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Finnish Grammar Overview


Whether you’ve just started learning Finnish or have a lot of lessons under your belt already, grammar is something you’ll keep coming back to throughout your studies. Finnish grammar, in particular, is best learned in smaller chunks through continuous exposure and lots of repetition.

If you’re a beginner, our guide will give you a thorough introduction to Finnish grammar. Don’t worry about taking everything in at once—just focus on a few of the most relevant rules and take it from there! And if you’re more advanced in your studies, you can use our guide as a handy summary page to revisit whenever you need a refresher on a certain grammar point.

We’ll introduce you to the most important Finnish grammar rules, from verb conjugation to noun cases. After a quick overview, we’ll move on to more-specific aspects of the language. Feel free to skip the first section if you’re already familiar with basic Finnish grammar.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Finnish Table of Contents
  1. Finnish Grammar for Beginners
  2. Vowel Harmony and Consonant Gradation
  3. Mastering Finnish Verbs
  4. Noun Cases
  5. Lopuksi

1. Finnish Grammar for Beginners

So, what can you expect when you begin learning Finnish grammar? 

For starters, Finnish is a Finno-Ugric language, and thus not related to Indo-European languages like English, French, and German. This means that many aspects of Finnish grammar may come as a surprise to new learners. For example, Finnish has no definite or indefinite articles, grammatical gender, or future tense.

Finnish is an Agglutinative Language

“What is an agglutinative language?” I hear you ask. 

It means that a lot of information in Finnish is conveyed by inflecting words (adding one or more suffixes to the word stem), instead of relying extensively on grammatical particles such as “of” and “from.” Inflection applies to all nominals (nouns, adjectives, numerals, and pronouns) as well as verbs.

Take a look at this example:

  • Juoksentelisinkohan. (“I wonder if I should run around.”)

Thanks to a bunch of suffixes, this single Finnish word can convey all the information expressed by an entire English sentence. However, you’ll be glad to know that this example is rather extreme. Typically, you only need to worry about one or two suffixes at a time.

Introduction to Finnish Verbs

We’ll revisit verbs later on this page, but for now, this is what you need to know about Finnish verbs:

  • Finnish verbs are conjugated.
  • There are six persons corresponding to six personal suffixes.
  • There are four tenses.
  • There are four moods.
  • There are two voices: active and passive.
  • Verbs are usually divided into six types based on how they look in their basic form and how they behave when inflected.

The Basic Word Order

The basic word order in Finnish is the very same one you’re already familiar with as an English speaker: subject-verb-object (SVO).

Here’s the subject verb object order in action:

  • Heikki juo kahvia. (“Heikki drinks coffee.”)

In English, the word order (usually) allows you to identify the subject and the object of a sentence. In contrast, the subject and object are identified by their case markings in Finnish sentences. This makes the Finnish sentence structure much more flexible.

You can add strong emphasis to a specific word by placing it at the beginning of your sentence. For example, you could stress that Heikki is drinking coffee as opposed to tea:

  • Kahvia Heikki juo. (“Heikki drinks coffee.”)

We talk more about Finnish word order in our Talking Nationality in Finnish lesson on

A Man Drinking Coffee Straight from the Coffee Pot.

“Heikki drinks coffee” is an example of the SVO word order.

2. Vowel Harmony and Consonant Gradation

Certain Finnish grammar rules exist to make the pronunciation easier, and it’s good to be aware of these rules from the beginning.

Vowel Harmony

There are three Finnish vowel groups: front, back, and neutral.

Front vowelsBack vowelsNeutral vowels
Ä, Ö, YA, O, UI, E

The rule of thumb: Neutral vowels will happily hang out with any other vowel within a word, while front and back vowels wouldn’t be caught dead in each other’s company. This rule applies to individual words as well as to any suffixes that are added.

As you can see in these examples, each word contains only front or back vowels:

  • Käärme (“Snake”)
  • Ankkuri (“Anchor”)

If your word contains only neutral vowels, choose the suffix with front vowels:

  • Tie (“Road”)
  • Tiestä (“Of the road”)

There are a few exceptions to vowel harmony: both front and back vowels can appear in compound words and loanwords: 

  • Silmälasit (“Eyeglasses”), A compound word
  • Synonyymi (“Synonym”), A loanword

When inflecting a compound word, look at the last individual word—lasit (“glasses”) in the above example—to choose the correct suffix.

Consonant Gradation

This is a difficult concept in Finnish grammar for foreigners, so we’ll go into some detail on this.

When words are inflected, the word stem may change: consonants may disappear, be doubled, or be replaced with other consonants. This phenomenon is called consonant gradation (or the KPT rule), and it applies to nominals and certain verb types. While it may seem unnecessarily cruel from a language learner’s point of view, the changes are actually there to make the Finnish words easier to pronounce!

The basic rule: Consonants in open syllables (syllables that end in a vowel) are “strong.” Consonants in closed syllables (syllables that end in a consonant) are “weak.”

For example, words with plosives (k, p, t) often change from strong (-kk-, -pp-, -tt-) to weak grade (-k-, -p-, -t-) when words are pluralized:

  • Takki, Takit (“Jacket,” “Jackets”)
  • Kaappi, Kaapit (“Closet,” “Closets”)
  • Rotta, Rotat (“Rat,” “Rats”)

The table below shows the different types of changes that can take place when you inflect Finnish words. Note that the changes can happen in either direction. For example, the nominative of osoite (“address”) is weak but becomes strong in the t-plural: osoitteet (“addresses”).

StrongWeakExample (nominative, t-plural)
-kk--k-kakku, kakut (“cake,” “cakes”)
-pp--p-nappi, napit (“button,” “buttons”)
-tt--t-hattu, hatut (“hat,” “hats”)
-k-sika, siat (“pig,” “pigs”)
-p--v-leipä, leivät (“a loaf of bread,” “loaves of bread”)
-t--d-taito, taidot (“skill,” “skills”)
-nk--ng-kaupunki, kaupungit (“town,” “towns”)
-mp--mm-lampi, lammet (“pond,” “ponds”)
-lt--ll-silta, sillat (“bridge,” “bridges”)
-nt--nn-ranta, rannat (“beach,” “beaches”)
-rt--rr-parta, parrat (“beard,” “beards”)

You can read about Finnish consonant gradation in more detail on Wikipedia.

A Close-up of a Mouth.

Vowel harmony and consonant gradation streamline Finnish pronunciation.

3. Mastering Finnish Verbs

You can’t have a complete sentence without verbs! Here, we’ll cover several Finnish language grammar rules related to verbs and their usage. Buckle up. 

Conjugation Basics

Six personal suffixes are used in Finnish. These suffixes are added to the verb stem. The best thing about personal suffixes is that they’re exactly the same in all tenses and moods!

Let’s conjugate the verb muistaa (“to remember”). The personal endings are added to the verb stem muista-.

minä (“I”)-nMinä muistan. (“I remember.”)
sinä (“you”)-tSinä muistat. (“You remember.”)
hän (“he” / “she”)-v orHän muistaa. (“He/she remembers.”)
me (“we”)-mmeMe muistamme. (“We remember.”)
te (plural “you” / formal “you”)-tteTe muistatte. (“You remember.”)
he (“they”)-vat or -vätHe muistavat. (“They remember.”)

The third person singular (hän) is marked by a long vowel. If there are already two vowels at the end of the stem, the third person form equals the verb stem. For example, the stem of the word juoda (“to drink”) is juo- which is also the third person singular form:

  •  Hän juo. (“He/she drinks.”)

Because the personal endings tell us who is performing the action, it’s possible to drop the personal pronouns in first and second person. For example:

  •  (Minä) opiskelen suomea. (“I study Finnish.”)

The Six Verb Types

While the personal endings of verbs never change, the same is not true about verb stems. Typically, verbs are divided into six types depending on their basic form and the changes they undergo when conjugated. Knowing which verb type you’re looking at will help you work out how to conjugate it!

Verb TypeInfinitive endingExample
Type 1-va/-välukea (“to read”)
Type 2-da/-däsyödä (“to eat”)
Type 3-la/-lä, -na/-nä, -ra/-rä, -sta/-statulla (“to come”)
Type 4-vta/-vtäsiivota (“to clean”)
Type 5-ita/-itävalita (“to choose”)
Type 6-eta/-etävanheta (“to age”)

When conjugating verbs, follow these steps:

1. Identify the verb type. For example, rakastaa (“to love”) has a -va ending and is a Type 1 verb.

2. Follow the rules for this verb type to derive the verb stem. For Type 1 verbs, you need to remove the final -a or . Therefore, the stem of rakastaa is rakasta-.

3. Add your personal ending to the stem. For first person singular, add -n: rakastan (“I love”).

4. Remember that consonant gradation applies to verb types 1, 3, and 4.

You can dive deeper into Finnish verb types and conjugation on Wikipedia.

A Man Snowboarding

Lumilautailla (“to snowboard”) is a Type 3 verb.


In Finnish grammar, verbs also conjugate for the four indicative tenses: present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect.

1. The Finnish present tense describes timeless, continuing, and future actions. It’s formed by adding a personal ending to the verb stem.

  • Minä ostan (“I buy”)

2. The imperfect tense corresponds to the English simple past tense. It is formed by adding the affix -i- (sometimes -si-) before the personal suffix.
  • Minä ostin (“I bought”)

3. The perfect tense corresponds to the English present perfect. It’s formed using the verb olla (“to be”) as an auxiliary verb and the past active participle form of the main verb.
  • Minä olen ostanut (“I have bought”)

4. pluperfect tense corresponds to the English past perfect. We use olla (“to be”) as an auxiliary verb again, but in its past form.
  • Minä olin ostanut (“I had bought”)

An Ornamental Sundial.

Tenses deal with the timing of actions.


There are four moods in modern Finnish: indicative, conditional, imperative, and potential.

1 . Indicative is the ‘basic’ form used in most statements and questions.

2. Conditional corresponds to actions that may or may not happen, and it appears in conditional sentences and polite requests. The affix that marks a conditional form is -isi-.

  • Tulisin, jos pyytäisit. (“I would come, if you asked.” / Literally: “I would come, if you would ask.”)
  • Haluaisin teetä. (“I would like some tea.”)

3. Imperative expresses commands. The most commonly used forms of the imperative are the active, second person imperatives.
  • Juokse! (“Run!”) Singular
  • Älä juokse! (“Don’t run!”) Singular
  • Juoskaa! (“Run!”) Plural
  • Älkää juosko! (“Don’t run!”) Plural

4. Potential expresses actions that are likely but not certain. It isn’t used mu4. ch in modern Finnish, but may appear in newspaper articles and such. The typical conditional affix is -ne-, added before the personal ending. 
  • Minä laulanen. (“I will probably sing.”)


In Finnish, there are two voices: active and passive. Active verbs are linked to the six persons and always have a personal ending, while there is only one form of the passive. Passive is used in Finnish when the agent is a human who is either unknown or unimportant:

  • Koulussa opetetaan matematiikkaa. (“Math is taught in school.”)

Passive can also be used when making suggestions:

  • Mennäänkö rannalle? (“Shall we go to the beach?”)

Finally, passive can replace the first person plural active form in informal, spoken Finnish:

  • Me asutaan Kotkassa. (“We live in Kotka.”)


In Finnish, the word ei (“no”) behaves like a verb (hence, it’s called a negative verb). It gets the same personal endings as regular verbs:

  • en, et, ei, emme, ette, eivät

To form a negative sentence, use the negative verb with the stem of the main verb. For example:

  • Minä en puhu. (“I don’t speak.”)

In the imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect tenses, the negative verb is paired with the past active participle form of the main verb. The auxiliary verb stem ole is also added to the negative imperfect and ollut (singular) or olleet (plural) to the negative pluperfect.

The negative imperfect: 

  • Minä en puhunut. (“I didn’t speak.”)
  • Me emme puhuneet. (“We didn’t speak.”)

The negative perfect: 

  • Minä en ole puhunut. (“I haven’t spoken.”)
  • Me emme ole puhuneet. (“We haven’t spoken.”)

The negative pluperfect: 

  • Minä en ollut puhunut. (“I hadn’t spoken.”)
  • Me emme olleet puhuneet. (“We hadn’t spoken.”)

A Man with Tape Over His Mouth.

Hän ei puhu. (“He doesn’t speak.”)

The First Finnish Verb to Learn

Olla (“to be”) is an essential verb to learn because you’ll be using it again and again. It also happens to be a very rare example of a Finnish irregular verb! This is how to conjugate it:

  • minä olen, sinä olet, hän on, me olemme, te olette, he ovat
    • For example: Minä olen iloinen. (“I am happy.”)

Olla can also be used as an auxiliary verb in a compound tense, as we’ve seen:

  •  Sinä olet asunut Suomessa. (“You have lived in Finland.”)

There is no separate possession verb in Finnish, so olla performs double-duty as “to be” and “to have.” When we want to say “to have” in a sentence, we use the adessive case of a noun with the third person singular form of olla. Like this:

minulla onsinulla onhänellä onmeillä onteillä onheillä on
“I have”“you have”“he/she has”“we have”“you have”“they have”

For example: Minulla on kissa. (“I have a cat.” / Literally: “On me is a cat.”)

You’ll also come across the verb olla used this way when talking about certain states of being. For example:

  • Sinulla on nälkä. (“You are hungry.” / Literally: “On you is hunger.”)
  • Meillä on jano. (“We are thirsty.” / Literally: “On us is thirst.”)

Can’t get enough of Finnish verbs? Look up all those lovely affixes and conjugation rules on Wikipedia, and check out our list of Vocabulary for the 25 Most Commonly Used Verbs.

4. Noun Cases

Finnish noun cases have a reputation of being fiendish to learn, but all you really need is a lot of patience.

Types of Noun Cases

There are fifteen total Finnish noun cases. In Finnish grammar, cases are divided into subgroups: grammatical, locative, role, and marginal. 

Grammatical cases

Nominativekoti (“home”)
Genitive-nkodin (“home’s” / “of a home”)
Accusative-, -t, -nkoti/kodin (“home”)
Partitive-(t)a/-(t)äkotia (“home”)

The nominative is the basic (dictionary) form of a noun, the genitive indicates possession, accusative is used when we refer to an object as a whole, and partitive is used when we refer to a part of an object.

Internal locative cases

Inessive-ssa/-ssäkodissa (“in a home”)
Elative-sta/-stäkodista (“out of a home”)
Illative-vnkotiin (“into a home”)

External locative cases

Adessive-lla/-lläkodilla (“on a home”)
Ablative-lta/-ltäkodilta (“from a home”)
Allative-llekodille (“onto a home”)

As the names suggest, internal location cases generally indicate ‘interior’ spatial positions (in, into, and from within), while external locative cases generally indicate ‘surface’ positions (on, onto, and from on top of).

Role cases

Essive-na/-näkotina (“as a home”)
Translative-ksikodiksi (“into a home”)

The translative case indicates transformation (into something).

Marginal cases

Instructive-nkodein (“with the aid of homes”)
Abessive-ttakoditta (“without a home”)
Comitative-ne-koteineen (“together with their homes”)

The marginal cases are rarely used in modern Finnish. The comitative is usually replaced with the postposition kanssa (“with”) and the abessive is usually replaced with the preposition ilman (“without”). You might run into the instructive case in expressions such as omin avuin (“with one’s own help”).

The Basics of Using Noun Cases

The most important things to remember about the use of noun cases are:

1. All nominals (nouns, adjectives, numerals, pronouns) are inflected. For example:

  • se yksi nopea auto (“that one fast car”) Nominative
  • sitä yhtä nopeaa autoa (“that one fast car”) Partitive

2. Nouns are inflected by adding the correct suffix to the word stem. A lot of the time, the word stem is the same as the nominative, but not always! For example, the stem of the word kaunis (“beautiful”) is kaunii- in most of the cases.

3.   Remember consonant gradation!

A Drawing of a Treasure Map.

Use locative cases to find the treasure.

5. Lopuksi

In this guide, we’ve touched on many Finnish grammatical delights, from the negative verb to consonant gradation. Are there any particular Finnish grammar rules you would like to see covered in more detail?

To help you learn Finnish grammar organically, many of our audio lessons on include essential grammar information in easy-to-understand chunks. We’ve also built a lesson around some simple tricks to learn grammar. And if you would like to have access to a professional Finnish teacher who can answer even your trickiest grammar-related questions, our Premium PLUS account with one-on-one tutoring is perfect for you.

By the way, if you enjoy learning by watching, check out our videos 4 Ways to Improve Your Finnish Grammar and Fix Your Finnish Grammar in 30 Minutes on the FinnishPod101 YouTube Channel.

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