Category Archives: Derivations and etymologies

Where words come from and easy rules how to remember words. More practical explanations than linguistics definitions.

Koskaan et muuttua saa (muu)

Finnish cows say “muu!“. Probably by coincidence, it means “other” or “else” in Finnish.
“voiko joku muu tehdä sen?” / “Can somebody else do it?”

Many words derived from this root are related to somekind of change. For example “to change oneself” is “to become the other” = muuttua. “Se muuttui muuksi” / “It changed into something else”.

The transitive verb (the one with an object) is “muuttaa“. “Ihmistä ei voi muuttaa, ellei hän halua muuttua” / “You cannot change a person, if he doesn’t want to change.”

“Muuttaa” is also used when you move (“change a place”), for example “Muutan uuteen asuntoon perjantaina.” “I’ll move to a new flat on Friday“.

Collective nouns with -sto-suffix

Words ending with “sto” usually mean “a large amount of something”. For example a library (kirjasto) is a collection of many books (kirja) and a crew (miehistö) consists of several men (mies).

laiva -> laivasto
ship -> navy

kirja -> kirjasto
book -> library

mies -> miehistö
man -> crew

maa -> maasto
ground -> terrain

kortti -> kortisto
card -> register

näppäin -> näppäimistö
key -> keyboard

elin -> elimistö
organ -> organism

raha -> rahasto
money -> fund

astia -> astiasto
dish -> tableware

henkilö -> henkilöstö
person -> personnel

kalu – > kalusto
tool -> arsenal

vuori -> vuoristo
montain – > mountain range

tieto -> tiedosto
information -> file

saari -> saaristo
island -> archipelago

kone -> koneisto
machine – > machinery

huone -> huoneisto
room -> apartment

Play it one more time (soittaa)

Soittaa means to play, for example, an instrument. “Aleksi Laiho soittaa kitaraa Childrens of Bodom -yhtyeessä”.

You can easily derive the typical nouns from the verb:
soittaja: a (musical) player
soitin: a musical instrument
soitto: music (also musiikki)

In Finnish, you also “play a telephone”, so to phone / call ~ “soittaa puhelimella”.

Conversely, to play a game is “pelata“, not “soittaa” and when the children play, it’s “leikkiä“.

As so often, this verb has also it’s intransitive counterpart (a verb without an object): soida.
Puhelin soi, kuka soittaa? / The phone is ringing, who’s calling?

What is love? (rakkaus)

Finns don’t throw this word around as often as other people. “Rakkaus” is serious business, and a Finnish man uses this word approximately 2-3 times in his life. The burger chain slogan “I’m loving it” sounds corny in Finnish. However, it’s a very important word to know.

As so often, the noun and the verb are the same in English: the verb “(to) love” and the noun “(a) love” look the same. In Finnish the verb is “rakastaa” and the noun is “rakkaus“. For example, “Minä rakastan sinua”/ I love you”, but “What is love? / Mitä on rakkaus?”

A person, who is loved, is “rakas” = belowed, dear, darling.

Mitä on rakkaus? Rakas, älä satuta minua enempää! / What is love? Baby don’t hurt me no more!

Other verb are: to fall in love = rakastua and when adults love each other, they might make love = rakastella.

Derivations and etymologies: hukkua

Hukkua” means “to drown”. “Eno putosi veneestä ja hukkui järveen.” / “Uncle fell out off the boat and got drown in the lake.”

It can also be used in a less dramatic context, the other meaning is “to get lost” : “Pekan avaimet hukkuivat / Pekka’s keys were lost.”.

Note the difference between “hukkua” and “hukata” In linguistics they are called transitive and intransitive verbs: transitive verbs need an object, intransitive cannot have one.

hukkua: “Avaimeni hukkuivat” / My keys were lost.
hukata: “Hukkasin avaimeni” / I lost my keys.

Hear, hear! (kuulua)

The verb “kuulua” is familiar from phrase “mitä kuuluu?” ~ “how are you?“. Literally it means “what can be heard?“. You can use this verb for example in sentences like “Naapurista kuuluu melua” “Some noise is coming from the neighbor.”

Do not mix this verb with transitive verb “kuulla”, “to hear”. For example: “Kuulen sinun puheesi” / “I can hear your speech”, “Puheesi kuuluu” / “Your speech can be heard”.

Another verb from the same root is “kuunnella”, to listen: “Kuuntelen hevimetallia” / “I listen to heavy metal.”.

Verb “kuulua” has also another meaning “to belong to” or “be a part of something”. It’s a loan from Swedish (“höra till”), so the semantical motivation comes from there. “Rikolliset kuuluvat vankilaan” / “Criminals belong in jail.” Also: “Pekka kuuluu rotareihin” / “Pekka is a member in Rotary-club”.

Author, write a book! (kirja)

Kirja is a typical example of a root which appear in several words.

Kirja means “a book”. The verb naturally is “kirjoittaa”, to write (note also “kirjata”, to book or to log). Kirjoitus means writing in general.

The “-ja” suffix is similar to English “-er”, thus kirjoittaa -> kirjailija = to write – > a writer (or an author). Kirjasto means a place with many books, a library (“a bookery”). Kirjallisuus means the literature (“bookness”).

Käsikirjoitus is a direct translation from latin, a manuscript.

Kirjain is “a letter” as a letter in alphabet, but Kirje is a kind of letter you send in post.

The company makes one alike (seura)

Seura is “company” or “companionship”. It can also be a society but not a business kind of company (that’s “yritys” or “liike”). If you like lots of company, you are “seurallinen”, sociable.

The verb is “seurata”Hänellä on monta seuraajaa Twitterissä / He has many followers in Twitter.

“Seuraava” means “the following” as in “the next”. For example “Seuraava jonossa”, “the next in the line”.

“Seuraus” is something that follows from an action: a result or consequence.

A business attempt (yritys)

“Yrittää” means “to try” and the corresponding noun is “yritys”, a try.

In business language, yritys has the same meaning as “an enterprise”, or more commonly “a company”. An enterpreneur is “yrittäjä”.
“Yrittäjä yrittää saada yrityksen menestymään” / “An enterpreneur tries to make the business successful”.

The unknown guest next to you (vieras)

Vieri is a rarely used word by itself, but there are lot’s of other words derived from it. The basic meaning is “side”, for example, “tien vieri” = “roadside”.

You are more likely to hear “vieressä”, which means literarily ”in the side”, or more broadly “beside, by, near, near to, at, next to, near by” etc. For example, “Hän seisoo ihan vieressä”, “He’s standing right next to me”.

Vieras is an adjective with many meanings. The basic meaning is “unknown”, so somebody who’s not you, but the next person, a stranger. “Vieras kieli on vaikea ymmärtää” “A foreign language is difficult to understand”. “Vieras mies tuli taloon”, “A stranger came to the house”.

Quite contradictory, “vieras” can also mean “a guest”, because a guest is always also a bit stranger.

“Vieraanvaraisuus” is a nice word meaning “hospitality”, literarily “guest’s care”.