Finnish Sentence Types

Learn about sentence types in Finnish

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Finnish Sentence Types

Finnish has a variety of sentence types that help speakers to determine in which form the subject, predicative adjective/noun and object take. The vast majority of times, the subject in Finnish will be in the nominative case. These are the sentence types that require a nominative subject:

Intransitive sentences: in these sentences, there is only a subject and a verb. Example: Minä nukun ("I am sleeping.")

Transitive sentences: in these sentences, the sentence requires a direct object complement. The subject is in the nominative and the object is in either the accusative or the partitive. Example: Minä juon teetä ("I drink tea"). Notice the object is in the partitive because juoda ("to drink") is what we call a "blood, sweat and tears" verb, which means the doer of the action expends quite a bit of energy, either because the action is strenuous or because it's long-lasting. Some verbs can take both an accusative or a partitive object: compare Hän luki kirjaa ("He read a book") with Hän luki kirjan ("He read the book"). The accusative is translated with the definite object in English, whereas the partitive is translated with the indefinite.

Copulative sentences: in these sentences, there is what looks like an equation: subject + a form of olla ("to be") + predicative adjective or noun. Minä olen kanadalainen ("I am a Canadian") is an example. Both subject and predicative noun are in the nominative. The plural will usually feature partitive plural: He ovat kanadalaisia ("They are Canadians") because we're not saying that those are all the Canadians of the world over there. There is no natural set, so we do not use partitive plural. Partitive singular is also used, when saying, for example, that "the food was good": ruoka oli hyvää.

There exist three types of existential sentences in Finnish: locative, possessive and part-whole.

Locative existential sentences: This is a sentence type that keeps the subject in the nominative even though it falls at the end of the sentence. The sentence begins with a location, followed by a verb and then the subject. Example: Sairaalassa oli vanha tohtori ("In the hospital was the/an old doctor"). The subject can be in the partitive in limited situations, such as in Kaloja ui vedessä ("There are fish swimming in the water").

Possessive existential sentences: Like Russian, Finnish does not have a verb "to have." Instead, the possessor is placed at the beginning of the sentence in the adessive case, and the verb olla ("to be") is used, followed by the subject, in the nominative. Example: Minulla on raha ("I have the money" lit. "On/at me is money")-notice how the subject in the nominative is translated with the definite object. The sentence Minulla on rahaa ("I have some money") has the subject in the partitive. The verb is always singular.

Part-whole existential sentences: These are similar to possessive existential sentences, with the difference being that the adverbial is rendered into the Inessive case to show the location of the whole. Example: Pohjois-Kanadassa on lyhyet kesät ("Northern Canada has short summers"). Notice that the verb again is always singular.

There are three types of impersonal sentences in Finnish: necessive, state and experiencer.

Necessive impersonal sentences: There are a few impersonal third person singular verbs in the present that require a genitive to come before them, such as täytyy and on pakko. Examples: Minun on pakko mennä pois ("I have to go away"). In such sentences, the accusative will always look like the nominative: Minun täytyy ostaa tuo kirja ("I have to buy that book").

State impersonal sentences: These are usually used in weather, and come with no subject, although nominative or partitive "subjects" (i.e. logical, semantic subjects) are possible: Sataa ensilunta ("The first snow is falling"). Sometimes one word is enough: Tuulee ("It's windy," lit. "blows").

Experiencer impersonal sentences: Some verbs require the "subject" to appear in the partitive. Example: Häntä väsytti ("He/She felt tired" lit. "Of him/her it tired/fatigued").



Finnish Vocabulary and Grammar

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