Finnish Verb Conjugations

Learn how to conjugate verbs in Finnish

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Finnish Verb Conjugations

Finnish has what you might call four indicative tenses: present, past, perfect and pluperfect. Their formations are quite straightforward. The second principal part without the -n is called the present base form. The endings are added to the present base form: -n, -t, V-V (vowel elongation, if a single vowel exists, otherwise this form is unmarked) in the singular; -mme, -tte, -vat/-vät in the plural.

The formation of the perfect is almost the same. The third principal part is the past base form; the same endings as above are added to this stem. In the third person singular, however, there is no ending added-this form is unmarked.

tappaa ("to kill") tavata ("to meet") 
present past present past 
minä: tapan tapoin tapaan tapasin
sinä: tapat tapoit tapaat tapasit
hän, se: tappaa tappoi tapaa tapasi
me: tapamme tapoimme tapaamme tapasimme
te, Te: tapatte tapoitte tapaatte tapasitte
he, ne: tappavat tappoivat tapaavat tapasivat 

Note how strong grade is always inserted in the third person singular and plural in the present tense in V1, V2, V3, V4 and V5. In the other forms, weak grade is reintroduced. 

In the negative, the negative particle ei ("no") is inflected, and in the present, it accompanies the present base form. In the past, the negative particle is inflected, and it appears with the past participle of the verb, which is already a N22 type nominal. The ending -nut/-nyt is used for singular, and -neet for plural.

tappaa ("to kill")  tavata ("to meet") 
present  past  present  past 
minä: en tapa en tappanut en tapaa en tavannut
sinä: et tapa et tappanut et tapaa et tavannut 
hän, se: ei tapa ei tappanut  ei tapaa ei tavannut 
me: emme tapa emme tappaneet emme tapaa emme tavanneet 
te, Te: ette tapa ette tappaneet ette tapaa ette tavanneet 
he, ne: eivät tapa eivät tappaneet eivät tapaa eivät tavanneet 

It should be noted that a special passive form is used in conversational Finnish. It carries the ending -taan/-tään, which is added to the present base form (second principal part), always with weak grade. The verb pyrkiä, pyrin (V3 "strive") takes as its passive form pyritään. The verb antaa, annan (V5 "give") would take the passive form annetaan because any a or ä changes to e before this ending can be attached. The negative version is formed by removing -Vn and putting the negative ei before it. The negatives of the above two examples would then be ei pyritä and ei anneta. These passive forms replace the first person plural form, both indicative and imperative, and can therefore be translated as "we strive/don't strive" and let's strive/not strive!" as well as "we give/don't give" and "let's give/not give!" 

If the infinitive ends in only one vowel, however, then the passive is formed by adding the endings -an/-än to the infinitive (first principal part): the verb olla ("to be") would then take ollaan as its positive passive and ei olla as its negative. Tulla, tulen ("to come") has tullaan as its positive passive and ei tulla as its negative.

The past passive ending is -tiin. The formation is the same, but strong grade is inserted into each form. The forms we just saw would in the past become:

positive negative
present > past present > past
pyritään > pyrittiin ei pyritä > ei pyritty
annetaan > annettiin  ei anneta > ei annettu
ollaan > oltiin  ei olla > ei oltu
tullaan > tultiin  ei tulla > ei tultu 

In bona fide passive sentences, the passive form is used, but the structure of the sentence is not the same as in many Indo-European languages, where active [subject + verb + object] becomes passive [patient + passive verb, usually including the verb "to be" with a past participle + agent]. The direct object in Finnish remains a direct object, but it takes the form of the nominative: Kirja kirjoitettiin viime vuonna. "The book was written last year").

The only irregular verb in Finnish is olla, olen, oli, ollut, the verb "to be". Its inflections are as follows:

present negative past negative 
minä: olen en ole olin  en ollut
sinä: olet et ole olit  et ollut 
hän, se: on ei ole oli  ei ollut 
me: olemme emme ole olimme  emme olleet 
te, Te: olette ette ole olitte  ette olleet 
he, ne: ovat eivät ole olivat eivät olleet

This is important for the formation of the perfect and the pluperfect, which require the auxiliary verb olla. The present tense of olla plus the past participle gives us the perfect tense in Finnish: minä olen tavannut ("I have met"), sinä olet tavannut, hän on tavannut, me olemme tavanneet, te olette tavanneet, he ovat tavanneet. In the negative, the same occurs: minä en ole tavannut ("I haven't met"), sinä et ole tavannut, hän ei ole tavannut, etc. The pluperfect is formed by simply putting olla into the past and keeping the past participle inflected for number, just like in the perfect: minä olin vanhennut ("I had grown old"), sinä olit vanhennut, hän oli vanhennut, me olimme vanhenneet, te olitte vanhenneet, he olivat vanhenneet. In the negative, this would yield minä en ollut vanhennut ("I hadn't grown old"), sinä et ollut vanhennut, etc.

Other moods are used in Finnish. The imperative is formed with sinä by simply taking the present base form, from the second principal part. The plural imperative, with te or Te, is formed by adding -kaa/-kää to the infinitive stem (the infinitive without the endings -a/-ä or -ta/-tä). Tule sisään! ("Come in!") has a plural tulkaa sisään! The negative is älä tule sisään! ("don't come in!"), whose plural is älkää tulko sisään! The first person plural command form has already been discussed: the passive form of the verb in -taan/-tään. It should be noted here that the accusative in imperative sentences takes the form of the nominative: Anna tuo kirja ystävälleni! ("Give that book to my friend!")

The conditional is also common in Finnish. And, it's easy! It's just a matter of adding the infix -isi- between the present base form (second principal part) and the personal ending. The indicative minä puhun englantia ("I speak English") would become in the conditional minä puhuisin englantia ("I would speak English"). The third person singular form is unmarked, i.e. no vowel elongation occurs: hän puhuisi venäjää ("he/she would speak Russian"). In the perfect, the -isi- is inserted into the present of olla. A common expression in Finnish is Kukas olisi uskonnut!! ("Who would have thought!!") There are only two conditionals with -isi-: present and perfect.

There is also a potential mood with the infix -ne-, but it has fallen quite out of use.

Yes/No questions are formed in Finnish by adding the particle -ko/-kö to the verb or negative particle (in whatever form) and inverting subject and verb/negative particle: Asutko sinä Amerikassa? ("Do you live in America?") Etkö sinä asu Washingtonissa? ("Don't you live in Washington?") are two examples.


Finnish Vocabulary and Grammar

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