soon see, always require strong grade, so it is reinserted.) 


Type 8 (N8): tarve, tarpeen, tarvetta, tarpeita ("need")

This nominal type is easier to see in its historical context, when there was a consonant at the end of the nominative singular. In the genitive, -en was added to that consonant stem, and in the partitive, -ta was added to that stem, yielding a double tt. Since the consonant t disappeared, tarvet became tarve; tarpeten became tarpeen; tarvetta remained, as did tarpeita. 


Type 9 (N9): rikas, rikkaan, rikasta, rikkaita ("rich")

Type 10 (N10): allas, altaan, allaita, altaita ("pool")

These two types are almost identical. The only difference is in the partitive singular, where N10 merges with N9 in the plural stem. In both, historically there was an -h- separating the two vowels in the genitive; in fact, some dialects still refer to the genitive of rikas as rikkahan.


Type 11 (N11): mahdollisuus, mahdollisuuden, mahdollisuutta, mahdollisuuksia ("possibility")

This complex nominal type is characterized by the endings -us or -ys (which come after a vowel), where the s was historically a t (hence the change to d in the genitive). Historical gradation is also prevalent here; the vestige of N2 can be seen in this example (remember uusi, uuden, uutta, uusia from N2?) N11s tend to denote adjectives that in English would never become plural, such as vanhuus ("old age"), pimeys ("darkness") and leveys ("width"); as a result, the plural stem is taken mostly from the N12 stem.


Type 12 (N12): vastaus, vastauksen, vastausta, vastauksia ("answer")

This nominal type looks curiously similar to N11, but historically the nominative singular ending was not simply -s, but rather -ks. Given that Finnish no longer allows consonant clusters word-initially or -finally, the k drops from the nominative singular; from the partitive singular, which would otherwise be vastauksta, which is not allowable (can't have three consonants in a row) the k is also removed.


Type 13 (N13): sydän, sydämen, sydäntä, sydamiä ("heart")

Type 14 (N14): hapan, happaman, hapanta, happamia ("sour")

These two types are similar with the only exception is that the vowel stem in the genitive includes a/ä in N14 instead of e in N13. Historically, the word-final -n was -m. Epenthetic -e- is inserted between m (which still survives word-medially) and the genitive -n in N13. In the plural, both types behave similarly.


Type 15 (N15): ahven, ahvenen, ahventa, ahvenia ("key")

There is no historical change in N15; the -n ending has always been -n, unlike N13 and N14.


Type 16 (N16): lyhyt, lyhyen, lyhyttä, lyhyitä ("short")

Historically, in the weaker grade in the genitive, which should yield lyhyden, the d has dropped, yielding the present lyhyen. The -e- in the genitive is the same epenthetic vowel used in N13.


Type 17 (N17): mahdollinen, mahdollisen, mahdollista, mahdollisia ("possible")

This is probably Finland's most famous ending: -nen. It is a very productive nominal type; all nationalities are found in N17, such as kanadalainen, amerikkalainen, egyptiläinen, etc. Both nouns and adjectives are found in N17.


N1 to N17 all include both nouns and adjectives, hence the name nominals. The final five nominal types are all specially derived adjectives: comparatives, superlatives, ordinals, caritives and past participles.


Type 18 (N18): lämpimämpi, lämpimämmän, lämpimämpää, lämpimämpiä ("warmer")

N18 is the comparative form. Note the Finnish lämmin, lämpimän, lämmintä, lämpimiä (N14) ("warm"). The ending -mpi is just added to the oblique stem, taken from the genitive: lämpimä- + -mpi à lämpimämpi (N18).


Type 19 (N19): lämpimin, lämpimimmän, lämpimintä, lämpimimpiä ("warmest")

N19 is the superlative form. Note the same Finnish N14 nominal that is being used in both N18 and N19. The ending -in characterizes the superlative, whereas other vowels signify the comparative. Compare: lämpimimmässä talossa ("in the warmest house") and lämpimämmässä talossa ("in the warmer house"). Note than all word-final vowels in adjectives such as vanha ("old"), köyhä ("poor") completely disappear in N19: they become vanhin ("oldest") and köyhin ("poorest"). N2 adjectives such as pieni, pienen, pientä, pieniä ("small") become pienin because the -e- vowel in the genitive singular stem drops, as it does in -a- and -ä- in N4 and N5 adjectives. N3 adjectives (those with the vowel -i- stem) face the following changes: kiltti, kiltin, kilttiä, kilttejä ("nice") where kilti- + -in à kiltein ("nicest"). N10 adjectives also behave this way: kaunis, kauniin, kaunista, kauniita ("beautiful") has the genitive singular stem kaunii- + -in à kaunein ("most beautiful").


Type 20 (N20): kolmas, kolmannen, kolmatta, kolmansia ("third")

Again, historical reasons account for the awkward distribution of t vis-à-vis d and s. As Finns tend to write out numbers in full before twenty and inflect all numbers (which all fall into the categories of the nominal types) and number segments, it's reassuring to know that beyond 20, the ordinal numeral is written instead of the word. This means that instead of writing "twelve thousand five hundredth" as kahdestoistatuhannes viidessadas, it is written simply as 12.500. Not even the -th that is included in English is written in Finnish.


Type 21 (N21): asumaton, asumattoman, asumatonta, asumattomia ("uninhabited")

These adjectives are specially formed with the -ton/tön ending, which means "lacking".


Type 22 (N22): kiinnostunut, kiinnostuneen, kiinnostunutta, kiinnostuneita ("interested")

This nominal type is reserved exclusively for past participles. These will make up the fourth principal part of all verbs, as will be seen in the verbal section. The participial ending is any consonant plus -ut or -yt. Quite often, these can act as nouns referring to a class or group of people. For example, ajatellut, ajatelleen, ajatellutta, ajatelleita means "someone who's thought"; juossut, juosseen, juossutta, juosseita means "someone who's run"; etc.



Finnish Vocabulary and Grammar

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