Introduction into the Finnish language

They say Finnish is a difficult language to learn. Is it true? The answer is, yes and no. There might be many difficult things to comprehend, but there are also lots of very easy things. The thing to remember is that Finnish is a different language. It's not an Indoeuropean language, but Uralic. You need to acquire a whole new way of thinking, when you study Finnish. An intellectual challenge, isn't it?

1. Finnish has a foreign vocabulary

One way to compare the languages is to look at the basic numbers. Here are the numbers from one to six in some of the Indo-European languages.

numbers in different Indo-European languages

English

  1. one
  2. two
  3. three
  4. four
  5. five
  6. six

Swedish

  1. ett
  2. två
  3. tree
  4. fyra
  5. fem
  6. sex

German

  1. ein
  2. zwei
  3. drei
  4. vier
  5. fünf
  6. sechs

French

  1. un
  2. deux
  3. trois
  4. quatre
  5. cinq
  6. six

Portuguese

  1. um
  2. dois
  3. três
  4. quatro
  5. cinco
  6. seis

Farsi/Persian

  1. yek
  2. do
  3. se
  4. cahar
  5. panj
  6. ses

As you can see, there are many of similarities. For example, number six is almost same in every language. There's variation only in how it's written.

Here are the numbers in Uralic languages:

numbers in Finno-Ugric languages

Finnish

  1. yksi
  2. kaksi
  3. kolme
  4. neljä
  5. viisi
  6. kuusi

Estonian

  1. üks
  2. kaks
  3. kolm
  4. neli
  5. viis
  6. kuus

Hungarian

  1. egy
  2. kettö
  3. harom
  4. negy
  5. öt
  6. hat

Sami

  1. okta
  2. guokte
  3. golbma
  4. njeallje
  5. vihtta
  6. guhtta

Not so familiar, are they?

Luckily most modern words are borrowed from other European languages. I bet you can guess what these words mean:

One helpful thing in Finnish vocabulary is that words linked together, have a common root:

Examples of derivation
kirja book
kirjailija author/writer
kirjallisuus literature
kirjasto library
kirjallinen literary/written
kirjoittaa to write
kirjoitus writing

2. Finnish has lots of endings and forms

You might know, that Finnish have lots of cases and inflections. That's true. Because Finnish is known as an agglutinative language, it tends to express relations between the words by adding endings. But using cases is not so complicated. In English, you place a preposition before the word, in Finnish you place an ending after the word:

in the house
from the house
talossa
talosta

Same thing with the possessive forms:

possessive suffix
my house
your house
taloni
talosi

Unfortunately, sometimes some changes take place when you add an ending:

talossa,
talosta,
but kylässä
but kylästä

You might notice, that the last vowel is either a or ä. This phenomenon is called vowel harmony, and can be one of the first stumbling stones for a beginner. But in the end, it's not more complicated, than eg. vowels in English:

car
cat
Paul
peal
fear
case

See how many different ways letter "a" can be pronounced in English? Not mentioning French, which seems to have no pattern in how vowels should be pronounced!

3. Finnish has foreign sound, but easy spelling

Read more about Finnish pronunciation.

4. Finnish has no genders

Unlike languages like French, German or Russian, Finnish doesn't differentiate between genders. Tables, chairs, floor or windows are not boys, girls or in between. There is also only one pronoun for third person: both he and she are referred to as hän.

5. Finnish has a free word order

One easy thing in Finnish is, that the word order is very loose. You can put the words almost in any order.

The sentence "the spring is finally here" can be written:

Kevät on tullut taas.
Taas on tullut kevät.
On tullut taas kevät.
Tullut taas kevät on.
Tullut kevät taas on.
On kevät taas tullut.
Taas tullut on kevät.
Taas kevät on tullut.
On taas tullut kevät.
On kevät taas tullut.
and so on...

When you know what you want to say, you just speak out the words in the order they come in your mind. That is possible, because the relations are marked by the forms, not by the word order.

Another thing about sentences is, that in Finnish you can leave out many words which are necessary for English. (Words left out are bold.)

There are boys outside.
Ulkona on poikia.
It's raining.
Sataa.
The boy is outside.
Poika on ulkona
I'll sing a song.
Laulan laulun.

That's possible because in Finnish words include much information. It causes that quite often sentences in Finnish include much fewer words than in English.

Isänikin olisi halunnut kirjailijaksi.(4)
My father would also have wanted to become an author.(10)
Juoksenteletko iltaisin? (2)
Do you run around during the evenings? (7)

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