As it happens, it has been quite a while since I had a good moan or even groan. Time to change that. So, be warned, if you have little interest in Finnish grammar, read beyond this point at your own peril.Anyone left?
This post is about the infinitive of verbs in Finnish. I should really say infinitives, with an “s” because, as I recently learnt, Finnish doesn’t have just one infinitive (that would be too simple). Oh no, Finnish has, brace yourself, five infinitives, no less! Five as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
I was rather surprised by that, as for me the infinitive was a fairly defined form for a verb. It was basically the verb “at rest”, i.e. before it was put to active use through conjugation. In English you have “to be”, “to jump” and “to moan” – easy. Admittedly there are some quirks like the “defective” verbs can, may, shall, will and must that do not have an infinitive, but I will brush over that.
Back to Finnish though: so how can you have 5 infinitives?
I began investigating the concept of the infinitive a little more (I know, maybe I should get a life). To my surprise, I found that there was not a single, unique definition of the infinitive. Instead it seems infinitives tend to have certain common properties such as not changing (inflecting) with the subjects of a sentence, and acting as something else than a verb in a sentence, for example a noun.
Given the vagueness of the definition, I suppose it’s no wonder Finnish has 5 infinitives then.
Now, it’s not really my intention to provide a proper guide to Finnish infinitives, but I need to say a few words about them, just to show how confusing they can be for simple foreigners like me.
The infinitives, named 1st to 5th (there is real logic to Finnish), behave like nouns, so they happily accept lots of endings to change their meaning. These include most notably case endings (of which there are 15, though not all apply here) and possessives (my, your, his/her, etc.).
So that’s how Finnish infinitives can end up like this:
- lukea – to read (1st infinitive, the dictionary form)
- lukeakseni – in order that I shall read (1st infinitive + translative case + 1st person possessive suffix)
- lukiessasi – when you read (2nd infinitive + inessive case + 2nd person possessive suffix)
- lukien – reading, e.g. he came into the room reading (2nd infinitive + instructive case)
- lukemassa – reading, e.g. he is in the library reading (3rd infinitive + inessive case)
- lukemasta – reading, e.g. he came from the library where he had been reading (3rd infinitive + elative case)
- lukemaan – to [start to] read, e.g. he is going to the bedroom to read (3rd infinitive + illative case)
- lukemalla – by reading, e.g. he became a top student by reading (3rd infinitive + adessive case)
- lukematta – without reading (3rd infinitive + abessive case)
- lukeminen – reading, as an obligation or indicating a noun, e.g. reading is compulsory at school (4th infinitive + nominative case)
- lukemista – reading, similar to above (4th infinitive + partitive case)
- lukemaisillani – just about to read (5th infinitive)
I have to confess I am far from mastering the Finnish infinitives, so no doubt the above is a gross over-simplification and possibly contains some mistakes. However, the point I am trying to make is that there is plenty of scope there to confuse little foreign brains like mine.
Is that a wave of sympathy I feel, or is that just wishful thinking on my part?