Whether it's "deux bières, s'il vous plait" or "dos cervezas, por favor", the Brits are always ready. Even when travelling to Finland, it doesn't take long for Brits to master: "kaksi olutta!"
This blog-post is not actually about beer ("olut") though; it's about the plural in Finnish.
You see, the bizarre thing about "kaksi olutta", is that "olutta" is not actually a plural. It is in fact a singular, but in a form (partitive) that describes an indeterminate amount, i.e. very roughly "two some-amount-of-a-beer". This applies to all numbered nouns: "kolme autoa" (three some-amount-of-a-car), "sata taloa" (a hundred some-amount-of-a-house) or "miljoona euroa" (a million some-amount-of-a-Euro).
Proper plurals do in fact exist in Finnish. For example, if you said "the beers are there", you would use the plural for beer: "oluet ovat siellä". Except, that is just the plural for a noun as the subject of the sentence. There is a different version of the plural for each of the 15 cases in Finnish, i.e. whether you go towards the houses, are coming from the houses, etc. And this can be fiendishly difficult, especially when the "insane Finnish letters" kick in.
One of most useful sentences I was ever taught in Finnish is: "Onpa paljon lampaita" ("there are a lot of sheep"). Admitedly, it's difficult sentence to place in a conversation, but it's an excellent platform to practice a particular form of the Finnish plural. That is because "paljon" ("a lot of") is followed by the partitive plural, i.e. roughly "some-amount-of-many-things".
"Lampaita" (some-amount-of-many-sheep) is quite logically (ahem), the partitive plural of "lammas" (a single sheep). By the same "logic", here are examples of words and their partitive plural:
talo / taloja (house)
tunti / tunteja (hour)
poika / poikia (boy)
nainen / naisia (woman)
sormus / sormuksia (ring)
mies / miehiä (man)
koditon / kodittomia (homeless)
asia / asioita (matter)
maa / maita (country)
työ / töitä (work)
kirja / kirjoja (book)
Did you notice how they all seem to follow the same pattern? No? Me neither (apart from the "a" at the end, which actually has nothing to do with the plural)!
But there is a further twist in this plural story: while "paljon" (a lot of) takes the partitive plural, "monta" (many) takes the partitive singular. So you have "paljon lampaita" ("a lot of some-amount-of-many-sheep"), and "monta lammasta" (many some-amount-of-a-sheep). Confused?
The short of it is that there are a lot of some-amount-of-many-ways to make a plural in Finnish.
Of course none of this troubles the Brits visiting Finland, as they confidently order "kaksi olutta"... As long as they get their beers, they don't care if these were actually two some-amount-of-a-beer.