Vowel harmony: with or without dots

Vowel harmony is a very typical phenomenon in Finno-Ugric languages. It comes into play when you add endings or suffixes.

There are 2 kinds of vowels in Finnish: back vowels a, o, u and front vowels ä, ö, y depending where they are articulated in your mouth (you can try this at home). You also recognize them from the dots: front vowels have dots (”umlauts”), back vowels don't. Also y is a front vowel, but you can think it as an ü (because it's pronouced like ü in German).

Vowel harmony means, that both front and back vowels cannot be in the same word. That's why many endings have two forms with alternative vowels, for example: -nut /-nyt, -ko/kö , -ssa/-ssä, la/lä. The vowels in endings must follow the vowels in the stem

The rule of thumb: when adding an ending, if the word already has dots, the ending will have them too (again, think y as ü).

I and e are neutral, and they can mix with both front and back vowels. When they are alone, they are usually counted as front vowels (therefore, the ending will have dots, for example, teetä~ "some tea".) If there are both back vowels and neutral vowels, back vowels will win (therefore, no dots, for example, lasissa ~ "in the glass" )

Examples

Here are some examples of morphological changes which vowel harmony affects. Note, that you should learn those grammar points first before worrying about the dots.

Case endings

Many noun case endings have either a or ä in them, depending on vowel harmony:

Some verb forms

Some verb forms are different depending on vowel harmony:

Other endings


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