Sunday, 20 February 2011


As if Finnish words were not long enough as it is, Finns have developed endless strategies to pad them out. Chief amongst these are those related to cases which apply to the end of noun and adjectives, and can give you up to a 4-letter bonus! Woohoo!

So for example, if you met the Finnish “valtiovarainministeri” (“finance minister”) and wanted to give him/her something, then you just add the “-lle” suffix to make “valtiovarainministerille” (“to the finance minister”). Hey presto, 3 letters added to the 21 letter word!

The Tedious Grammar Bit

In Finnish there are 15 cases, which roughly correspond to English prepositions. Each case is formed by appending a special sequence of letters.

There are cases that would be familiar to anyone who knows languages like Latin or German: nominative for subjects (no ending), the accusative for objects (no ending or “-n”) and the genitive for possessives (“-n”). There are also so-called "marginal" cases, which I won't cover here as they are essentially, err, marginal: the essisve, the translative, the abessive, the comitative and the instructive.

More interestingly though, there is the partitive which is used when things can't be counted, such as coffee (“kahvia” – some coffee) or love (“rakkautta” – oh yes, unlimited love!)

And then of course, there are the really fun “locative” cases. These are used to describe the location (inside or outside) and movement relative to that location (static, moving away or moving towards). That makes 2 x 3 = 6 cases (inessive, elative, illative, adessive, ablative and allative). For example: in the house (“talossa”), out of the house (“talosta”), into the house (“taloon”), on the roof (“katolla”), off the roof (“katolta”), or onto the roof (“katolle”)!

It seems in Finnish there is no escaping the dreaded question: “where have you been tonight?” – your every movement has to be accounted for!

[If you are desperate for more details about Finnish cases, click here]

The Flippant Comments

It goes without saying that cases are quite a challenge for useless foreigners like me, trying to get to grips with Finnish. Even when you understand the rules, it’s still full of weird things, for example:
  • Despite having cases for going to and coming from the inside and outside, Finns have not thought it fit to create cases to express being next to, behind, in front of, in between, etc. They use normal prepositions for that – thank goodness!
  • In Finnish, you watch “some” television (“katsoa televisiota”) because you like “from inside” the television (“pitää televisiosta”)
  • If you paint the house, you have to say you paint “some” house (“maalata taloa”), because painting “the” house (“maalata talon”) would imply you are painting a complete house, most likely in the form of a lovely picture of a house
  • If you like (“pitää”) a Sandinista or a Fashionista, that would be Sandinistasta or Fashionistasta – stu(s)tter indeed
And so on... Finnish cases are just an endless source of entertainment – kind of.

As I mentioned at the start of this though, cases are essentially a great way of extending words into even more giant formations. I also suspect that they are designed to ensure that writing rhyming poetry is a total breeze by making word endings look the same!

But I am still a long, long way from writing poetry in Finnish though.... Back to the grammar book. Sigh.


  1. Comment I received by email:

    Could that be the reason the Finns have a reputation of being taciturn? The business of choosing the right case ending is so complicated that they find it easier to remain silent....

  2. Even native Finns indeed sometimes F it up. See this for example:


  3. Noooo, they are not prepositions, but POSTpositions in finnish language! The only preposition I can think of is "ilman" (without). Might be others, or then not ;)

    Anyway, great blog. I think you'll be keeping me up half night, I'm only this far from the beginning and it's midnight :D

    1. I had to re-read this blog to remind myslef. And yes, you are right, in Finnish it's mostly post-positions, though there are indeed prepositions also, such as ilman and ennen, or indeed some that can be both such as vasten or pitkin... Anyhow, glad you enjoyed reading my ramblings!