Dialogue - Finnish


Vocabulary (Review)

paikka place, position, seat, job
ohjelmoija programmer
mielenkiintoinen interesting
onni luck, fortune, happiness
saada to get, to receive
työ job, work
kun when
aloittaa to start, to begin
tänään today
uusi new

Lesson Notes


Lesson Focus

The Focus of this Lesson is a Review of the Nominative, Partitive, and Genitive Cases.
Minä olen Petri Lahtinen. Minulla oli onnea, kun sain paikan.
"I'm Petri Lahtinen. I was lucky to get the job."



In this lesson, we review the basic use of the nominative, partitive, and genitive cases. They are the key to understanding Finnish since, unlike in English, the grammatical relationships between words are not tied to word order. Word order is relatively free in Finnish, and it is the case endings that show which word is the subject of the sentence and which is the object or complement. Let's look at each case in turn.

The Nominative Case



The nominative case is the dictionary form of a noun, adjective, numeral, or pronoun. It is often the case of the subject of a sentence. It indicates an entirety of some kind, as opposed to the partitive, which expresses a part of something. In A on B ("A is B") type sentences, B is in the nominative case when the subject is a specified, definite entity. In certain kinds of sentences (such as sentences with an unspecified human actor, also known as the Finnish "passive") there is no explicit subject, and then the object of the sentence may be in the nominative case.

For example:

  1. Kalle on poika.
    "Kalle is a boy."
  2. Omena on kylmä.
    "The apple is cold."
  3. Maito kaatui pöydälle.
    "(All) the milk was spilled on the table."
  4. Pojat pelaavat jalkapalloa.
    "The boys play soccer."
  5. Poliisi ottaa varkaan kiinni.
    "The police will catch the thief."
  6. Varas otetaan kiinni.
    "The thief will be caught."


Examples from the dialogue:


  1. Minä olen Petri Lahtinen.
    "I'm Petri Lahtinen."
  2. Olen ohjelmoija.
    "I'm a programmer."


The Partitive Case



The partitive case indicates a part or an unspecified amount or number of something. The object is in the partitive case when the action only affects part of the object or is ongoing or habitual. In A on B type sentences, B is in the partitive when it's an adjective modifying a mass noun. Also the subject can be in the partitive if it's indefinite or unspecified. The partitive is used in negative sentences and questions. The partitive ending is -a/-ä or -ta/-tä, depending on the last letters of the word.

For example:

  1. Maija söi omenaa."
    Maija ate some apple."
  2. Maito on kylmää.
    "The milk is cold."
  3. Pojat pelaavat jalkapalloa.
    "The boys play soccer."
  4. Maitoa kaatui pöydälle.
    "Some milk was spilled on the table." (Literally: "Some milk fell on the table.")
  5. Maalari maalasi taloa.
    "The painter was painting a house."
  6. Oletko nähnyt Tiinaa?
    "Have you seen Tiina?"
  7. En ole nähnyt Tiinaa.
    "I haven't seen Tiina."


Examples from this Dialogue:

  1. Se on mielenkiintoista.
    "It's interesting."
  2. Minulla oli onnea, kun sain paikan.
    "I was lucky to get the job."


The Genitive Case



The genitive case indicates either possession or (when it's the object that is in the genitive case) the fact that the action affects the entire object or that the action in complete. The genitive ending is -n.

For example:

  1. Tiinan hame on sininen.
    "Tiina's skirt is blue."
  2. Maija söi omenan.
    "Maija ate an (entire) apple."
  3. Äiti kaatoi maitolasin.
    "Mother knocked over a glass of milk."
  4. Maalari maalasi talon punaiseksi.
    "The painter painted the house red."


Examples from this dialogue:

  1. Aloitan tänään uuden työn.
    "I'll start a new job today."
  2. Minulla oli onnea, kun sain paikan.
    "I was lucky to get the job."


Changes in the Word Stem


One of the trickier parts of Finnish grammar for beginners is consonant gradation. It means that certain kinds of word stems change depending on what kind of an ending is attached to them. It may seem daunting at first, but you will get a feeling for it, because you see it all the time. Consonant gradation affects the last consonants of a word if there is one or more k, p, or t. One of the consonants may be dropped (kk > k, pp > p, tt > t) or they may change into other consonants (e.g. t > d, p > v, mp > mm) when a single-consonant ending or an ending that begins with two consonants is attached. Note that this happens with all words that are inflected, including nouns, numbers, and adjectives, as well as verbs. Some recent loanwords, such as auto ("car") and muki ("mug"), are not affected.

For example:

  1. Tämä paikka on vapaa.
    "This seat is free."
  2. Haluan hyvän paikan.
    "I want a good seat."
  3. Äiti lukee kirjaa.
    "Mother is reading a book."
  4. Minä luen äidin kirjaa.
    "I'm reading Mother's book."
  5. Tämä muki on isompi.
    "This mug is bigger."
  6. Haluan isomman mukin.
    "I want a bigger mug."

Key Vocabulary & Phrases

aloittaa ("to start, to begin")

The verb aloittaa is a transitive verb, so it always takes an object (although the object can be dropped from the sentence if understood from the context). So you can say Tiina aloitti uuden kirjan ("Tiina started a new book"), but you cannot say "The book started well" using this verb. For that purpose, you would need the related intransitive verb alkaa: Kirja alkoi hyvin ("The book started well").


onni ("luck, fortune, happiness")

The Finnish word onni covers both the kind of luck you may or may not have when gambling, and the kind of happiness that may come from the small things in life, such as reading a good book or going to movies with a friend.


paikka ("place, position; seat; job")

The word paikka can be used in many of the contexts where you would use "place" in English, both in a concrete and a figurative sense. It can also be used for a seat, for example in a theater: Haluan hyvän paikan ("I want a good seat"). It may also be used for a job, and in this sense you will often see the compound word työpaikka, which can mean both a "job" and a "workplace," depending on the context.

Cultural Insights

Attitudes to Work in Finland


In the past, many people worked for the same company all their lives. These days, this is very seldom the case. Young people may stay in one company for 2-4 years before moving on to another company in search of a better salary or more interesting tasks. Young people may be anxious about the requirements set by employers, but on the other hand, many young people are also very particular about what they want to do. They are very much aware of the great portion of their time they spend working, and they want work to be interesting and enjoyable. Just making money is not good enough for many. If the work turns out to be boring or meaningless, they are quick to start investigating other options. The post-World War II generations worked hard because they were expected to. Their grandchildren work hard if they like what they are doing. If they don't like it, they do just what they have to or find another job—if they can. Unemployment, though not quite as bad as in some other European countries, is a big problem.

Lesson Transcript

Brandon: Hello, and welcome to FinnishPod101.com. This is Lower Beginner, season 1, Lesson 1 – Talking About Yourself in Finnish. My name is Brandon, and I’m hosting this series along with my co-host…
Nico: Hei, minä olen Nico. Hello, I’m Nico. Thank you for joining us, listeners!
Brandon: In the first two lessons of this new series we’ll be reviewing some basic grammar. In this lesson we will learn the nominative, partitive, and genitive cases. They're the first cases you need for saying anything at all in Finnish.
Nico: We have only one person speaking in this lesson. He’ll be introducing himself by speaking standard Finnish.
Brandon: Ok, let’s listen to the conversation.

Lesson conversation

Petri: Minä olen Petri Lahtinen. Olen ohjelmoija. Aloitan tänään uuden työn. Se on mielenkiintoista. Minulla oli onnea, kun sain paikan.
English Host: Let’s hear the conversation one time slowly.
Petri: Minä olen Petri Lahtinen. Olen ohjelmoija. Aloitan tänään uuden työn. Se on mielenkiintoista. Minulla oli onnea, kun sain paikan.
English Host: Now let’s hear it with the English translation.
Petri: Minä olen Petri Lahtinen. Olen ohjelmoija. Aloitan tänään uuden työn. Se on mielenkiintoista. Minulla oli onnea, kun sain paikan.
Brandon: I'm Petri Lahtinen. I'm a programmer. I'll start at a new job today. It's interesting. I was lucky to get the job.
Brandon: So, Petri is starting a new job. Do Finns change jobs a lot, or do they tend to stay in the same company?
Nico: Well, there are people who stay in the same company for almost their whole career, but that’s becoming more rare. Young people especially are quick to change jobs if they don’t like their current one.
Brandon: So you don’t have to show loyalty to your employer by sticking around?
Nico: No, I think changing jobs every 2 to 4 years is quite normal for a young person. Of course, if you change jobs very often, eventually employers will start to wonder why you can’t stay in one place.
Brandon: That makes sense. What are some reasons people stay or leave?
Nico: Money is one reason, but not necessarily the biggest. I’ve heard that young people want to do something interesting, something they can enjoy. Not just something that pays for their expenses.
Brandon: OK. Now let’s move on to the vocab.
Brandon: Let's take a look at the vocabulary for this lesson.
: The first word we shall see is:
Nico: ohjelmoija [natural native speed]
Brandon: programmer
Nico: ohjelmoija [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: ohjelmoija [natural native speed]
: Next:
Nico: aloittaa [natural native speed]
Brandon: to start, to begin
Nico: aloittaa [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: aloittaa [natural native speed]
: Next:
Nico: tänään [natural native speed]
Brandon: today
Nico: tänään [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: tänään [natural native speed]
: Next:
Nico: uusi [natural native speed]
Brandon: new
Nico: uusi [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: uusi [natural native speed]
: Next:
Nico: työ [natural native speed]
Brandon: job, work
Nico: työ [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: työ [natural native speed]
: Next:
Nico: mielenkiintoinen [natural native speed]
Brandon: interesting
Nico: mielenkiintoinen [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: mielenkiintoinen [natural native speed]
: Next:
Nico: onni [natural native speed]
Brandon: luck, fortune, happiness
Nico: onni [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: onni [natural native speed]
: Next:
Nico: kun [natural native speed]
Brandon: when
Nico: kun [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: kun [natural native speed]
: Next:
Nico: saada [natural native speed]
Brandon: to get, to receive
Nico: saada [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: saada [natural native speed]
: And last:
Nico: paikka [natural native speed]
Brandon: place, position; seat; job
Nico: paikka [slowly - broken down by syllable]
Nico: paikka [natural native speed]
Brandon: Let’s take a closer look at the usage of some of the words and phrases from this lesson.
Nico: The first word is aloittaa, and it means “to start.” What you need to know about this verb is that it’s something called a transitive verb.
Brandon: What exactly does that mean?
Nico: It means that it always needs an object. Unlike in English, Finnish verbs either take an object or they don’t. So you can’t translate the English sentences “I will start a new book” and “The book starts well” with the same verb in Finnish.
Brandon: I see. So it’s the “I will start a new book” sentence that would have this verb in it?
Nico: Exactly. The Finnish sentence would be Minä aloitan uuden kirjan.
Brandon: OK. What’s the next word?
Nico: Onni. It can be both “luck” as in what you hope for at a casino, and “happiness”, as in something money can’t buy.
Brandon: So you don’t make the distinction in Finnish?
Nico: Not with this word. There are some other words that mean specifically “luck”, such as tuuri and lykky, but onni also means “happiness”.
Brandon: I see. What’s the next word?
Nico: Paikka. It has a wide range of meanings, pretty much like the English word “place”.
Brandon: And it also means “a seat”, right?
Nico: That’s right. It’s used to refer to the seats in a theater or vehicle, among other places. It can also mean a position or job, and you’ll see it in the compound word työpaikka. Työpaikka literally means “workplace”; but in addition to the physical environment, it can also mean a job or a position.
Brandon: Great. Okay, now onto the grammar.

Lesson focus

Brandon: In this lesson, we’ll learn the nominative, partitive, and genitive cases. The nominative is the dictionary form of nouns, adjectives, numerals, and pronouns. The subject of a sentence, that is, the person or thing that does something, is usually in the nominative.
Nico: In the dialogue, we had the sentences Minä olen Petri Lahtinen. Olen ohjelmoija. The words minä for “I”, the name Petri Lahtinen, and ohjelmoija for “programmer” were in the nominative.
Brandon: But the name Petri Lahtinen and the word programmer are not subjects in these sentences.
Nico: That’s true. In sentences like this, the words that are used to give information about the subject are often also in the nominative.
Brandon: But not always?
Nico: No, sometimes they’re in the partitive. The key is knowing whether the subject is distinct and specific or not.
Brandon: Let’s have some examples to clear this up.
Nico: Sure. Imagine you have an apple and a glass of milk in the fridge. Then you could say the apple is cold, Omena on kylmä. The apple is a specific entity, so we use the nominative for both the subject omena meaning “apple” and for the adjective kylmä meaning “cold”.
Brandon: Now imagine you also want to say the milk is cold.
Nico: Since you're talking about a specific amount of milk, the subject maito will be in the nominative.
Brandon: maito is a mass noun, and even though you’re referring to a specific amount of milk in the glass, it’s still not an distinct and specific entity.
Nico Therefore, you have to put the word kylmä in the partitive, Maito on kylmää.
Brandon: I see. What about the subject, are there some instances when it’s not in the nominative?
Nico: Yes. If you can think of using the word “some” in front of the subject in English, you probably need to use the partitive in Finnish.
Brandon: How about an example?
Nico: Well, if you’re clumsy and knock the glass over so that all the milk spills on the table, you’d use the nominative and say Maito kaatui pöydälle for “The milk was spilled on the table.” However, if you only spill some of the milk, you’d say Maitoa kaatui pöydälle, meaning “Some milk was spilled on the table.”
Brandon: OK, so when you’re talking about all the milk you use the nominative, and when you’re talking about some of the milk, you use the partitive.
Nico: Exactly.
Brandon: Now let’s talk about the genitive. The object of a sentence is in the genitive if the action affects the entire object, and in the partitive if it affects only some of it.
Nico: So you’d say Syön omenan for “I’ll eat the apple” if you’re going to eat the entire apple, and Syön omenaa, meaning “I’ll eat some apple,” if you’re only going to eat some of it.
Brandon: OK. And the genitive also indicates possession, right?
Nico: Yes, that’s its other function. “Petri’s apple” would be Petrin omena in Finnish.
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Brandon: Well, I think that’s all the time we have for this lesson. Please check the lesson notes for more details and examples. And if you have any questions or comments, leave us a post at FinnishPod101.com.
Nico: Yes, we’re happy to help!
Brandon: Thanks for joining us, everyone, and we’ll see you next time! Bye!
Nico: Hei hei!