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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What is the difference between the perfect and imperfect tense in Finnish?
Kati: And how do you know which one to use?
Michael: At FinnishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Kari Karhu lost his keys. He tells Mark Lee about his problem.
"I've lost my keys."
Kari Karhu: Olen hukannut avaimeni.
Kari Karhu: Olen hukannut avaimeni.
Mark Lee: Minä hukkasin myös avaimeni kerran.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Kari Karhu: Olen hukannut avaimeni.
Michael: "I've lost my keys."
Mark Lee: Minä hukkasin myös avaimeni kerran.
Michael: "I lost my keys once too. "

Lesson focus

Michael: The way the Perfect and Imperfect Tenses are used differs from language to language. For instance, the rules for using these two tenses in English are very easy. While both express a similar idea, there is a small, but significant difference between them, and you can get this from the name. Let us have a look at the perfect tense. Saying that something is 'perfect' is like stating that something is complete. So, following this line of logic will lead us to the function of the perfect tense, which is talking about something that has been completed in the past, or the present, or will be completed in the future.
Now, you can use the same logic for the imperfect tense, which means that it describes uncompleted actions. In Finnish, however, the rules for when to use the perfect tense,
Kati: perfekti,
Michael: or the imperfect tense,
Kati: imperfekti
Michael: are different.
The Finnish imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect tenses all refer to the past, but they are far from the same thing, and are used in different contexts. In short, it goes like this: the imperfect tense expresses something that started and ended completely in the past.
The perfect tense expresses something that happened in the past, but is still relevant or continues past today.
The pluperfect is used to express that one thing happened further in the past than another thing.
So far, it seems quite straightforward - right? Let us talk about the differences and how to use them! The first aspect in which the Finnish imperfect and perfect tense is different from each other, is in how specific you are about the time something happened.
First, you must use the imperfect tense when you are saying exactly when something happened. For example,
Kati: Matkustin lapsena paljon.
Michael: This means: "As a child, I traveled a lot." In other words, that story is history! It has a specific time: your childhood. In comparison, the perfect tense will be used when something happened in the past, but we are not specifying an exact time. Like in this statement which means: "I have traveled a lot."
Kati: Olen matkustanut paljon.
Michael: Here, you are talking about a very general past action, with no specific timeframe, and for all we know, you might still be traveling! There are some more rules, though, that add other meanings to your sentences. Let us look at those next.
When making a sentence, the degree of completion will also influence our choice of tense. If something is completely finished, you will use the imperfect tense—like this:
Kati: Anna maalasi talon,
Michael: which means "Anna painted the house." In other words, the house is finished being painted. But with the next one:
Kati: Anna on maalannut taloa,
Michael: you are saying: "Anna has been painting the house." The implication is that she is still painting the house. Okay, now the third rule is about relevance at the time of speaking. For example, this sentence:
Kati: Myymälään on tullut uusia leluja,
Michael: which says "New toys have arrived at the store." If you heard this, you would know that the toys have come in already and the action is finished, but it also means that you can now buy these new toys in the present. The perfect tense is used because the past action is relevant right now.
Following that, another rule has to do with witnessing the action. If something happened, but we were unaware at the time and not there to see it with our own eyes, we express it using the perfect tense, like this:
Kati: Yöllä on satanut lunta.
Michael: "It has snowed in the night." We were not there to see the snow fall, but we can now see that it has happened. In comparison,
Kati: Yöllä satoi lunta.
Michael: meaning "It snowed during the night." This implies that you knew it was snowing last night, while it was happening. This is the imperfect tense.
And now for one more rule: this is about actions you have experienced in your lifetime. It works pretty well for those 'have you ever?' questions! Have you ever eaten crocodile or abseiled down a waterfall? The point of these sentences is not when you did them—just that you did, indeed, do them! For example,
Kati: Söin krokotiilipihviä.
Michael: This sentence means "I ate some crocodile steak," and it takes the imperfect tense, whereas
Kati: Olen syönyt krokotiilipihviä,
Michael: which means "I have eaten crocodile steak" takes the perfect tense. Can you hear the difference? In the imperfect tense, I ate a crocodile steak once upon a time. In the perfect tense, I have eaten crocodile steak in the past, but not necessarily just once. In fact, maybe I will have it again tonight!
[Recall 1]
Michael: Now, let us take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Kari Karhu says "I've lost my keys?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Kati as Kari Karhu: Olen hukannut avaimeni.
Michael: Here, Kari is implying that his keys are still lost and he needs to find them. He did not see the action when it happened, but it is affecting him in the present. This is the perfect tense.
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now, let us look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Mark Lee says "I lost my keys once too?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Kati as Mark Lee: Minä hukkasin myös avaimeni kerran.
Michael: Does Mark also need to find his keys? No—he is talking about something that happened long ago! The imperfect tense usually indicates this; events that are completely finished, but we can also understand it from the word
Kati: kerran
Michael: which means "once."
So, now that we have a better understanding, we should move on to the plusquamperfect–also called the pluperfect, for short, or the past perfect. The imperfect and the pluperfect often appear in the same sentence. The pluperfect refers to an event in the past, and the imperfect is used to express that something happened after that point in time. Do not be confused–we will break it down!
Listen to the sentence
Kati: Lähdin lenkille, kun olin syönyt.
Michael: "I went for a run when I had eaten." Two completed actions are mentioned here, but the one happened before the other one. We use this pairing of the imperfect and pluperfect tenses when referring to the past. First I ate, then I went for a run. Right? The event furthest back in the past is your pluperfect tense. In this case, "when I had eaten,"
Kati: kun olin syönyt.
Michael: The same kind of pairing can be used to speak about the future, but then we would use the perfect and imperfect tense together. Like in this sentence:
Kati: Lähden lenkille, kun olen syönyt,
Michael: meaning "I will go for a run when I have eaten."
Michael: There is one other way to use the pluperfect tense. We can pair it with the imperfect to express that we heard something from someone. In other words, for repeating a story! Here is an example:
Kati: Hän kertoi, että hän oli käynyt saarella.
Michael: "She said that she had been to the island." The speaker is referring to two events here: first, she refers to a conversation she had with someone. Second, she refers to what that person said. Obviously, the conversation happened some time after the island trip—so, which is the pluperfect tense? It is the latter part—the reference to the island:
Kati: oli käynyt saarella
Michael: In this lesson, you have learned that the Finnish perfect, imperfect, and plusquamperfect tenses all refer to the past. You then learned about the differences between the three. Lastly, you learned how two of these tenses can be paired within one sentence.
Michael: Something also worth noting is that, in the pluperfect, the order of the sentences has no effect on the meaning. You can interchange these as you please, just like in English.
For example, "After I had studied, I went to the store."
Kati: Kun olin opiskellut, menin kauppaan
Michael: is interchangeable with
Kati: Menin kauppaan, kun olin opiskellut,
Michael: which means "I went to the store after I had studied."


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Kati: Hei hei!
Michael: See you soon!