Basic Information About Finnish

As you probably have already noticed or at least heard – Finnish grammar is quite unique and most likely very different from other languages you’ve learnt before. I usually say that Finnish grammar is like Finnish society: we have a rule and then we obey it, no exceptions. However living in grammatical or very rule-based environment can be rather exhausting. So here are some tips how to survive in Finnish grammar jungle without loosing your mind.

In Finnish it is super important to listen to the question. In the beginning of your language learning other people usually ask and you just answer. In the question word we usually give you a hint about the grammar that you should follow in your answer. For example if I ask you: Mistä sä pidät, you should answer: suklaasta, kesästä, sinusta

Now I try to explain in nutshell how Finnish question words work. Obviously the life in the jungle is not always this simple but let’s concentrate first on staying alive.

Step one:
You need to learn (like in any language) the basic questions: mikä (what), kuka (who), milloin/koska (when), millainen (what kind of), missä (where), miksi (why). This is very good start already.

Step two: 
You need to accept that these words have different forms, so the same question in English (where) has three different forms in Finnish: missä, mistä and mihin/minneMikä (what) can be also mitä, minkä, millä, miltä, mille, mitkä. For your comfort there is a logics behind but you need to accept the fact that Finnish words work like a locomotive – we add cars to it to use it in different functions.

Step three:
Get behind the logics. Let’s start with the question words that express the place: missä, mistä, mihin/minneSimple explanation is that first one is where at/in (missä?), other where from (mistä?) and the third one is where to (mihin/minne?). I like to teach them in old fashioned way and use the traffic lights to ease memorizing.
Missä? – Red light means that you need to stop. No movement anywhere. Missä sinä asut? Missä sinä olet? If I live in one place, I’m not moving.
Mistä? – Where from? This expresses movement away from some place. In the traffic lights you need to check in the back mirror for a while :). Mistä sinä olet kotoisin?
Mihin? Minne? – Let’s go! This means that you are heading somewhere and you think of that place. Mihin sä meet?

Step three and half:
Find the same traffic light logics behind the words: kenellä? keneltä? kenelle?
Kenellä on rahaa? Who has money? Money is not in this case yet moving anywhere :).
Keneltä sait lahjan? From whom you got the present? This shows movement away from the person who gave you the gift.
Kenelle annat suukon? To whom you give a kiss? When kissing someone you usually think of the person and move towards the person you give the kiss, right :)?

Step four:
Listen to the question and then create your own rules first. You might have heard the question Missä sä käyt? (Where do you go to or where do you visit?) Here is movement, so hey – where is the logics? Well, in this case you can think that there is movement in both ways: you go to one place and then you come back, so it’s like you are not moving anywhere. Unfortunately the explanation is much more boring than this memorizing rule. Certain words require a certain form. Like in English, I always have to remember to be interested IN something – and like you most likely notice, these are not the things that I was passionate about during my English studies. I call these words magnet words, as certain magnet takes certain form with it, always. Käydä is one of these words. Pitää which was mentioned earlier, is another word like this. Pitää + mistä? Of course you can try to memorize the form with the word but you can also rely on Finnish person’s question: Mistä sä olet kiinnostunut? Mihin sä unohdit kännykän? Missä sä kävit viikonloppuna?

Step five:
The forms that usually give biggest headache to students are so called grammatical forms, word monsters like partitiivi and genetiivi which unfortunately are sometimes in Finnish learner’s vocabulary before they can even ask for a toilet. So, to make it as easy as I can:
MIKÄ? / KUKA? (dictionary form)
MITÄ? / KETÄ? (add A in the end)
MINKÄ? / KENEN? (add N in the end)

MIKÄ? talo
MITÄ? taloa
MINKÄ? talon

KUKA? Mika
KETÄ? Mikaa
KENEN? Mikan

And now it is time to step into jungle and start using your machete – listen to the question.

Mitä kuuluu?
Missä sä asut?
Mistä sä olet kotoisin?
Mitä sä etsit?
Mistä sä ostit tuon paidan?
Minkä Mika osti?
Millä sä meet Tampereelle?
Kenelle sä annoit sen?
Kenen kanssa sä opit suomea?

by Raisa 🙂